COVID-19 Update: U.S. Retail Sales Rose 17.7% in May, Auto Dealers Jumped 44.1%, Clothing Stores Receipts up 188%, Priority Health Reduces Coverage Pricing, 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 June 16

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.

U.S. Commerce Department Reports Food Service Sales Up 17.7 Percent in May
The U.S. Commerce Department reports that advance estimates of retail and food services sales for May 2020 were $485.5 billion, an increase of 17.7 percent from the previous month.

The figures, which are 6.1 percent below May 2019, are adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences but not for price changes.

The report showed a 44.1 percent jump in sales at auto dealerships, while receipts at service stations were up 12.8 percent. At electronics and appliance stores, sales were up 50.5 percent, clothing stores receipts jumped 188 percent last month, though sales remained about 63 percent below their February level.

Sales at furniture stores were up 89.7 percent. restaurants and bars advanced 29.1 percent, while spending at hobby, musical instrument and book stores rose 88.2 percent. The report comes as record declines in sales occurred in March and April.

Advance estimates of U.S. total sales for the March-May 2020 period were down 10.5 percent from the same period a year ago. The March-April 2020 percent change was revised from down 16.4 percent to down 14.7 percent.

In other sectors, retail trade sales were up 16.8 percent from April 2020, but 1.4 percent below last year. Non-store retailers were up 30.8 percent from May 2019, while building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers were up 16.4 percent from last year.

Federal Government – HUD Sends $2.5M to Michigan for Housing Counseling
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Tuesday awarded nearly $40 million in housing counseling grants to help more than 1 million individuals and families access HUD-approved housing counseling to help them avoid foreclosure and make more informed homebuying and rental choices. This includes more than $2.5 million to nine organizations in Michigan.

The grants awarded will directly support the housing counseling services provided by 204 HUD-approved local housing counseling agencies, national and regional organizations, and state housing finance agencies. Recipients of these grants competed through the department’s two-year (FYs 2019 and 2020) Comprehensive Housing Counseling Grant Program Notice of Funding Availability published May 24, 2019.

“HUD-approved housing counseling agencies are on the front lines of helping individuals and families struggling financially as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Ben Carson, secretary of HUD. “These housing counselors help individuals and families in need to get mortgage payment relief assistance now, and to take the steps necessary to save their homes in the future.”

The following is the funding that was awarded to Michigan organizations:

  • Bay Area Housing Inc.: $22,725.
  • Community Action Agency in Jackson: $23,182.
  • Grand Rapids Urban League: $23,171.
  • Greenpath Inc. in Farmington Hills: $1,825,372.
  • Housing Services Mid-Michigan in Charlotte: $25,915
  • Michigan State Housing Development Authority in Lansing: $533,782
  • Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency Inc. in Traverse City: $28,649.
  • Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency in Pontiac: $18,621.
  • Oakland County: $38,838.

HUD-approved housing counseling agencies provide services to address a full range of housing counseling needs. This includes assisting homebuyers in evaluating their readiness for a home purchase and navigating through the homebuying process. Nearly half of the state and local counseling agencies that were awarded HUD grants received preference because they will provide counseling to individuals and families within designated Opportunity Zones.

“Today’s funding reinforces HUD’s commitment to the important role counseling plays in helping families make responsible choices to address their housing needs,” says Len Wolfson, acting federal housing commissioner. “In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, HUD-approved counselors are there to assist millions of homeowners and renters nationwide and help them keep a roof over their heads.”

Joseph P. Galvan, Midwest regional administrator for HUD, says, “These grants ensure that homeowners and renters alike can receive assistance from HUD-approved housing counseling agencies and make smart housing choices.”

HUD-approved housing counseling agencies also help households find affordable rental housing, offer financial literacy training to individuals and families, and provide foreclosure prevention counseling. In addition to providing counseling to homeowners and renters, HUD-approved housing counseling agencies support emergency preparedness and disaster recovery efforts, assist homeless persons in finding transitional housing, and help seniors determine whether a reverse mortgage makes sense for them.

There are many ways to locate a HUD-approved housing counseling agency. Visit HUD’s website or call 800-569-4287.

Priority Health Reduces Individual Coverage Pricing for Third Straight Year
Grand Rapids-based Priority Health, the second-largest health plan in Michigan, announced today that for the third straight year the company plans to reduce individual coverage premiums. Priority Health submitted a variety of product options on the Affordable Care Act marketplace for approval by state regulators that would decrease individual plan premiums by an average of 0.1 percent.

“Priority Health is offering an average pricing decrease on our individual plans because we remain committed to making health care more affordable,” says Carrie Kincaid, vice president of individual markets at Priority Health. “During these trying economic times, we remain focused on supporting our members and serving the unique needs of the individual market.”

The individual plans that Priority Health will offer affordable access to the services people use most, allowing members to pay less for routine care and still have peace of mind knowing they’re protected if something catastrophic happens, or while traveling, the company says.

The company will offer a total of 10 plan options, including a new silver plan that offers expanded coverage ahead of deductible, including specialty care and lab work at low copays.

As virtual care has become the new front door to health care, Priority Health also is introducing a new affordable “virtual first” coverage plan, where medical professionals help members navigate the best care options for them, all from the comfort of home. Priority Health also offers plans with expanded chronic condition care ahead of deductible to support pulmonology conditions including asthma and COPD, and heart conditions including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. These options make it easier, and more affordable, for members to access care and manage their condition.

For more information, visit here.

U-M Alum Launches Startup, Pivots from Prostate Diagnostics to COVID-19 Testing
Ann Arbor-based LynxDx, a University of Michigan startup that began with a promising prostate cancer test, has pivoted to COVID-19 testing in the face of the pandemic.

“We’re fortunate the infrastructure of the lab and the tech used for the prostate cancer assay has significant overlap with COVID testing,” says Yashar Niknafs, CEO of LynxDx. “At the time, we felt a call to arms and just mobilized the team to start repurposing the lab and get COVID testing up and running.

“We had maybe three or four people, a pretty small operation,” Niknafs continues. “Obviously, this pivot to COVID testing has been a large capital investment and it’s definitely going to eat into our initial fundraising round. So, there was that concern. We really did feel passionate about this, so I think we were willing to incur that risk. And we’re fortunate that our investors probably would replenish us if needed.”

LinxDx was able to partner with a medical staffing company based in Lansing to offer a drive-thru site, where anyone in the public can get tested, which is where the company got its first batch of clinical samples.

“We really were passionate about servicing places where there is high need and low supply like nursing homes and long-term care facilities,” Niknafs says. “As the pandemic was spreading there were many articles about how those facilities were just getting ravaged by COVID. So, we partnered with the medical staffing agency to get our own nurses on the team so that we could send them to nursing homes or employers. That became the pivot and the focus of what we wanted to do.”

Rather than a five-to-seven-day turnaround, the COVID-19 test LynxDx test takes three to four hours to process.

“Everyone is using the same tech,” Niknafs says. “We don’t have special technology that makes our turnaround faster. Our turnaround is faster because we’re not taking in more tests than we can do every day.”

Macomb County Entrepreneurs Launch Contest to Name Co-working Space
Macomb County entrepreneurs Shane Gianino and Davin Salvagno today announced a contest to “Name Our Space,” for a new co-working and community development hub opening July 1 in downtown Mount Clemens.

The space will provide a faith-based environment that offers flexible workspaces and will serve as an idea incubator for Christian entrepreneurs, freelancers, startups, and small businesses. It also will operate as a community development hub, offering free resume writing, soft-skill training, and career coaching services. It will feature private and open workspaces, meetup and conference rooms, dedicated podcast room, onsite training facility, library, and various services and amenities.

“We were trying to think of a name that is purpose-driven and has meaning,” says Gianino, founder of Pathway Staffing. “That’s when we thought, why not engage the local community and have a naming contest? After all, one of the purposes of the space is for the community.”

Salvagno, founder of PurposePoint, says, “With the sudden demand for more remote workspaces, and our commitment to invest in our local community, this move just made sense. Our family lives just 10 minutes away from this city that has some much potential to be a vibrant downtown we can all enjoy, this is just one more step in that direction.”

The 5,000-square-foot facility is located in downtown Mt. Clemens at the top of the Vicant Building (59 N. Walnut Street, Suite 302).

Winner of the contest will receive a cash prize of $500, plus one year of co-working access, and will be featured at the open house ribbon cutting ceremony. Submissions are due Monday, June 22. To request contest details and participate, email info@purposepoint.com.

Plymouth Township Wedding Venue Now Offers Off-Site Catering
The Meeting House Grand Ballroom in downtown Plymouth Township now is offering an off-premise catering option.

“Many family gatherings, graduation, birthday, or other parties have been moved outside this summer, due to COVID-19, says Todd Osann, co-owner of the facility. “We are here to create your memorable occasion by planning and preparing a complete menu of locally sourced food that is delicious, tailored to your celebration and delivered to your door.”

Their off-premise menu features appetizers, entrees, and sides along with a selection of house wines. The appetizer choices include caprese salad skewers, shrimp cocktail, blackened steak tips with wild mushroom demi-glaze, and more. There are a variety of entrees including flank steak, meatballs, Italian sausage, blackened catfish, chicken breast and others. There are 12 different sides available including chilled pasta primavera, baked mac and cheese, and mixed garden vegetables. Delivery is available within a 20-mile radius or a pick-up option also is available.

For more information, visit here, call 734-416-5100, or email MeetingHouseGB@aol.com.

Detroit High School Marks Decade of Academic Excellence
When Detroit Loyola High School conducts its 2020 graduation ceremony today, the school and its students will mark 10 straight years of 100 percent of its graduates going to college.

The 30 graduates in Loyola’s 2020 class will bring the school’s consecutive college-bound total to more than 300 students and counting over the past decade.

The live ceremony, which will observe all social distancing guidelines, will begin at 5 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament on Woodward Avenue in Detroit. Branden Hunter of the Detroit Free Press will be the commencement speaker.

“We are so pleased that our graduates and their families will be able to celebrate these academic achievements together and in person,” says Dave Smith, president of Loyola. “2020 has been anything but an ordinary year, and the students have responded in an extraordinary way.”

Birmingham Watch Repair Shop Opens and Offers Free Service to First Responders
Birmingham’s University Watch Repair recently reopened and is offering free basic repairs on timepieces for all first responders.

Located at 177 S. Old Woodward Ave. in downtown Birmingham, UWR is a family owned business with more than 40 years of experience specializing in watch repair of all brands, including modern and vintage.

Drive-in Movie Event at Canterbury Village to Raise Funds for JARC July 12
Bloomfield Hills-based JARC, a nonprofit agency that serves individuals with developmental disabilities, is hosting a fundraising drive-in movie event at Canterbury Village on July 12.

The event will feature two movies, “Despicable Me” at 3 p.m. and “Groundhog Day” at 8 p.m. Proceeds from the event will go toward JARC’s general expenses including transportation needs, home maintenance, meals for individuals living in JARC homes, staff training, and providing additional support to ensure JARC’s mission of enriching the lives of people with disabilities.

“COVID-19 has presented us with a unique opportunity to create a family friendly, fun experience for the community to support JARC and those we serve in a safe, socially distanced event,” says Shaindle Braunstein, CEO of JARC.

Tiered pricing for entry packages for each movie includes basic entry for one car at $100, a welcome package including popcorn and soft drinks for $180 for one car, and an advanced package for one car that includes masks, popcorn, soft drinks, and candy for $360.

Corporate sponsorship opportunities include early entry and a prime parking spot, a video message or a commercial onscreen prior to the movie start, a logo onscreen during arrival time, company promotion on JARC social media, and a company logo on every bag of popcorn distributed by JARC at the event. For detailed pricing and sponsorship packages click here.

Prior to the event, all registrants will be mailed information in advance of the event with details on social distancing requirements, a car decal identifying their parking section, and the snacks included in entry fees and sponsorship packages. Restrooms will be available and will be cleaned and monitored regularly to ensure the proper hygiene and safety protocols are taken, as recommended by the CDC.

For more information or to register for the event, visit here.

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