COVID-19 Update: Stock Market Posts Modest Gains, Oil Rebounds, Medical News, and More

Seeking to limit the spread of COVID-19, below is a roundup of the latest announcements from our region, state, federal government, and international channels. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message.
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coronavirus in Michigan map, courtesy of Bridge
Courtesy of Bridge, data from March 19

Seeking to limit the spread of COVID-19, below is a roundup of the latest announcements from our region, state, federal government, and international channels. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message here.

Stock Market
U.S. stocks saw a rare session on Thursday marked by relatively modest price moves – it was the first time in the last several days where the Dow was not moving 1000 points. The major US indexes all finished higher, giving investors a chance to take a deep breath for a change. The Dow gained 188 points (0.95 percent) on Thursday while the S&P 500 added 0.47 percent and Nasdaq climbed 2.30 percent.

Investors’ spirits were helped by government intervention in the US and overseas. Oil prices rebounded and jumped by almost 25 percent on Thursday after the US announced it is taking steps to purchase up to 30 million barrels of crude oil. Also providing a boost to the markets was the European Central Bank’s commitment to buying €750 billion in fixed income paper. For more relief, the Fed also announced it will be setting up a program to backstop US money market funds. (Coming up in the next few days should be more details about the US fiscal stimulus package.)

Elsewhere, the Conference Board’s leading economic index rose slightly in February, coming in slightly better than expectations. That represented one of the high points of Thursday’s data releases. On the other end of the spectrum was the Philadelphia Fed manufacturing index which tumbled into negative territory with its worst print since 2012.

Yields on long-dated Treasuries fell in most cases on Thursday. The yield on the 10-year declined six basis points to 1.12 percent while the yield on the 30-year ticked up one basis point to 1.78 percent.

Oil

U.S. oil jumped more than 23 percent on Thursday for its best day on record, as it gained back more than half of the losses from Wednesday’s swoon, according to a report by CNBC.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude gained 23.8 percent, or $4.85, to settle at $25.22 per barrel. Given WTI’s 60 percent decline this year, a smaller gain, now accounts for a much larger percentage move. International benchmark Brent crude rose 14.4 percent, or $3.59, to settle at $28.47 per barrel. Prices continued to climb even higher in extended trading.

Thursday’s jump came a day after WTI dropped 24.4 percent to settle at a more than 18-year low of $20.37. It was WTI’s third worst day on record.

Oil has been getting hit on both the supply and demand side. A slowdown in worldwide travel and business activity is weighing on demand, just as powerhouse producers Saudi Arabia and Russia prepare to ramp up production.

The OPEC+ production cuts expire at the end of the month, meaning nations will soon be allowed to pump as much as they please.

KKM Financial’s Jeff Kilburg says Thursday’s move higher was due to the “rubber band” effect. “Prices are elastic and this is the snap back of a historic oversold condition in WTI.”

Federal Government – Detroit-Windsor Tunnel Closes to Nonessential Traffic

The Detroit-Windsor Tunnel will be closed to nonessential cars and trucks, effective 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 21 as a result of the federal government closing the nation’s northern border in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Trade and those workers deemed “essential” and with required documentation will not be affected, and the tunnel will remain open for their use.

Two other changes at the tunnel are being implemented as part of the effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

  • Tunnel workers will no longer accept cash from Detroit to Windsor, starting at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 21. Travelers will be able to pay via their Nexpress account, which can be opened at www.dwtunnel.com/NEXPRESS; by credit card on readers mounted on the exterior of each tollbooth; or by the DWT mobile app (search for NEXPRESS on the app store of your choice).
  • Transit Windsor’s tunnel bus service stopped service as of 8 p.m. Thursday.

Federal Government – State Department Advises Against International Travel

The U.S. State Department Thursday issued an advisory to U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19. In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period. U.S. citizens who live abroad should avoid all international travel.

Many countries are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closing borders, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry with little advance notice. Airlines have cancelled many international flights and several cruise operators have suspended operations or cancelled trips. If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite timeframe.

On March 14, the Department of State authorized the departure of U.S. personnel and family members from any diplomatic or consular post in the world who have determined they are at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19 or who have requested departure based on a commensurate justification. These departures may limit the ability of U.S. Embassies and consulates to provide services to U.S. citizens.

Federal Government — Food and Drug Administration

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Wednesday that it would temporarily suspend routine surveillance inspections of food manufacturers and handlers because of Covid-19. So-called “mission-critical” inspections will be considered on a case-by-case basis. The agency did not disclose how long it expects the pause to last, and says it does not expect the suspension to impact food safety.

Michigan — Tax Assistance for Unemployed Workers

The Michigan Department of Treasury is offering collections assistance to newly unemployed Michiganders currently paying on past-due state tax debts or other state debts.

Effective immediately, individuals who have been laid off or had their place of employment closed due to COVID-19 should contact the Treasury’s Collections Service Center at 517-636-5265 to see what options are available.

“Our first and foremost priority is the health and safety of Michiganders,” says Rachael Eubanks, State Treasurer. “If you are currently unemployed or are facing other hardships due to the COVID-19 emergency and are paying on a state tax debt, please contact us so we can work with you during this difficult situation.”

To learn more about Michigan’s taxes and the collections process, visit here or follow the state Treasury Department on Twitter at @MITreasury.

The latest information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.

Michigan — AG’s Office Receives 800+ Price Gouging Complaints

The Office of the Michigan Department of Attorney General reports it surpassed 800 consumer complaints of price-gouging related to COVID-19. As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, the attorney general’s office had received 823 complaints of businesses price-gouging, up from the 572 that were recorded through the previous day.

In one case, the AG’s office sent a cease-and-desist letter to Norkan Inc., a Warren-based business, for selling a 10-pack of face masks on its website for nearly $80. Similar products are being offered at other retailers for around $23.

Michigan residents are urged to report any violation of the Consumer Protection Act online or by calling 877-765-8388.

Michigan — Business Resources

The Michigan Strategic Fund and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. announced Thursday they have approved a $20 million Michigan Small Business Relief Program to assist small businesses around Michigan that have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 virus.

The funding is divided between $10 million in small business grants and $10 million in small business loans to support businesses facing drastic reductions in cash flow and the continued support of their workforce.

The $10 million in grant funding will be provided to local or nonprofit economic development organizations throughout the state to provide grants up to $10,000 each to support certain small businesses that have realized a significant financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 virus.

In order to qualify for grant support, businesses must meet the following criteria:

  • The company is in an industry outlined in Executive Order 2020-9, or any subsequent executive order of similar intent, or demonstrates it is otherwise affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as meeting additional criteria;
  • The company has 50 employees or fewer;
  • The company needs working capital to support payroll expenses, rent, mortgage payments, utility expenses, or other similar expenses that occur in the ordinary course of business; and
  • The company is able to demonstrate an income loss as a result of the EO, or the COVID-19 outbreak.

Additionally, the program authorizes the MEDC to provide up to $10 million for small business loans to one or more Community Development Financial Institutions or a licensed SBA not-for-profit institutions, or directly from the MSF to eligible borrowers to be used to provide low-interest loans with flexible repayment terms to support certain small businesses statewide that have realized a significant financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Loans to eligible borrowers must be $50,000 or more and are capped at $200,000.

In order to qualify for loan support, businesses must meet the following criteria:

  • The company is in an industry outlined in Executive Order 2020-9, or demonstrates it is otherwise affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, or is a company that provides goods and services to companies to the aforementioned;
  • The company has fewer than 100 employees;
  • The company needs working capital to support payroll expenses, rent, mortgage payments, utility expenses, or other similar expenses that occur in the ordinary course of business;
  • The company can demonstrate that it is unable to access credit through alternative sources;
  • The company can demonstrate an income loss of as a result of Executive Order 2020-9.

The MEDC anticipates that at least 1,100 businesses across the state will benefit from this program.

For more resources for small businesses in Michigan impacted by COVID-19 visit michiganbusiness.org/covid19.

Medical

Henry Ford Health System announces that it is the first health system in Michigan to adapt the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s test kits to test samples from its own labs. That means that Henry Ford is able to rapidly test more patients presenting with symptoms of COVID-19.

Henry Ford asks those who suspect that they or a loved one may have COVID-19, please consult with their doctor by phone, virtual care, or their MyChart account for next steps. If symptoms worsen, call 911 and alert the 911 operator of your exposure so the EMS crew can be prepared for transport, and limit others from being infected.

For additional questions or patient advice, call HFH’s new COVID-19 hotline: 313-874-1055, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In other news, Canton Township-based MMS Holdings, a company that helps major pharmaceutical companies get approval from the FDA and other international agencies, announced Thursday that it is offering a $1 million award toward the development of a vaccine for COVID-19. The award is being offered in the form of data and related services to qualified pharmaceutical and clinical research companies supporting the commercial development of a vaccine for approval in the United States and/or other global health authorities.

“Our goal is to help eliminate financial roadblocks associated with pursuing approval of a treatment in this area,” says Uma Sharma, chief scientific officer of MMS. “This team’s experience with clinical data, especially in the area of vaccines, puts MMS in a strong position to support this vital community need.”

The company, or companies, chosen to receive this award will be able to draw support in the following areas:

  • Biometrics (clinical data management, statistical programming, and biostatistics)
  • Clinical trial transparency
  • Data science
  • Drug safety and pharmacovigilance
  • Regulatory affairs, operations, and compliance
  • Regulatory and medical writing

Applications are now being accepted. Organizations interested in applying for this award can submit a notification of interest here.

Employment

J & B Medical, a woman-owned business in Wixom, is immediately hiring full-time customer service representatives and warehouse associates. J & B provides supplies and services to some of the most vulnerable individuals to COVID-19, as well as to first responders and departments of corrections nationwide. Applicants can apply by sending their resume and salary requirements to resumes@jandbmedical.com or visit JandBMedical.com for more information.

Domino’s Inc. in Ann Arbor today announced it has job openings for delivery experts, pizza makers, customer service representatives, managers, and assistant managers. Domino’s U.S supply chain centers also are hiring Class A CDL drivers. Those who are interested in applying for a position should visit jobs.dominos.com. In addition, the world’s largest pizza maker reports all of its stores now have the ability to execute contactless delivery, while carryout remains open for those who prefer that option.

Retail

Taubman Centers Inc., a luxury mall owner and developer in Bloomfield Hills, announced on Thursday it is closing all of its shopping centers as of today, March 20, at 7 p.m., through March 29. Locally, the properties include Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi and Great Lakes Crossing Outlets in Auburn Hills. As previously reported, the Somerset Collection in Troy, owned by The Forbes Co. in Southfield, is closed through March 27. Many other malls are closed, as well. Check store or mall websites, or call ahead, for the latest information.

Meijer Inc., based in Grand Rapids, announced today it is adjusting store hours for the foreseeable future to allow more time for team members to deep clean and restock its stores, as well as dedicated hours for senior citizens, customers with chronic health conditions, essential service workers and its team members. The new store hours are:

  • Meijer stores will close at 10 p.m. local time, beginning Friday, March 20, and will open each morning at 8 a.m.
  • Meijer Express convenience store locations will close at 10 p.m. and open each morning at 8 a.m.; pay-at-the-pump fuel sales will remain available 24 hours a day.
  • Meijer stores and pharmacies will provide dedicated shopping times for senior citizens and customers with chronic health conditions on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7-8 a.m.
  • Meijer stores and pharmacies will provide dedicated shopping times for essential service workers and Meijer team members on Mondays and Wednesdays from 7-8 a.m. local time.

Restaurants

In an effort to help his employees and keep his business going, Jim Lufty, owner of Vertical Detroit Restaurant is asking friends, family, and regular guests to purchase gift cards in the amount of $100 or more for the establishment, which will result in a 10 percent gift card credit or at least $110 in value. For more information, contact jim@verticaldetroit.com.

Wine

When employee hours were greatly impacted by the closing of winery tasting rooms across Michigan (except for take-out bottle service), the management team at Black Star Farms near Traverse City (Old Mission Peninsula and Suttons Bay) looked for ways to increase labor options. On Tuesday, the winery published a special promotion: Need Wine? Stop in to either of the two Traverse City area tasting rooms for 20 percent off your purchase or order six or more bottles online and receive free shipping. “Since people are quickly becoming more adept at ordering online, the result (as of late Thursday) has been such a tremendous response,” says Sherri Fenton, managing owner of Black Star Farms. “It has enabled several team members to be called back and given more hours. Additionally, the orders came in with such a tremendous outpouring of support and gratitude, that the kind words are helping to uplift spirits.”

Hotels

The Auburn Hills Marriott Pontiac is offering a social distancing solution for employees without home office capabilities. The hotel, located at 3600 Centerpoint Parkway, is offering a portion of its guest rooms from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily to accommodate employees that are required to work away from their office. All rooms will include a box lunch (delivered to the hotel room and left outside the door when called for), high speed wi-fi, mini-refrigerators with two bottles of water, large work desks with ergonomic chair, and private bathroom. “Unfortunately some people don’t have internet in their homes or the proper set up to work from home so we are discounting our available hotel rooms to offer a quiet work environment to those in need,” says Stephen Cadaret, general manager of the hotel. Availability is limited and a reservation is required. Reservations can be made online at www.Marriott.com/dtwpo by using special rate corporate/promo code ZDY.

Technology

University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers have invented a portable surveillance device powered by machine learning — called FluSense — which can detect coughing and crowd size in real time, then analyze the data to directly monitor flu-like illnesses and influenza trends.

The FluSense creators say the new edge-computing platform, envisioned for use in hospitals, healthcare waiting rooms, and larger public spaces, may expand the arsenal of health surveillance tools used to forecast seasonal flu and other viral respiratory outbreaks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic or SARS.

Models like these can be lifesavers by directly informing the public health response during a flu epidemic, according to the creators. These data sources can help determine the timing for flu vaccine campaigns, potential travel restrictions, the allocation of medical supplies, and more.

“This may allow us to predict flu trends in a much more accurate manner,” says co-author Tauhidur Rahman, assistant professor of computer and information sciences, who advises Ph.D. student and lead author Forsad Al Hossain. Results of their FluSense study were published Wednesday in the Proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable, and Ubiquitous Technologies.

Nonprofits and Charities

Altarum, an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit dedicated to public health, is conducting a poll designed to help inform the local public health response to COVID-19 in Michigan.

According to Altarum, the poll gives citizens a means to express their concerns and provides those on the front lines useful data to understand perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors in the coming days and weeks as we all deal with the next stages of the pandemic response.

The poll will track how Michigan residents are responding to the pandemic and social distancing measures, and will help inform local public health activities, priorities, and messaging.

A link to the poll can be found here.

Volunteers of America Michigan, a social services organization and private provider of services to veterans, announced it will close thrift stores throughout the state, resulting in layoffs for about 150 employees. When open, the stores provide $20,000 in program support each day.

The organization is working to adjust its hours for the donation drop-off center, as organizers expect people will use the time in self-isolation to clean out their houses. Beginning Tuesday, March 24, they plan to keep the drop-off centers open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday with no-contact drop-off procedures in place.

“Many things are changing, but our mission won’t,” says Alex Brodrick, president and CEO. “We may have to adjust the path we travel to get there and hope to still be here for those who have nowhere else to go. But we can’t do it alone. It’s going to take all of us working together to get through this… I believe we can.”

People can still support the organization through the drop-off as well as the following:

  • Join theNeighbors in Need program. Donors can select a VOA location and order supplies for residents through Amazon.
  • Drop off groceries to the Detroit Veterans Housing Program, which offers transitional housing to 60 homeless veterans and serves three meals each day.
  • Make and send cards to senior citizens the organization serves.
  • Make a monetary donation.

More information can be found here.

Samaritas, a human services organization with sites across the lower peninsula, is looking to immediately hire up to 33 new employees in southeast Michigan and more than double that statewide. Those hired will work with residents at Samaritas’ senior living communities as well as in-home with seniors and individuals with disabilities. Most open positions do not require certifications.

Many of the openings were available before widespread guidelines were put in place to minimize exposure to the coronavirus, but the organization now has additional employment needs as visiting is restricted. In-person family support is limited in Samaritas’ centers and for those who receive in-home care, so Samaritas has increased staffing needs, including for food delivery and caregiving that has to be provided without congregating in common areas. More one-on-one attention is required.

Southeast Michigan locations with employment openings include Detroit, Bloomfield Hills, Monroe, and Troy. More information is available here.

The Pope Francis Center, a nonprofit organization located at 438 St. Antoine St. in Detroit, is serving an increasing number of guests as it continues modifying its day center operations to serve and protect Detroiters experiencing homelessness during the coronavirus crisis. This includes a growing number of families with children as schools are shuttered.

On Wednesday, March 18, the center started offering guests respite from the weather from heated tents installed in the parking lot across from the facility along Larned. In coordination with the city of Detroit, Pope Francis Center staff will take guests’ temperature upon arrival and contact authorities for transport to a nearby coronavirus testing site or a quarantine center, as appropriate. Those without temperatures will be welcome into the tent following Centers for Disease Control social distancing protocols – between 7 – 11 a.m.

Earlier this week, the center shifted from communal indoor dining to distributing nutritious meals street side in individual pre-boxed servings, which guests can also eat outdoors at recommended distances from one another. Meals are served between 7:30 – 9:30 a.m.

As a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization, donations to the Pope Francis Center are tax deductible. More information is available at www.popefranciscenter.org or by calling (313) 963-5134. Checks can be made out to Pope Francis Center and sent to 438 St. Antoine St., Detroit, MI 48226

Children and Family Activities
The National Wildlife Federation, which operates a southeast Michigan office, is now offering all of NWF’s Ranger Rick and all of our kid’s online content for free. The content helps children and families stay engaged with wildlife and the natural world. Other free programs are available at the following links: Ranger Rick Educator’s Guides and Ranger Rick Jr. Parent Reading Guides. The NWF also offers free access to the curricula, activities, and projects for the NWF’s Eco-Schools Program.

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