MARQUETTE — Northern Michigan University’s Health Center will conduct COVID-19 molecular testing for students, faculty and staff in advance of the Aug. 17 fall semester kickoff.
Under clinical supervision, individuals will complete a shallow swipe of their nostrils and place the short swab in a test tube. The samples will be processed and sent to a Chicago lab capable of analyzing large quantities with timely results.
After this initial mass screening, the NMU Health Center will be fully equipped to perform in-house molecular, antibody and antigen testing and deliver quick results as the need arises.
As part of the “Passport to Campus” event Aug. 3-16 at the Northern Center, members of the NMU community are asked to reserve a time slot for the COVID-19 molecular testing.
All will receive two complimentary NMU-branded face coverings during the appointment and, if applicable, their NMU-issued laptop computers and 2020-21 parking passes. Nursing and clinical sciences students will assist Health Center personnel with the screening.
“We’re doing anterior nasal swabs, which only go about one inch into the nostril,” said Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick, NMU Health Center medical director, in a news release. “It’s simple enough that individuals can self-swab with supervision, eliminating the need for close physical contact from a clinician and reducing the risks associated with coughing, sneezing or droplets.”
The swabs have to be agitated in the test tube fluid, then removed before the tubes are capped and sent off to the Chicago lab, said Kirkpatrick, who noted this molecular testing can detect genetic material associated with the virus to identify people with active cases.
The Health Center had previously used antigen testing, which looks at protein spikes on the external portion of a virus rather than the genetic material inside, for influenza. It is obtaining a test specifically for coronavirus that will use the same equipment, with results in 15 minutes.
It has also obtained two new devices: a BioFire FilmArray Torch, which can detect coronavirus or 20 other pathogens that cause similar symptoms in one hour, and a VITROS 5600 chemistry analyzer for antibody testing, which determines if a patient has previously been infected with COVID-19.
“Before we had the VITROS on site, we obtained samples and sent (them) to UP Health System-Marquette or (the) Mayo Clinic,” Kirkpatrick said. “Now that it’s in house, we can better control costs for people with insurance other than the university’s plan, or those without insurance.
“The caveat is that antibody testing is not extremely helpful in active cases. There’s also uncertainty about whether a positive result implies immunity, or how long immunity may last. That will become increasingly clear as we get further into the pandemic.”
The VITROS 5600 will also be used for an academic research project that will retest two groups of volunteers — students and employees — several times over the fall semester for both antibodies and current infections to help track NMU community trends. Paul Mann, associate dean and director of the School of Clinical Sciences, is directing the study. Some of the student volunteers also enrolled in the summer special topics course he taught on COVID-19 testing.
“We have approval to conduct research-based surveillance through blood draws to detect antibodies among those without symptoms who may have had it previously, as well as nasal swabs for viral detection of current infections,” Mann said in a news release.
Mann, who has been involved in mass testing for HIV in the military and in flu pandemic preparation but not the coronavirus, said, “The goal is to determine whether there’s an asymptomatic spread on campus that we’re not seeing through regular health channels.”
Kirkpatrick said he will leverage university resources and work with the Marquette County Health Department on contact tracing, or tracking and notifying people who’ve come in close physical contact with patients with COVID-19.
“What we have to be cautious of is balancing privacy practices with the need to notify those who’ve been in contact with someone who has the virus,” he said.
Kirkpatrick said NMU will not identify people with positive cases by name.
“We’ll just let others know they’ve been in contact with someone who tested positive, then convey the risks and their need to quarantine or test,” he said. “It’s a fine line, but we don’t want to compromise protected health information.”
Students who live in campus housing and test positive or experience clinical symptoms of the virus will receive orders to isolate. Those who’ve been in close proximity to someone who tests positive will be separated from the general population and quarantined.
NMU has set aside 150 rooms in Spalding Hall for isolation and quarantine purposes.
More help in battling COVID-19 is coming.
Kirkpatrick is hiring two temporary, full-time nurses to monitor students in Spalding and manage logistics related to meals, remote learning and additional testing or transport to the hospital, if needed. They will support general Health Center operations as well. He has also employed two phlebotomists to assist with blood draws.
“As Paul (Mann) says, despite the rigorous testing plans we have, we can’t test ourselves out of a pandemic,” Kirkpatrick said. “The most important thing the university is doing is implementing infection control protocols such as social distancing and mask wearing. Those are the most important pieces of this puzzle.”
State Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, on Thursday blasted the partisan “Return to Learn” package.
The Michigan House of Representatives narrowly approved a package of bills late Wednesday aimed at moving Michigan’s public schools to reopen. Almost half of the House of Representatives voted no, questioning why the bills were introduced without consultation from local school districts who are working on their own reopening plans.
Opponents of the package cited increasing pressure on legislators from for-profit online schools as the reason behind the partisan school reopening package. The bills’ sponsors were four Republicans — Greg Markkanen, R-Houghton, HB 5911; Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield Township, HB 5910; Andrea Schroeder, R-Independence Township, HB 5912; and Annette Glenn, R-Midland, HB 5913.
Cambensy issued a statement on the package.
“With more and more for-profit virtual schools making their way into the Upper Peninsula recently, the Republican-sponsored Return to Learn bill package further opens the door for them to thrive up here,” Cambensy said. “These bills allow for a voucher program where students can pick different education providers for online classes throughout the day.”
They would also allow unqualified, non-certified contracted instructors who work under for-profit education groups to replace certified teachers who teach online courses, she noted.
“Our public schools need flexibility as they put together their reopening plans,” Cambensy said. “What they don’t need is for-profit educational institutions taking advantage of our public school funding during a pandemic.
“Your hard-earned tax dollars fund our schools.”
Cambensy said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will veto these bills and protect taxpayers’ money from getting funneled to for-profit institutions.
“As one of the most bipartisan legislators in Lansing, I strive to see issues from multiple views,” Cambensy said. “However, the details within this bill package are so deceptive to the taxpayer and your hard-earned money that they deserve harsh public criticism. If you are parents who have school-aged children, you should be alarmed that such poorly written legislation was introduced and crafted by your state representatives and private education group lobbyists who stand to profit off your kids in a time of crisis.”
When the Return to Learn plan was announced in June, Markkanen wrote this Facebook post:
“Because every corner of our state was affected differently by the health crisis, our Return to Learn plan requires all school districts to partner with their local health departments to develop necessary health standards for our students, teachers and staff, not only in school but during extracurricular activities and sports as well,” he said. “As we move forward, what’s safe for kids in Detroit is not necessarily going to be what’s best for students in the Upper Peninsula.
“That’s why it’s so important for our schools to be given the flexibility to make the best choices for the education of their students.”
The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis is continuing to track the ongoing effects on businesses across the Ninth District, which includes the Upper Peninsula. In this effort, the bank is again asking business owners to complete a five-minute survey to help bank President Neel Kashkari better understand the pandemic’s effects on individual firms, as well as local, regional and state economies.
The survey also will help the Federal Reserve System shape policy to help businesses weather the economic impact of COVID-19.
All survey responses are due by the close of business today.
The Federal Reserve’s local promotional partner with the Survey is InvestUP, whose CEO, Marty Fittante, said in a news release, “We know there is some ‘survey fatigue’ in the Upper Peninsula as businesses have been asked a number of times to offer their insights on the impact that the pandemic is having on their business.
“However, it is critical that business owners and executives take five or six minutes to complete the survey to ensure that the Federal Reserve has an updated snapshot of the economic impact that COVID-19 is having across the Upper Peninsula.”
It is no surprise, he noted, that the U.P. business community has led the way in responding to the Federal Reserve’s previous surveys, but it is lagging behind in responding to this survey.
“So, I am hoping the business community rallies over the final 24 hours that this survey is open to provide a strong response that provides not only current insight but context against the previous surveys the Federal Reserve has directed,” Fittante said.
All responses are anonymous. Additionally, to maintain anonymity, a business should not include any self-identifying information in their comments.
The survey can be found at www.surveymonkey.com/r/COVID-MplsFed-Survey-July2020.
Connect to Care website available
As long-term care facilities look to hire additional health care workers due to demands created by COVID-19, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is promoting the Connect to Care website where health professionals can find and apply for jobs.
The employment website matches job seekers in the health care field with licensed long-term care facilities that need to immediately hire for long- and short-term positions, including certified nursing assistants, registered nurses and licensed practical nurses.
Long-term care facilities also need direct care workers, also known as personal care assistants, paid caregivers; home health aides, personal care aides and nursing assistants, to assist people who are sick, injured, living with physical or mental disabilities, or who cannot care for themselves.
“Long-term care facilities in Michigan faced significant staffing challenges prior to the pandemic,” said Dr. Alexis Travis, senior deputy director of the MDHHS Aging and Adult Services Agency, in a news release. “While we recognize there are often staffing challenges within nursing facilities, we know that support is needed now more than ever.”
Connect to Care Jobs allows licensed long-term care facilities to identify gaps in specific staffing needs they have on particular days. Health care professionals who are licensed and/or trained for the various roles needed by these facilities can register their availability and willingness to fill shifts.
To help address this need, MDHHS has partnered with ADvancing States, a national nonprofit dedicated to supporting older adults, people with disabilities and their caregivers. Michigan’s departments of Labor and Economic Opportunity, and Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, also are partners in this project.
For more details, visit ConnectToCareJobs.com.
State announces safety grants
The state of Michigan has launched the Michigan COVID-19 Safety Grant Program. These grants will provide small businesses matching funds of up to $10,000 to decrease the risk of COVID-19 spread through safety and health-related equipment purchased and training in response to COVID-19.
The initial grant application window will be run from July 27-Aug. 7, with awards given shortly thereafter. Grants received after Aug. 7 will be held pending a potential second phase, if funds remain available.
Small businesses interested in applying must have fewer than 250 employees, provide a copy of their COVID-19 safety plan and description of how funds will help improve workplace safety for employees, customers and their communities.
Grant funding may be used to purchase items such as sneeze guards, physical barriers, face coverings and hand-washing/hygiene stations; personal protective equipment such as gowns, gloves and eye protection; and training to educate employees about the spread and dangers of COVID-19.
To apply, businesses may complete the Michigan COVID-19 Safety Grant application at https://forms.leo.state.mi.us/miosha-covid-19-safety-grants/.