COVID-19 Update: Governor Issues Consumer Safety Measures, Wayne County Enacts Hiring and Spending Freeze, Henry Ford Starts Convalescent Plasma Program, 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 27

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.

State Government – Consumer Safety Measures
On April 26, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-60 to establish strategies to reduce exposure to COVID-19 for both customers and employees. The order also provides temporary relief by suspending certain licensing requirements and regulations for food service industries.

Under the order, customers are strongly encouraged to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth when entering a food establishment. Grocery stores and pharmacies must allocate at least two hours per week of shopping time for vulnerable populations. Additionally, if an employee tests positive for COVID-19, the establishment must notify other employees without infringing on private personal-health related information of an employee.

In an effort to protect the health and safety of consumers, the order also outlines strategies food establishments and pharmacies must take to reduce possible exposure of COVID-19 to their customers. As outlined under Executive Order 2020-42, establishments must do the following:

  • Require checkout employees to wear some form of covering over their nose and mouth, such as a homemade mask, scarf, bandana, or handkerchief;
  • Ensure that both employees and customers remain at least six feet apart to the maximum extent possible;
  • Close self-serve prepared food stations such as salad bars and eliminate free samples and tasting stations;
  • Adopt procedures to meet the environmental cleaning guidelines set by the CDC, including by cleaning and disinfecting frequent touchpoints throughout the day such as point of sale terminals at registers, shopping carts, and shopping baskets;
  • Prohibit employees who are sick from reporting to work and send employees home if they display symptoms of COVID-19;
  • Accommodate employees who fall within a vulnerable population by providing lower-exposure work assignments or giving them the option to take an unpaid leave of absence with a return date coinciding with the end of the states of emergency and disaster;
  • Develop and implement a daily screening program for all staff upon or just prior to reporting to work sites.

Due to the increased strain on Michigan’s food service industry, local health departments, and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the governor has extended the deadline for certain forms of licensing and registration.

Visit here to view the entire executive order.

State Government – Student Loan Assistance
The Michigan Department of Treasury today announced Michiganders who have student loans guaranteed by the state will be provided assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Collection activities on delinquent Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) student loans, made by a financial institution and serviced by the Michigan Guaranty Agency, will be halted until Sept. 30.

The state Treasury Department has stopped all wage garnishments and offsets to pay outstanding FFELP student loans serviced by the Michigan Guaranty Agency. Borrowers who are currently in repayment agreements will not be penalized if a payment is missed through Sept. 30.

Individuals who have FFELP loans serviced by the Michigan Guaranty Agency and are encountering repayment issues are encouraged to call 800-642-5626.

Some FFELP loans were made by private lenders, and guaranty agencies insured these funds. Since 2010, no new FFELP loans have been issued by the federal government.

Wayne County Government – Hiring and Spending Freeze
On Monday, Wayne County Executive Warren C. Evans signed Executive Order 2020-001 instituting hiring and spending freezes across county government in response to a projected revenue shortfall of at least $152 million created by the COVID-19 pandemic and economic shutdown.

“The ongoing global pandemic and stay home orders are putting a tremendous strain on the county’s ability to fund essential services at current levels,” says Evans. “This order is a proactive step to ensure we can balance our books without significantly impacting service levels.”

Evans’ order specifies current and future vacant full-time, part-time, and temporary positions as well as contract personnel shall remain unfilled, and salary and wages shall remain frozen except when raises are required by collective bargaining agreements. Additionally, all overtime, travel, operating services, supplies, professional services, other charges, acquisitions, major repairs, subscriptions, memberships, equipment and capital purchases, and other expenditures shall require special approval by an executive review committee.

“Our goal is to avoid layoffs and service reductions as much as possible,” says Evans. “My administration intends to collaboratively work with other county officials and unions on solutions to the fiscal challenge created by coronavirus, just as we did to resolve the county’s financial emergency when I took office.”

With initial projections showing a revenue loss of $152 million over the second half of the county’s current 2019-2020 fiscal year, the Evans administration also is working with other Wayne County officials on an updated two-year budget forecast that assesses every fund and department as well as evaluated potential investment losses in pension and other post-employment benefit plans.

While Evans says he remains committed to responsible budgeting in this new environment created by the pandemic, he also urged federal leaders to better support state and local governments struggling with coronavirus-related fiscal challenges.

“In Wayne County, we’ve delivered five straight budget surpluses without raising taxes, built a rainy-day fund, and improved our credit rating to investment grade; but that isn’t enough to weather a once-in-a-century pandemic,” says Evans. “Local governments across Michigan and the nation will be strained to a breaking point without assistance. If the federal government can explore bailouts for airlines and the oil industry, they should help local government with resources for roads, parks, schools, and police.”

Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, one of the first Michigan health systems to participate in a convalescent plasma program, today announced 14 patients have undergone transfusion with convalescent plasma without complications, the first at Henry Ford Hospital on April 17. Additional transfusions are planned.

The first collection of plasma from a formerly positive COVID-19 health care worker also took place on April 17. Collection from additional donors is underway, focusing on previously positive heath care workers.

Convalescent plasma is the name given to the plasma of an individual who has been infected with COVID-19 and then developed protecting antibodies against that specific infection. The premise for current investigational treatments is that the plasma can be used in a transfusion of a COVID-19 patient with the hope that some level of protection can be shared with the recipient.

“There is currently no FDA-approved treatment for COVID-19, which is why it is imperative to use our experience and expertise at Henry Ford to search for answers,” says Dr. Steven Kalkanis, CEO of the Henry Ford Medical Group and senior vice president and chief academic officer for Henry Ford Health System. “Our compassionate care now can help form preventative barriers and effective treatments for patients in the future, so we can firmly handle this ongoing threat.”

Current FDA guidelines require those who receive convalescent plasma to, at a minimum, be COVID-19 positive and receiving oxygen. Henry Ford Health System physicians focused on patients in critical condition who could potentially benefit the most from a transfusion. All of the patients are progressively improving. But since multiple medical interventions are typically used for each patient, further evaluation of outcomes is necessary to determine specifically what proved effective, according to the health system.

“Medicine is built on scientific research: methodical analysis of what works and what doesn’t,” says Kalkanis. “While we are cautiously optimistic that this type of treatment could be of some benefit, we won’t know until we are able to analyze data in the future.”

While science shows the use of antibodies can, in some instances, provide protection from future infection, there are no current studies available to show that the infusion of this plasma to a patient with the COVID-19 disease is beneficial. There is no previous experience to predict how the virus will behave if infused along with the protecting antibodies. Plus, testing capabilities for measuring antibody titers is currently very limited across the United States.

Henry Ford Health System is currently working with the Mayo Clinic on the current program, led at Henry Ford Hospital by the Henry Ford Health System Department of Transfusion Medicine, as well as the Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Pathology, and intensive care unit staff

The researchers have been working with donors who are Henry Ford Health System employees who tested positive for COVID-19, recovered, and show no signs of disease. Donors who qualify either have a negative COVID-19 test at least 15 days after their positive test or have been symptom-free for at least 28 days after testing positive.

Donors must meet regular volunteer blood donor criteria and have a donor form signed by a doctor. The plasma collection takes place at a blood center collection site and takes about one hour. Donation can be repeated at weekly intervals, and one donation can provide between one and four doses of plasma. Those who may qualify and would like to be evaluated for donation can email for more information.

Altimetrik, a Southfield-based global business transformation company, and the 501(c)(3) Vattikuti Foundation have donated $400,000 as part of a partnership with Henry Ford Health System, the city of Detroit, and its health department to bring 10,000 onsite COVID-19 tests to the city’s more than 126 nursing homes and senior assisted living facilities.

“Through rapid testing and partnerships like the one with Altimetrik, the Vattikuti Foundation, and Henry Ford Health System, we are meeting the needs of our friends, parents, and grandparents and those who care for them through this initiative,” says Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

High-density senior facilities are particularly threatened due to both COVID-19-specific risk factors, as well as issues associated with health care access and transportation safety and accessibility.

Preliminary testing indicates high rates of infection at some sites with further testing urgently required. Senior assisted-living facilities are similar to nursing homes in terms of both the urgent need for attention and the socio-demographics of residents. In fact, many of these facilities do not have the medical staff that nursing homes do.

“Henry Ford has always been a trusted partner with the communities it serves in meeting vital health needs, and this has been especially true in the city of Detroit,” says Bob Riney, president of health care operations and COO at Henry Ford Health System. “This partnership in response to the coronavirus builds on this commitment and will bring vital testing infrastructure onsite to the residents and workers of these congregate facilities to help prevent further spread of the disease as well as function as a venue for outreach and distribution of protective equipment.”

The testing deployment teams are managed by the Global Health Initiative (GHI) at Henry Ford, a unique collaboration of regional health care and academic institutions that seeks to address some of the most pressing health care issues facing underserved populations in Michigan and internationally.

“The community outreach campaign will have meaningful impact by quickly identifying those who may be positive and limiting further spread of the virus in these vulnerable populations,” says John Zervos, executive director of GHI. “It takes a village in this kind of crisis. The city of Detroit, its health department, Wayne State University, and the philanthropic community have been phenomenal partners in advancing this critical work. Together, we’re making a difference.”

This testing program will have three operational components: mobile testing; education, outreach, and prevention efforts; and monitoring, analysis, and back-to-work planning.

Mobile testing is made possible thanks to the gift, which will allow for the purchase and deployment of 10,000 tests over the next six-eight weeks. The deployment teams of GHI staff and community volunteers use test-equipped vans to visit each site. They wear the required personal protective equipment and aim to test about 200 people a day.

Results, treatment, and care protocols, such as isolating COVID-positive residents, are quickly implemented. Site visits also allow for the delivery of education on preventative measures and distribution of PPE to patients and workers as needed. In addition to the monetary donation contributed by Altimetrik employees, Altimetrik will also provide operational support in building digital infrastructure for information collection and analysis. Building digital tools for the collection and analysis of data will help reduce future spread of the disease and help develop guidelines for infection-preventive work practices. These efforts are all intended to help drive return to a safer and more normal daily life for those currently afflicted and accelerate the reopening of the city of Detroit.

In Other Testing News: Kroger Health, the health care division of The Kroger Co., April 27 announced plans to expand its drive-thru COVID-19 testing model to 50 locations in more than 12 states to perform up to 100,000 tests by the end of May. To date, Kroger Health has performed nearly 8,000 tests in 30 locations in Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. The company also has launched a pilot for site-specific testing for company associates in Michigan and Colorado.

A key enabler of this expansion is pharmacists’ ability to order and administer testing. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a statement on Authorizing Licensed Pharmacists to Order and Administer COVID-19 Tests.

Through the collaboration, HHS is providing access to test kits and laboratory services via eTrueNorth and Kroger Health is providing professional services via its multidisciplinary team of nurse practitioners, pharmacists, and technicians.

Using the HHS-recommended testing model, Kroger Health performs approximately 250-330 tests per day. Kroger Health testing sites use anterior nares or mid-turbinate nasal swab tests that are designed to increase safety. Patients remain in their cars throughout the testing process, which is completed in just a few minutes using self-administered test kits.

Americans can access Kroger Health’s free virtual screening tool to determine if testing is appropriate for them and identify available dates and locations here.

Medical Supplies
Shunli Steel USA, established in 2018 with the support of the Detroit Regional Partnership and Michigan-China Innovation Center and temporarily located in Erie Township in Monroe County, is donating 70,000 surgical masks to the Emergency Management and Homeland Security Department of Michigan, in addition to 6,000 pieces to the Monroe Health Department and community.

All 76,000 masks will be sent to local first responders and medical professionals.

“We at Shunli Steel USA believe in working together to help support the state and community in which we live and conduct business,” says Bill Nolan, COO of Shunli. “It’s an honor and privilege to aid the brave medical professionals and first responders on the front lines of the pandemic.”

Reopening the Economy
Dubak Electrical Group in Illinois has launched DuThermX, the first fully integrated body temperature measurement system for industrial and commercial applications in the United States. The contact-free, high-capacity system detects elevated body temperatures as large numbers of people enter factories, health care facilities, buildings, and event venues. The DuThermX system uses advanced thermal camera technology and can be integrated with existing security systems.

“DuThermX promises to help return America to work with confidence, where the new normal can look and feel as much like the old normal as possible,” says Nick Dubak, COO of Dubak Electrical Group. “With DuThermX, an unobtrusive entry body temperature measurement system helps reduce the anxiety and stresses that go along with today’s flow of people at points of entry while enhancing the safety of employees and visitors – all the while freeing up personnel to focus on other important aspects of safety and security.”

As new standards for public safety emerge, including from the federal government, proven best practices in identifying people with elevated body temperature is a key factor in mitigating the threat of illness. Recognizing the seriousness of the COVID-19 virus, Dubak’s team of engineers started working on a safety solution in January.

“Safety has always been central to what we do,” says Danny Vujovic, vice president of engineering at Dubak Electrical Group. “So, we tapped the thousands of hours of R and D as well as years of installation experience to develop a system that accounts for the dynamic conditions of personnel scanning, traffic flow, facility requirements, and changing environment impact.”

DuThermX is a contact-free and continuous flow system, which alleviates the need for manual screening and any bottle necks created by stopping people that often requires two or more personnel at any building entry point. It can be added to existing surveillance and monitoring systems or installed separately.

COVID-19 Education
The Van Andel Institute for Education in Grand Rapids is assisting teachers and students by providing remote resources during this period of school closure due to COVID-19. These tools were created to inspire students and recapture their love of education, while also empowering teachers with high-quality instructional tools for remote learning.

VAI now is offering teachers a free 30-minute online consultation to help them navigate the new landscape of distance education. K-12 educators are invited to reach out to project coaches — experts in inquiry-based learning — who can assist with the current transition and provide crucial feedback.

“Teachers and schools have such diverse needs right now; it’s crucial that our assistance be flexible and adaptive to where they are,” says Ben Talsma, a learning solutions specialist at VAI. “That’s why we’re offering free consultations: so teachers can talk about their challenges and receive individualized help and support.”

The institute also has launched a free, virtual version of Prevent the Spread, a project where students learn about their power to stop the spread of COVID-19. The unit includes everything teachers need to conduct the lesson remotely. Prevent the Spread is geared toward students in grades 3-8.

“Teachers are making heroic efforts to adjust to distance learning on the fly,” says Terra Tarango, chief education officer at VAI. “They want to continue with authentic, meaningful learning experiences, and we want to help them do that.”

In addition, Keep Curiosity Alive! is a free collection of science experiments, engineering challenges, tech endeavors, and reading lessons that parents can implement with their children from the safety of their own homes.

For more information, click here.

Cable Companies
As shelter in place continues to be the norm and schools remain closed across the country, Comcast announced it will extend its commitments for Xfinity customers through June 30 to help ensure students can finish out the school year from home and remain connected to the internet during the COVID-19 crisis.

Originally announced on March 13, Comcast made the following commitments that will now be extended into the summer:

No Disconnects and Waiving Late Fees: Comcast will not disconnect a customer’s Xfinity Internet, Xfinity Mobile, or Xfinity Voice service, and will waive late fees if customers contact and let Comcast know that they can’t pay their bills during this period. Comcast care teams are available to offer flexible payment options or help find other solutions.

Xfinity WiFi Free for Everyone: Xfinity WiFi hotspots in business and outdoor locations across the country will be available to anyone who needs them for free – including non-Xfinity Internet subscribers. For a map of Xfinity WiFi hotspots, click here.

Pausing the Data Plan: With so many people working and educating from home, Comcast says it wants its customers to access the internet without thinking about data plans. While the vast majority of its customers do not come close to using 1TB of data in a month, the company is pausing its data plans to give all customers unlimited data for no additional charge.

Internet Essentials: Internet Essentials is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program. Comcast is extending its offer of 60 days of complimentary service for new customers through June 30. Internet Essentials normally is available to all qualified low-income households for $9.95/month. For more information, click here.

For more information and updates from Comcast related to Coronavirus, click here.

Artist Relief
Big Sean, Jeff Daniels, Morgan Fairchild, Alonzo Bodden, and Hill Harper are among the performers who will honor local artists during the COVID-19 Artist Relief Telethon hosted by Mitch Albom and Rochelle Riley this Thursday, to be broadcast by Comcast.

The program, which will benefit local artists who have lost income because COVID-19 canceled gigs and closed venues, will air at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 30 on Channel 21 in Detroit and Comcast Channel 900 across the state. It also can be seen online anywhere here and on the Detroit Public Television Facebook page.

All donations made during the telethon will benefit the Artist Crisis Emergency Fund. The ACE Office says it welcomes partners Walker Miller Energy, Huntington Bank, Albom, and Metro Solutions. The ACE Fund benefits artists across Wayne and Oakland counties. Those interested also can donate to the GoFundMe campaign through May here.

Food Support
On April 27, Detroit’s Saucy Joe’s Italian Food Truck made its first stop on its Noodles for Nurses campaign at Universal-Macomb Ambulance Service in Sterling Heights.

Noodles for Nurses is a charity campaign aimed at providing free gourmet meals to local medical frontline workers as a way of saying thank you.

The catering company has been raising funds through their GoFundMe campaign and is using those donations to help provide meals to metro Detroit’s frontline health care workers.

The company is assuring that 100 percent of all donations goes toward providing meals to local health care professionals.

Donations are accepted here.

The Henry Ford in Dearborn is launching a new virtual speaker series via Zoom on May 1 at 1:30 p.m.

The first of the THF Conversations will feature Josh Goldblum, founder and CEO of the experience design agency Bluecadet, discussing what experience design looks like in a socially distant world and, as we return to work, what the new normal looks like for cultural institutions and businesses.

Click here to register for the event.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and governor’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order, it has been a challenge for Farmington Hills-based Fleece and Thank You to stay on track to meet its annual goal of making and delivering 30,000 blankets, one for every child entering the hospital for treatment in Michigan. But the nonprofit says it is determined to do so.

To help the organization overcome a potential blanket shortfall and continue its mission to provide comfort and hope to a child facing illness, MassMutual Great Lakes in Southfield is stepping in to host a company-wide virtual blanket making event over the next few weeks. Fleece and Thank You is sending blankets straight to employees’ residences so they can be made from the comfort and safety of their own homes, and then mailed back to the organization to be donated.

MassMutual has hosted blanket making events in the past for Fleece and Thank You, completing them as a group activity at the office. This will be the first year employees will participate remotely. The goal is to generate about 50 blankets.

Wayne State University in Detroit is creating a virtual graduation celebration that will launch on Wednesday, April 29. This virtual celebration will not replace a formal commencement ceremony, which will be scheduled at a later date when it is deemed safe and practical to do so. Details regarding this in-person ceremony will be posted on the Wayne State commencement website as they become available.

In an effort to offer a timely acknowledgment and celebration of this spring’s graduates and their achievements, the university’s colleges, schools, and other departments and divisions university-wide have partnered with the Office of Marketing and Communications to plan the virtual celebration.

Through the collective efforts of the university community, schools and colleges are creating personal graduation acknowledgement videos, which will be posted on the commencement website. There will be a video message from President M. Roy Wilson, Provost Keith Whitfield, Board of Governors Chair Marilyn Kelly, and the deans of the participating schools and colleges. Separate activities are planned for the Law School and M.D. graduates within the medical school for their events, which are planned for May and June.

The digital graduation celebration content will include social media celebrations, Instagram and Facebook frames, Facebook and Twitter cover photos, digital e-cards, video degree conferral messages, a commencement booklet, and links to other celebrations scheduled at some schools and colleges.

The social media hashtag #myWSUstory will be used to invite students and families to recognize the class of 2020.

Outdoor Recreation
Treetops Resort in Gaylord says it plans to open its Tradition golf course for play beginning May 1 with walking rates $25 for 18 holes and $15 for nine holes. Motorized carts are not yet allowed.

Individuals with a Regular Club 81 Membership, Military Membership, or Twilight Membership will be allowed to play beginning May 1. Tee times must be made and paid for in advance.

Twilight Members can play at any time between May 1-15. Beginning May 16, Twilight Members only will be able to play after 3 p.m. unless otherwise informed.

Tee times will be available daily between 9 a.m. and 5p.m. beginning May 1 until otherwise informed.

For more information, click here.