COVID-19 Update: State Partners with Restaurants to Help Food Assistance Recipients, City of Detroit Begins Vaccinating Frontline Health Workers and Others, 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.
map of Michigan coronavirus cases by county
Courtesy of Bridge, as of Dec. 22

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 Partners with Restaurants to Help Food Assistance Recipients
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is launching a new program that will give eligible food assistance recipients the opportunity to use their benefits to purchase restaurant meals.

The goal of the Restaurant Meal Program is to serve residents who face difficulty preparing their own food due to disability, age, or lack of kitchen access. MDHHS is opening the program for restaurants to enroll with the aim of providing diverse and affordable options for eligible participants across the state.

“This partnership with our restaurants will ensure people across the state have the support they need this winter,” says Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. “I am grateful for the restaurants that participate in this program.”

Enrollment for restaurants is open now and the process begins here. MDHHS will announce at a later date when eligible food assistant recipients can start redeeming their benefits at participating restaurants. MDHHS will publish a list of participating restaurants on its website

and encourages restaurants to advertise this benefit to their patrons directly.

Older adults over 60, people with a disability including those who receive Social Security Income or other disability program benefits, and people experiencing homelessness are among those who are eligible.

“MDHHS is always working to make it easier for residents to put food on the table for themselves and their families,” says Robert Gordon, director of MDHHS. “The Restaurant Meal Program provides an option for Michiganders who — for no fault of their own — find it difficult to prepare hot meals.”

Eligible participants can buy meals at participating restaurants with their Bridge Card in a manner similar to purchasing groceries. As restaurants enroll in the program and are approved to provide this service, more information about food assistance recipient eligibility will be forthcoming. If a food assistance recipient feels they meet the criteria of being disabled or homeless, MDHHS encourages them to contact their local MDHHS office.

City of Detroit Begins Vaccinating Frontline Health Workers and Others
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, city health department staff, and frontline health care workers were among the first to receive vaccinations from the city’s initial shipment of 2,000 doses of the recently approved Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, which arrived Monday.

Those doses will be used to vaccinate home health care workers, staff and residents at assisted living facilities in the city. Meanwhile, through its occupational health partnership with the city, workers from Henry Ford Health System will begin vaccinating Detroit’s EMS workers and fire fighters, who are cross trained as medical first responders.

Duggan outlined the city’s plan, stressing that taking the vaccine is voluntary and entirely up to the individual.

“Today is our city’s first step in truly getting past COVID-19,” Duggan says. “Detroiters have done a great job following the rules that have been established for them, such as wearing masks and social distancing. Now they will get to have the opportunity to decide for themselves whether to take the vaccine. As we prepare to immunize our frontline health care workers and medical first responders, we want everyone to know the vaccine is safe and how much confidence we have in it.”

The state’s plan for distributing the vaccine is broken down into four phases, the first three focusing on health care, medical, and frontline workers, as well elderly and vulnerable residents before beginning Phase 4, which is the general population. The first phase itself has three levels of priority, which the city expects to complete in January. They are:

  • Health Department vaccinators and medical first responders.
  • Long-term care facilities & home health care with high-risk patients.
  • Health Department frontline staff.

Starting today, the first of the city’s 1,100 medical responders in the Detroit Fire Department will begin receiving Pfizer vaccinations through an occupational health partnership between the city and Henry Ford Health System. Staff from HFHS will have its mobile unit on site at DFD’s regional training facility to vaccinate interested personnel between Wednesday and the first week of January. Each of the city’s nearly 50 fire companies are now being scheduled.

The 2,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine the city received on Monday, also will begin deploying today. Here is the initial timeline:

  • Today: Health Department Vaccination Team.
  • 28-30: Home Health Agencies.
  • 4-8: Nursing Home(s) not registered with CVS/Walgreens.
  • 8-Feb. 1: Other long term care facilities and senior buildings.

These groups will be followed in early February by Phase 1B (residents ages 75 and older, DPD and DDOT) and Phase 1C (residents aged 65-74, those with high-risk health conditions, and other essential workers) in early April before the vaccine is offered to the general public in late spring.

Duggan says he expects the city to vaccinate up to 5,000 residents per day over a period of several months to reach a majority of the adult population in Detroit, employing parking decks at TCF Center and Comerica Park to handle the volume. The vaccines are not approved for children at this time.

“We have a robust plan for vaccinating the people of Detroit, once we get to that phase of the plan,” Duggan says. “Just as our city has been a national leader in providing free, fast, and reliable testing, I expect we will do the same by providing access to the vaccine for anyone who wants it.”

MDHHS Launches MI COVID Alert Text Message Outreach
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has launched a statewide text outreach aimed at increasing residents’ awareness of the state’s new exposure notification mobile app, MI COVID Alert.

The text messages, which began this month, make it simple to connect to and download MI COVID Alert. Each text includes information about the app and a link to the landing page on the state of Michigan coronavirus website with more information about how it works, details about how MI COVID Alert keeps user information anonymous, and links to Apple and Google app stores.

“We want Michiganders to know this is a legitimate communication from the department as we encourage them to take this easy step to protect themselves and others by downloading the MI COVID Alert,” says Robert Gordon, director of MDHHS. “The more of us download the app, the safer we’ll be until a vaccine is available to the broader population.”

The texts encouraging Michiganders to download the app are sent to individuals based on publicly available resident contact information. Because MI COVID Alert users are anonymous, some individuals who already downloaded the app may still receive a text message.

The no cost, anonymous app has been downloaded nearly half a million times — a figure that represents a little more than 9.5 percent of 18- to 64-year-olds in Michigan — in the initial weeks of the statewide launch. Oxford researchers found that when just 15 percent of a population used an exposure notification app like MI COVID Alert, there was a potential to reduce infections and deaths.

Hip Hop’s Big Sean Joins Pistons as Creative Director of Innovation
The Detroit Pistons today announced hip-hop icon and Detroit-native Big Sean will become the organization’s creative director of innovation. In this role, Big Sean will provide creative counsel and strategic guidance on a variety of Pistons off-the-court initiatives, including team merchandise design, in-game experience, co-branded community, and social responsibility activation, and more.

To kick off the partnership, Big Sean has added his Don Life logo to the Pistons practice jersey.

“Sean is an accomplished artist, philanthropist and entrepreneur,” says Tom Gores, owner of the Pistons. “Having spent time with him and his family I know how deeply he cares about the city of Detroit. We share a common desire to use the power of sports and entertainment to improve our community and make a positive impact on people’s lives. I’m excited to see what we can do working together.”

Central to the partnership, the Pistons and the Sean Anderson Foundation will work together and engage Detroiters through future community initiatives and programming. The six-time Grammy nominee also will curate music for Pistons in-game entertainment, including halftime performances, and DJ playlists. Additionally, Big Sean will participate in creative sessions and spearhead collaborations with the Pistons design team to launch custom merchandise line extensions.

“It’s a dream come true and a real honor to get to work with the iconic Detroit Pistons,” says Big Sean. “I grew up in the city, which naturally made me a fan of the Bad Boys. I would later have a Grant Hill poster on my wall and then, against all odds, would watch the ’04 Pistons go on to win the championship, inspiring the whole city of Detroit. I look forward to creatively finding new ways to contribute to their legacy and continue their dedication to the community through sports, art, and, of course, music.”

Detroit Pistons Chief Business Officer Mike Zavodsky says he sees the partnership as a natural fit for the Pistons and their newly launched D-Up brand campaign.

“Big Sean embodies everything the Pistons organization and our D-Up campaign is about – creativity, hard work, and the people of Detroit,” says Zavodsky. “Big Sean and the Pistons are both a part of the fabric of Detroit, and we look forward to this partnership reflecting the culture of the city we both call home.”

CP Completes Acquisition of Detroit River Rail Tunnel
The Calgary-based Canadian Pacific railroad today has completed its previously announced agreement to purchase an 83.5-percent stake in the Detroit River Rail Tunnel from affiliates of OMERS, the defined benefit pension plan for municipal employees in the province of Ontario. CP previously owned a 16.5-percent stake of the tunnel in partnership with OMERS. The purchase price for the transaction is approximately $312 million, subject to customary closing adjustments.

Busch’s Markets Fighting Against Hunger During the Holidays
Busch’s Fresh Food Market and its Season of Sharing food drive raised more than $375,000 in monetary and food donations from the community and its vendor partners to help those in need during the holidays. The donations will go to help support Forgotten Harvest.

The community had several ways to get involved during the food drive, including purchasing a pre-made Ready to Go donation bag with 16 items for a family in need, making a donation at a Busch’s checkout register, purchasing gift cards, or donating bottle return slips.

“It’s easy to get lost in the commercial nature of the holiday season, but the true spirit of the holiday comes from giving back, giving thanks and lending a helping hand to those in need,” says Kirk Mayes, CEO of Forgotten Harvest. “We are pleased to do this every year and appreciate working with great organizations like Busch’s because it’s truly important and meaningful.”

Forgotten Harvest and Busch’s work together year-round to fight hunger in metro Detroit. Busch’s has provided more than $3.7 million worth of food and financial support to Forgotten Harvest over the last 12 years.

To learn more about where and how to donate to those in need during the holidays, visit Forgotten Harvest’s website or Busch’s website.

Walmart Donates $12M to Fight Hunger this Holiday Season
The Walmart Foundation is donating Feeding America $12 million over the next two years and is encouraging its stores, clubs, and distribution centers in the U.S. to commit funds and product donations to hunger-relief organizations through the end of the year.

“Too many people, especially children and our senior citizens, are struggling with hunger and food insecurity,” says Chris Emmons, market manager for Walmart. “As the nation’s largest grocer, we have a responsibility to help change this reality. With this effort, we are working to support local hunger relief programs across the U.S. that help those individuals and families to live better.”

For years, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have supported hunger-relief organizations and this year is no different. Last year, in Michigan, Walmart donated more than 14.6 million pounds of food to local food banks.

So far this year, more than 5,000 hunger-relief organizations in the U.S. have received support from Walmart and the Walmart Foundation through the donation of 480 million pounds of food and over $55 million in grants for hunger relief. Complemented by these efforts, Walmart customers, Sam’s Club members, and suppliers have raised and donated nearly $18 million for hunger relief.

MDHHS Teams with GetSetUp to Help Residents Cope with COVID-19 Holiday Separation
Through its partnership with the national education technology company GetSetUp, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Aging and Adult Services Agency is offering a series of holiday-themed social hours for older adults this week and next week.

The special classes will help older adults connect with family and friends this holiday season. This includes a special holiday social hour at 11 a.m. on Christmas Day.

“Older adults are at greater risk for complications related to coronavirus and have had to follow public health guidelines closely, including social distancing,” says Dr. Alexis Travis, senior deputy director at of the Aging and Adult Services Agency. “Over the course of this week and next, we hope older Michiganders will join some of these social hours as a means to connect with loved ones and make new connections through this safe, virtual community.”

Holiday social hours give older adults opportunities to connect with others in their age group. Holiday-themed social hours and courses include:

  • Social Hour – Holiday Party: 3 p.m. today
  • Getting Started with Zoom This Holiday Season: 5:30 p.m. today
  • Connect with Family and Friends This Holiday Season: noon Thursday.
  • Social Hour – Christmas Traditions: 11 a.m. Friday.
  • Social Hour – Seasonal Games: 2 p.m. Saturday.
  • Social Hour – Holiday Recipe Swap: 5:30 p.m. Dec. 29
  • Social Hour – Dancing to Music of the 1960s & 1970s: 4:30 p.m. Dec. 31

Registration is required. Classes and social hours are offered online and via telephone. To register, visit here or call 888-559-1614.

In addition to social hours, older Michiganders can access more than 150 free online group classes designed for and led by older adults. Popular classes include how to use a smartphone or tablet, how to use services like video conferencing, email, social media, as well as virtual social hours.

This project is funded in part by the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.