COVID-19 Update: Whitmer May Ease Restrictions May 1, Michigan Business Groups Write Congress, GM Delivers First Ventilators, 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
Courtesy of Bridge, as of April 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.

Relaxing Restrictions
The day after President Donald Trump issued U.S. governors a road map for recovery from the economic pain of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hinted this morning on Good Morning America that there could be “some relaxing come May 1” of restrictions placed on residents and businesses meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“I do hope to have some relaxing come May 1, but it’s two weeks away, and the information and the data and our ability to test is changing so rapidly it’s hard to tell precisely where we’ll be in a week from now much less two,” Whitmer said.

The governor did not tip her hand at what those eased restrictions might look like.

Michigan Business Groups Write Congress
More than 34 associations representing Michigan’s business community and financial institutions sent a joint letter to Michigan’s Congressional delegation April 16 urging them to work swiftly to provide additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

The groups are asking Michigan’s U.S. senators and representatives to work swiftly to provide additional funding for this program, as the PPP funding Congress allocated in late March already was exhausted. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce shared the letter.

To the Members of Michigan’s Congressional Delegation:

Michigan’s financial institutions and business community urge you to work swiftly to provide additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

In just under two weeks, the PPP has provided an economic lifeline to over 1 million small businesses across the country and has allowed these small businesses to remain viable – and maintain their workforces – during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, as of April 16, the PPP funds allocated were exhausted. In Michigan, over $25,000 in loans were approved with excess of $8.5 billion in approved dollars.

While we understand there are other ideas on the table and a possible “Phase Four” deal coming together, this matter cannot wait. We urge swift congressional action, including program enhancements and additional funding so the business community and financial institutions can continue to distribute these desperately needed dollars to small businesses, which form the economic core of our communities.

The Michigan Chamber is a statewide business organization that represents approximately 5,000 employers, trade associations, and local chambers of commerce. The chamber represents businesses of every size and type in all 83 counties of the state.

Oakland County Small Business Assistance
Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner is urging Oakland County small businesses to apply for relief under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration before the funds run dry.

Congress authorized $350 billion for PPP loans under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Most of it has been claimed. Businesses must apply through a federally insured depository institution or another approved organization such as PayPal.

“The federal funds for paychecks are running out,” Meisner says. “Businesses in Oakland County must do their part to keep workers on the payroll and bring federal stimulus home.

“Small businesses need a lifeline to survive. PPP is an answer. If your bank is not responding, find another bank or use PayPal to process your application. Do it now.”

According to the SBA, the PPP is a loan for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. SBA will forgive loans if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities.

“While the primary focus of everyone is on health and wellness, a secondary and very important element is the financial impact this crisis has created for the small business community,” says Meisner. “In normal circumstances, we know how difficult it is for small businesses to overcome the challenges of entrepreneurship. Throw in a pandemic and it’s a recipe for disaster. Small businesses are going through extraordinary struggles, closing down, radically changing their business models, and trying to weather this storm.”

Another less-known program is the Our Debt Relief Program, which is for anyone with a current SBA loan. The SBA will make payments on those loans for the next six months.

A recording of an informational conference call can be heard here. PayPal’s PPP application portal can be found here. SBA’s coronavirus resources are available here.

Michigan Budget
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday the state’s tax revenue could drop by $7 billion over the next 18 months. In a letter co-written with two other Democratic governors in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the leaders urged President Donald Trump to work with Congress to send more aid to states and local governments. With a very strict stay-at-home order adopted by Whitmer, economic activity across the state has fallen sharply, while the state is expending more resources in the fight against COVID-19. To date, Michigan is set to receive $3.8 billion from Washington, including $800 million for Detroit and Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and Kent counties. In turn, about a quarter of Michigan’s workforce is trying to access unemployment aid.

Medical Update
Henry Ford Health System in Detroit today announced time-sensitive surgeries and procedures for non-COVID patients will resume at five Henry Ford hospitals. Henry Ford is opening a “Portal of Opportunity” to resume surgeries and procedures that were halted March 16 with the onset of the pandemic. The portal is opening for non-emergency yet time-sensitive procedures, such as cancer surgeries and biopsies, elective serious cardiac procedures, and serious spine cases. HFHS operates Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Henry Ford Allegiance in Jackson, Henry Ford Macomb Hospital in Clinton Township, Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital in Wyandotte, and Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in West Bloomfield Township.

Health Insurance
Grand Rapids-based Priority Health, the state’s second-largest health care plan, has partnered with digital health specialist Livongo to offer free access for its members to myStrength, a mental wellness tool with activities to manage stress and bolster mental health.

“As the health care community continues to combat the physical effects of COVID-19, it is crucial that we offer solutions to also address related mental health issues,” says Dr. James Forshee, chief medical officer at Priority Health. “Virtual mental health tools can help you restore your sense of control, so you are better able to address your feelings and concerns.”

In a recent study by the American Psychiatric Association, more than one-third of Americans said COVID-19 is having a serious impact on their mental health. To help individuals restore their mental strength from home, myStrength provides easily accessible and clinically proven virtual resources. Activities around 15 topic areas specific to COVID-19 include:

  • Coping skills during COVID-19
  • Processing emotions about COVID-19
  • COVID-19 and mental wellness
  • Inner calm in turbulent times
  • Parenting in challenging times
  • Keeping your relationship strong during COVID-19
  • Staying connected while social distancing
  • Simple ways to practice mindfulness

Members can sign up for a free account that includes interactive activities, coping tools, and other resources, including inspirational community support, here.

In addition, Priority Health is offering $0 copay virtual care through June 30 for non-COVID-19 related acute care visits to get treatment for common ailments such as cold and flu symptoms, back pain, sprains, strains, and more. Behavioral health virtual care also is available with the same copay as an office visit, allowing members to receive treatment from the comfort and safety of their own homes without any additional costs. To access virtual care, members can download the Priority Health app, available on the App Store or Google Play, and log in to their member account. They also can access their online member account on a desktop, laptop or other device.

Members who don’t have internet access or need immediate mental health support also can call Priority Health directly. The company has an on-staff behavioral health team available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, that can be reached from the telephone number on the back of members’ ID cards.

For more information about screening, testing, and treatment of COVID-19, and resources to support coverage, visit here.

Vaccine Partnership
Today, the National Institutes of Health and its foundation announced plans are underway to launch a public-private partnership, known as the Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) partnership, with more than a dozen biopharmaceutical companies, to develop a national strategy for a coordinated research response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other groups involved in the partnership include HHS’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the European Medicines Agency.

“The ACTIV partnership will bring new levels of coordination and speed to public and private work on therapies and vaccines for COVID-19 — work that NIH, HHS, and the Trump Administration began literally days after the coronavirus threat was identified in China in January,” says Alex Azar, HHS secretary. “To save lives and bring life back to normal in the United States and around the world, we need COVID-19 vaccines and therapies on the market as soon as possible. By bringing together 16 pharmaceutical companies and five government agencies here and abroad, the ACTIV partnership will accelerate the amazing work being done every day by scientists and innovators inside and outside of government. NIH has an extensive track record of coordinating these development efforts for new biological threats, and they are well-suited to lead this part of the whole-of-government, whole-of-America response President Trump has marshaled to defeat COVID-19.”

Clinical Diagnostic Testing
MedTest Dx Inc., an established solution provider for clinical diagnostic testing in Canton Township, is providing a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19 with its Pointe Scientific-branded assay for the highly sensitive quantification of G6PD in whole blood. Understanding the G6PD status of COVID-19 patients is essential to preventing severe adverse reactions to Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine, which are increasingly being aimed at tackling the pandemic.

G6PD deficiency is the most common enzymatic blood disorder, affecting some 400 million people worldwide. The g6pd Deficiency Foundation estimates that the United States frequency of G6PD is between 4 percent and 7 percent. However, in African-American males, the prevalence is about 12 percent. Having this disorder and exposure to specific triggers can potentially lead to a hemolytic crisis, further exasperating the COVID-19 patient’s health issues.

Regulators have required drug manufacturers to include a contraindication regarding administration of Chloroquine or Hydroxychloroquine to those with a G6PD deficiency. Most patients harboring this disorder do not know that they have it, which makes testing prior to administration critical. It is for this reason that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that, where feasible, all patients should be tested for G6PD deficiency before such drugs are administered. This statement is echoed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

For more information, visit here.

Medical Supplies
The team at InkPressions in Commerce Township, which usually makes shirts, hats, sweaters, pants, jackets, and more in its 30,000-square-foot facility, has been going through training to create 50,000 medically inspired masks with a filter by the end of April and create them as long as there is a need moving forward.

These masks are not meant to replace the N95 masks needed by medical professionals, but rather to act as a reusable replacement to standard masks worn by employees, patients, and other health care professionals.

While currently using existing employees to get the work done and minimize layoffs, the company says it is looking to add 25 employees to sew, either at the InkPressions facility or from home if they have the proper equipment. For more information, visit here.

In Related News, Detroit’s PVS Chemicals is producing its own hand sanitizer for its front-line truck drivers and has donated product to first responders, starting with Detroit and Buffalo.

PVS chemists earlier this month began formulating hand sanitizer using raw materials that currently are in the PVS portfolio. It is being manufactured at its Sharonville, Ohio facility (near Cincinnati) and bottled at its Detroit location.

PVS, a 75-year-old family run business, is headquartered in Detroit and operates multiple manufacturing and distribution facilities around the globe.

Amazon reports that it has filled the 100,000 jobs it said it would add on March 16 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company says those new employees are working at sites across the U.S.

The company says it continues to see increased demand as its teams support their communities and will create an additional 75,000 jobs to help serve customers during this unprecedented time. Interested candidates, including anyone displaced from the hospitality, restaurant, and travel industries, can apply here.

The first VOCSN V+Pro critical care ventilators produced by General Motors Co. in Detroit and Ventec Life Systems in Kokomo, Ind. are being delivered by UPS to Franciscan Health Olympia Fields in Olympia Fields, Ill. and Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago at the direction of the FEMA. The milestone shipments are putting important tools in the hands of frontline medical professionals treating patients seriously ill with COVID-19.

Franciscan Health Olympia Fields received their shipment early this morning and Weiss Memorial will receive theirs Friday afternoon. A third shipment from GM-Kokomo will be delivered by UPS to FEMA at the Gary/Chicago International Airport on Saturday for distribution to other locations where the need is greatest.

The deliveries are the culmination of a partnership between GM and Ventec Life Systems that began with a phone call exactly one month ago. Since then, the combined teams have sourced thousands of parts, transformed GM’s advanced electronics facility in Kokomo for medical device production, contracted with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide 30,000 ventilators by the end of August, and launched mass production. More than 1,000 men and women from the Kokomo community will be building ventilators.

In Related News, on Thursday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a new contract for ventilator production rated under the Defense Production Act to General Electric, in partnership with Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn. GE’s contract, at a total contract price of $336 million, is for 50,000 ventilators to be produced by July 13. The rating of this contract under the DPA follows President Trump’s order on April 2 to invoke the act to help facilitate the supply of ventilator materials for American companies, including General Electric. In total, combined with contracts announced in April, HHS has finalized contracts to produce or acquire more than 41,000 ventilators by the end of May, and over 187,000 ventilators by the end of the year.

In addition, Mahindra Automotive North America in Auburn Hills says it is marshaling resources and people to help fight COVID-19. The company this week announced several actions it is planning and executing from its headquarters and manufacturing facility. These include the following initiatives, re-tooling its manufacturing facility to produce:

  • Aspiration boxes with innovative ease-of-use design
  • Face shields and masks to local frontline health care workers and first responders
  • Additional products to be identified through coordination between the state of Michigan and National Association of Manufacturers
  • Mahindra food truck to distribute free meals to Oakland County health care workers and first responders.

The company also is launching Roxor Delivers to support Roxor dealers across the country

who have had to close due to state mandates and consumers who are unable or unwilling to leave their homes. The program will deliver Roxors right to consumers’ doors limiting social interaction.

Mahindra says it will continue to work closely with the state of Michigan, its Congressional Delegation, National Association of Manufacturers, Michigan Manufacturer’s Association, Oakland County, and others to continually evaluate what it can do to contribute to the COVID-19 fight. If you’re an essential business in need of PPE products during the COVID-19 outbreak, please click here to inquire about quantities and availability.

Higher Education
Philomena V. Mantella, president of Allendale-based Grand Valley State University, today announced the university will go “test-optional” for students applying for the fall 2021 entering class. Mantella says this option means SAT and ACT standardized tests are not required for students applying to enter in fall 2021. “During this time of uncertainty, we want to remove stress and respond to the needs of prospective students,” Mantella says. “We want to take worry off the table.”

Over the past four weeks, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation has allocated more than $6 million toward COVID-19 response efforts, including a recently announced commitment of $1.5 million to support caregivers on the front lines of COVID-19 at acute care hospitals in southeast Michigan and western New York.

“As our communities struggle during this time of uncertainty and crisis, our team felt it was vital to act immediately to provide funding and relief to groups and organizations within our focused giving areas, and larger collaborative funds supporting our regions,” says David Egner, president and CEO, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. “We will continue to work through these extremely difficult times with our neighbors, our grantees, and our partners, and rise to the challenges ahead.”

The $1.5 million in support for acute care hospitals will be divided accordingly among the following health systems in Southeast Michigan:

  • Ascension Michigan
  • Beaumont Health
  • Detroit Medical Center
  • Henry Ford Health System
  • McLaren Health Care
  • Joseph Mercy Health System
  • Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan
  • Veterans Health Administration – John D. Dingell VA Medical Center

Western New York recipients include:

  • Brooks-TLC Hospital System
  • Catholic Health
  • Eastern Niagara Hospital
  • Great Lakes Health System of WNY (Erie County Medical Center/Kaleida Health)
  • Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center
  • Rochester Regional Health
  • UPMC Chautauqua
  • University of Rochester Medical Center
  • Buffalo VA Medical Center
  • Wyoming County Community Health System

It is the foundation’s intention that the funds will be primarily directed to help caregivers on the front lines of COVID-19, including nurse aides, environmental and food services staff, and others who may not have access to as many financial and social supports and are playing equally critical roles in the health care system every day.

As part of its overall $6 million investments, the foundation has provided $2 million in support for the southeast Michigan and Western New York communities through the following COVID-19 collaborative funds:

Southeast Michigan:

  • United Way for Southeastern Michigan: COVID-19 Community Response Fund ($500,000)
  • Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan: Community Crisis Fund ($500,000)

Western New York:

  • Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo: WNY COVID-19 Community Response Funds ($700,000)
  • United Way of Greater Rochester and Rochester Area Community Foundation: Community Crisis Fund ($200,000)
  • United Way for Southern Chautauqua County: Chautauqua County Crisis Response Fund: COVID-19 ($100,000)

An additional $2.5 million also has been granted to various organizations in both regions to support urgent needs related to caregivers, small businesses and entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and early childhood care.

COVID-19 Testing in Southwest Detroit
The Community Health and Social Services (CHASS) Center at 5635 W. Fort St. in southwest Detroit is offering expanded on-site COVID-19 testing to any patients exhibiting symptoms and providing prescriptions for drive-thru test sites including the Michigan State Fairgrounds. Individuals experiencing COVID-19 symptoms must call the center at 313-849-3920 for assessment and further instructions. No walk-in service is available.

The CHASS Center also is conducting telehealth as well as limited in-person appointments to assess and treat mental health issues. CHASS Center offers bilingual consultations for the Spanish speaking population.

Racism Amid COVID-19
Life Remodeled, a Detroit organization that bridges people across divides to help transform each other’s lives, is hosting a Facebook Live session on Tuesday, April 21 at 4 p.m. to address racism toward Asian Americans since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Panelists will include:

  • Stephanie Chang, state senator, District 1
  • Jeff Liou, national director of theological formation for the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship
  • Kevin Roach, CEO of Methodist Children’s Home Society
  • Moderator: Dwan Dandridge, vice president of projects and community engagement at Life Remodeled.

To attend the Facebook Live session, click here.

COVID-19 Safe Paint
According to a Thursday report in the South China Morning Post based in Hong Kong, “Japan’s Nippon Paint has developed a coating designed for use in hospitals that it said can repel COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Nippon Paint’s Antivirus Kids Paint aims to protect frontline workers and has been developed with Corning, a U.S.-based and New York-listed technology company. It has been tested by Texas-based Microchem Laboratory and can render inactive almost 100 percent of Feline Calicivirus, an upper respiratory infection in cats. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved Feline Calicivirus as a suitable replacement for detecting human norovirus. ‘We believe the paint created … can offer an additional layer of protection by reducing the risk of infection from viruses on the painted surfaces of hospitals and medical centers,’ Dr. Joydeep Lahiri, division vice-president and program director, specialty surfaces at Corning, said in a statement on Thursday.”