COVID-19 Update: State Extends Epidemic Order 12 Days, U-M and Stanford Develop More-responsive COVID-19 Wastewater Test, 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.
COVID-19 Chart
Courtesy of Bridge

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.

State Extends Epidemic Order 12 Days to Ensure Virus Surge is Stabilizing

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Monday extended the epidemic order that restricts indoor social gatherings and other group activities by 12 days to allow department to determine the full impact of the Thanksgiving holiday on the spread of COVID-19 across the state.

Under the order, MDHHS continues to urge families to avoid indoor gatherings, and only two households may gather inside, with strict protocols recommended. Individuals should wear masks consistently whenever they are inside with individuals not in their household, and are recommended to pick only a small group to see regularly.

Bars and restaurants must remain closed for dine-in service, but can remain open for outdoor dining, carry-out, and delivery. Gyms are open for individual exercise with mandatory masking and additional strict safety measures. Casinos, movie theaters, and group exercise classes remain closed. Professional and college sports meeting extraordinary standards for risk mitigation may continue without spectators. Colleges, universities, and high schools will continue with remote learning, with no in-person classes.

The order will keep existing measures in place through Dec. 20 and does not include a blanket stay-home action. Employees who work in jobs that cannot be performed from home can continue to go to work, including those in manufacturing, construction, and health occupations. Outdoor gatherings, outdoor dining, and parks remain open. Individualized activities with distancing and face masks are still allowed including retail shopping; public transit; restaurant takeout; personal-care services such as haircuts by appointment; and individualized exercise at a gym, with extra spacing between machines.

MDHHS states it has identified three key metrics that will be utilized in determining whether to slowly reopen at the end of the 12 days. Specifically, the department will be looking closely at the percentage of hospital beds with COVID patients, the number of COVID-19 cases, and the positivity rate. With improvements in those numbers in context, MDHHS will carefully reopen, with in-person learning at high schools first. Next in line will be entertainment venues where people can maintain consistent masking, such as casinos, theaters, and bowling, with concessions closed.

The state has repeatedly declined to share the data it relies on to back up its decision making with the general public.

The latest information on the state’s COVID-19 policies can be found here. Information on the coming COVID-19 vaccine can be found here.

U-M and Stanford Develop More-responsive COVID-19 Wastewater Test

A new wastewater testing approach developed by researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Stanford University in California is capable of better detecting viral infection patterns in communities, and could prove a crucial step forward in an informed public health response as the pandemic continues.

The new study published in Environmental Science & Technology identifies a method that not only detects the virus in wastewater samples but also tracks whether the infection rates are trending up or down.

Those infected with COVID-19 shed the virus in their stool. Wastewater testing could be used for more responsive tracking and supplementing information public health officials rely on when evaluating efforts to contain the virus, including vaccines when they become available.

The new test works by identifying and measuring genetic material in the form of RNA from SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It is able to provide more accurate results than other similar wastewater tests because it samples the more concentrated solids that settle in wastewater tanks, rather than the more diluted liquid influent slurry that flows into plants.

“These results confirmed our early thinking that targeting the solids in wastewater would lead to sensitive and reproducible measurements of COVID-19 in a community,” says Krista Wigginton, an associate professor in civil and environmental engineering at U-M and a co-author of the study. “This means that we can track upward trends when cases are still relatively low,” said co-senior author Krista Wigginton.”

Wigginton co-leads the research with Alexandria Boehm, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford.

“This work confirms that trends in concentrations of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater track with trends of new COVID-19 infections in the community,” says Boehm. “Wastewater data complements the data from clinical testing and may provide additional insight into COVID-19 infections within communities.”

Tracking COVID-19 through wastewater surveillance of RNA is gaining steam across the country and could alert decision-makers about potential outbreaks days before individuals recognize symptoms of the virus. The viral RNA can be isolated from sewage in wastewater treatment facilities and identified through a complicated and highly technical recovery process, with the relative amounts in wastewater correlating to the number of cases. Anyone with a toilet connected to a sewer system could be depositing these biological samples on a regular basis, making wastewater sampling an inclusive source of information about COVID-19 in a community.

The researchers sought to advance the effectiveness and accuracy of wastewater surveillance for COVID-19 by comparing the ability to detect the virus in two kinds of samples — the mostly liquid influent coming into wastewater treatment facilities, and the solid sediment that settles in the facilities’ tanks. Most current research focuses on influent samples.

They then tested about 100 settled solid samples from the San Jose-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility from mid-March to mid-July 2020, tallying daily concentration numbers. Using statistical modeling they compared these concentrations with COVID-19 confirmed cases provided by the county. Their results tracked the trend of the county’s cases, decreasing in both May and June and peaking in July.

The research presents a possible way to identify new outbreaks, find hotspots, confirm the decrease of cases, and inform public health interventions. As schools reopen, the technology could be implemented by districts to identify whether community virus circulation is decreasing. It also has the potential to be used in areas lacking the resources for robust individual clinical testing, such as testing sites in Illinois that reportedly closed early after running out of tests.

There are still pieces of information needed to better understand the limitations of wastewater testing and improve what can be gleaned, the researchers note. The virus’s rate of decay in wastewater, the extent and timeline of viral RNA shedding when sick, and varying operations of different wastewater plants all have the potential to impact results. Future studies on these factors could lead to better insights about case trends.

The team is launching a new pilot this month to sample up to eight wastewater treatment plants within California daily, with a 24-hour turnaround time. The pilot aims to better understand what types of almost real-time data are useful to public health officials. Implementing the methods and framework developed by the team and pilot study could also be used in the future to monitor wastewater for pathogens beyond COVID-19 circulating within communities.

In Related News: A team of researchers and students from Wayne State University in Detroit recently received a one-year grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that aims to develop technologies to address stormwater and wastewater infrastructure needs in communities, particularly those that are small, rural, tribal, and/or disadvantaged. The team chose to focus on Detroit because of its larger population of minorities that are primarily low-income, as well as an aging city infrastructure that causes an increased risk to environmental hazards exposure.

According to Carol Miller, the principal investigator on the project and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Wayne State, the data on groundwater flow and quality is extremely limited in metro Detroit, despite an increasing number of groundwater-related vapor intrusion events.

“To decrease the impact of flooding and frequency of combined sewer overflows, Detroit has developed a green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) program and incentives for installing GSI,” says Miller. “However, the challenge to this is developing a scalable model of relatively low-cost groundwater monitoring stations to measure groundwater flow and quality at the neighborhood scale.”

The project, GSI-Informed Urban Groundwater Monitoring Networks, will offer an opportunity to understand how green stormwater infrastructure affects urban groundwater quality and flow by piloting a network of community-based groundwater monitoring stations surrounding GSI sites in Detroit.

The team will develop and deploy an innovative design that uses small groundwater monitoring wells to create a groundwater modeling system that is modular and low-cost, ultimately making it highly adaptable to a variety of site conditions of GSI and urban soils.

Some of the other expected outcomes and benefits of this project include pollution prevention and control through monitoring urban groundwater movement and transport of contaminants through urban water systems, ultimately protecting human health and limiting exposure and transport of dangerous contaminants through groundwater-based vapor intrusion or surface drinking water sources.

Buddy’s Pizza and Carhartt Partner to Help Fight Homelessness in Detroit

Buddy’s Pizza and workwear manufacturer Carhartt are partnering to donate winter coats, gloves, pizza, and other food items to the Pope Francis Center in Detroit, which helps those who are homelessness.

Buddy’s CEO Burton Heiss and Tony Ambroza, Carhartt’s chief brand officer, will be distributing the donated items to guests at the center’s new winter location at TCF Center at 9 a.m. Dec. 9. Fr. Tim McCabe, executive director of the Pope Francis Center, also will be present.

Comcast RISE to Offer Resources and Makeovers to Minority Small Businesses

 Comcast Corp. announced that Comcast RISE is opening up its second phase of eligibility to include Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC)-owned small businesses. These businesses can apply here. Selected businesses will receive consulting, media, and creative production services from Effectv, the advertising sales division of Comcast Cable, or technology upgrades from Comcast Business, based on the specific needs.

The first phase of Comcast RISE, which stands for “Representation, Investment, Strength and Empowerment,” launched in October and focused on U.S. Black-owned small businesses, those hit hardest by the pandemic according to a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Last month, Comcast announced the first round of Comcast RISE award recipients —more than 700 businesses. This includes 39 small businesses in Michigan, from restaurants and salons to professional services and retail shops.

Comcast RISE brings together two of the company’s brands —Comcast Business and Effectv, both with expertise in the small business space — to empower business owners with the expertise and resources needed to navigate the economic effects of the pandemic.

Comcast RISE consists of the following main components:

  • A media and technology resources program.
  • Creative Production.
  • Technology Makeovers.
  • Business resources to help with curated content.
  • Grants of up to $10,000 each for U.S.-based small and diverse businesses that have been in operations for three to five years.

In Related News: Comcast announced Monday that it will extend its commitments to help people connect to the Internet during the COVID-19 pandemic as millions continue to stay home while many workplaces and schools operate virtually.

The company says it will continue to provide free Internet service for the first 60 days for new Internet Essentials customers, and free access to more than 1.5 million public Xfinity WiFi hotspots, the largest network of its kind in the country, through June 30, 2021.

“Our teams have worked tirelessly to ensure our network is operating at peak performance and help our customers and our communities navigate this unprecedented crisis,” says Dave Watson, CEO of Comcast Cable. “We have accelerated our work during COVID-19 by partnering with public schools to provide Internet for more low-income students and by working with community centers to create safe spaces for families to connect to free WiFi through Lift Zones.”

For more information, visit here.

Society of Automotive Analysis to Present Annual Expert Panel Virtually Dec. 10

The Society of Automotive Analysis is presenting its Annual Expert Panel titled “Discussion of Auto Industry Investments, Risks, and Opportunities” on Dec. 10 from 10-11:30 a.m., featuring speakers discussing the role of the financial community on the post-COVID-19 automotive industry.

The event will focus the how banks, private equity, turnaround specialists, lenders, and others will be involved in the auto industry’s new normal. Financial experts will review hurdles and opportunities, outlooks on consolidation, investment opportunities, and how the automotive industry is viewed by Wall Street.

Following presentations from each speaker, television personality Phil LeBeau will moderate a question-and-answer session. There is no cost for SAA members. Nonmembers will pay $99, which includes a one-year SAA membership.

For a list of speakers, visit here. To register, visit here.

DAV and RecruitMilitary to Host the Global Virtual Career Fair Dec. 9

DAV and RecruitMilitary are hosting a free global virtual career fair for U.S. Army members and their spouses Dec. 9 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

RecruitMilitary recently was appointed by the U.S. Army to serve as the sole transition resource for soldiers and their family members seeking civilian employment after military service.

“We’ve seen a ripple effect over the past few years of organizations across the country prioritizing diversity and veteran hiring because they see the value of bringing this type of talent to shape the future of their organization,” says Tim Best, CEO of RecruitMilitary. “Companies realize that having their employees and leaders be representative of our nation’s wonderfully diverse population is critical to their success.

“And, they’ve discovered they can find that diversity, along with unmatched tangible skills and intangible attributes in the veteran population. Military-trained job seekers are an unmatched asset to any employer seeking diversity and hiring solutions with the most highly skilled and qualified workers in the country.”

For more information and to register, visit here.

Focus: HOPE Preparing for Senior Holiday Food Delivery Day

Focus: HOPE is preparing for its annual Senior Holiday Food Delivery Day (Dec. 19), during which the nonprofit delivers holiday food and paper supplies to 1,400 homebound seniors across southeast Michigan.

To ensure safety for all involved, Focus: HOPE has adjusted the event procedures for this year. It is scheduling contactless food box pickups for volunteers throughout the morning of Dec. 19 at its Oakman campus. Volunteers will then drop off the food boxes (including a frozen turkey, vegetables, condiments, and more) at recipients’ doors, and will call recipients to let them know their items have arrived. Masks will be required throughout the pickup and delivery process for everyone involved.

Pre-registration is required for all interested volunteers. To register to volunteer, visit here.

State DNR Opens ‘Stuff a Truck’ Toy Donation Sites in Detroit, Clare, and Gaylord

How many toys can fit in the back of a Michigan Department of Natural Resource conservation officer’s patrol truck? The DNR hopes to find out from now to Dec. 18 with its socially distanced  “Stuff a Truck” collection sites in Detroit, Clare, and Gaylond.

All toys – which will be given to local children before Christmas Day – should be new, in original packaging, and free of any wrapping or decorations.

The Detroit locations are at 99 Pleasure Drive on Belle Isle, just outside the park office (10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, through Dec. 18); and at the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center at 1801 Atwater St. (10 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Dec. 12 and Dec. 19). Donors will automatically be entered in a drawing to win a free, exclusive 90-minute family experience at the OAC. To receive the courtesy admission tickets and a chance at the exclusive family experience, donated toys should be securely tagged with the donor’s name, phone number, and email address.

Toys collected at the Detroit locations will be donated to the Detroit Police Department’s Sergeant Santa Program. Last year, conservation officers doubled the number of families that received donations in 2018.

“We are honored to work with our brothers and sisters in the Detroit Police Department for this noble cause,” said Lt. Todd Szyska, DNR law enforcement supervisor in Detroit. “Last year was very successful and we hope to see the same contributions. This year has been exceptionally difficult for our community and we want to do everything we can to make sure that every child in Detroit has a wonderful Christmas.”

Jay’s Sporting Goods will accept toy donations in Clare and Gaylonrd during normal business hours now through Sunday, Dec. 13. Although donations can be dropped off anytime during store hours, conservation officers will be in the parking lots with patrol trucks at both locations as follows:

  • 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12.
  • Noon-4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13.

Toys dropped off at the Jay’s Sporting Goods locations will be donated to the local Toys for Tots programs in Clare and Gaylord.

“Working with Jay’s Sporting Goods is an excellent partnership, making it easy for holiday shoppers to also pick up some gifts that help kids connect with the outdoors,” said Lt. Brandon Kieft, DNR law enforcement supervisor in Roscommon. “We are excited to work with our northern Michigan community to help local children have the Christmas they deserve.”