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 Government – HHS Sending $10.8M In Tribal Relief to Michigan
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is delivering $10,866,010 from the Provider Relief Fund to support the tribal response to COVID-19 in Michigan. Nationally, $500 million in payments from the Provider Relief Fund went to the Indian Health Service and tribal hospitals, clinics, and urban health centers.
The pandemic has disproportionately impacted IHS providers and programs. Many such providers have experienced significantly increased need for personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as increased labor costs due to employees that have been exposed to COVID-19.
“The Trump Administration is making a targeted allocation from the funds Congress provided to send $500 million to Indian health care facilities,” says HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “Combined with other funding, supplies, and flexibility around telehealth, we are working with tribal governments to do everything we can to support heroic Indian healthcare workers and protect Indian Country from COVID-19.”
IHS and tribal hospitals will receive a $2.81 million base payment plus 3 percent of their total operating expenses. IHS and tribal clinics and programs will receive a $187,000 base payment plus 5 percent of the estimated service population multiplied by the average cost per user. IHS urban programs will receive a $181,000 base payment plus 6 percent of the estimated service population multiplied by the average cost per user
HHS has allocated approximately 4 percent of available funding for Urban Indian Health Programs, consistent with the percent of patients served by Urban Indian Organizations (UIOs) in relation to the total IHS active user population, as well as prior allocations of IHS COVID-19 funding. The remaining funding will be divided equally between hospitals and clinics.
Managing Natural Disasters During Pandemic
The National Governors Association released a white paper outlining best practices for managing simultaneous natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, or wildfires during public health emergencies like the COVID-19 crisis.
With hurricane season officially beginning today, governors have been preparing for – and in some cases already managing – natural disasters and even cyber incidents on top of the coronavirus pandemic, which has created additional challenges in evacuation and sheltering protocols, as well as financial and logistical complications for states.
As governors’ solution-oriented leadership has saved lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, the leaders of states and territories are working with the federal government, local governments, and private and nonprofit partners like the Red Cross, and one another to develop response plans for concurrent emergencies.
The NGA memo outlines considerations and possible actions for governors to use a “whole community” approach, update and socialize emergency operations and continuity of operations plans, and message and enable individual preparedness for disasters.
Given the financial strain on states posed by COVID-19, states may need to leverage federal grant programs to defray some emergency costs. For response and recovery, depending on the size, scope, and federally declared status, states may be able to utilize up to 90 different grant programs across nearly two dozen federal agencies.
COVID-19-specific precautions, such as social distancing requirements, may create unique challenges for otherwise well-practiced capabilities, such as evacuation and sheltering. Evacuations for hurricanes, for example, may need to be declared sooner to facilitate the orderly movement of people using personal vehicles instead of high-density transit options. Alternatives to congregate settings for evacuees will need to be considered.
With COVID-19 producing broad unemployment and recession-like conditions, many people may struggle to apply their limited financial resources to disaster preparedness activities. Governors can offer new financial incentives and remove regulatory barriers to help individuals prepare for natural disasters.
Governors may need to adjust their messaging strategies to reflect changing media consumption habits during the pandemic. Additionally, governors may need to communicate differently about risk management practices.
For more information about the NGA’s role in assisting governors with their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit here.
U-M Develops Return-to-work Information Tools
Faculty, staff, alumni, and students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor have developed online tools designed to help local and state officials reopen the economy safely and gradually while allowing them to quickly identify and respond to potential coronavirus hot spots and outbreaks.
The tools include a COVID-19 symptom checklist web application and COVID-19 dashboard that provides real time, visualized data for officials to easily identify areas where the new coronavirus presents a higher risk, and for the public to understand the pandemic status in their community and across the state.
“We need to find safe ways to reengage with our communities so that we can mitigate the spread of disease and risk while still allowing us to resume some level of economic activity,” says Emily Martin, a professor at the U-M School of Public Health. “In order to do that, we need real-time information on the movement of the epidemic throughout the community so local and state officials can make informed decisions on how and where to reengage. Unfortunately, this is an epidemic that could be with us for a very long time.”
Since the pandemic broke out, a team of experts from U-M’s School of Public Health have been working closely with the state’s departments of Health and Human Services and Labor and Economic Opportunity, providing expertise in modeling and forecasting data, identifying different stages of the pandemic to inform state’s closures, and working closely with industry leaders to evaluate risk factors for different working settings and coming up with risk-mitigating strategies to reopen those workplaces.
After identifying the need for up-to-date health-related information throughout the state’s population, the team invited participation from colleagues from Michigan Engineering and U-M’s School of Information who have the expertise in developing apps, product design, user experience and data protection to develop the tools.
“We’re using a precision population health approach, using data, key public health indicators and technology to help the state manage this pandemic and reengage the economy safely,” says project lead Sharon Kardia, professor of epidemiology and associate dean for education at U-M’s School of Public Health. “My hope for the people of the state of Michigan is that we can go back to work safely, that we can actually enjoy some of the beautiful summer that’s coming, and that we can do this while paying attention to the ways in which we may be at risk so that we can actually counter that risk.”
The web app, called MI Symptoms, is designed to be used on a daily basis as Michiganders head back to work. Some employers may ask or require employees to use it to help identify potential cases of COVID-19 before it can spread.
It includes questions such as: How are you feeling? Is anyone in your household sick? Have you been around anyone who tested positive for COVID-19? Users also enter their body temperature and review a list of COVID-19 symptoms, checking off any they’re experiencing.
“This is purpose-built to support the state of Michigan’s reopening in a safe, measured way,” says Dan Maletta, executive director of information technology at Michigan Engineering who co-led the web app’s development.
While MI Symptoms will be accessible through mobile devices, it is not a mobile app. It will not be used for contact tracing, and it will not track users’ locations or movements through GPS or Bluetooth. Even if users choose to sign in through Facebook or Google, it will not share any information with those companies.
The MI Safe Start Map dashboard development was led by the U-M School of Information in partnership with the School of Public Health, involving dozens of faculty, staff, students, and alumni.
The goal is to help state leaders “balance lives and livelihoods” as they determine when it is safe to resume various activities as the state emerges from the current stay-at-home directives, according to Paul Resnick, professor of information and associate dean for research and faculty affairs at the School of Information.
“Given there are many indicators that could show something is going wrong, you want a way to systematically monitor them, calling people’s attention and having them then go and investigate something before making the difficult decisions about when to reopen what,” Resnick says.
The MI Safe Start Map for health officials includes both levels and trends in indicators such as numbers of new cases, deaths and positive tests that reflect the most up-to-date data distributed to the School of Public Health from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Another indicator comes from MI Symptoms. It also tracks health system capacity and public health capacity, such as availability of tests and trained contract-tracing personnel.
The public-facing dashboard uses a color-coded map of the state with breakdowns by region and county. Each area is labeled with the current status of the virus to show where the coronavirus is most active and where it is more under control, based on the data.
Farmington Hills digital marketing firm JRT agency has released “Inside Out,” an 8-bit video game free to play from computer, tablet, or phone. The game was developed to provide an outlet for some good, clean entertainment while spending time at home.
“With stay-at-home orders affecting many, we figured it was time to put our digital ingenuity to good use and come up with a light-hearted diversion,” says Mark Bellissimo, CEO of JRT. “Inside Out brings back an old-school nostalgia with an 8-bit arcade game of skill, creating a little break with scenarios that we probably all can relate to at this time.”
The objective of Inside Out is to get through stay-at-home safely by keeping players moving throughout the house, picking up hobbies, avoiding obstacles and practicing a bit of social distancing. There are four levels of play to the game, from the perspective of Bored Son, Super Dad, Deprived Adult, and Party Mom. Once players make it out of the house, they can post high scores and share on social media.
“Our digital team enjoyed creating it so people can smile playing it,” says Jamie McCarthy, the agency’s chief creative officer of innovation. “Ultimately, the goal of the game is to have a bit of fun, enjoy a little competition, and walk away with a bit of gratitude in good health.”
The game is rated E for everyone and can be found here.