COVID-19 Update: Area Chefs Deliver to First Responders, Detroit Pistons Launch Open for Business Digital Platform, WSU Opens Dorm to Health Care Workers, and More

Here is a roundup of the latest news concerning the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to announcements from local, state, and federal governments, as well as international channels. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message.
map of Michigan coronavirus cases
Courtesy of Bridge, as of April 15

Here is a roundup of the latest news concerning the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to announcements from local, state, and federal governments, as well as international channels. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message.

First Responder Support
Jack Aronson, former owner of Garden Fresh Gourmet and now owner of Clean Planet Foods in Royal Oak, along with some of metro Detroit’s best known chefs and restauranteurs, is feeding a special lunch to 1,000 health care heroes, first responders, and essential workers on Friday, April 17. The chefs and restauranteurs taking part have been preparing and cooking for several days. They will collectively deliver 350 pounds of pasta and 250 pounds of cheese sauce for mac ‘n’ cheese, and 1,000 pounds of smoked and chopped meat. The chefs include Johnny Foz and Mike Cruz of BBQ Pit Cruz in Dearborn; Patrick Rugiero of Roman Village in Dearborn; Trevor Aronson of Jack’s Roadside BBQ in Clarkston; Luciano Del Signore of Bacco Ristorante in Southfield; Tim Idzikowski of Detroit BBQ in Ferndale; and Scott Moloney of Woodpile BBQ Shack in Clawson.

Each frontline warrior will receive a white bag filled with a lunch, which will include:

    • BIG half pound beef brisket or pulled pork sandwich (as well as some vegetarian sandwiches) with two barbeque sauces prepared by caterers BBQ Pit Cruz, Jack’s Roadside BBQ, Detroit BBQ Co., and Woodpile BBQ Shack
    • Side of “Mama Rita’s” homemade macaroni with classic Italiano homemade Quattro Formaggi (four cheese) sauce from Roman Village Cucina Italiana in Dearborn
    • Side of homemade Tuscan Bean Dip from Bacco Ristorante in Southfield
    • Homemade cookie from Peteet’s Famous Cheesecakes in Oak Park, Better Made Potato Chips, a protein bar from Simply Smart Bars, and a Florida orange.

The lunches will be delivered between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. to sites including Wayne State University Police Department, Wayne County Sheriff deputies and staff at Division 1 and Division 2 Jails, St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital, Highland Park Municipal Building, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Macomb County Health Department, Oakland County Jail, Southfield Fire Department, Oakland County Emergency Operations Center, and Pontiac General Hospital.

“Our hearts go out to the health care heroes, first responders, and essential workers on the front lines of the crisis, and we are ever grateful to all who helped in this endeavor to feed those courageous warriors. Please stay strong and stay safe,” says Annette and Jack Aronson in a prepared statement. The couple paid for all the meat and labor costs, and Clean Planet Foods was responsible for the coordination of the project.

Startup Support
In light of COVID-19 and school breaks, Beringea, a venture capital firm in Farmington Hills, is providing an opportunity for Michigan high school students to create a startup business plan and submit it to venture capital professionals for feedback and possible prize money (not an investment). Charlie Rothstein, founder and senior managing director of Beringea, says, “Innovation is what makes investing in small businesses exciting, and we know some of the best ideas come from young people. At Beringea, we want to know what creative, new business ideas (students) have. We’re offering $3,500 in prize money for the best start up business plans from Michigan high school students — no strings attached.” For more information on contest guidelines and how to enter, visit here.

Tech Startup Support
The Michigan Economic Development Corp. announced today the creation of a $3 million Tech Startup Stabilization Fund to help stabilize early-stage tech startups in Michigan that are being impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Administered by ID Ventures, the fund will provide early-stage tech companies direct investments or loans that can be converted into equity. Investment and loan sizes are expected to range between $20,000 and $100,000, depending on the stage of the company, the sector, estimated runway, and demonstration of need. Larger amounts may be awarded in scenarios where justified. The fund will prioritize early-stage tech companies that are beyond ideation and have previously raised capital from angel and/or venture capital sources. Fundraising to increase the impact of the fund is ongoing. Startups can visit to apply for the fund or learn more.

The fund will prioritize investments and loans for early-stage companies that demonstrate the following criteria:

  • Technology-based companies headquartered in Michigan with the majority of employees located in the state
  • Early-stage technology and innovation-based businesses with fewer than 50 employees
  • Strong team that has proven execution capability
  • Prior investment from angel or venture capital sources, with matching angel and or/venture capital funds encouraged
  • Pre-COVID-19, was on path for next round of funding, with favorable relationships in place
  • Strong customer value proposition
  • Conveys that company can survive and thrive post-crisis

State Government – Unemployment
Michigan’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate increased by half a percentage point over the month to 4.1 percent in March, according to data released Wednesday by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management, and Budget. Employment in Michigan fell by 65,000 in March, while the number of unemployed rose by 21,000, resulting in a labor force drop of 44,000 over the month.

The data reflects the Michigan employment status for the week of March 8–14, which was prior to the full impact of COVID-19 on the state labor market and does not reflect many of the COVID-19-related layoffs that occurred in the second half of March.

The national unemployment rate rose significantly by nine-tenths of a percentage point in March to 4.4 percent. Michigan’s rate was three-tenths of a percentage point below the U.S. rate. The national jobless rate advanced by 0.6 percentage points over the year, while the state rate was two-tenths below its March 2019 rate of 4.3 percent.

“The jobless rate increase over the month reflected the early impact of COVID-19 on Michigan’s workforce,” says Jason Palmer, director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives. “A significant job decline occurred in the state’s leisure and hospitality sector, as restaurants were among the first employers reporting pandemic-related layoffs a week or so before the full impact of the pandemic was felt later in March.”

The Detroit-Warren-Dearborn Metropolitan Statistical Area’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate increased by a full percentage point to 4.9 percent in March. Total employment inched down by 2,000, while the number of unemployed rose by 23,000. The Detroit MSA labor force was up by 22,000 in March.

Over the year, the Detroit jobless rate rose by four-tenths of a percentage point. Employment advanced by 19,000, while unemployment rose by 9,000, resulting in a net workforce gain of 28,000 since March 2019.

Data from the monthly survey of employers indicated that seasonally adjusted payroll employment in Michigan receded by 24,000 in March to 4,437,000. Over half of this decline was a result of job losses in the state’s leisure and hospitality industry. This reflected the beginning of layoffs in the restaurant industry related to the COVID-19 pandemic in the state.

Industry employment trends and highlights include:

  • Michigan’s March total nonfarm employment value of 4,437,000 was the lowest seen by the state since October 2019 (4,415,000).
  • The March statewide leisure and hospitality industry job level of 423,000 was the lowest total seen for the sector since January 2016.
  • After two months of employment advances, professional and business services was stable in March, edging down by 1,000, or 0.2 percent, over the month.
  • Michigan’s construction sector exhibited the largest over-the-year employment gain on a percentage basis, advancing by 4.9 percent since March 2019.
  • Over the year, payroll employment edged up by 4,000, or 0.1 percent. In comparison, the national total nonfarm job count advanced by 1 percent since March 2019.

State Government – Medicine Warning
The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services are warning the public against the promotion or use of the drug ivermectin in the prevention or treatment of COVID-19.

Ivermectin is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for prevention of heartworm disease in some small animal species, and for treatment of certain internal and external parasites in various animal species, as well as humans.

Recently, the drug has gained some attention due to a pre-publication paper for the journal Antiviral Research. The paper documents how SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) responded to ivermectin when exposed in a petri dish. Ivermectin was not given to people or animals in this study.

“We cannot emphasize this strongly enough: this study was not tested in humans or in animals,” says Nora Wineland, the state’s veterinarian. “It was done in a petri dish. As intriguing as the results may be, at this point, they mean little to nothing in the actual prevention or treatment of COVID-19 in either animals or humans. Ivermectin sold for use in animals has not been evaluated for safety in species other than those listed on the label and may cause serious harm if taken by people.”

Warnings from state agencies follow similar warnings from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which sent a letter to stakeholders on April 10.

In the letter, the FDA states it is “concerned about the health of consumers who may self-medicate by taking ivermectin products intended for animals, thinking they can be a substitute for ivermectin intended for humans. People should never take animal drugs, as the FDA has only evaluated their safety and effectiveness in the particular animal species for which they are labeled. These animal drugs can cause serious harm in people. People should not take any form of ivermectin unless it has been prescribed to them by a licensed health care provider and is obtained through a legitimate source.”

State Government – California Ventilators
California Gov. Gavin Newsome sent Michigan 50 ventilators on loan from his state’s inventory as both states continue to fight COVID-19. The ventilators arrived in Lansing Wednesday.

Below are the material donations still needed by health care facilities:

  • Masks: NIOSH N95 or better
  • Ventilators
  • Sanitizer (hand/wipes)
  • Gloves
  • Surgical Masks (not handmade)
  • Hospital gowns
  • No-touch thermometers

Material donations can be directed to the Michigan Community Service Commission at or by calling 517-335-4295.

Digital Platform for Restaurants
The Detroit Pistons have launched an “Open for Business” platform to help open local restaurants stay in touch with the hungry public. “Open for Business” lets the community know which restaurants are open for carryout, delivery, or curbside pickup. For additional delivery options download the Uber Eats app at the App Store or on Google Play to see participating restaurants. Restaurants that want to participate in the platform are encouraged to complete the form here.

During the pandemic, seven Beaumont hospital emergency centers and its freestanding emergency center in Canton Township remain open 24/7 to care for non-COVID-19-related medical emergencies and trauma including heart attacks, stroke, seizures, and injuries.

“We’ve taken extra precautions to ensure our Emergency Centers are disinfected, clean, and staffed to assist patients with non-COVID-19 medical emergencies,” says Dr. James Ziadeh, chief of emergency medicine at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. “Those experiencing chest pains, stroke symptoms, or any other medical emergency should not hesitate to call 911, or visit one of our emergency centers. We are concerned some patients might be experiencing medical emergencies and may be reluctant to seek care, which could potentially put their lives in danger.”

Except for Beaumont Hospital, Wayne, the following emergency centers are open:

  • Beaumont Hospital, Dearborn
  • Beaumont Hospital, Farmington Hills
  • Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe
  • Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak
  • Beaumont Hospital, Taylor
  • Beaumont Hospital, Trenton
  • Beaumont Hospital, Troy

In addition to the seven hospital emergency centers, the Beaumont emergency center in Canton, at 7300 N. Canton Center Rd., also is providing emergency care.

Hospital Support
Wayne State University in Detroit is opening its doors to frontline health care workers who need a safe and comfortable place to rest.

The university recently finalized agreements with Henry Ford Health System and the Detroit Medical Center to house medical professionals at one of WSU’s six student residence halls, Atchison Hall, which can house more than 200 guests in private accommodations as needed.

The first guests from Henry Ford arrived April 14. For clinician housing, all guests receive a hospitality snack bag and full linens. In addition, they have access to Atchison Hall’s WiFi, community kitchens, and in-building laundry.

“For those medical employees who are not able to go home,” says Christina Bowen, director of summer conferences at WSU, “it’s comforting to know we are able to offer housing that’s home for them right on our campus.”

Many of Henry Ford’s employees routinely travel 50 miles or more to work, explains Nina Ramsey, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Henry Ford Health System. Those working longer shifts during the crisis need a convenient option to get the rest they need.

“Additionally, this will provide a solution for those team members we have recruited from outside our region to help during this crisis,” Ramsey says. “We are grateful to community partners like Wayne State University for providing temporary housing for our team members who are caring for COVID-19 patients.”

HFHS and DMC guests can arrive 24/7 to check into a room, with a laptop set up for walk-up registration. To welcome the health care workers to Atchison Hall, Wayne State staff created a video to provide directions to parking, the building and the “low touch” process that uses a kiosk for guest check-in.

Rocket Mortgage Classic Rescheduled
The second Rocket Mortgage Classic, originally scheduled to be played May 25-31 at the Detroit Golf Club, has been rescheduled to July 2-5, 2020 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are incredibly proud to be announcing the scheduling of the Rocket Mortgage Classic,” says Jay Farner, CEO of Quicken Loans and Rocket Mortgage, and Jason Langwell, executive director of the RMC, in a joint statement. “Considering the heartbreaking impact of COVID on the city of Detroit and its residents, this was one of the most difficult decisions we, as a company, have made in a number of years. It was not a decision we took lightly. We consulted with leaders in our region, including Mayor Duggan, state officials, and key community partners such as Rev. Wendell Anthony. Based on their input, we ultimately decided to hold the event, and look forward to working with our community partners as we move forward.”

Small-business Assistance in Royal Oak
The Royal Oak Downtown Development Authority voted Wednesday to establish a $2 million business recovery program aimed at providing aid to small businesses within the Royal Oak Downtown Development District affected by the COVID-19 outbreak and related executive orders and emergency declarations. The program will be funded from the DDA’s fund balance.

Following this approval, the DDA staff will develop programs that will have an impact on relief and recovery for small businesses. Chief among these are programs intended to provide financial relief for business owners, a buy-local program for residents, and marketing campaigns targeted towards patrons, welcoming them back to downtown Royal Oak. Businesses that will be able to apply for the financial assistance include bars, restaurants, cafes, salons, retail establishments, and entertainment venues.

The programs will be independent of efforts from other levels of government such as the recent Oakland County Small Business Stabilization Grant, the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program, and Economic Injury Disaster Loan.

These initiatives are being solely funded from the DDA’s own funds. The DDA received funds from the sale of a large parcel of land at Woodward Avenue and Interstate 696 to a development firm, which is presently constructing a residential development known as The Griffin. Additionally, other downtown developments, including the Henry Ford development, the Hyatt Place Hotel, and the Etkin Real Estate Solutions development have contributed to an increase in tax revenues to the DDA.

Business owners can receive regular updates on the programs and, when they can, submit an application by signing up for the downtown mailing list here.

Troy-based Cadillac Products announced a shift in production to manufacture and donate thousands of PPE gowns to local hospitals in an effort to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The gowns are fully compliant with local, state, and federal requirements.

Cadillac Products Automotive is a supplier of protective plastic, exterior and interior acoustical parts, and door water shields; Cadillac Products Packaging Co. is a manufacturer of coextruded and monolayer blown films, cast films, and flexible packaging laminations.

The effort was kicked off by Maggie Williams, CRNA, a front-line nurse at Sinai Grace Hospital who suggested to her father, Robert Williams Jr., president and CEO of Cadillac Products Packaging Co., that perhaps their companies could use their engineering and machining to assist her teams.

In Related News, Livonia’s AlphaUSA, which normally manufacturers engineered fasteners for industry, has transformed its operation to production of personal protective equipment for medical and first-responder personnel.

“It’s been an incredible team effort,” says David Lawrence, senior vice president and chief administrative officer for AlphaUSA. “This happened because of the full support of our employees, community, and ownership family.”

On April 13, Livonia Mayor Maureen Miller Brosnan and Livonia Police Chief Curtis Caid picked up protective face shields from the company’s Livonia plant where AlphaUSA’s engineers deployed a prototype process to test their face shield concept and completed the initial order.

As of last week, the company committed to provide 5,000 face shields to hospitals, community organizations, and first responders. St. Mary Mercy Hospital and police and fire first responders within the city of Livonia were among the first to receive the personal protective equipment. Other supplies the company was able to procure were also shipped to area hospitals.

National Cherry Festival Postponed
The National Cherry Festival, originally scheduled for July 4-11 in Traverse City, has been cancelled for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The annual event will next take place July 3-10, 2021.

“The safety and health of our entire community, guests, volunteers, and staff is our first priority and always top of mind when making our decisions,” says Kat Paye, executive director of the festival. “We did not make this decision lightly.”

Trevor Tkach, president and CEO of Traverse City Tourism, says, “Not only is the festival a beloved national tradition, it’s a key economic driver for our region. It’s painful to see organizers cancel the 2020 event, but prioritizing the health and safety of festival goers, volunteers, and the community is the honorable thing to do. We appreciate the support of local community leaders and organizations with this difficult decision. We know that it is the correct decision for the community and to ensure the celebration of cherries can go on for the next 100 years. For those who have bought tickets or registered for a race at the 2020 festival, information regarding these purchases will come in the following days.”

Trucking Donations
Convoy, the Seattle-based digital freight network, today announced that the company will pay the trucking costs for any business in the U.S. wanting to donate a truckload of product to their local food bank.

In an effort to address the growing food shortages facing millions of Americans impacted by COVID-19, companies like Land O’Lakes Inc. are partnering with Convoy to donate critical items to food banks across the nation. All businesses are eligible to participate in the program.

Land O’Lakes Inc., one of the first shippers to participate in the program, plans to initially donate more than 1,300 cases of macaroni and cheese to South Michigan Food Bank in Battle Creek.

With millions suddenly unemployed, food banks across the U.S. are experiencing unprecedented demand amid a shortage of supplies. According to Feeding America, more than 54 million Americans are now food insecure. Traditionally, grocery stores have been a major donation source, regularly contributing excess inventory. However, those stores are grappling with panic-buying and empty shelves, shifting their focus to restocking and adequately sanitizing grocery surfaces, instead of organizing donations to local food banks. Feeding America estimates that the cost of buying food to offset this drop in donations, and the decline in its volunteer labor force, is about $1.4 billion.

Convoy’s new sustainability program taps into Feeding America’s network of 200 centralized food banks and 60,000 localized soup kitchens and pantries. Participating shippers reach out to Convoy with a full truckload donation and are matched with a food bank or soup kitchen, usually within 40 miles or less of their facility. Convoy’s digital freight network then finds, books, and pays a truck driver to deliver the goods to that local food bank. In addition to helping shippers support their local communities, this program also provides truck drivers with work to deliver the much-needed donations.

Support for Salons
Ann Arbor’s DaySmart Software today announced the availability of a free tele-consultation service for its 14,000 salon and spa customers. Users of Salon Iris software — DaySmart’s premier business management solution created specifically for salons and spas — now can engage with clients virtually to consult on at-home treatments, offer lessons on hair care, makeup or hair color, and develop new revenue by booking paid tele-consultations. By integrating this service with their existing business management solution, salon and spa owners will be able to maintain client relationships, continue selling products and services, and manage the health of their business operations — all from one platform.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many businesses to close their doors, and for those that require face-to-face interaction, that impact has been detrimental to their growth. Moreover, hair clipper sales rose by 166 percent in the last week and at-home hair color increased 23 percent over the same timeframe from the previous year, according to data from Nielsen. Recognizing its salon and spa customers faced a significant financial threat from COVID-19 — and that their clientele were in need of salon and spa interactions — DaySmart fast-tracked the development of this service and committed to deliver it to current customers at no cost. Using the tele-consultation service, now activated in every current Salon Iris account, salon owners can interact with clientele through this “video face-to-face” feature to offer complimentary consultations on home hair coloring or styling, or to sell customized hair, nail, and makeup lessons or advice.

The release of the free tele-consultation service is one of many steps DaySmart has taken to offer assistance to customers impacted by COVID-19. At the start of the forced business closures, the company established free email capabilities and amended their text marketing modules to make it easier for customers to communicate with clients and employees. Additionally, DaySmart launched a partnership with Kabbage Inc. — an online financial technology company dedicated to small businesses—to deliver customers a streamlined, simplified SBA loan application process. Those interested in applying can visit here.

To learn more about the new tele-consultation service, please visit here.

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