COVID-19 Update: Pfizer Looks to Scale Vaccine Production in Kalamazoo, State Gets $25M in CARES Act Funding for Seniors, 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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Michigan map of coronavirus cases
Courtesy of Bridge, as of May 5

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.

COVID-19 Vaccine Production in Kalamazoo
Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech today announced that the first participants have been dosed in the U.S. in the Phase 1/2 clinical trial for the BNT162 vaccine program to prevent COVID-19. The trial is part of a global development program, and the dosing of the first cohort in Germany was completed last week. The Phase 1/2 study is designed to determine the safety, immunogenicity, and optimal dose level of four mRNA vaccine candidates evaluated in a single, continuous study.

In anticipation of a successful clinical development program, Pfizer and BioNTech are working to scale up production for global supply. Pfizer plans to activate its extensive manufacturing network and invest at risk in an effort to produce an approved COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible for those most in need around the world. The breadth of this program should allow production of millions of vaccine doses in 2020, increasing to hundreds of millions in 2021. Pfizer-owned sites in three U.S. states — Michigan (Kalamazoo), Massachusetts, and Missouri — and Puurs, Belgium have been identified as manufacturing centers for COVID-19 vaccine production, with more sites to be selected. Through its existing mRNA production sites in Mainz and Idar-Oberstein, Germany, BioNTech plans to ramp up its production capacity to provide further capacities for a global supply of the potential vaccine.

Federal Government – Help for Aging Adults
Michigan has received $25 million from CARES Act funds that will help the state’s aging adults stay healthy and live independently during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state says it will spend the money supporting residents aged 60 and over served by programs under the Older Americans Act of 1965.

These programs help millions of older adults stay healthy and continue living independently by providing a wide range of services, such as help with bathing and dressing, rides to doctors’ offices, education on managing chronic illnesses, support for family caregivers, and more.

“The need for these services has increased as community measures to slow transmission of COVID-19 have closed locations where many people typically receive services, making it difficult for families to assist loved ones who live alone,” says Dr. Alexis Travis, senior deputy director of the Aging and Adult Services Agency within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “In addition, the adaptations necessary to provide these services in the current environment have increased costs to service providers.”

The CARES Act funding coming to Michigan includes:

  • $633,406 to support State Long-Term Care Ombudsman programs.
  • $15,201,736 for home-delivered meals for older adults.
  • $6,334,057 for home and community-based services.
  • $3,099,016 to expand a range of services that help family and informal caregivers provide support to loved ones at home.

Federal Government – Contact Tracing
The U.S. Department of Labor announced that Dislocated Worker Grant funding made

available to states and territories to employ workers temporarily to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic can be used for contact tracing. Contact tracing is part of the process of supporting patients and warning contacts of exposure to stop chains of transmission.

States and territories awarded DWGs may fund disaster-relief employment contact tracing activities related to the coronavirus if the purpose of the tracing is in response to and in order to mitigate the public health emergency.

Because contact tracing is an allowable cost of disaster DWG funds, the department encourages states to expend these funds on activities that involve identifying and notifying individuals who may have been exposed to the coronavirus to slow or stop the spread of the virus. If tracing is conducted thoroughly and properly, it can be an effective tool to quarantine and isolate potential cases of the virus and may contribute to its containment.

As of May 1, the department has awarded $161 million in coronavirus DWG funding to 31 states and territories. These DWGs are funded under the CARES Act to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus. Within 60 days of disaster DWG awards, grantees must submit a full application including a budget, implementation plan, and other planning documents for the department’s approval.

Small Business Funding
The TechTown Stabilization Fund closed with 347 grantees receiving a total of $575,000 in funding – adding to the 350 small businesses previously funded by TechTown’s Detroit Small Business Stabilization Fund. Together, the two funds funneled approximately $1.2 million into local small businesses in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

The New Economy Initiative donated $500,000 to enable TechTown to support local businesses with a second fund after the success of the first fund, and Bank of America added $150,000 to the fund and TechTown’s ongoing effort.

Designed to support small businesses often left out of critical funding opportunities, the fund also targeted makers, service-based businesses, home-based businesses, freelancers, and creative industries based in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park.

An external advisory committee comprised of partner organizations from around the city reviewed applications and selected awardees. The committee included representatives from: Invest Detroit, Independent Business Association, Osborn Business Association, Detroit Economic Growth Corp., Accounting Aid Society, East Jefferson Development Corp., BUILD Institute, Michigan Women Forward, Design Core Detroit, and ProsperUs.

Awardees represent a mix of 140 home-based businesses and 207 businesses with dedicated physical locations. More than half of awarded businesses are female-owned, and nearly 80 percent are minority-led. In total, the businesses awarded account for 1,190 jobs – 972 of which are held by residents of Detroit, Hamtramck, or Highland Park. In total, TechTown’s two stabilization funds have supported nearly 2,500 jobs held by Detroit-Hamtramck-Highland Park residents.

“From the onset of this crisis, we have focused on meeting the immediate needs of our local entrepreneurs and small businesses,” says Ned Staebler, CEO of TechTown. “If we can help these businesses stabilize for even a few weeks, that gives them space to map out their next move.”

In Related News: The city of Madison Heights has launched a crowdfunding campaign named Stand with Small Business, Madison Heights! to encourage the community to help its small businesses and entrepreneurs most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with grants to help them remain viable and successful as the economy prepares to reopen.

The campaign has an initial goal of $10,000 in donations, and this entire amount will be matched by available funds from Oakland County and the Downtown Development Authority.

“As we navigate the challenges and disruptions brought upon by COVID-19 in Madison Heights, the economic health of our city remains a top priority,” says Madison Heights Mayor Brian Hartwell. “Our small businesses are enduring an unprecedented battle to remain viable, so the support of the community will be critical.”

To donate online, click here. Donations also can be mailed to: Community Foundation of Greater Rochester, 303 East Street Apt. 12, Rochester, MI, 48303-0431, ATTN: Madison Heights Patronicity.

Businesses interested in being considered for grant funds should apply online here.

Spirit of Detroit
The Spirit of Detroit is now wearing a white ribbon as a symbol of gratitude for all health care workers, first responders, and essential workers who have kept the community functioning during the COVID-19 crisis. “Without these essential employees, this crisis would have been gravely compounded,” says Wright Lassiter III, president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System. “The front-line health care workers, the first responders, the bus drivers, those who work for the post office, grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, banks, the manufacturers who shifted to producing personal protective equipment, and more were absolutely critical to protecting public health, safety, and quality of life.”

Blood Plasma Testing
Recognizing that recovered COVID-19 patient blood plasma can save lives, Hatzalah of Michigan and TCF Bank are conducting a plasma testing drive on Sunday, May 10, between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. at Yeshivath Beth Yehudah School (15751 Lincoln Dr., Southfield) to identify potential plasma donors for local coronavirus patients.

“The community EMS work that Hatzalah does, saves lives daily,” says Gary Torgow, chairman of TCF Financial Corp. “This is yet another demonstration of how volunteers can impact communities in the most meaningful of ways. I want to thank all of our partners – the doctors, nurses, and medical professionals, our American heroes who are fighting this disease every day.”

To register for the plasma testing drive, click here or call 248-744-4357, option 3.

COVID-19 Testing
Central City Integrated Health, a federally qualified health center in Detroit, is offering COVID-19 testing by appointment only at the organization’s 10 Peterboro location, starting today.

Tests will be conducted from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Wednesday, and 9 a.m.-noon on Fridays. To make an appointment, call 833-360-2684. Patients do not need a physician’s testing order, prescription, or health insurance to receive a COVID-19 test. A valid ID will be required for all patients. Patients will receive results in 72 hours.

Tests will be available to Detroit-area residents regardless of symptoms with priority still given to patients with symptoms and essential workers.

“We are eager to begin testing at CCIH and supplement the efforts currently in place as we all work together to fight COVID-19,” says Dr. Kimberly Farrow, interim president and CEO of CCIH. “There are testing programs in place for essential workers and those with symptoms, and our hope is to make sure more people get tested so they recognize the potential risk they have for themselves and for what they may pass on to others.”

Transportation
Honda delivered 10 Odyssey minivans to the city of Detroit that have been specially outfitted to transport people potentially infected with COVID-19, as well as health care workers.

To protect the health of the driver from the potential for droplet infection during transportation, the Honda Odysseys have been retrofitted with a plastic barrier installed behind the front seating area, as well as modifications to the ventilation system to maintain an air pressure differential between the front and rear seating areas.

“As of today, the city of Detroit has tested over 20,000 residents and employees for COVID-19,” says Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “Transportation is a critical component of ensuring every Detroiter has access to a test. We are very appreciative of Honda for choosing Detroit to deploy these newly modified vehicles.”

Health Insurance Grants
For the 16th year, health care clinics across the state are invited to apply for grants through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s Strengthening the Safety Net program. The program provides free or low-cost health care for uninsured and vulnerable Michigan residents. The program will help patients access medical, dental, and mental health care services, including treatment for illness related to COVID-19, and obtain services for substance use disorder. Eligible residents can apply for grants through Friday, June 26.

Clinics interested in applying for the grants can obtain the application materials here.

Since the program’s creation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has awarded more than $15 million to help provide needed health care services to those in need.

“Through the Strengthening the Safety Net program, Blue Cross is able to support free clinics across the state annually, as they work with patients to provide medical, dental, and mental health care services,” says Lynda Rossi, executive vice president of government, strategy, and public affairs for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “Partnership with these clinics is one way Blue Cross fulfills our social mission to expand access to health care services, enhance the quality of care, and address major health issues to create a healthier Michigan.”

Clinics that provide free or low-cost medical, dental, mental health, vision, and specialty care services can apply for the Strengthening the Safety Net grants in the following categories:

Clinic operations: Safety net clinics that provide episodic care and are open for limited hours and treat more than 100 uninsured and underinsured patients annually are eligible to apply for up to $15,000 to support their operations and additional integrated care.

Medical and dental homes: Clinics that serve as medical or dental homes and are open for at least 30 hours per week, or bill Medicaid, are eligible to apply for up to $25,000 to support team-based care. Awards at this level require a $10,000 match.

New to this year’s program, all Strengthening the Safety Net grantees are expected to educate patients about the coronavirus and refer them to treatment as needed; help patients and providers address stigma related to mental illness and substance use disorder and refer patients to mental health and substance abuse treatment whenever possible; and screen patients for food insecurity, as a regular function of care, and refer them to gardens, pantries, markets, meals, and other available resources.

Education
Northwood University in Midland has decided to use its 35 idle gaming computers to help researchers who are working to discover a cure or treatment for COVID-19.

The school is allowing folding@home.org — a research lab based at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis — to install software on its gaming computers that runs complicated simulations of how proteins fold inside our bodies. This is important because the COVID-19 virus causes proteins to misfold, and if we understand the specific way the novel coronavirus is causing them to misfold, it could lead us to a cure or treatment for the disease.

“During this pandemic, we all need to unite as one and do whatever we can to help find a pathway to a treatment for this deadly and disruptive virus,” says Cody Elsen, esports coach at Northwood University. “We’re happy to join the Folding@home project. Northwood University is heavily involved with community engagement, and what better way to put that engagement to work than to help researchers find a way to put a stop to this virus?”

Northwood will continue running the software on its computers throughout the pandemic, or until a treatment is found.

Loyola Fundraiser Goes Virtual
Detroit Loyola High School will conduct its 24th Annual Detroit Tigers Night and Auction on Friday, May 8, but this time as a first-ever virtual online auction.

The May 8 auction originally was planned as a live event to coincide with the Detroit Tigers-Cleveland Indians game at Comerica Park, with nearly 800 Loyola students, families, donors, and sponsors expected to attend.

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools, sports, and much of society in early March, the Loyola leadership team decided to forge ahead.

“This auction is our school’s single biggest fundraiser, which raises much needed money for student scholarships and our operating budget,” says Dave Smith, president of Loyola. “We never wavered in our commitment to the auction, because we will never waver in the commitment to our students, their families, and the Detroit community.”

Online bidding now is open for the auction, which features raffle tickets and nearly 50 other items, including:

  • Memorabilia from sports icons, including Magic Johnson and Tigers great Al Kaline.
  • Golf at Oakland Hills, the Detroit Golf Club, or the Country Club of Detroit.
  • Watching batting practice and throwing out the first pitch at a Tigers game.
  • Resort packages in Telluride, Colo. or Hilton Head, S.C.
  • Co-hosting with Paul W. Smith on his morning show and touring the WJR studios.

To participate in the auction, click here.

Raffle ticket and winning bidders will be announced on May 8 during a 6-6:30 p.m. livestream broadcast, which will be hosted by Smith and his staff from the school’s cafeteria.

Proceeds from the auction will go toward Loyola’s academic and food assistance programs.

NFL Donation
As part of a multi-year, ongoing collaboration of NFL players, clubs, and owners to address racial inequality and social injustice, the Players Coalition recommended the beneficiary organizations, which were then approved by the broader Player-Owner Social Justice Working Group. The emergency donations come from the NFL’s dedicated social justice investment. Beneficiaries were selected based on rates of impact and community needs. “We are so grateful for the generosity of the NFL and the Players Coalition during this time of incredible need in Detroit and across the county,” says Mary Jane Vogt, senior vice president and chief development officer of Henry Ford Health System. “The support of all of our donors – from organizations like the NFL and the Players Coalition, to individuals who chip in to support our patients and staff — is an instrumental part of our ability to respond to the ever-changing situation of COVID-19.”

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