Christine Nefcy


November typically brings deer hunters to northern Michigan as well as Thanksgiving gatherings of family and friends.

This year it is vital that potential hunting buddies and those at the Thanksgiving meal remember the threat posed by the ongoing COVID-19 virus — and by the flu. Hunters playing cards and swapping tales at a table in a cabin fired by wood heat make a fine target for either virus.

At a Thanksgiving table with Grandma and Grandpa and younger generations, the need to take seriously the threat of COVID-19 for older age groups — especially those who may have one or two chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure or heart failure — that risk should create pause.

None of us want to stop long-held traditions and the relational and emotional benefits that these annual highlights offer us. But this year, the importance of masking, social distancing, hand hygiene and smaller gatherings could represent the difference between a fond memory or a deep regret.

Munson Healthcare continues to see numbers of COVID-19 patients that surpass what we saw in the early months of the pandemic this spring. While we are prepared for any continued surge as winter progresses, our community health role requires us to share truths that will help people have a positive end of the year.

Scientific evidence proves masking, social distancing and hand hygiene can slow the transmission of the disease. Ignoring these three measures is a recipe for a bad hunting trip and Thanksgiving meal. It could also mean the difference between keeping healthcare services open and available, or stressing our limited resources in northern Michigan to the point where we have to begin making tough decisions about where to place patients and what services we prioritize.

The natural thing to do is dismiss a foe that we can’t see and one that maybe has not touched anyone around us — yet. But the statistics you see posted by the area health departments and on our health system website represent real people with real consequences and outcomes.

Munson Healthcare inpatient and ambulatory facilities are preparing to move up our pandemic response level to orange. This move will result in some things staying the same such as continuing to restrict visitation, screen visitors and staff, and require masking, hand hygiene and social distancing. We will be standing up our incident commands and continue to evaluate any additional steps to ensure our communities and staff remain safe and the health system can continue to meet needs.

Some important suggestions for all to consider at gatherings this month are these:

  • Ensure hunting camp and Thanksgiving gatherings only include at most two households and no more than 10 people gathering indoors.
  • If anyone is experiencing any flu-like or COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, headache, chills, runny nose, fatigue, loss of taste or smell, cough, sore throat, chest congestion, stomach pain or diarrhea, stay home and self-isolate.
  • Have just one or two people serve the food. Wear a mask while indoors and remove only to eat. Try to social distance in the room while you eat.
  • Maintain a social distance at all other times while indoors.

Without a vaccine for COVID-19, there is no other remedy to ensure the safety of family and friends at gatherings except the steps outlined above.

If you have not received a flu vaccination yet, please visit your provider or go to one of the many locations in the region to obtain one. We anticipate soon seeing some residents test positive for the flu and don’t know yet what kind of season we will face. But if the flu season is an average one on top of another surge of COVID-19, it could significantly stress our limited health system resources in northern Michigan.

We have all already experienced a year that will remain forever highlighted in history books. To help ensure a better ending and new beginning in the New Year, please do the safe thing for everyone you love and care about, and for your community.

Good hunting and Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Dr. Christine Nefcy is chief medical officer of Munson Healthcare.

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