COVID-19 Update: Northwood Economist Optimistic About Economy, New Small Business Fund, 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 19

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.

Michigan Economic Outlook
Timothy Nash, who directs Northwood University’s McNair Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship in Midland, believes the economy will return to pre-pandemic levels sooner than other economists — and could show signs of growth within a few months.

While most economists and business leaders are predicting the economy will take a long time to recover from the shock brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, with many are saying the economy may never look the same, Nash sees signs in the data that support his optimistic and somewhat contrarian view, but believes the window of opportunity will not stay open long.

“It is critical that government and business work closely together over the next three weeks to maximize benefits of testing and social distancing,” say Nash. “This should allow large segments of the U.S. economy to be responsibly opened, possibly driving double-digit GDP growth in Q3 and Q4.”

According to the index Nash is using, the economy is just below 60 percent of the way back to pre-coronavirus levels, with optimism slowly returning. It is updated daily and can be found here.

Small Business Fund
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has launched the Save Small Business Fund, which is a collective effort to provide $5,000 grants to as many small employers as possible.

The application will go live at 3 p.m. today.

The supplemental funds were made available to help bridge immediate financial gaps for small businesses in geographical areas with the greatest need.

To qualify, a business must:

  • Employ between three and 20 people
  • Be located within an economically vulnerable community
  • Have been harmed financially by the COVID-19 pandemic

The application is expected to take about 10 minutes to complete and a W-9 form is required.

Grants will be awarded on a weekly basis, but businesses need only to apply one time to be eligible for funding. For more information, visit https://savesmallbusiness.com/#apply.

Testing
Starting today, Rite Aid is expanding its drive-up self-swab COVID-19 testing locations in Michigan. They include Rite Aid stores at:

  • 46977 Romeo Plank Rd. in Macomb Township.
  • 715 South Main Street in Eaton Rapids.
  • 9090 Miller Rd. in Swartz Creek.

The sites will be open for testing 9 a.m.-5 p.m. seven days a week and expect to be able to conduct approximately 200 tests each day through online appointments.

All Rite Aid drive-up COVID-19 testing locations will utilize self-swab nasal tests overseen by Rite Aid pharmacists. Testing eligibility is based on guidelines established by the CDC.

The testing will take place in each store’s parking lot. As part of the testing process, people must remain in their vehicles from the time they arrive and until they depart.

Testing will be available at no cost to eligible individuals who meet criteria established by the CDC. Patients are required to provide government issued identification, be at least 18 years old, and need to pre-register online here in order to schedule a time slot for testing.

Rite Aid also is expanding its testing services in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Compendium
A report in The New York Times today examines how COVID-19 severely impacted the Detroit Police Department. Part of the problem stemmed from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s late response to the outbreak, having issued her first stay-at-home order on March 24 (since updated). The article states: “Things in the department have started to improve in recent days. The development of a 15-minute diagnostic test allowed more than 700 quarantined employees to return to work after they tested negative, said Police Chief James Craig. But more than 300 remain isolated.” To read the full article, click here.

Nation’s Mayors Write Congress
The United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) last week sent a letter to the leadership of the U.S. House and Senate urging that the “Interim Supplemental” currently being negotiated provide $53.6 billion in emergency fiscal assistance through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) structure for America’s cities. The group is led by Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett.

Mayors are simultaneously facing decisions that include laying off employees, cutting budgets, and reducing or eliminating critically needed services while having to take actions to protect public health. The letter reads in part:

“The CDBG structure has existed since 1974, it works, and we need to get these flexible funds to our cities now. We also greatly appreciate that this proposal would clarify that fiscal assistance provided to local governments through this bill, as well as funding provided through The CARES Act, would be available to be used for lost revenues.”

The full text of the letter can be found here.

Health Care
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan says it is making a concerted effort to help senior citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic by expanding meal delivery programs, increasing access to grocery delivery, and providing resources and information to Medicare Advantage members.

Not only are seniors age 65 and older at risk of more severe illness from COVID-19, their everyday support systems and care plans also may be disrupted. Michigan’s senior citizens are experiencing significant issues accessing food and are expressing that they are more socially isolated.

Based on data-driven needs assessments, Blue Cross is:

  • Expanding meal delivery programs to seniors in need.
  • Providing high-risk members in areas of dense COVID-19 community-level spread with groceries from businesses that are offering delivery services.
  • Planning to deliver care packages to more than 700,000 Michigan seniors with Blue Cross medical plans, which may include disposable thermometers and reusable face coverings, along with information on how to access telemedicine and on COVID-19.
  • Contacting members who are under care management support and may be socially isolated to coordinate their care and identify gaps, including medication, food assistance, financial resources, and clinical care.
  • Connecting members to information on COVID-19, telehealth, and mental health services and providing tools and advice for managing stress, isolation, and loneliness.

These expanded services are possible thanks to the work Blue Cross already does with seniors through Blue Cross Coordinated Care, a program that’s centered around senior members and connects them with a team that helps them get the right care at the right time.

More information on the company’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is available here.

In other health care news: Michigan Orthopedic Surgeons has opened an urgent care, called UrgentOrtho, at its Royal Oak office, located at 30575 Woodward Ave., next to Beaumont Hospital, to help reduce emergency room visits for all orthopedic-related injuries.

UrgentOrtho will treat all musculoskeletal injuries or problems in adults and children, including sprains, strains, fractures, or sports injuries. Fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeons are onsite to perform x-rays, casting, and bracing, and to treat pain, lacerations, and infections.

UrgentOrtho, which has a robust screening process and appropriate PPE to keep patients and staff safe, will take walk-ins and call-in appointment requests. The fee is similar to a standard office visit which is typically much less than the expense of an ER visit.

Hours of operation at UrgentOrtho are Monday-Friday from 5-9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Additionally, MOS offers telehealth appointments for all current and new patients.

The telephone number to make appointments is 833-MOS-DOCS or visit the website here.

Hospital Support
Business partners Jay Feldman, Mark Wahlberg, and Nino Cutraro met with the front-line ICU nurses at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak via Zoom April 17 to learn firsthand how the team is using their 1,000 new tablet computers in the COVID-19 crisis.

Beaumont ICU Nurse Brianna Allen shared the story of a mom separated from her newborn because of COVID-19. “Having the tablets for them was like having mom in the room with her baby,” says Allen. “She even got to watch the diaper changes.”

Local restauranteur Nino Cutraro spends a lot of time at Beaumont and was very moved by the stories of patients dying alone in the hospital. He called Mark and Jim Wahlberg who run the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation and they got the first 500 tablets from Amazon. Nino then approached Feldman of Feldman Automotive who ordered an additional 500 for the Beaumont team.

Feldman, Wahlberg, and Cutraro are business partners in five Wahlburgers restaurants in Michigan. Feldman and Wahlberg are partners in Mark Wahlberg Chevrolet in Columbus, Ohio, and Feldman is owner of Feldman Automotive with 10 dealerships in Michigan and Ohio.

Higher Education
Michigan State University President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. announced Friday that Michigan State University tuition rates will not change for the 2020-21 academic year. The news comes as the university begins to address the financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In freezing tuition rates for the upcoming academic year, we are doing what we can to ensure students can stay in our Spartan family,” Stanley says. “The core of a land-grant university’s mission is to provide access to quality, affordable education for all – no matter the challenge or circumstance.”

Other actions MSU is taking to address budget shortfalls include reducing travel expenditures, modifying construction and remodeling projects as well as equipment expenditures, and reviewing planned hiring. In addition, all executives will take a 2-7 percent temporary pay cut based on salary levels, anticipated to last through June, but possibly for a full year. Stanley is voluntarily taking a 10 percent pay reduction, effective immediately.

In addition: GameAbove, a group of Eastern Michigan University alumni, has provided and will continue providing critical contributions to assist university students, local hospitals, and hundreds of families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today, the group GameAbove announced the following supportive efforts in collaboration with the Ypsilanti university:

  • EMU Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) project: GameAbove funds are helping EMU students, faculty, and staff to purchase tools and supplies to make masks, gowns and other PPE for nurses, doctors, and staff at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital and Henry Ford Hospital.
  • Growing the EMU Student Emergency Fund by reallocating $68,000 of donated funds from low-priority initiatives and providing up to $50,000 in additional matching donations. The fund, created through GameAbove’s Students Matter Most initiative, provides one-time monetary assistance to students who are experiencing an unforeseen crisis to cover expenses that can impact a student’s ability to continue their education.
  • Hope Clinic (Ypsilanti): Contributing $26,650 in a matching donation ($53,300 total raised) to help continue and expand the clinic’s free services (medical and dental care, food, and other needs) during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Ypsilanti Community Schools: $10,000 to a program that is providing internet service and computers to local families in need.
  • Food Gatherers: $10,000 to this critical food bank program. Like other food banks across the country, demands for these services have increased with large numbers of people losing their jobs from COVID-19 related closures.

As the COVID-19 crisis evolves, GameAbove says it will continue to align its philanthropic resources based on emerging needs with a priority on food, medical, and emergency assistance to Eastern Michigan University and the surrounding community. Persons, companies, and organizations interested in matching donations or assisting these COVID-19 relief programs can visit here.

Medical Supplies
Michigan State University Extension in East Lansing, the MSU College of Engineering, and Sparrow Hospital have developed a decontamination process to extend the life of N95 respirators so they can be reused. Delta Dental also is providing $25,000 to support the effort.

Decontamination is conducted through a dry heat process that can be replicated in most commercial ovens, allowing masks to be disinfected up to 20 times.

“The MSU Extension team went from concept to testing this system in less than five days,” says Jeff Dwyer, director of MSU Extension. “If it weren’t for the valuable partnership with Sparrow and funders like Delta Dental, we wouldn’t be able to keep this going. We’re proud of our staff members who jumped in to make it happen, and grateful for the support.”

The process already has started, and decontaminated respirators will go into circulation within the next few weeks. The priority for distribution is on the areas of greatest need, including hospitals in southeast Michigan and the greater Lansing area.

In Related News, Midland’s Dow has developed a simplified face shield design and is sharing its design through an open-source file to help accelerate production rates of this critically needed PPE. In addition, the company is collaborating to produce 100,000 face shields for donation to the state of Michigan for distribution to hospitals.

Dow, a leading manufacturer of polyethylene resins, does not typically fabricate plastic products for consumer end-use. However, the company quickly developed the resin film technology for these face shields through its prototyping and fabricating capabilities at its Pack Studios application development facility in Freeport, Texas. Dow also worked with other partners to identify a fabricator for the foam comfort strip that enables the shield to be worn comfortably.

“Our goal in offering an open-source, simplified design is to provide a way for others to increase additional production of much needed face shields,” says Diego Donoso, president of Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics. “This is another example of how our materials, technical service personnel, and our Pack Studios’ collaborative development capabilities are enabling solutions that can be used to help protect those on the frontlines of the pandemic.”

The face-shield design is very flexible, allowing for the shields to be produced from a variety of readily available polymers, and can be cut using several high throughput technologies, such as water, laser, and die cutting techniques. It is also simple and lightweight, comprised of just two pieces – a shield and forehead cushion – which eliminates multi-component assembly that can slow production, allowing for faster distribution.

In addition to sharing the open-source design, Dow is producing 100,000 face shields to be donated to the state of Michigan for distribution to hospitals. Michigan-based tinkrLAB is serving as a key development partner providing laser-cutting and assembly.

Webinar
On April 22, Dykema, a large law firm in Detroit, is hosting a free webinar together with its client, Vertus, an employee benefits consulting firm representing employers across the country. The webinar will address employee benefit and labor and employment-related issues that have arisen during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Teaming together with Vertus’ Mike Malouf and Judy Verhave, Dykema attorneys Abad Lopez and Amy Christen will share insights related to the difference between layoffs and furloughs; health and welfare coverage during layoffs or furloughs; necessary steps to be considered and taken by the employer; and principal impacts of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES). Employers of all sizes are welcome to register here.

In Related News, Butzel Long, a large law firm in Detroit, and its Health Care Industry Team are hosting a free informational webinar from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on April 22. Participants will learn the latest on how health care providers can obtain financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. HHS is rolling out payments and advances to health care providers to assist them with covering their costs and obtaining necessary resources related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The programs include the Accelerated and Advanced Payment Program, which is an advance or loan against future billings; the Provider Relief Fund, which are outright grants that will not have to be repaid; plus possible future relief payments to some providers that HHS is still working on. The webinar will cover what applicants have to do in order to qualify and stay eligible. To register, visit www.butzel.com/events.

In Related News, Ara Topouzian, executive director of the Michigan Venture Capital Association, will be participating in a webinar on Thursday, April 23 at 11 a.m. with Bobby Franklin, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based National Venture Capital Association. The session will cover a variety of topics including the national response to COVID-19. There is no registration required and the webinar is open for all to attend. Visit here to join the webinar or call in at 312-626-6799.

Cannabis
New Standard provisioning center in Hazel Park today announced it will open for adult use cannabis via curbside pick-up and delivery service on April 27. The adult use/recreational offerings come after New Standard’s medical recently opened service. Cannabis operations are deemed as an essential business by the state of Michigan during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Facing our current challenges, we see it as our mission to ensure all of our customers are being provided access to the best and safest products. We’ve gone above and beyond to provide safe curbside and delivery service exceeding industry standards both in our protocols and no-contact procedures,” says Howard Luckoff, CEO of New Standard.

New Standard said it is working with the city of Hazel Park to donate a portion of its proceeds during the Shelter in Place order to Hazel Park retail businesses forced to close during the Shelter in Place order. The business is located at 24906 John R. Hours are 10 a.m.–7 p.m. seven days a week. For more information, or to place an order, visit ANewStandard.com or call (248) 873-0420.

Lawsuit
The Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association (MNLA), five landscaping, lawn-care, and retail-garden-center businesses, and an employee assert they were harmed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “stay-at-home” order and filed a class-action lawsuit today in the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan. The lawsuit adds to a growing number of suits filed around the state related to Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-42. The businesses ask the court for an emergency order allowing them to immediately resume services and sales.

“While we fully support the governor’s focus on keeping people safe, ours is an outdoor industry and one that can get Michiganders back to work safely,” says Amy Upton, executive director of MNLA. “Every state in the nation except Michigan recognizes our ability to work safely and allows our industry to stay open. The other states’ approach makes sense. It’s easy to mow the lawn, trim trees, install plantings, and sell plants and seeds for curbside pickup without person-to-person contact. We can keep workers employed without increasing the public-health risk.”

In addition to practicing social distancing, the lawn, landscape, and retail-garden-center industry plays an important public health role, Upton adds. “We are a family’s frontline defense against the infestation of fleas, spiders, ticks, and mosquitoes that can spread dangerous diseases such as lyme, canine heartworm, West Nile virus, Zika virus, yellow fever, and encephalitis. At a time when our health care providers are taxed with serious cases, we help prevent needless additional cases coming to them.”

Attorney John Bursch of Bursch Law PLLC filed the suit on behalf of MNLA and the other plaintiffs. “Public health protections need to be balanced by common sense,” Bursch says. “The governor’s order already allows public employees to mow and trim public parks, and homeowners can do the same in their backyards. But an elderly or infirm homeowner cannot hire someone to do this work for them, even if they need it. Yet local governments are now giving citations to such homeowners, calling their overlength grass a public nuisance. What’s more, hundreds of businesses face permanent closure. This has got to stop.”

As the lawsuit explains, the Executive Order’s ban on sales by retail garden centers are equally difficult to understand. Property owners can order plants and seeds online and have them delivered to their home. But the order prevents brick-and-mortar retail garden centers from selling the exact same products, even for curbside pickup. At the same time, the order apparently allows curbside pickup of fast food, alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana.

The plaintiffs’ accompanying emergency motion — for an order allowing them to reopen — explains that the order’s application to businesses in the landscaping, lawn-care, and retail-garden-center industry violates the Commerce Clause and Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit also requests class-action status and damages on behalf of every business in Michigan affected by the shutdown.

In Related News: Michigan’s retail greenhouses and garden centers are ready to open and operate safely, while protecting customers and Michigan workers from COVID-19, the Michigan Greenhouse Growers Council stressed today.

The council provided an action plan to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on how greenhouses and garden centers would safely operate, provide paychecks, and meet the needs of consumers during the state’s health crisis. Michigan greenhouses and garden centers are eager to be part of the first phase of business re-openings, which Whitmer indicated she hopes to begin around May 1.

“The threat and impact of COVID-19 is real, and we are not discounting that,” says Dave Mast of Andy Mast Greenhouses in Grand Rapids and president of the Michigan Greenhouse Growers Council. “We feel it is our responsibility to operate in a safe way upon reopening, and that is why garden centers have taken carefully targeted steps to ensure safe operations, including changes to how we do business.”

The greenhouse industry is a central part of Michigan’s agricultural economy, employing more than 9,000 people across the state and contributing $740 million to the economy annually.

Virtual Fundraiser
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan will be hosting a Virtual Club Takeover on Thursday, April 23 from 3-5 p.m. that duals as a fundraiser to raise $100,000. The event is a partnership with rapper Big Sean, the Detroit Pistons, Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, and Detroit Lions. This event is presented by Amerisure and the Sean Anderson Foundation.

All proceeds from the virtual club fundraiser will be used to continue to provide services for club youth and help close the funding gap as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. To become a sponsor or to register, visit here.

Food Initiative
Hazon, the Jewish lab for sustainability working in SE Detroit with Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, is committed to helping urban and suburban gardeners provide a source of fresh produce and distribute excess harvest to those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Already delivering food to Detroit neighborhoods, Hazon’s executive director, Wren Hack, says her organization recognizes the transformative possibility of growing more produce this growing season. Often a simple hobby for the urban or suburban gardener or a fun activity, the many gardens in the area could provide a significant source of fresh produce for those most in need come the summer harvest.

To help the community in this effort, Hazon will deliver 2- to 5-gallon buckets of compost and seed packets of peas, lettuce, and kale; seeds that can be sown in cool weather, free to whomever is willing to grow a little extra to donate to local food pantries. Hazon also will point gardeners in the direction of free online gardening resources and tutorials, so even the first-time gardener can feel confident planting.

For more information, visit here. To donate to the project, visit here.

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