COVID-19 Update: Creating New Opportunities for Michigan in Israel, U-M/MSU STEM Project Receives $1.4M Grant, 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 Aug. 20

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.

MIBA Working to Create New Opportunities for Michigan in Israel
The Michigan Israel Business Accelerator is launching working groups with business leaders from Michigan and Israel to leverage Israeli innovation in the state’s battle against COVID-19.

The meetings will be virtual and start on Monday, Aug. 31 (from 8:30-9:45 a.m.). The MIBA’s goal is to pilot and implement Michigan and Israeli collaborations at the end of the year and beyond.

“We have an opportunity and it’s time to shift our thinking on COVID,” says Scott Hiipakka, CEO of the MIBA. “Six months from now, where are we going to be? We must leverage what we have learned these past few months and push ourselves to think beyond face coverings, hand sanitizer, and plexiglass. We have to look forward four to six months, determine our shortfalls, and create opportunities and business partnerships that will take our economy forward.

“These are challenging times, but through this crisis we can create prospects for partnerships and overall economic expansion,” says Hiipakka. “Thinking not just COVID today and tomorrow but beyond in order to leverage innovation like we’ve never done before.”

The event, titled Innovation vs. Corona, will bring together business leaders from across Michigan and Israel to identify Michigan’s needs and discuss opportunities in defense, mobility, cyber/artificial intelligence, health and life sciences, and food + agricultural technologies.

To participate in the Aug. 31 virtual event, visit here.

U-M/MSU STEM Project Receives $1.4M Grant
CLIMBS-UP, a collaborative research project between the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Michigan State University in East Lansing has been awarded a three-year, $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The project will study inclusive environments in science, technology, engineering, and math within academia. It is led by Isis Settles, a U-M professor of psychology and Afro American and African studies, and Kendra Spence Cheruvelil, MSU professor of fisheries and wildlife and the Lyman Briggs College.

“In our past work, we learned about the ways that open science can increase community engagement in science, how power dynamics affect the authorship decisions that often determine academic success, and how team climate affects career outcomes in academia, especially for people from marginalized groups,” says Cheruvelil. “This new grant allows us to broaden our scope to study new disciplines, all with the goal of helping to broaden participation in academic STEM careers.”

The project will be built on the organizational theory of person-environment fit, which suggests that career outcomes are improved when an organization’s work environment matches the needs, skills and values of its employees.

The project will involve quantitative online surveys of 3,500 graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and assistant professors in 120 STEM departments across the country. The team will focus on four STEM fields — biology, economics, physics and psychology — in which racial minority representation in faculty is low and gender representation is either low or moderate.

In Related News: Wayne State University has received a grant from the NSF to help create systemic change to increase equity among women faculty, particularly underrepresented minorities, in STEM disciplines. The three-year award, totaling $992,495, will support the ADVANCE Adaptation: Gender Equity Advances Retention in STEM (WSU GEARS) project.

The number of women faculty members in STEM at Wayne State increased to 20 percent in 2018, up from 14 percent in 2010, showing an upward trend reached through efforts to increase gender equity. Yet, only 13 percent of the university’s STEM faculty members are underrepresented minorities, and from an intersectional perspective, only 2.6 percent of STEM faculty members are underrepresented minority women as of 2019.

“Wayne State’s commitment to faculty success is based in the understanding that all faculty are valuable and that their expertise and backgrounds create an academic environment where their peers and students alike can learn thrive,” says Keith Whitfield, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “We know that some of our faculty face unique barriers, and the WSU GEARS project will play an important role in identifying and overcoming them to create a more inclusive, equitable environment on campus.”

Detroit Equity Report and WSU Partner to Improve Racial Equity in Local Businesses
Social justice program Detroit Equity Report Inc. is partnering with Wayne State University in Detroit to help area businesses foster greater racial equity in their ranks.

The Detroit Equity Report seeks to gather data from companies in the metro Detroit region about the levels of diversity throughout their organizations, including the C-suites and governance levels. This data will be used by the organizations to help promote the empowerment and advancement of African Americans and other people of color in corporate America.

“I am thrilled to have Wayne State University bring its analytical expertise to this endeavor,” says Bishop Edgar L. Vann, senior pastor of Second Ebenezer Church in Detroit and founder of the Detroit Equity Report. “Wayne State President M. Roy Wilson…immediately assembled a high-level team of academic experts to join us in this mission. We are particularly gratified that Peter Hammer, director of the Damon Keith Center for Civil Rights, will lead the Wayne State team.”

The partnership will be centered at the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights, which is housed at the Wayne State Law School. Kurt Metzger, mayor of Pleasant Ridge, will act as the primary researcher for the project.

In addition to providing academic and analytical support, WSU will help raise funds to support the project.

“This effort didn’t begin with the brutal killing of George Floyd, though that terrible event once again underscores the need for immediate change,” said Vann. “We have been working toward this for several years and partnering with Wayne State is the next natural phase.”

The collaboration with Wayne State is envisioned as an objective, data-driven approach to working in concert with companies to improve diversity and provide greater opportunities for people of color.

“The city of Detroit fully supports this effort and will be a participant in reviewing the city’s own processes as well as sharing data across the community,” says Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “We thank Bishop Vann for leading this important initiative and look forward to a tool that can make our community more equitable for all our residents.”

For more information, visit here.

State Approves Rate Increase for DTE Gas Co.
The Michigan Public Service Commission today approved a $110 million rate increase for DTE Gas Co., the result of a settlement agreement that reduced the proposed increase by more than 46 percent on the utility’s 1.2 million residential and commercial customers.

In November 2019, DTE Gas sought a $203.8 million rate increase, a request the company later reduced to $188.5 million. The company said it needed the increase to pay for natural gas system integrity expenditures and to offset increasing customer conservation and decreasing customer consumption.

All parties in the case signed onto the settlement except for the Residential Customer Group, which filed a statement of non-objection. Also intervening in the case were the Association of Businesses Advocating Tariff Equity; Detroit Thermal LLC; the Michigan Department of the Attorney General; Citizens Utility Board of Michigan; Michigan Power Limited Partnership; Retail Energy Supply Association, and Verso Corp. MPSC Staff also participated in the proceedings.

New rates will take effect Oct. 1. A residential customer using 100 cubic feet of gas a month will see an increase of approximately $2.97, or 3.9 percent, on their monthly bill. When an infrastructure recovery mechanism goes into effect in January 2021, the same customer will see an increase of approximately 63 cents, or 0.8 percent, for a total increase of $3.60, or 4.7 percent.

Under the settlement, DTE Gas also agreed to:

  • Make a one-time donation of $1 million to The Heat and Warmth Fund, which helps struggling households pay utility bills. The cost of the donation will be borne by DTE Energy shareholders, and not recovered from ratepayers.
  • Launch a demand response pilot program in winter 2021-2022 in line with recommendations from the MPSC’s 2019 Statewide Energy Assessment to increase resilience when energy supplies or delivery are constrained.
  • Include a 10-year natural gas delivery plan in its next general rate case that will provide a framework for the next decade of investment in its natural gas infrastructure.

The agreement reflects an authorized rate of return on common equity of 9.9 percent, and a common equity ratio of 52 percent. The company agreed to file a plan for a more balanced capital structure in its next rate case.

DTE Gas also has agreed to incremental $20 million accumulated deferred income tax amortization of its 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act non-plant regulatory liability. The company agreed to revised amortization schedule that accelerates the full return of the non-plant regulatory liability to customers through 2026 instead of 2031. The settlement also reflects participation levels of 33,000 customers in low income assistance and 70,000 customers in residential income assistance, and uncollectible expense of $27 million.

Hungry Howie’s to Open New Location in Detroit
Madison Heights-based Hungry Howie’s Pizza says it will open a new location in Detroit (1533 East Lafayette) on Aug. 26. The franchisee is Martin Manna, president of Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce.

Martin says he plans to open four more stores in the city within the next three to four years.

To celebrate the new location, Hungry Howie’s Pizza will be offering a special deal on a large one-topping pizza for $7.99. The location also is donating 10 percent of its opening day sales to the Umbrella Movement and 10 percent its sales on Tuesday, Sept. 8 to Superbad Inc.

Ann Arbor SPARK Virtual Annual Meeting to Feature Jon Roberts of TIP Strategies
Ann Arbor SPARK will host its annual meeting virtually from noon to 1 p.m. on Sept. 22, featuring the top 2020 projects previews of new projects and initiatives.

Jon Roberts of TIP Strategies, an expert in identifying and understanding how macro issues such as climate change, equity, and the COVID crisis impact local communities, will be the event’s keynote speaker.

Ann Arbor SPARK’s annual meeting was postponed due to the COVID crisis and is, for the first time, part of Ann Arbor SPARK’s a2Tech360 program, which offers seven days of 16 events showcasing Ann Arbor’s spirit of innovation.

Tickets for Ann Arbor SPARK’s annual meeting are available here.

Machine Learning Model Finds SARS-COV-2 Growing More Infectious
A novel machine learning model developed by researchers at Michigan State University in East Lansing suggests that mutations to the SARS-CoV-2 genome have made the virus that causes COVID-19 more infectious.

The model, developed by lead researcher Guowei Wei, a professor in the departments of mathematics and biochemistry and molecular biology, analyzed SARS-CoV-2 genotyping from more than 20,000 viral genome samples. The researchers analyzed mutations to the spike protein — a protein primarily responsible for facilitating infection — and found that five of the six known virus subtypes now are more infectious.

As with any virus, many mutations ultimately are benign, posing little to no risk to infected patients. Some mutations even reduce infectiousness. But some mutations lead to a more infectious virus.

Wei and his team have studied and analyzed mutation patterns and locations for months, tracking changes against the official viral genome sample captured in January.

Viral infection occurs when the spike protein interacts with a human host cell receptor called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 — ACE2 for short. As it relates to ACE2, scientists are concerned about a concept known as binding affinity, or the strength of the binding interaction between the spike protein and host receptor during the initial stage of infection.

“Viral infectivity increases if the binding affinity strengthens,” Wei said. “Currently, more than 50 mutations have been found along with the binding interface on the spike proteins receptor-binding domain — RBD for short — which has 194 possible mutation sites.”

As part of their research, Wei and team also predict that the novel coronavirus spreading around the world is slightly more infectious than the original SARS virus discovered in 2003.

Wei said the results align with those of another study recently published by researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida. This study examined spike protein mutations in a laboratory setting, also finding that the virus is mutating in ways that increase its infectiousness.

To read the full text of a research paper written by Wei, visit here.

Oxford School Uses High-tech Chemical to Protect Students
Kingsbury Country Day School in Oxford is using high-tech, non-toxic, hospital grade antimicrobial base-layer on all indoor/outdoor surfaces to protect against contamination 24/7.

Kingsbury teamed with the environmental experts at SurfaceStrike to do a gap analysis in the state mandated cleaning protocol. Results found a gap of protection between the mandated staff cleanings as the mandated disinfectants, which once dried leave surfaces vulnerable to re-contamination until the next cleaning cycle. There also was a gap identified for simple human error as staff may inadvertently miss an area or skip a section that is to be disinfected.

SurfaceStrike proposed using an antimicrobial covering as a base layer to provide high touch surfaces 24/7 protection against contamination in between disinfecting cycles. SurfaceStrike is currently applying MicrobeCare’s protective layer to school buses across the State, and numerous universities in Michigan are using it for classroom preparation and protection.

The product, MicrobeCare, has been used in the hospital industry for more than 10 years in critical areas such as ICUs, operating rooms and emergency trauma centers. It is a non-toxic, odorless, water-based product that instantly eradicates 99.999 percent of all germs on contact.

When applied with an electrostatic sprayer, MicrobeCare provides a 360-degree coating of objects with an almost permanent bond that cannot be washed or cleaned away, according to the company. Surfaces coated with MicrobeCare have 24/7 active antimicrobial contamination protection that in some industries have been proven to last for multiple years without re-application, the company says.

New Grant Expands Behavioral Health Support for Pandemic-related Emotional Distress
A new federal grant will help the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Administration continue a crisis counseling program for Michigan residents experiencing mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The $1.9 million Regular Services Program: Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency provides funding for an additional nine months of crisis counseling activities begun under a previous, short-term FEMA grant. It also allows for statewide expansion of behavioral health outreach services previously focused only in the Detroit metro area.

“As the pandemic continues, we know Michiganders are suffering stress, anxiety, and depression because of COVID-19,” says Robert Gordon, director of MDHHS. “This grant will help to sustain critical behavioral health counseling and referral services for our residents most in need of support.”

The new CCP grant will expand the current program by providing more trained crisis counselors available for free phone counseling and more outreach specialists.

With the new grant funding, six additional outreach specialists will be hired to support the unemployed residents, homeless or housing-insecure individuals (including those in need of isolation housing due to COVID-19), people with substance use disorder and people using substances to cope with COVID19, immigrants/limited English‐speaking residents, school teachers and staff, and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

For a menu of services and resources to help manage COVID-19 emotional distress, visit here.

Focus: HOPE Looking for Volunteers
Focus: HOPE, the Detroit-based early learning, job training, food for seniors, and community outreach nonprofit, says it is in need of volunteers.

The organization distributes food packages to more than 42,000 seniors throughout southeast Michigan each month. The demand for assistance has increased and the number of available volunteers has decreased during the pandemic.

To volunteer, visit here.

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