Michigan snowbirds seek guidance for migrating home

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — ‘Snowbirds’ — people who live in Michigan but spend their winters in warmer, southern states — are faced with a difficult question this year of whether it’s safe to migrate back north for the summer.

Tom and Nancy Hawkinson would typically still be in their northern Florida home right now, enjoying parties with their friends and walks through the community, but they made the decision to fly north early, back to their home near Greenville.

“Where we just came from (in Florida), social is the operative word. In a community that is 55 and older, all over the state, they’re basically there to play pickle ball and socialize,” Tom Hawkinson said.

He and his wife were invited to a party of 40 or more people in the days leading up to their departure, which they declined due to concerns over the coronavirus. They left on March 22, worried that they may not be able to get a flight if they waited too long.

Several of their flight options were canceled, but they eventually made it onto a packed airplane without any questions about where they had been or where they were going.

“We thought maybe they’d … take our temperature or whatever, but there was no advice on trying to self-isolate or conversation about ‘You just came from Florida.’ None of that,” Nancy Hawkinson said.

She and her husband chose to self-quarantine for 14 days so as not to unintentionally spread the virus if they had unknowingly picked it up along the way.

Dr. Brian Hartl with the Kent County Health Department said it’s not absolutely necessary for travelers returning to Michigan to self-quarantine, but he does urge them to practice safe social distancing, just as everyone else has been told to do.

“Obviously, they’re going to be coming back, they’re going to need supplies, groceries and things, but just limit contact with others and if you do develop symptoms, definitely stay home at that point,” he said.

He also explained that people could be doing a better job of practicing safe, physical distance, emphasizing that we should only be interacting closely with immediate family members in our household.

“We all love to hug each other and shake each other’s hand, but unfortunately we need to avoid those things. We don’t want to have grandma or grandpa over and have them give us the infection or, even worse, for us to give it to them,” he said.

Hartl said models are showing that the peak of the virus will happen in late April or early May, but that could change.

Many people who winter in Florida have said they will delay their return trip after Florida’s governor announced stay-at-home orders this week. His was among 10 states that had not already done so. They hope to be back north by summer.

As for the Hawkinsons, they’ve been passing the time in their self-imposed quarantine by making masks for workers at an adult foster care program nearby as they settle back into their home. They call Michigan their “happy place.”

“This is home. This is where we want it to be and where we felt safest,” they said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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