CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus puts a wrinkle in Marquette's welcome

Officials worry people from hot spots will flee to river cabins

Anglers fish Sunday along the shore of the Mississippi River in Marquette. Clayton County is among the 77 Iowa counties
Anglers fish Sunday along the shore of the Mississippi River in Marquette. Clayton County is among the 77 Iowa counties where restrictions on some closed businesses will be eased starting Friday. But places where many of Marquette’s visitors come from — including Linn and Johnson counties — are still considered among the state’s COVID-19 hot spots. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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As mayor, Steve Weipert usually loves to see the “summer people” arrive in Marquette.

This year, the northeast Iowa native wishes they would wait until the threat of the coronavirus has diminished.

Warm weather over Easter weekend already had people “flocking” to their cabins.

“We had 70 to 80 percent of cars at the convenience stores with Linn, Johnson and Black Hawk County plates,” Weipert said.

Normally, the mayor of the community of 375 people on the bank of the Mississippi River in northeast Clayton County would be happy to see that.

“The summer people up here, this is like our Christmas,” he said. “This is where our business people make their money. So we don’t want to upset them, but on the other hand, we don’t want them to come up here and get infected or infect us.”

Marquette is included in the 77 counties where Gov. Kim Reynolds is easing restrictions starting Friday on some businesses. Restaurants and some other establishments in those areas may reopen with caveats that include limiting the number of customers.

However, more urban counties including Linn, Johnson and Black Hawk remain under the stricter rules until at least May 15. And so do Allamakee and Fayette counties to the north and west of Marquette’s Clayton County.

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Thirteen cases of COVID-19 and one death had been reported in Clayton County as of Monday, according to state data.

Across the county line in Allamakee County, 72 cases and three deaths have been reported as of Monday. Sixteen cases have been reported in Fayette County.

Weipert is not alone in his concern that people who live in hot spots for the disease might flee to their homes in areas like Marquette that the state considers to have less of a COVID-19 problem.

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has issued a stay-at-home order through Friday banning residents from traveling to cottages or vacation rentals inside the state. One reason for the ban is that there are only limited health care resources in those areas.

Weipert is not asking for a ban, but for people to respect Reynolds’ social distancing orders.

Marquette is lumped in with Cedar Rapids and Waterloo in a northeast Iowa region that, until only a few days ago, was scored 10 on a state matrix where 12 is the worst. But that was backed down to 9 — still leaving northeast Iowa as one of three worst-rated regions in the state.

Allamakee County Supervisor Larry Schellhammer of rural Lansing said he has heard from a few snowbirds who wondered if they would be welcome when they return their from their winter residences.

From his observations, Schellhammer said, so far it’s mostly families coming for weekend visits.

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“People are heading to their cabins and staying there,” he said. “They feel safer here than in the city, and I can’t argue with that.”

Rep. Michael Bergan, R-Dorchester, has heard a few concerns about weekend visitors to northeast Iowa, which he has relayed to the governor’s office.

“There were a couple instances when the issue came out around closing state parks and limitations on camping,” Bergan said. “We had some nice weather and people wanted to be out.”

He hopes that people will be respectful of Reynolds’ guidance on social distancing.

“We’re in a different situation now,” he said.

While he’s unaware of large gatherings in Marquette in violation of social distancing guidelines, Weipert said many cabins are tightly bunched together.

“You have people who haven’t seen each other since last fall. So there’s a lot of people standing out there, enjoying the weekend, drinking beer and visiting,” he said.

Bergan understands that people who have homes along the river want to enjoy them. But he notes “there aren’t many places to go or spend money because most businesses are closed.”

If the forecast for warmer weather holds, Weipert expects cabin dwellers will be eager to “come up here and mow their yards and get things ready for the summer.” But, he cautioned, “let’s just wait a while. Let’s be patient.”

““We want you to come up and do your weekend thing and go back home.” he said. “Just wait another month or so to do it.”

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Schellhammer doesn’t want people to feel unwelcome “but we ask that if you come, adhere to the same rules as in the county they come from, follow the same social distancing rules.”

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

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All donations are tax-deductible.