Michigan's coronavirus cases mapped by county as of July 9, 2020. Ontonagon, way up at the top of the U.P., only recently got filled in. (Graphic by Desiree Tapia)
Michigan's coronavirus cases mapped by county as of July 9, 2020. Ontonagon, way up at the top of the U.P., only recently got filled in. (Graphic by Desiree Tapia)

“I haven’t been tested and I don’t know anyone who has,” Ontonagon resident Luann Hayrynen said just three days before the last remaining county confirmed its first case.

ONTONAGON, MI — Ontonagon resident Valerie Talsma said she thought it was just a matter of time before Michigan’s only coronavirus-free county saw its first case.

“I think I’ll pass on the nasal swabs unless one of the people I’ve been in contact with are identified as positive,” she told The ’Gander. “I would be interested in an antibody test to see if the fever I had in late February was COVID-related.”

It looks like Talsma may have to find her testing location soon — the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD) has just confirmed its first positive test in the area. 

Before this year, Ontonagon County was mostly known for activities like canoeing, kayaking, and, of course, lounging and sailing on Lake Superior. That all changed when the coronavirus pandemic took hold of almost every corner of the globe. Except the U.P.’s OC.

The ’Gander previously reported on Ontonagon County residents’ speculation surrounding the lack of cases in the area.

RELATED: Michigan Faces Rising Infection Rates on 4-Month Anniversary of Pandemic

“I haven’t been tested and I don’t know anyone who has,” said Ontonagon resident Luann Hayrynen before the county confirmed its first case. 

Left: The ‘Gander’s daily map at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. Right: Our latest coronavirus map. (Graphics by Desiree Tapia)

Why Now?

Testing was slow throughout the sparsely populated county, which is more than four times the size of Michigan’s Kent County with less than a tenth of its population.

Now residents say that the virus that left them alone for so long is starting to hit closer to home.

SEE ALSO: What’s Leading to the Coronavirus Comeback in Michigan? Bars and Boat Parties, for Starters

“We have ‘snow birds’ that consider the U.P. home but [spend] winter elsewhere,” Valerie Talsma said. “And then we have ‘summer people,’ aka trolls and berry pickers that may have camps but claim primary residency elsewhere.”

The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department was not available for comment but did issue a statement regarding the confirmed COVID-19 case.

“We will be closely monitoring any individuals who may have had direct, personal contact with the identified case, such as household contacts,” WUPHD Health Officer Kate Beer said. “Please remember this is a time for us to support each other and work together to reduce any possible spread of illness in our community.”

The health department is encouraging residents to continue to wash their hands, avoid contact with anyone sick, and wear masks in public to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Talsma called the appearance of a positive case in Michigan’s last frontier “an interesting phenomena,” and said she believes the positive case came from the county’s Ewen testing site.

While Michganders flock to Ontonagon from all across the state, protecting one another from further spread of the virus will be a new priority for the small community.

Nearly 70,000 Michiganders and counting have been infected with the coronavirus this year.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) asks Michiganders to do all they can to slow the spread of the coronavirus. This includes:

  • Washing your hands often with soap and water
  • Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or the crook of your elbow when sneezing
  • Wearing a cloth face covering
  • Avoiding contact with people who are sick
  • Cleaning and disinfecting your home frequently
  • Maintaining six feet of distance between you and other people 

UP NEXT: WATCH: How One Michigan Couple Opened Their Dream Donut Cafe During the Coronavirus Pandemic