COVID-19 Update: President Outlines Operation Warp Speed for Vaccine, Economic Recovery Possibly Underway, 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 17

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 – Operation Warp Speed
The Trump Administration on May 15 announced the appointment of Moncef Slaoui as chief advisor and Gen. Gustave F. Perna as COO of Operation Warp Speed, the administration’s national program to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.

Slaoui is a venture capitalist and, formerly, chairman of Global Research and Development and chairman of Global Vaccines at GlaxoSmithKline, where he led the development of five major novel vaccines.

As the four-star general in charge of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, Perna oversees the global supply chain and installation and materiel readiness for the U.S. Army, including more than 190,000 military, civilian, and contract employees.

Among its other objectives, Operation Warp Speed aims to have substantial quantities of a safe and effective vaccine available for Americans by January 2021.

Operation Warp Speed is a public-private partnership to facilitate the swift development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 countermeasures. Government entities include components of HHS such as CDC, FDA, NIH, and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA); the Department of Defense; private firms; and other federal agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. It will coordinate existing HHS-wide efforts, including the NIH’s ACTIV partnership for vaccine and therapeutic development, NIH’s RADx initiative for diagnostic development, and work by BARDA.

“In addition to deploying 62,000 military service members in direct support of fighting COVID-19 on frontlines across the globe, the Department of Defense is racing towards a vaccine,” says Mark T. Esper, U.S. Defense Secretary. “Through our research and development labs such as DARPA and the Defense Health Agency, and our massive logistical knowledge and capacity, we are committed to achieving the goal of Operation Warp Speed for the American people. I am confident that, as with any mission our military undertakes, we will adapt and overcome all obstacles in our path.”

Congress has directed almost $10 billion to this effort through supplemental funding, including the CARES Act, and Congress has appropriated other flexible funding. More than $6.5 billion has been designated by Congress for countermeasure development through BARDA, along with $3 billion for NIH research.

Operation Warp Speed will select the most promising countermeasure candidates and provide coordinated government support to support their development.

Fourteen vaccine candidates are being winnowed down to about eight candidates, which will go through further testing in early stage small clinical trials.

Large-scale randomized trials for the demonstration of safety and efficacy will proceed for three to five of the candidates.

Additional non-clinical testing will be done in parallel to the extent possible. For instance, multiple animal models may be used to assess vaccine safety and efficacy in order to support the clinical development program.

The federal government is making investments in manufacturing and distribution at its own risk much earlier than usual, giving firms confidence that they can invest aggressively in development of countermeasures.

Manufacturing capacity for selected candidates, including the three to five selected vaccines, will be advanced while they are still in development, rather than scaled up after approval or authorization, as is the case with traditional development timelines.

The manufacturing capacity developed will be used, to the extent practicable, for whatever vaccine is eventually successful, regardless of which firms have developed the capacity.

Once a product such as a vaccine is ready, the Department of Defense’s involvement will enable faster distribution and administration than would have otherwise been possible using wholly private medical infrastructure.

Economic Recovery Possibly Underway
There are signs the economic contraction caused by the pandemic, the steepest since the Great Depression, has bottomed out and a tentative recovery may be under way, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

Though government data show record monthly drops in retail sales and manufacturing production in April, in a fast-changing environment new trends often appear first in private daily and weekly data. And although they are less reliable and comprehensive than government figures, these figures are showing some signs of a turning point.

For example, map requests on Apple Inc. devices fell 50 percent throughout the country between mid-January and the week ended April 9, but they have steadily climbed since then and are now down just 20 percent. While driving doesn’t necessarily equate to spending, retail visits show the same trend, according to Unacast, a mobility-data analytics company: off more than 50 percent in mid-April from a year earlier, but down just 32 percent this past week. Real-estate brokerage Redfin Corp. said home-buyer demand as measured by customers contacting affiliated agents, after plummeting by one-third, now is above pre-pandemic levels.

Some companies also report a turning point. On May 7, Uber Technologies Inc. said rides had risen for three straight weeks, and were up more than 40 percent from the trough in large cities in Georgia and Texas, which are starting to reopen businesses shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fast-food chain Wendy’s Co. reported that same-store sales in the week ended May 3 were down just 2 percent from a year earlier. They were down 26 percent in the week ended April 5.

Official data may not show much, if any recovery, in May from April, but a rise in June is quite plausible. If that growth is sustained, this economic contraction could go on record as the deepest since the 1930s, yet also the shortest, lasting as little as two or three months. Postwar recessions have lasted six to 18 months.

Remote Employee Productivity
According to results from a recent survey among business owners and employees conducted by Sigred Solutions, a management recruiting and leadership advisory firm based in Ann Arbor, employers will need strong communication, policies, and procedures to manage employee engagement and productivity in industries that can support a long-term remote-workforce.

Sigred Solutions conducted the survey with more than 100 employers and employees adapting to the COVID-19 disruption. Survey respondents included a mix of employers and employees from Michigan and across the United States as well as Europe and Asia. The survey was conducted between March 25 and April 25.

“The COVID-19 crisis will have a lasting impact on people and on our approach to work, as well as our approach to socializing,” says Mike Dergis, founder and partner of Sigred Solutions.

Dergis says he was surprised to see 41 percent of Generation X feel more engaged now than before the crisis, with 34 percent feeling less engaged. Millennials have felt the least impact on their engagement. A full 55 percent of millennials report no changes to their engagement level. The biggest negative impact has been on Baby Boomers with 45 percent reporting that they feel less engaged today.

  • Maintaining engagement in an era of remote work will be a challenge for employers and employees alike. The survey identified the following top three drivers of workplace satisfaction: The ability to have an impact.
  • Work/life balance.
  • Having a sense of responsibility.

“By measuring the engagement of your employees and understanding what is most important to them, you can coach your leaders to make changes that will impact your employees’ engagement and drive improvements to your bottom-line,” Dergis says.

Sigred Solutions Partner Kristi Stepp says, “The word productivity may need to be redefined in an era where a larger percent of the workforce is working remotely. As employers set up employees to work from home, it is key to set expectations and develop an understanding of the goals (both in terms of deliverables and deadlines).”

Stepp pointed out the responses to the question about productivity were a little surprising. Only 40 percent of the respondents felt less productive today than before the crisis. The feeling about productivity gains and losses, however, varied significantly by generation. Thirty-six percent of millennials agreed that they were more productive now, with 25 percent Generation X feeling the same way. Only 14 percent of Baby Boomers feel more productive today (and a full 48 percent feel less productive).

Employees, especially Baby Boomers and Generation X, that are used to measuring their productivity by the time they spend in the office, no longer have a convenient measuring stick. Managers who gauge their employees’ productivity by “face-time” are similarly disoriented.

Without “face-time” at work, outcomes become the key to determining success. Employees and managers need support to define expectations of productivity and to find a balance between supportive leadership and micro-management.

The survey confirmed Baby Boomers and Generation X expect that they will be working from home up to 50 percent of the time. Millennials expect to see a 72 percent jump in time spent working from home (to 36 percent).

“As stay-at-home restrictions begin to ease, employers need to create policies and procedures to succeed in the new normal,” says Stepp. “We expect the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis to force leaders to address several challenges as they develop long-term strategies for their employees.”

New App Aids Return to Work Procedures
Clear To Go! Is a new, user-friendly health and wellness software suite and app developed in Rochester to screen employees, customers, and visitors as they enter a workplace.

The new app provides businesses with a streamlined solution to manage illnesses in the workplace, according to the developer. This includes screening apps for employees, case management for HR, and a visitor management system.

When employees and guests enter an office or worksite, they are screened via the Clear To Go! iOS, Android, or SMS app with a set of key COVID-19 health-related questions and optional temperature check. Once the individual is cleared, the information then is linked to a Clear To Go! badge allowing that person to work onsite until the next required screening period.

If an employee or guest fails the screening, Clear To Go!’s case management tool provides early warning detection and a central point to ensure an employer’s established processes and protocols are followed, and then tracks all documents and communications from a human resources perspective.

“COVID-19 has illuminated the challenges businesses face with illness in the workplace, says Scott Garretson, co-founder of Clear To Go! “Whether a global pandemic or the seasonal flu, how we ensure our employees are healthy in the workplace is vital to keeping a business thriving. Clear to Go! is the start of a new category of software built to manage illness in the workplace.”

Mike Wille, co-founder of Clear To Go!, says, “Screening questions are essential, but what happens after that is critical. How companies react, what processes are followed, how people are alerted, steps taken when an employee develops symptoms while on site – all those challenges and more are addressed by Clear To Go!.”

Garretson and Wilke say their software and app already is being used to screen more than 1,000 employees, customers, and visitors at the offices of Orion Township and Magna Exteriors/AIM Systems in Warren.

For more information, visit here.

AF Group’s COVID-19 Relief Program
Lansing-based insurance company AF Group has announced a new People First Relief Program that will help ensure the health and safety of its workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic. The insurer also is offering more than $20 million in immediate financial and operational assistance to its agents, policyholders, and injured workers.

The multi-tiered program will support vulnerable businesses and will provide resources to support community service organizations across the country.

“Our partnership with agents, policyholders, injured workers, and our communities has led to remarkable and shared success for more than a century,” says Lisa Corless, president and CEO of AF Group. “The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges to so many, and this important relief program reflects our commitment toward supporting our customer base and our communities. All of this is predicated on the efforts of our amazing workforce, which is why we’re also working hard to protect the health and safety of more than 1,500 teammates nationwide. Their dedication to our collective success is allowing us to make a lasting impact.”

The People First Relief Program is ensuring the health and safety of AF Group teammates through enhanced cleaning and social distancing practices in its offices. Additional benefits also have been extended during stay at home orders, including flexible leave options, free onsite lunches and paid leave for teammates with existing COVID-19 health issues.

For AF Group’s agents, the People First Relief Program includes options for accelerating agency commissions and profit sharing for qualifying agents, opportunities for partnering with food service policyholders to provide food for essential workers, and new online resources to help agents to stay connected with their customers.

For policyholders, flexibility is being offered to extend payment due dates and to ensure policies are not cancelled for non-payment, as well as expedited processing of payroll changes to adjust premiums to provide more immediate financial relief. For injured workers, the benefit of electronic fund transfer is allowing quicker access to claim payments and new telehealth services featuring virtual medical and physical therapy services are available.

In local communities, AF Group has continued to support charitable organizations in Michigan and these donations will increase nationwide over the next several months in the communities where employees work and live.

Prescription Assistance
Southfield-based nonprofit World Medical Relief’s local Prescription Program provides access to affordable prescriptions for low-income individuals in metro Detroit who are under- or uninsured, thanks to a multi-year grant award from Metro Health Foundation.

Regardless of the actual cost of the prescription, clients only pay $8.30 for a month supply for their medication.

World Medical Relief’s local Affordable Prescription Program is experiencing renewed interest from foundations and United Way as a growing number of low-income under-insured people need help with their prescription drugs. Also, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Vera and Joseph Dresner Foundation is assisting the agency with emergency funding to help newly unemployed low-income individuals with their medications. United Way and Ford Motor Co. Fund also contributed emergency funding to help World Medical Relief keep its local programs going during the COVID-19 pandemic.

People in need can call 313-866-5333, email info@worldmedicalrelief.org, or visit here.

Meals for Frontline Workers at Henry Ford Health System
Health care workers at Henry Ford Health Systems will have lunch provided over the next two weeks thanks to a collaboration between AT&T Michigan, the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, and World Central Kitchen.

“Providing meals to the health care heroes who are taking care of those suffering from COVID-19 is an honor for AT&T Michigan,” says David Lewis, president of AT&T Michigan. “We are proud to be working with the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association and World Central Kitchen on this effort.”

The effort will provide hospital staff with 250 lunches per day at the HFHS hospital located on Grand Boulevard in Detroit, beginning May 19.

MRLA and World Central Kitchen, a global nonprofit, have arranged for local restaurants and caterers to provide the meals to the hospital during this effort.

“One thing that has been made abundantly clear since the onset of COVID-19 in Michigan is that our hospitality industry is innovative and unquestioningly willing to give back to its community,” says Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the MRLA. “Our continued partnership with AT&T allows our restaurants to give back to front line workers while providing needed business to local restaurants as well. We are thankful and honored to support this effort.”

Participating restaurants and catering companies include BBC Restaurant II LLC, El Nacimiento Restaurant, Hardy Hospitality Group, Table No. 2, Jackson’s 5 Star Catering, McShane’s Irish Pub, and Pizzeria Sicilys.

In Related News: Livonia-based Olga’s Kitchen is launching its Feed a Hero program to benefit frontline workers. The program provides a platform for donations on its mobile app or online at Order.Olgas.com. For every $10 contribution, Olga’s Kitchen will donate a boxed meal to a frontline worker fighting the pandemic.

The restaurant already has provided nearly 3,500 meals to frontline health care workers during the pandemic, including at Beaumont Hospital Dearborn and Ascension Providence Hospital Southfield.

“As we all work together to battle COVID-19, our frontline workers remain a source of strength for us all and are truly heroes,” says Loredana Gianino, senior marketing manager at Olga’s Kitchen. “We value those who continue to save lives, serve, protect, and keep our community intact, which inspired us to launch our Feed a Hero program. As many individuals staying home to stop the spread are looking for a way to give back, the Feed a Hero program helps bring comfort and strength to those on the frontlines through Olga’s Kitchen meals.”

To contribute to the Feed a Hero program, download the Olga’s app or visit here. Order.Olgas.com

Retail Transformation Webinar
The Stefanini Group is hosting a webinar titled “Brick and Mobile,” covering the retail transformation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, May 21 from 11-11:45 a.m.

The webinar will discuss new technologies that are being used by retailers to deal with COVID-19 along with challenges in delivery and execution of orders.

Speakers will include Sam Selim global senior director of the Stefanini Group, and George Millard, CEO of Mozaiko, which specializes in finding digital shortcuts to solve real world problems and sensor-based analytics solutions.

To register for the webinar, visit here.

Virtual Career Fair for Veterans
Disabled American Veterans and RecruitMilitary will co-host a Detroit Veterans Virtual Career Fair on May 28 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event is free to veterans, their spouses, active-duty military personnel, and members of the National Guard and Reserve.

“Whether you’re transitioning out of the military and looking for a new career or you’ve been out of the military and are looking for something new, it’s always a very daunting and stressful task,” says Jeff Hall, national employment director at DAV. “This mission is made much, much more difficult in the face of a national pandemic. However, it’s more important than ever to leave the door to opportunity open. Veterans are not the type to back down from adversity. We are here to help make it easier by moving all of our career fairs to virtual events through the end of May.”

Employers who are actively seeking the talents of America’s veterans will be representing a range of industries, from construction to medical to administrative and logistics, with career opportunities from entry level to senior management. DAV benefits advocates are available during the event to answer questions and assist veterans who may have service-connected disabilities that could make them eligible for compensation through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

To register for the career fair, visit here. DAV also has developed a guide to help employers hire veterans.

Museums
The Henry Ford has announced that it will remain closed through June 28, and has cancelled its on-site 2020 Summer Camp experience. Full refunds will be processed. Guests with questions can reach out to The Henry Ford’s Contact Center via email at ReservationCenter@thf.org or by phone at 313.982.6001, Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

The Henry Ford closed its campus on March 13 to comply with federal, state and CDC guidelines during the rapidly evolving coronavirus crisis.

YMCA Closes Two Metro Detroit Branches
The YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit is permanently closing two YMCA branches effective May 15: the Lakeshore Family YMCA and the Livonia Family YMCA.

“As we navigate the COVID-19 international health crisis, we must reimagine how to best serve metropolitan Detroiters,” says Helene Weir, president and CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit. “This means our YMCA has made the very difficult decision to permanently close two of our branches.”

Weir explained that after extensive research and evaluation, it was clear that the two branches were not financially sustainable and have been operating as deficit operations for nearly a decade. She said Livonia has lost $1.2 million and Lakeshore $630,000 over the past 10 years.

Weir said as soon as the Y reopens, Lakeshore and Livonia members will receive a free membership for the remainder of 2020 to use at any of its eight other locations.

She said it is the YMCA’s intention to continue to provide a safe and nurturing day camp at the Livonia location for the summer of 2020 when the state permits day camp operation. “We will continue food distribution at the Livonia and Lakeshore YMCA locations to ensure any child in those communities can receive up to 16 healthy meals each week,” she said.

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