COVID-19 Update: HHS Deploys $16.2M to Michigan to Fight Pandemic, State Lays Off 2,900 Employees, State Recommends Testing Vendor, 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 April 22

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.

Federal Support
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today announced an upcoming action by the CDC to provide additional resources to state and local jurisdictions in support of the nation’s response to COVID-19.

Using funds from the CARES Act of 2020, CDC is awarding $631 million to 64 jurisdictions through the existing Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Prevention and Control of Emerging Infectious Diseases cooperative agreement. The funds, along with the previous support CDC has provided, will help states with their efforts to re-open America. In this round, Michigan is scheduled to receive $16.2 million.

“This new funding secured from Congress by President Trump will help public health departments across America continue to battle COVID-19 and expand their capacity for testing, contact tracing, and containment,” says Alex Azar, secretary of HHS. “The professionals who staff America’s state, local, tribal, and territorial public health departments have played a vital role in protecting Americans throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, by reporting and analyzing surveillance data, tracing the spread of the virus, and developing scientific guidelines appropriate for local communities.”

To view a list of the funding jurisdictions, including past COVID-19 related funding from CDC, please visit here.

In Related News, HHS through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) awarded nearly $165 million today to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in rural communities. The investments will support 1,779 small rural hospitals and provide additional funding to 14 HRSA-funded Telehealth Resource Centers (TRCs) to provide technical assistance on telehealth to help rural and underserved areas combat COVID-19. In Michigan, the Michigan Center for Rural Health was awarded $5.1 million.

“Today’s funding gives rural hospitals critical support to build up their capacity for fighting COVID-19 in their communities, including through further expansions of telehealth, more purchases of PPE, and boosting testing capacity,” says Azar. “This funding, secured by President Trump from Congress, will build on the historic expansion of telehealth undertaken by the Trump Administration to help all Americans access the care they need during the pandemic.”

HRSA’s Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) received $150 million through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to assist hospitals funded through the Small Rural Hospital Improvement Program (SHIP) respond to this public health emergency.

State Government – Layoffs
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration on Wednesday temporarily laid off more than 2,900 state government employees, which is expected to save the state about $5 million.

The move followed roughly 100 temporary layoff notices issued Tuesday by the Michigan Attorney General’s office, bringing the total of state job cuts to more than 3,000 jobs.

The temporary layoffs will last for 10 days. The furloughed workers will not be paid but will retain their health insurance and other benefits, and the state is promising to automatically sign them up for unemployment insurance.

The layoffs are spread across departments but will only impact 6 percent of the state’s 48,000 government workers. After 10 days, the state will “reassess whether” additional unpaid days are needed, says Tiffany Brown, spokeswoman for the governor.

The layoffs include 900 staffers within the Michigan Department of State, the majority of whom work in branch offices closed during the pandemic. Many driver and vehicle transactions can be carried out online and at self-service stations located in grocery stores across the state.

There also were 428 temporary layoffs in the Michigan Department of Corrections, 279 in the Treasury Department, 264 in the Department of Natural Resources, and 201 in the Department of Health and Human Services, according to the state budget office.

State Government – Testing
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is recommending that health care providers across the state partner with NxGen MDx in order to maximize the availability of COVID-19 testing.

With the ability to test for 7,000 samples per week, NxGen also is able to provide specimen collection materials, shipping from the collection site to their laboratory, and 48-hour turnaround on results. NxGen has validated its testing using an endocervical swab rather than a nasopharyngeal swab; while the swabs have very similar shapes and clinical uses, endocervical swabs have a large and steady supply chain, while access to nasopharyngeal swabs is very constrained.

According to MDHHS, capacity for COVID-19 testing will need to triple or quadruple in Michigan in order to protect public health. Especially with the recent expansion in test priority criteria, maximizing the use of all available testing capacity is crucial.

ERs Prepared to Safely Treat Non-COVID-19 Patients
Hospital systems throughout metro Detroit, including Warren-based Ascension Michigan, are encouraging people experiencing symptoms of heart attack, stroke, mental health, or other acute illness or injury, not to hesitate to visit a hospital emergency room during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even though hospitals are caring for patients with COVID-19, clinicians want to reassure the public that individuals who need emergency care should not delay treatment. Hospitals and emergency rooms are well prepared to safely care for people with symptoms of heart attack, stroke, and other serious conditions.

“We are seeing a concerning drop in the number of people coming in for serious non-COVID-related issues,” says Dr. Tony Bonfiglio, chief medical officer at Ascension Macomb-Oakland Hospital. “Staying home, ignoring the symptoms, and suffering out of fear of COVID-19 is a risk people shouldn’t take with their health. Timely treatment is critically important for achieving the best outcomes and lessening the risk of complications. We are prepared and set up to safely treat patients who require emergency care. No patient should delay their care in an emergency.”

Focus:HOPE Responds to COVID-19
Focus:HOPE, the Detroit-based workforce development program, says it is committed to using all of its assets, skills, and abilities to support the community during the COVID-19 crisis.

The organization says its manufacturing equipment is capable of producing small parts and assemblies for medical machines and personal protective equipment that may benefit health care providers in the fight against COVID-19.

Recent Focus:HOPE information technology graduates are available to support organizations moving toward remote work with technical support, including Level 1 and Level 2 help desk support.

Focus:HOPE also is coordinating food distribution events for families in partnership with community organizations including Higher Hopes and Gleaners at Focus: HOPE, Joy Preparatory Academy, and New Paradigm Glazer Academy. On average, $15,000 worth of food is deployed into the community at each event.

The group also has established an unemployment help line at 586-738-0658 to assist community members in applying for unemployment benefits.

Other Focus:HOPE initiatives in response to COVID-19 include:

  • Drive-through, no-contact pickup commodity supplemental food subsidies.
  • Virtual home visits.
  • Essential baby packages.
  • Educational activities.

Manufacturing
The Acme Group, a Bloomfield Hills automotive and industrial textiles company, says it has pivoted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company has converted its factories to the development and production of KN95 masks and is providing melt blown filter material (the key ingredient in face masks) to producers all over the world. The Acme Group also converted one of its facilities to cut and sew materials used in surgical gowns and face masks, providing more than 3 million masks for area health care workers so far.

“I’m really proud of the team and how nimble everyone has been,” says Jim Colman, CEO of The Acme Group. “We have pivoted almost instantly to serving those most in need in these unprecedented times. It is something I am very proud of and a testament to the team we’ve built and their commitment to serve our communities.”

Racial Disparity Town Hall
On Monday, April 27, at noon, Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner and Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II will discuss the progress and action of the state’s new Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities via a Zoom Town Hall.

“Our mission and purpose is simple: To recommend actions to address the racial disparities and the mortality rate of COVID-19,” says Lt. Gov. Gilchrist. “When communities have been impacted by racial disparities for generations, this means it is a systemic problem, and a systemic problem requires a systemic solution.”

To participate, join the Zoom meeting here. The meeting ID is 298 134 7382, and the password is 609027.

The Town Hall also will be available on Facebook here.

Food Support for Medical Workers
Frontline Foods, a national grassroots organization working with restaurants, hospitals, and other medical facilities to feed health care workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 crisis, has launched in southeast Michigan.

Frontline Foods donates healthy meals to hospital clinicians by partnering with local restaurants that have been devastated by the pandemic. The program started organically in multiple cities across the country; there are now 46 chapters (and growing) powered by more than 400 volunteers. Thanks to the support from communities nationwide, Frontline Foods has raised over $3.7 million, provided more than 160,000 meals to frontline workers, and supported over 500 restaurants.

Frontline Foods’ co-founding organizer Ryan Sarver, a tech industry venture capitalist who grew up in metro Detroit, says he was eager to launch a southeast Michigan chapter to help the hard-hit area.

“I’m originally from southeast Michigan, and when I saw how impacted the area was going to be, it was important to me that we jump in and help where we can,” says Sarver. “We are lucky to have an incredible local team of volunteers who are throwing everything they have into it.”

In one week, local southeast Michigan hospital partners that have received food include:

  • Beaumont Royal Oak (300+ meals total, eight deliveries/units)
  • Henry Ford Hospital West Bloomfield (First delivery, 50 meals)
  • Ascension Providence Southfield (200 meals in two days)
  • McLaren Oakland Hospital (80 meals in two days)

In the first week, local restaurant partners providing food to hospitals and other medical facilities, include:

  • 2941 Mediterranean Street Food (170 meals, delivered to five hospitals)
  • Olga’s Fresh Grille (120 meals, four deliveries)
  • StackerZ Deli Coney Island (100 meals already and planning to do 200 this week)
  • Fillmore 13 Brewery (new participant)
  • Grape Leaves Restaurant (new participant)
  • Mesa Tacos and Tequilas (new participant)

To make a tax-deductible donation, with all funds going to restaurants providing meals for frontline health care workers, visit here.

Developing Return-to-work Guidelines
The National Safety Council today announced SAFER: Safe Actions for Employee Returns, a comprehensive, multifaceted effort to guide employers through the process of safely resuming traditional work and operations now and in a post-pandemic environment.

Created in partnership with Fortune 500 companies, leading safety organizations, and public health professionals and experts, the center of SAFER is the formation of the first national task force focused on worker safety. The task force will issue recommendations and develop guidance for employers, including small and mid-size companies, as they navigate the changed work environment and determine most critical needs to ensure the safety of their workers.

SAFER also will:

  • Identify complexities with reengaging the workforce, including contractors, by partnering with human resources, legal, labor, health care, and workers compensation providers.
  • Develop general and sector-specific playbooks for America’s businesses to help them align worker safety with business objectives.

“The manner in which employers bring people back to work will define our national response to the pandemic,” says Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “For more than a century, NSC has been helping employers put safety at the forefront of all their decisions, and we are once again taking action to continue serving this important role. With SAFER, we are confident we’re bringing the best minds together to ensure Americans have the safest transition back to work so we can truly flatten the curve and enable people to live their fullest lives.”

For up-to-date information about the NSC response to COVID-19 and the task force’s activities, please click here.

Nonprofit Resources
A new resource guide developed by the University of Michigan’s Youth Policy Lab in Ann Arbor offers information for Michigan nonprofits providing emergency response services as a result of COVID-19.

To support nonprofits who have stepped up to respond to this national emergency, the federal government recently authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide funding under its public assistance program to help nonprofit organizations recoup some of the increased costs they’re incurring as a result of emergency response efforts.

The Michigan Resource Guide for Nonprofits Seeking COVID-19 FEMA Public Assistance was assembled by U-M’s Youth Policy Lab, a research partnership between the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and the Survey Research Center at the Institute for Social Research. The Youth Policy Lab is committed to working with nonprofit and government agencies to improve outcomes for Michiganders.

The resource guide helps eligible nonprofit organizations understand the program requirements and application processes, so communities don’t lose out on these critical resources. Nonprofits must send critical information to the Michigan State Police by April 30 in order to be included in the state’s application to FEMA.

“Nonprofits are busy keeping people safe, alive, and fed right now, and many aren’t able to devote the substantial energy and time required to digest these dense, federal regulations,” says Andrea Plevek, executive director of the Youth Policy Lab. “Helping nonprofits access FEMA public assistance resources is critical at this stage of the response because the demand for social services will only grow as we begin to feel the economic and social fallout from this crisis.”

In close partnership with several other research centers at the Ford School of Public Policy, the Youth Policy Lab also has launched the COVID-19 Consultant Corps to help respond to requests for assistance from public and nonprofit sector partners throughout Michigan.

The CCC will deploy interested students in service of emergent, COVID-19-related policy, and research projects throughout the state of Michigan as the economic and social challenges related to COVID-19 mount.

Legal and HR Webinar
Detroit’s Dykema is hosting a webinar on Wednesday, April 29, from 1-2 p.m. covering the various issues employers will face as the economy begins to re-open during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employers must be aware of the existing employment laws that protect worker privacy, prohibit discrimination and retaliation, and protect worker health and safety. The webinar will address issues such as:

  • If an employer recalls only certain furloughed employees, which employees should be brought back first and when?
  • What if an employee refuses to come back to work because he or she is fearful of contracting the virus?
  • For employees who were not permitted to work from home as a reasonable accommodation in the past, can employers still claim that remote work would pose an undue hardship on an employer’s business operations?
  • What health and safety protocols should be followed for employees returning to work?
  • What does the Families First Coronavirus Response Act require for employees who have been on paid sick leave or extended family leave?

To register, visit here.

Please submit questions in advance to sminjoe@dykema.com.

Small Business Relief in Dearborn
Eligible small businesses in Dearborn may be eligible for a new Dearborn Small Business Relief Grant, applications for which open on April 27. Applications close May 1 for grants up to $5,000 designed to provide small businesses with 17 employees or fewer and sole proprietors located in Dearborn working capital during the COVID-19 crisis.

Applications will be available here at 9 a.m. on April 27. The application process will close May 1 at noon. Awardees will receive notification via email during the second week of May.

Applicants must meet specific eligibility criteria to qualify, which are listed on the website. Business owners who previously have been awarded a Michigan Small Business Relief Grant or the Wayne County/TCF Small Business Relief Loan Fund are not eligible to apply.

The Dearborn Small Business Relief Grant, funded by the New Economy Initiative (NEI), aims to support the businesses most often left out of major city, state, and federal relief efforts due to lack of federal funding and eligibility restrictions on micro-businesses. It focuses on opening up access to capital for locally owned retailers, service business, and restaurateurs, as well as makers, home-based businesses, freelancers, and creative industries.

Through a partnership initiated by NEI, the Dearborn Small Business Grant is being led and administered by ACCESS, the city of Dearborn, East and West Dearborn Downtown Development Authorities, and Warren and Dix/Vernor Business District Improvement Authorities.

Tribute to Health Care Workers
The Detroit Pistons and the Detroit Youth Choir have released a recording of the song “Stand by Me” to honor doctors, nurses, and health care professionals in metro Detroit and around the world who are on the front lines battling COVID-19.

In a video released on Pistons.com and social media, the Detroit Youth Choir – each member singing remotely as they shelter in place – is joined by several legendary Pistons: Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Chauncey Billups, Richard “Rip” Hamilton, Dave Bing, and current Piston Derrick Rose. The video can be seen here.

Inspired by the efforts of health care workers in metro Detroit and around the world, Pistons owner Tom Gores, executive Arn Tellem, and the team are making an initial donation of $250,000 to the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan’s COVID-19 health fund in connection with the video’s release. Funds will be used to help address urgent health-related needs in the community.

Used Car Values
Used car values are expected to decline as the COVID-19 crisis continues to take its toll on the U.S. economy, according to new research released from automotive information company Edmunds, which has an office in Detroit.

Edmunds analysts say that a sudden halt in demand for vehicles combined with economic uncertainty will lead to an initial knee-jerk drop in used values, based on historical precedent. In 2008, 3-year-old vehicles lost nearly 10 percent in value, whereas the year before they declined less than 5 percent in value.

“Recessions aren’t kind to used values,” says Ivan Drury, senior manager of insights at Edmunds. “With shelter-in-place mandates expected to continue through at least May for most of the country and no clearly defined end to the pandemic in sight, we can anticipate a trickle-down effect on the used market.”

Research findings include:

  • Shoppers in the position to purchase a used vehicle now will find some bargains, but consumers who are planning on selling or trading in their vehicle might be surprised at the assessed value of their vehicle, especially if they’re comparing current list prices to their offer.
  • Multiple factors will impact used vehicle values differently. Lower demand, unusually timed off-lease inventory and reduced auction prices are major contributors toward a drop in used car values. New car incentives from automakers in response to the coronavirus crisis also will further depress prices of off-lease, near-new used vehicles.
  • Used values are expected to remain lower for the foreseeable future. Once the economy begins to rebound, used vehicles often are sought after as a place for consumers to save money when the nation is coming out of a recession. As a result, used values are expected to stabilize, but not necessarily rebound significantly, since most vehicles steadily lose value as they get older.
  • Unique dynamics between the new and used market could help keep used values in a healthier place. Although used car values aren’t expected to rebound in the short term, 2019 brought a record gap of nearly $15,000 between new and used vehicle prices. This gap allows for used values to increase without becoming a threat to new, and reduced wear and tear to vehicles as consumers drive less during this pandemic could also help lift values slightly in the future.
  • Although used values are expected to remain lower in the near-term, Edmunds analysts say that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for what consumers should do if they’re contemplating selling their vehicle right now.

“Personal finances are understandably top of mind for most people right now, so if you’re a car owner and you’re in need of quick cash, selling your vehicle is still a decent option if you’re in a positive equity position or if you have an extra vehicle in the driveway,” says Drury. “A number of companies provide online trade-in evaluations and instant offers, and many dealerships offer to buy vehicles even without a purchase from their inventory. Consumers can get a good idea of what the trade-in market is for their vehicle by shopping around and determining which blend of value and convenience is right for them.”

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