COVID-19 Update: Atlas Wholesale Food Co. Expands USDA Food Box Program Statewide, NSK in Ann Arbor Sends 7,500 Assemblies for Ventilators to Canada, 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.
graph of daily coronavirus cases in Michigan
Courtesy of Bridge

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.

Atlas Wholesale Food Co. Expands USDA Food Box Program Statewide
Atlas Wholesale Food Co., a Detroit based food service distributor to restaurants and casinos, has been awarded a U.S. Department of Agriculture contract to pack and distribute food boxes that will go to food banks, churches, and other emergency nonprofit food providers throughout Michigan.

Through November and December, Atlas will distribute 357,060 boxes equating to more than 11 million pounds of food to Michigan nonprofit partners.

This is the fourth round of food purchases and distribution through the USDA’s Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program, the Farmers to Families Food Box program, which has awarded contracts to regional and local food service distributors, such as Atlas, to purchase and distribute a total of $4.5 billion of fresh produce, dairy, and meat products from American producers of all sizes to those in need.

The USDA intentionally partnered with distributors whose workforce has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Atlas has been involved in all rounds of distribution, and from May 14- Oct. 3, it delivered 621,025 boxes that contained 11,267,359 pounds of food to nonprofit food providers.

“When COVID hit in March, we saw our core business model evaporate overnight,” says John Kohl, CEO of Atlas. “With restaurants and casinos closed, we asked ourselves, ‘how do we use our assets and resources to help feed our community?’ The Farm to Families program gave us the opportunity to help address food insecurity in southeast Michigan and rallied our team and other distributors around a common cause.”

Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency is one of the nonprofit partners that has partnered with Atlas to distribute the USDA Farmers to Families Food Boxes since May. Every week hundreds of cars line up at delivery sites in southeast Michigan to receive food.

“We have seen the demand for the USDA food boxes continue to grow in Michigan and, as we head into the cold, winter months, it’s critical to help those in need and continue to give back to the communities,” Kohl says. “The USDA food box program helps keep the local supply chain going and employees working. It has become our mission to deliver on every single one of these boxes and serves as a reminder that when faced with difficulty; don’t stop, keep going.”

NSK in Ann Arbor Sends 7,500 Assemblies for Ventilators to Canada
NSK Americas, a motion and control system manufacturer in Ann Arbor, delivered 7,500 of its Monocarrier linear actuator assemblies for use in the Winnipeg 2.0 Ventilator made by StarFish Medical, one of Canada’s leading medical device design and development firms.

In early spring, the Canadian government announced Canada’s Plan to Mobilize Industry to fight COVID-19, authorizing the immediate production of ventilators by a group of companies led by StarFish Medical. Over the course of six months, a redesign of the original Winnipeg Ventilator was developed, suppliers were selected, and government certification was granted.

The NSK Monocarrier is a rodless linear actuator series that combines three core NSK Automation technologies: precision-ground ball screws, linear guides with K1 lubrication, and support bearings. These fully integrated components provide smooth, near-silent, high-accuracy linear positioning for up to five years or 10,000 km of travel without maintenance. They are available in a broad range of sizes and load capacities, from the very compact units used by StarFish Medical, to the Toughcarrier line of heavy-duty industrial units featuring cylindrical rollers as the rolling elements.

The Monocarrier actuator also takes advantage of NSK Automation’s mechatronics expertise, and can be combined with stepper or servo motors for a seamlessly integrated, preassembled, and pretested component ready for installation. Multiple Monocarriers can easily be combined into an XYZ assembly or integrated with NSK linear guides and rails using readily available combination brackets, to create high-precision multi-axis robots or gantry systems. It can be used in applications ranging from semiconductor manufacturing, medical and diagnostic equipment, to 3-D printers and industrial machining systems.

“To drive the piston, we chose NSK’s Monocarrier for its smooth, accurate positioning, and extreme durability – delivered in a small form factor – which is precisely what this new ventilator design required. NSK was our first choice for this critical function,” says John Walmsley, executive vice president of strategic relationships at StarFish Medical.

New Data Show Drop in International Student Economic Value
The Washington, D.C.-based NAFSA: Association of International Educators released new data that show that the more than 1 million international students at U.S. colleges and universities during the 2019-2020 academic year contributed $38.7 billion to the U.S. economy, which is down 4.4 percent (a loss of $1.8 billion) from the prior academic year.

This is the first time that the dollar amount has dropped since NAFSA began calculating the economic contributions of international students and their families to the U.S. economy, more than 20 years ago.

The new research also reveals:

  • A decline of almost 2 percent in the number of overall international students (1,075,496; which includes those on optional practical training), the first time that figure has dipped since the 2005-2006 academic year.
  • A reduction in the number of jobs created/supported, on average, by international students: for every eight international students, three U.S. jobs are created/supported. In previous years, three jobs were created/supported by just seven international students.
  • The total number of jobs created/supported (415,996) by international students declined by 42,294 (9.2 percent) from last year.
  • The dollar impact of COVID-19 on the economic contributions of international students was $1.17 billion.
  • New international student enrollment declined for the fourth straight year.

NAFSA’s analysis does account for the impact of COVID-19 on spring 2020 student enrollment when U.S. schools moved all coursework online.

“Unfortunately, this disappointing news is not surprising,” says Esther D. Brimmer, executive director and CEO of NAFSA. “For the past four years international students and scholars have had to endure travel bans, executive orders, detrimental regulatory actions, and xenophobic rhetoric from the highest levels of U.S. government. The lack of a coordinated national pandemic response made the situation even more difficult. As the economic value decreases, we are reminded of the immense contributions that international students bring to America.

“We cannot afford to lose these talented individuals to a competitor country. Our policymakers and legislative leaders must reaffirm America’s commitment to international students and scholars because our universities and colleges have never stopped doing so, and neither have our competitor countries.”

To view a detailed report, visit here.

Ford F-150 Pickups Get Max Recline Seats
Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn has announced that its all-new F-150 pickup will be equipped with its patented Max Recline seats.

“The all-new Max Recline Seats in F-150 were inspired by those adjustable beds you see on TV to help make our customers more comfortable while resting in the cab,” says Ben Kulhawik, seat design and release engineer at Ford. “Our F-150 customers are constantly on the road or at a jobsite and being able to nab a few minutes of rest really is a boon to daily productivity.”

As part of developing the all-new F-150, the Ford comfort team went into the field with customers to see how they use their pickups in normal daily living. The team took hundreds of hours of video and thousands of photos while observing how people use their vehicles and what product “pain points” they either endure or find workarounds to compensate for them.

“We know the folks who work on construction or mining sites use their truck cab for naps during downtime, and we learned everyday owners do, too,” says Jackie DiMarco, truck product line director at Ford. “When I would take my daughters to hockey tournaments, between games, one would be sleeping in the back seat while the other would be on the floor of my truck, and it reinforced the idea that, ‘We need to fix this!’”

To make this new seating system come to life, Ford engineers figured out the best and simplest user experience, then created mockups to quickly develop a proof of concept. They used hot glue, foam core, and pins to build up components and attach them to a standard seat frame so they could test multiple concepts. After finding the most promising design, they developed a fully functional metal prototype to refine the motion and comfort of the seat; then production parts were created.

The end result: a seat that makes for a comfortable nap. The mechanism lifts the back half of the seat bottom 3.5 inches to make a flat surface to support the lower back. The upper seatback can also be moved forward for neck support. Ford’s all-new seats have been awarded five patents tied to the novel design and assembly process.

“There are no additional motors in these seats – just a simple mechanism that relies on the customer moving the seatback using the power recline function,” says Kulhawik. “It’s simple, it’s effective, and we believe our customers will love how much more productive they can be just by getting a little more rest during downtime.”

The all-new Ford F-150 is built and assembled at the Dearborn Truck Plant and the Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, Mo.

Auburn Hills’ Continental Adds Technology Hub in Ohio
Continental, an Auburn Hills-based technology company, has added its second Smart City Mobility and Transportation Hub in Columbus, Ohio.

Currently in its first phase of development, Continental’s Columbus Hub is comprised of two busy intersections with high vehicle and pedestrian traffic made intelligent by integrating Continental sensors, connectivity, and intelligent software into the infrastructure.

“As a long-time expert in automotive safety and connectivity, Continental continues to find new ways to deploy that expertise and technology to help make roads safer and mobility smarter for all traffic participants,” explains Tamara Snow, head of research and advanced engineering at Continental North America. “Continental’s intelligent intersection solution gives cities greater visibility into traffic patterns, with future phases designed to help improve traffic flow, reduce pollution and, most importantly, increase the intersection’s safety.”

Through its 2016 partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation Smart City Challenge, Continental made an initial pledge of at least $1 million to the city of Columbus to provide advanced sensing, vehicle-to-everything (V2X), and infrastructure-to-vehicle (I2V) communication technology.

Deployed at the intersections of Goodale Street and High Street, and Cleveland Avenue and Fifth Avenue Continental’s solution uses radar and data visualization to give a clear picture of pedestrian and vehicle traffic patterns, uncovering potential opportunities for traffic flow, and safety improvements. In the future, the system will be able to detect and broadcast object data information, including intersection traffic participants, to connected vehicles and pedestrians. This is a critical benefit given that more than 50 percent of total fatal and injury crashes occur at or near intersections, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Currently focused on collecting and sharing traffic data, Continental’s intelligent infrastructure is identifying key zones and traffic scenarios. One such function, Vehicle Group Detection, counts the number of single vehicles approaching the intersection to determine if a green traffic light should be extended, eliminating unnecessary braking or acceleration. When connected with a traffic light controller, this data can be used to adjust the traffic light timing between connected intersections in real-time to help improve traffic flow, reduce congestion and pollution, and contribute to a safer and more seamless intersection.

In the future, the data currently being collected is planned to enable active safety benefits, including V2X communication, and pedestrian and bicyclist detection. Using V2X technology, the intersection will broadcast safety messages to connected vehicles and pedestrians in and around the intersection. Object data generated by the intelligent infrastructure and broadcasted to all surrounding traffic participants helps visualize vulnerable road users such as visibly obstructed pedestrians to all connected vehicles. This type of communication would make it possible to warn an approaching vehicle about occluded hazards such as pedestrians, a critical safety advancement as 2019 has seen the highest number of pedestrian fatalities since 1988, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Continental also is building a dashboard where all collected data can be visualized for city officials. This dashboard will help the city monitor the overall system, can enable over-the-air updates for new feature deployments and system maintenance, and will ultimately give a previously unseen look into traffic patterns and critical moments, like near-miss crashes and vulnerable road user behavior, that can be used to improve safety and increase efficiency.

In 2019, Continental launched its first Smart City Mobility and Transportation Hub across two intersections in Auburn Hills. Data continues to be collected at those intersections and is being used to further calibrate an environment model needed to deploy V2X and I2V communication. Additionally, the company started testing highly automated vehicles in the intersections, leveraging the data to continue to integrate and implement V2X information to help improve the safety and reliability of automated vehicles when navigating the complex scenarios often found in intersections. These advanced features and functions also include pedestrian detection.

“It has been incredibly beneficial to learn from our findings in Auburn Hills while we continue work in Columbus,” Snow adds. “As a data-driven company, we are constantly analyzing incoming information to modify our algorithms and approach to improve intersection safety.”

Continental says it is committed to perfecting and deploying V2X technology due to its life-saving potential. In order to be deployed on a large scale and to make the biggest safety impact, V2X technology requires a dedicated radio spectrum, and the 5.9 GHz spectrum has been earmarked for just that. The lifesaving promise of V2X is vast, with the U.S. Department of Transportation stating that V2X technology has the potential to address approximately 80 percent of unimpaired vehicle crashes. Additionally, roadway injuries and fatalities do not only include people inside the vehicle. According to the National Safety Council, in the United States approximately 30 percent of all road fatalities are vulnerable road users, which include pedestrians, cyclists, scooters and motorcyclists. With a dedicated 5.9 GHz spectrum to sufficiently support broad V2X deployment, major strides can be made toward achieving Vision Zero.

Beaumont Research Backs Role of Masks in COVID-19 Protection
The Beaumont Research Institute says the findings of it testing study for COVID-19 antibodies, published in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal, supports the idea that mask wearing is effective protection against COVID-19 infection.

In the study, blood samples were collected from 20,614 employees across Beaumont Health, which includes eight hospitals in southeast Michigan. A total of 1,818 or 8.8 percent of participants were seropositive between April 13 and May 28. The term seropositive means the study participants were previously exposed to COVID-19 and antibodies were present in their blood.

“It’s nice to have proof masking really works,” says Dr. Matthew Sims, director of infectious diseases research at Beaumont Health and lead author of the research paper. “Masks play a vital role in protecting people and can dramatically reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19.

“There are three key takeaways from the data collected,” Sims says. “Masks do play a major role in protecting people and dramatically reduce the risk of infection. For frontline caregivers, job duties played a significant role in defining who was at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

People with higher levels of exposure were more likely to get it.”

For Beaumont staff, the impact of mask wearing was statistically significant. Research showed that people who were exposed to COVID-19 patients with no masks on had an 18 percent risk of getting sick. That dropped nearly in half, down to 10 percent, for people wearing N95 masks. And for those who did wear masks, but got infected, nearly 30 percent were asymptomatic – a total reaching nearly 40 percent for those wearing N95 masks.

The three job categories who had a higher rate of infection were:

  • Nurses – who spent a great amount of time with multiple patients each day and who were in direct physical contact with those patients.
  • Phlebotomists – many of whom were infected before universal masking and testing for all patients who came to the hospital for care, whether for COVID-19 or another condition.
  • Respiratory therapists – who were responsible for intubating patients and who came into heaviest contact with patient airways and exhalations.

“The more time a person spends in close contact with an infected individual, the higher the risk of that person contracting the virus themselves,” Sims says. “For example, doctors displayed a relatively low incidence of infection most likely due in large part to the fact that while they were working with patients, the duration of their direct contact with patients was limited.”

The research was funded by Beaumont Health and major donors through the Beaumont Health Foundation.

Virtual Michigan Accelerate Computer Science Event Looks to Break World Record
Coding rookies, programming enthusiasts, and computer scientists of all ages are invited to join together virtually to make history in an attempt to set a Guinness World Record during the Michigan Accelerate Computer Science event Dec. 11-12, sponsored by Wayne State University in Detroit.

Created for K-12 students, this event welcomes adult participants and volunteers who will receive a free, 30-minute computer programming lesson. Attendees will have the same 24 hours to log in and complete the coding lesson, in an attempt to set the official record for the most users to take an online computer programming lesson within 24 hours. The 24-hour window for this official world record attempt starts at 8 a.m. on Dec. 11 and ends at 8 a.m. on Dec. 12. Register online here by Dec. 4.

The virtual event, which takes place during Computer Science Education Week, is designed to help participants learn or refresh JavaScript programming language using the online app builder called Bitsbox. While the program is suitable for all ages, the coding lesson itself was designed at the middle school level and requires basic computer skills. Only 500 participants are required to set this the Guinness World Record, but the MACS hopes to bring together more than 2,000 participants.

This virtual event was launched after the COVID-19 pandemic halted Coding for Kids, a K-12 computer science program for Michigan youth previously conducted at Little Caesars Arena.

For more information, visit here.

ACC Providing Thanksgiving Dinners for Those in Need
Troy-based nonprofit ACC is hosting its “Giving Thanks Celebration,” at the ACC Fresh Market (110 W. Seven Mile Road in Detroit) Nov. 19 at 10 a.m. when those in need will receive up to Thanksgiving turkeys with all of the trimmings plus fresh groceries on a first-come, first-serve basis while supplies last.

The event is being held in conjunction with ACC’s weekly “Fresh Market” which serves more than 5,000 families. Nearly 30,000 pounds of food are distributed every Thursday to those in need, including fresh vegetables, dairy items, meat products, juices and snacks. Families also receive nutrition education. Since first opening its Fresh Market in 2011, ACC has distributed more than 7 million pounds of food to area individuals and families in metro Detroit.

ACC’s Giving Thanks Celebration is a drive-thru event. Walk-up service also will be available to those without transportation. Masks are required and social distancing will be observed.

“As we all continue to live through the constraints of the pandemic, this holiday season is far different from what any of us imagined,” says Haifa Fakhouri, president and CEO of ACC. “We are so thankful to our generous sponsors whose support will enable our neighbors to celebrate Thanksgiving with a delicious and healthy meal at a time when family is even more cherished.”