By Carol Stiffler

When Patrice Sawa-Bedford, a teacher at Tahquamenon Area Schools, was recently directly exposed to COVID-19, she was ordered to stay home to quarantine. Days passed by as she waited and wondered if she’d become ill.

“I was five days out from the exposure and had felt a slight sore throat, and I didn’t want to be uncertain anymore,” Sawa-Bedford said. So she made an appointment for a COVID test.

She received a PCR test – the kind that goes deep into the sinuses – which she described as uncomfortable but not painful. Less than 30 minutes later, her results were in: She was negative for COVID.

That was a relief for Sawa-Bedford and her household, and it makes her one of only a few local people who have sought out or consented to testing in recent weeks.

LMAS District Health Department spokesperson Kerry Ott said the drop in testing is concerning. It is fueled by a combination of things – general COVID fatigue, the presence of the vaccine, and a fear of being told to quarantine for 10 days at a time, Ott said.

Some people prefer anonymity – “If you don’t get tested, then you’re not a case,” Ott said, repeating a feeling held by some.

Whatever the reason, testing is down. Luce County posted two testing records in 2020, with 152 people tested on July 25, and 133 on November 7. These days, there are hardly enough tests completed to calculate a positivity rate – the percentage of tests that come back positive.

To date this year, there have only been 11 days when more than 15 tests were conducted in Luce County. There have been 38 days when five or fewer tests occurred in the county, according to state data.

The numbers themselves have been confusing at times – Luce County has gone for weeks at a time without a new “confirmed case”, while “probable” cases have been stacking up. That is often due to the type of testing conducted. Though no test is accurate 100% of the time, the deep-sinus PCR test is more reliable than the rapid antigen test, so positives found through the antigen testing are considered “probable”. People who live in the home of a person who has tested positive are also considered “probables”, Ott said.

But the testing is still a key component to controlling the spread of a virus that is still here, she said.

“Any of the high risk behaviors we talk about—not wearing masks, going to gatherings, not staying home when you don’t feel well—are an opportunity to spread COVID,” Ott said.

Precautions are necessary, she said, even though we are all tired of them. “The bottom line is we just need people to know that COVID is everywhere, in all our communities,” she said.

Meanwhile, it’s getting even easier to get a test locally. Ott said the LMAS Health Department location in Newberry is preparing to offer on-site testing with on-site lab work to provide fast results.

“Our two lab techs are trained and ready to go,” Ott said. “We are going to start doing testing by appointment Monday through Thursday at the Newberry office.”

Call the department to make an appointment first, she said, for what she hopes will be an ongoing service.