COVID-19 Update: Governor Outlines Northern Michigan and U.P. Reopening, Offers Workplace Safety Standards, U.S. Grants State $35.1M for Energy Bills, 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.
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map of Michigan coronavirus cases
Courtesy of Bridge, as of May 18

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 — Phased Reopening
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has issued Executive Order 2020-92, allowing for the reopening, in two regions, of retail businesses and office work that cannot be done remotely, and restaurants and bars with limited seating. The two regions are both in the northern part of the state—specifically, MERC regions 6 and 8 (details below).

The partial reopening will take effect on Friday, May 22. Cities, villages, and townships may choose to take a more cautious course if they wish: the order does not abridge their authority to restrict the operations of restaurants or bars, including limiting such establishments to outdoor seating.

All businesses that will reopen in regions 6 and 8 must adopt the safety measures outlined in Executive Order 2020-91. They must, among other things, provide COVID-19 training to workers that covers, at a minimum, workplace infection-control practices, the proper use of PPE, steps workers must take to notify the business or operation of any symptoms of COVID-19 or a suspected or confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19, and how to report unsafe working conditions. Restaurants and bars will also have to limit capacity to 50% of their normal seating, to keep groups at least six feet from one another, to require their servers to wear face coverings, and to follow rigorous disinfection protocols.

Region 6 in the governor’s MI Safe Start Plan includes the following counties: Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Crawford, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Presque Isle, and Emmet.

Region 8 in the governor’s MI Safe Start Plan includes the following counties: Gogebic, Ontonagon, Houghton, Keweenaw, Iron, Baraga, Dickinson, Marquette, Menominee, Delta, Alger, Schoolcraft, Luce, Mackinac, and Chippewa.

No data was provided to support the order. Whitmer first issued a stay-at-home order on March 24, and extended it again to May 28. Saying the orders were based on data, Whitmer has yet to provide the information guiding her decisions.

State Government – Workplace Safety Standards
Gov. Whitmer has issued Executive Order 2020-91, “Safeguards to Protect Michigan’s Workers from COVID-19,” creating an enforceable set of workplace standards that apply to all businesses across the state. Various agencies that help oversee compliance with health-and-safety rules – like the Department of Attorney General – will play a role ensuring that businesses are doing their part to protect their employees, patrons and communities as they reopen their doors for business.

Among the directives to employers in the executive order are:

  • Developing a COVID-19 preparedness and response plan, consistent with recommendations in Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, developed by OSHA, June 1, or within two weeks of resuming in-person activities, whichever is later, a business’s or operation’s plan must be made readily available to employees.
  • Designating one or more worksite supervisors to implement, monitor, and report on the COVID-19 control strategies developed under subsection.
  • The proper use of personal protective equipment.
  • Establishing steps employees must take to notify the business or operation of any symptoms of COVID-19 or a suspected or confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19.
  • Establishing a procedure to report unsafe working conditions.

The full text of the executive order can be found here.

Federal Government – State Gets $35.1M for Energy Bills
The state of Michigan has been awarded $35,130,421 in additional federal funding from the CARES Act to help vulnerable households struggling to afford utility bills during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funding is in addition to the more than $162 million in regular Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program funding provided to Michigan for this fiscal year. The additional funding will be used for crisis assistance to help struggling households pay part of their energy costs.

The LIHEAP funding increase comes as 84 radio stations across Michigan have agreed to air a public service announcement throughout May. Created by Consumers Energy and DTE Energy in consultation with the Michigan Public Service Commission, the ad lets Michiganders know that if they’re struggling, they can contact their energy providers for flexible payment plans and other assistance, and call 211 or go to www.mi211.org for help with energy bills and other needs.

Energy providers across the state have agreed to pause shutoffs for low-income and senior residential customers until the emergency is lifted and to provide flexible payment options. Customers in financial trouble during the pandemic can find additional information here.

“Utilities have special protections because of the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, but customers need to reach out and apply for utility assistance while it’s available,” says Sally Talberg, chairman of the MPSC. “We want to make sure that people who need help receive it during this crisis.”

State Government – Push to Fill Key Food Jobs
The Michigan departments of Agriculture and Rural Development and Labor and Economic Opportunity are leading efforts to help fill critical food and agriculture jobs that are emerging due, in large part, to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Part of the collaborative effort includes raising awareness of existing resources and services available to food and agriculture businesses, as well as promoting opportunities for job seekers.

“Throughout this emergency, MDARD has been hosting regular calls with industry stakeholder groups, and one of the top issues raised has been the growing need for skilled workers,” says Gary McDowell, director of MDARD. “Understanding how essential skilled workers are in the food and agriculture supply chain, we were quick to call upon the knowledgeable experts at LEO and Michigan Works! to find effective solutions to a rapidly growing problem.”

Those experts also have assisted MDARD with prioritizing and expediting food and agriculture opportunities through close collaboration.

“With more than 800,000 active job seekers registered in Pure Michigan Talent Connect, we’re hoping more employers will take advantage of this site to get matched up with the skilled talent they need to fill in-demand jobs,” says Stephanie Beckhorn, employment and training director at LEO. “This collaborative approach with MDARD and employers allows us to deliver effective solutions that address our state’s critical food and agriculture talent needs.”

To help fill these and other critical jobs, the state is working with partners at Michigan Works! regional service centers to help businesses attract, train, and retain a skilled workforce.

Food and agriculture employers looking for assistance filling open positions should go to www.MiTalent.org, to complete the COVID-19 On-Demand Hiring Intake Form to add their postings of essential positions in the search results.

For assistance with Pure Michigan Talent Connect, employers can visit here.

Medical Equipment
Midland-based Dow has collaborated with nine key partners across several industries to develop and donate 100,000 isolation gowns to help frontline workers in Texas, Louisiana, and Mexico.

“The Dow team is proud to continue developing PPE to help our frontline workers, but this effort would not have been possible without our partner companies, each of whom readily stepped up to make this project a reality,” says Michelle Boven, global marketing director for health and hygiene at Dow. “It’s also a testament to how quickly companies can innovate when a diverse team from different organizations across industries come together to achieve a common objective.”

The end-product, AAMI Level 2 gowns, required concepting, design, testing, package development, and a supply chain. In this case, each collaborator brought its unique expertise to the table, all donating time and resources to the project.

The gown is made with polyethylene nonwoven coated with a layer of polyethylene film made with resin donated by Dow.

Fitesa manufactured the nonwoven material that provides tear resistance and soft touch.

Cadillac Products Packaging Co. provided extrusion coating of the film making it durable enough for AAMI Level 2 performance.

3M and Shurtape donated the tape to provide barrier performance on the gown sewn seams.

Magna International Inc. provided resources to cut and sew the gowns.

DuPont provided isolation gown design expertise.

Landaal Packaging Systems donated all the boxes to ship the gowns.

Plastixx FFS Technologies donated the bags for each gown to be packaged in for distribution.

The 100,000 AAMI Level 2 gowns will be distributed equally to government agencies in Mexico and in the states of Louisiana and Texas.

“Many companies have shown tremendous ingenuity and speed in changing over production to meet the needs for respirators, masks, face shields, hand sanitizer and other products critical to fighting this pandemic,” says Boven from Dow. “With the accelerated product development, testing and certification of these medical gowns, Dow is proud to be among these innovators and we will continue to look for ways to use our vast material science expertise to address the needs of frontline workers around the world.”

Accenture Offers Small Business Workshops
To help local businesses re-think their business strategies in the prolonged post-COVID world, Accenture is offering free virtual workshops designed specifically for Detroit-area small businesses.

The workshops are designed to allow businesses to rethink their business models and strategies as they adapt to these extraordinary challenges. A few common themes found in the sessions include:

  • Exploring new avenues for collaboration between businesses.
  • Improving digital offerings.
  • Reskilling workforces to meet the demands of new digital offerings/e-commerce platforms.

Accenture, which already has hosted two similar successful four-hour sessions, plans to host up to 20 workshops in conjunction with TechTown Detroit, an incubator and accelerator for local startups and small businesses. Businesses interested in registering for the next round of workshops can do so here.

Ambassador Bridge to Waive Tolls for Essential Workers
Starting May 21, the Ambassador Bridge will be eliminating the cost of tolls on all passenger vehicles of essential workers in appreciation of their efforts to combat the COVID-19 crisis. The Canadian Transit Company, a Moroun Family Company, will absorb the expense associated with this toll relief.

“We appreciate the men and women on the front lines who are working to keep us safe,” says Matthew Moroun, chairman of the Ambassador Bridge. “We wanted to take this action to try to alleviate some of the stress of a daily commute for essential workers who cross our bridge every day. This is a small thing we can do to show that we see your daily sacrifice and we are grateful.”

The United States and Canadian federal governments closed the border to non-essential traffic on March 21. As a result, only essential workers now are using the Ambassador Bridge. Essential workers crossed the Ambassador Bridge 52,000 times last month. The duration of this program depends on future developments and circumstances.

Webinars
Dykema is hosting a webinar on Friday May 22 from 11 a.m. to noon that will cover the Employee Retention Credit of the CARES Act.

Eligible businesses may take advantage of the refundable tax credits program, which was made available to employers by the CARES Act. The credits are available to businesses that had employees and operated a trade or business in 2020. In anticipation of receiving the credits, employers may fund qualified wages by reducing their federal employment tax deposits, including withheld taxes, or by requesting an advance from the IRS.

The webinar panelists from Dykema will discuss the ERC program, including how to qualify as well as the factors that will be considered in the computation of the credit. There will also be time for a questions and answers.

To register for the webinar, visit here.

In Related News: The Aerospace Industry Association of Michigan and UHY are hosting a webinar on Wednesday, May 27 at 11 a.m. covering the Paycheck Protection Program, part of the CARES Act.

The program is designed to help businesses understand the loan forgiveness compliance process and points they should consider. Additionally, the presenters will discuss alternatives to a PPP loan as well as new tax opportunities introduced by the CARES Act.

To participate in the webinar, visit here.

Using Nanotechnology to ID Most at Risk Patients
One Michigan State University scientist believes nanotechnology may be the answer to identifying patients most at risk of death from COVID-19 before any major complications arise.

In a new paper, Morteza Mahmoudi, assistant professor in the Department of Radiology’s Precision Health Program at MSU’s College of Human Medicine, proposed a point-of-care diagnostic platform that uses either nanoparticles or magnetic levitation to diagnose infection and assess future risk.

“Such technology would not only be useful in protecting health care centers from becoming overwhelmed,” Mahmoudi says, “but could also prevent severe shortages of health care resources, minimize death rates and improve management of future epidemics and pandemics.”

The concept is based on the varying levels of infection and stages of disease which alter the composition of biological fluids such as tears, saliva, urine, and plasma. Different infections and diseases create different patterns specific to the viral load and disease stage, somewhat akin to a fingerprint. Mahmoudi says that being able to identify and catalog those patterns would be key to any breakthrough in diagnostic technology.

To begin, a patient’s biological fluid is introduced to a small collection of nanoparticles less than one-thousandth the diameter of a human hair. The unique surface of the particle collects proteins, lipids, and other molecules from the fluids in a pattern that Mahmoudi refers to as a biomolecular corona, or crown.

“By analyzing the composition of the crowns at the surface of tiny particles together with statistical approaches, the platform may provide a ‘fingerprint’ pattern for patients who may be at a death risk after being infected by COVID-19,” Mahmoudi says.

The key to these two diagnostic platforms is their simplicity, according to Mahmoudi, which allows for the deployment of on-site devices where patients are cared for. And because the necessary patient samples are easily obtainable bodily fluids, expert medical professionals would not be required to administer the test.

To full paper, “Emerging Nanotechnologies to Assess Risk of Mortality from COVID-19 Infection,” appears in Molecular Pharmaceutics and is available here.

Higher Education
Northwood University in Midland is planning to welcome students back onto campus in August for the fall semester.

The university says it has seven working teams developing detailed operational plans to ensure the health and safety of all members of its academic community. Northwood’s Open for Business strategy includes plans ranging from the appropriate use of personal protective equipment (PPE), to detailed guidelines for student interactions in residence halls, campus facilities, and meal/dining times.

Northwood also is investing in its infrastructure; making buildings and classrooms safe for all on campus. As an example, air exchange units are being replaced and higher-efficiency HEPA air filters are being installed across Northwood’s 500-acre campus.

For more information, visit here.

In Related News: Davenport University in Grand Rapids says it is preparing to host students both on campus and online in the fall.

The university’s Coronavirus Preparedness Taskforce, a team with representatives from across the organization, have been outlining plans for staff, faculty and students to return to campus safely. The taskforce is exploring a number of methods to protect Davenport’s university community while following state, federal, and NCAA guidelines.

For more information, visit here.

Food Support
On Wednesday May 20, Wild Bill’s, the Troy-based tobacco shop chain with more than 100  Michigan locations, is partnering with Enjoy Detroit for a Day of Giving as 100 boxes of groceries and other essentials (including face masks and paper towels) will be distributed from each of two pop-up sites in Detroit to individuals in need.

From noon to 1:30 p.m. distribution will take place at the Footlocker parking lot located at 17755 E. Eight Mile Rd. in Detroit.

From 2:30-3:30 p.m., distribution will take place in the parking lot of David Mackenzie Elementary and Middle School located at 10147 W. Chicago in Detroit.

An additional 500 boxes of groceries and other essentials will be delivered to homes in the neighborhood as part of the Day of Giving.

Since the pandemic began, Wild Bill’s has donated more than 20,000 surgical masks, 10,000 pairs of protective gloves, and 7,000 meals to local health care professionals, first responders, law enforcement agencies, fire departments, and homeless shelters.

COTS Receives $130,000 Grant from BET Network
COTS, the Detroit-based nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness, has received $130,000 in funding following the “Saving Our Selves: A BET COVID-19 Relief Effort” on April 22. The support is targeted to efforts in the city of Detroit, where the African American population has been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

The United Way for Southeastern Michigan awarded the grant to COTS on May 6. The funds will support food costs, health and wellness initiatives, employment and financial stability initiatives, and student learning for families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

BET established the BET COVID-19 Relief Fund in partnership with United Way Worldwide, with 100 percent of the proceeds divided between select local United Ways in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and New York City. Those funds, $2.8 million to Detroit nonprofits, are part of more than $16 million raised nationally from the BET virtual event featuring Alicia Keys, John Legend, Halle Berry, Kevin Hart among other artists and performers. The funds were disbursed to their community partners, including those providing direct services and support to individuals and families impacted by the pandemic.

“Our COTS family is beyond grateful for the generosity of BET and the partnership of United Way for Southeastern Michigan,” says Cheryl P. Johnson, CEO for COTS. “This pandemic has proven to us all that the health and well-being of every single one of us is intertwined.

“Many people have been impacted by COVID-19. Many have lost wages. Many are unable to pay their rent or mortgages. Basic needs are in even shorter supply than they were before. We can’t afford to overlook Detroit’s families. We must ensure that actions and support extends into places where resources have been limited to prevent further unacceptable harm. As a nonprofit partner, COTS is committed to getting services and support to where they are most needed.”

For more information about COTS or to make a donation to help families in need, visit here.

Shine a Light
Bedrock will Shine a Light on Neurofibromatosis from May 18 through the end of May as major Detroit properties will be illuminated blue and green through the month of May.

Shine a Light on NF, an awareness campaign spearheaded by the Children’s Tumor Foundation, encourages community awareness around NF by lighting buildings, bridges, and monuments in blue and green during the month of May, recognized internationally as NF Awareness Month.

Participating buildings include 1500 Woodward, Ally Detroit Center, Buhl Building, Federal Reserve Building, First National Building, One Campus Martius, One Woodward, The Stott, and the Z Deck.

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