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CORONAVIRUS TRACKER | POSITIVITY RATE HITS 10 PERCENT; HOSPITALIZATIONS INCH UPWARD

BRIDGE MI — The percent of positive coronavirus tests in Michigan was at 10 percent over the past week, up from 8 percent the previous week.

Michigan has the fifth-highest positive rate in the country, behind Florida (10.9 percent), Nevada (10.8), Hawaii (10.4) and Utah (10.4), according to data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rising rates have led to more cases and an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations with 729 in Michigan on Monday, up from 714 on Friday and 624 last Monday.

At the peak of the omicron wave, there were 5,009 COVID-19 patients being treated statewide on Jan. 10.

Last fall, when weekly positive test rates first hit 10 percent, there were more than 1,800 COVID-19 patients statewide, far more than are now being treated. That’s an indication of the reduced severity of the omicron variant and the sub-variants it has spawned.

More thorough data will be available on Wednesday, when Michigan releases weekly tallies on cases and deaths.


WHITMER SAYS SHE’LL ‘FIGHT LIKE HELL’ FOR ABORTION ACCESS IN MICHIGAN AFTER COURT LEAK

DETROIT NEWS — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said her work challenging Michigan’s 1931 ban on abortion in state court is “more important than ever” after a leaked draft opinion showed the U.S. Supreme Court initially has voted to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

“I’ll fight like hell to protect abortion access in Michigan,” the Democratic governor tweeted late Monday in response to the news.

draft majority opinion circulated within the court in February and obtained by Politico said the 1972 ruling, Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed women constitutional protections for abortion rights, was “egregiously wrong from the start,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote.

“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” Alito said in the draft opinion. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

It’s unclear whether changes have since been made to the draft or if justices have since changed their votes. The High Court’s opinions are not official or final until published.

If Roe is overturned, experts have said Michigan likely will revert back to a 1931 law, known as Act 328, that makes abortion a felony in the state, with no exceptions for rape or incest.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel repeatedly has said she would not enforce the law, arguing that doing so would “drive women to back alleys again.”

“I will never prosecute a woman or her doctor for making the difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy,” said Nessel in 2019, suggesting that doing so would be “sending women to be butchered.”

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald on Monday issued a similar promise: “If Roe v Wade is overturned, I will do everything in my power to protect the over half a million women in Oakland County and their right to make choices over their own bodies.”

Genevieve Marnon, legislative director for Right to Life Michigan, said she was cautiously optimistic about the High Court’s draft ruling Monday. She acknowledged things may have changed since it was written, but she considered what she had seen to be a win.

“If ultimately Roe is overturned, we will be celebrating tremendously,” she said. “Those are unborn lives in Michigan and everywhere that will be saved.”

Democratic lawmakers slammed the draft as portending “devastating” effects for women in Michigan and across the country. “This is outrageous!” tweeted U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing.

“If tonight’s news is true, Michigan’s 1931 state law banning abortion would snap back into effect, making any abortion illegal in our state — even if the mom will die, or if she was raped by a family member. No exceptions,” Democratic U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin tweeted.

“My poor mother is turning over in her grave. The House has already voted to codify Roe — let all Senators be on record on this one in an up or down vote.”

Rep. Lisa McClain, R-Bruce Township, tweeted that overturning Roe would “save millions of innocent, unborn babies. I pray the Supreme Court makes it official and formally overturns this attack on the unborn.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Holland, said if true, the news is the “correct decision.”

“This unprecedented leak of a draft ruling is an effort to overtly inject politics into the court itself. This individual should not be celebrated. They should be held accountable for their egregious breach,” Huizenga said.

A ballot initiative to establish abortion rights in the Michigan Constitution is underway, which U.S Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, referred to Monday.

“As drafted, this is an egregious, worst case scenario,” Levin tweeted. “I hope it serves to wake folks up to what’s at stake. Michigan, it’s time to get #ReproductiveFreedomForAll on the ballot!!”

Alito’s opinion would overturn a ruling by the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which blocked a Mississippi law that bans nearly all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.

The Circuit Court had ruled that both precedent in Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey prohibited states from banning abortions before fetal viability. But Alito in his draft concludes: “The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating and prohibiting abortion.”

The justices heard arguments in the case in December, and a final decision is expected in the next two months.


CINCO DE MAYO PARADE COMES BACK TO SOUTHWEST DETROIT AFTER TWO YEARS OFF

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Floats, bands atop trucks draped in Mexican flags and dozens of dancers paraded two miles down W. Vernor Highway for Sunday’s Cinco de Mayo celebration.

The 57th annual parade and festival were hosted by the Mexican Patriotic Committee of Metropolitan Detroit with help from the Southwest Detroit Business Association.

The goal was to throw the same safe, family-friendly event of years past, said organizer Raymond Lozano, executive director of the Mexicantown Community Development Corporation and chair of the Mexican Patriotic Committee. In Detroit, the Cinco de Mayo parade has come to symbolize the start of spring.

“If you’re ever around this community, you know that there’s a lot of hugging — a thing that happens with the Latin community — and so not being able to do that safely for two years has created a lot of frustration,” Lozano said. “Everybody’s eager to greet one another.”

Thousands showed up to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and the return of another favorite yearly event after a two-year pandemic pause. Attendance was down compared to the the tens of thousands of prior years.

Mariachi music and swirling dancers were a staple of the parade and festival.

This was Arely Aguirre’s fourth time in the parade as a member of the Raices Mexicanas de Detroit dance group. Aguirre, a high schooler at Cesar Chavez Academy in Detroit, said she was nervous at the start with so many people watching.

However, the nerves faded away once she heard the crowd cheer for the dancers. She loves dancing with Raices Mexicanas “because it’s nice knowing you can celebrate your roots while doing something fun.”

Onlookers and parade marchers wandered over to the cultural and music festival at Plaza del Sol after the parade ended at West Grand Blvd. For several hours, dance troupes performed to a crowd of several hundred. Food trucks and vendor booths were scattered across the lawn.

Beatriz Chavez was selling traditional, handmade Mexican clothing at her booth. Demonstrating the different ways to style a rebozo, a shawl worn by Mexican women for multiple purposes, like carrying a baby or protecting from the sun, she spoke of the renewed interest in Detroit’s younger Latina community in learning more about Mexican attire.

“The idea is to promote the use of rebozos because it is like a part of the Mexican culture,” Chavez said. “The new generations know the symbol and how to use it. It’s like the culture is still there no matter where you are.”

It’s local businesses like that of Chavez, whose shop is called Flur de Tuna, that the Southwest Detroit Business Association (SDBA) aims to help. As southwest Detroit has grown in population over recent years, SDBA has helped more small businesses take off.

SDBA representative Jennifer Garnica, of Detroit, said not only has the area grown, but it has also grown more diverse, with Middle Eastern and Vietnamese restaurants opening in the area.

“It’s been a great culture shock when people come down here to know it’s not just Hispanic, but there’s a lot of Middle Eastern and a lot of other places here, so we are very excited to welcome them,” Garnica said.

Juan Gutierrez, of Detroit, also with SDBA, said the parade and festival were a great way for community members of all ages to come together “and build a coalition of support.”

“Everyone is really excited to come out and remember the DNA of southwest Detroit,” Gutierrez said. “We are still here, we’re still working.”


OAKLAND COUNTY’S ECONOMY SURGES AFTER COUNTY GIVES STRONG AID TO SMALL BUSINESS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The University of Michigan’s annual economic forecast for Oakland County shows that Michigan’s richest big county is bouncing back and then some from the pandemic’s recession.

The county is poised to surpass pre-pandemic employment levels late this year, a good omen for all of southeast Michigan — because Oakland’s typically strong economy is an engine that drives much of the regional economy, according to a team of U-M economists.

The economic experts said they were cheered by Oakland County’s last 12 months of dramatically dropping jobless rates and rising wages. Still, they warned that national and global factors, such as inflation and the war in Ukraine, still pose economic risks that could set back households throughout the county and Michigan as a whole.

The annual presentation was unveiled Thursday morning at the M1 Concourse conference center, amid an 87-acre complex of more than 250 condominium garages that house costly sports and collector cars, built on the reclaimed site of the former GM truck and bus assembly plant.

Among the experts’ findings that apply across all of southeast Michigan, researchers checked the status of regional computer-and-math-related jobs throughout metro Detroit. The demand for workers who can fill such jobs is growing rapidly, nationwide. It represents the United States’ answer to vigorous competition in advancing technology by equivalent workers in China, India, and other global competitors.

U-M’s researchers found that metro Detroit has a slightly higher share of these computer-and-math-related jobs than the nation as a whole, but they also found something they say is worrisome for local employers and economic development directors: the median wage for those occupations in southeast Michigan is well below the national average, even after adjusting for differences in the cost of living between metro Detroit and, for example, the Silicon Valley area of California. In order for metro Detroit “to remain the research brain” of an increasingly computerized

automotive industry, the U-M economists say, employers here will need to raise wages for that key sector of employment.

The U-M researchers forecast a stronger Oakland County recovery from the pandemic’s recession than they predicted for neighboring Macomb, Wayne, and other counties. Here’s why:

  • Oakland County has a large private sector of employment and relatively less employment in government jobs, notable because the private sector is growing faster than government employment;
  • Oakland has a tighter labor market than neighboring counties, meaning there aren’t as many workers to fill available jobs, which “helps to ensure that Oakland’s prosperity is shared with workers in the lower-wage industries”;
  • And Oakland County government made an especially strong effort to provide relief grants, loans, and other assistance to keep small businesses afloat during the pandemic’s downturn. Oakland ranked first among Michigan counties “on nearly every metric in the Paycheck Protection Program, including total funds, funds per resident, local jobs supported, and total loan forgiveness,” according to a news release tied to the economic forecast.

The economists predicted that the county’s average real wages would grow at least through 2024. By year-end, they expect the county’s employers will be paying an average wage of $71,700 in 2021 dollars, or about 7% above the pre-pandemic level from 2019. Of course, that’s an average — meaning that some incomes in Oakland County may be in the hundreds of thousands of dollar a year while residents in pockets of poverty such as Pontiac earn far less than the average.

Oakland County’s robust recovery from the pandemic’s downturn highlights its long-standing strengths as a center of high-tech employment, “including its educated

workforce and focus on 21st-century manufacturing and engineering,” said U-M economist Gabriel Ehrlich, director of the U-M Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics, which receives a fee from Oakland County government to provide the annual forecast.

Blue-collar industries are expected to be among the quickest to fully recover from the pandemic period, Ehrlich said in the forecast’s 23-page report.

Presenting the forecast along with Ehrlich was economist Donald Grimes, a specialist in labor economic and a senior researcher with  the seminar group — a team of economists who present U-M’s Annual Economic Outlook Conference, billed as the longest running such event in the nation.


STATE POLICE ARREST 9 AFTER CAR CHASE ON I-96 IN OAKLAND CO.

DETROIT NEWS — Nine people have been arrested after a mult-department police chase early Monday on Interstate 96 in Oakland County, Michigan State Police said.

Troopers with the state police’s Brighton Post called the Metro North post at about 1 a.m. to report the pursuit of two groups fleeing east on I-96 from Kensington to Grand River.

State police said they believed the two groups of vehicles were stolen from an auto plant in Lansing. Each group consisted of two to four cars each, police said.

A state police helicopter and officers from multiple police agencies, including the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office and Metroparks Police, and multiple state police posts pursued each group, they said.

One of the groups crashed on I-96 near Kensington Road, officials said. The suspect drivers in the vehicle got out and fled on foot but nine people were arrested.

The other group separated and some exited at Grand River.

No injuries were reported, officials said.


AT MSU, ISOTOPE CENTER OPENS TO UNLOCK UNIVERSE, REVOLUTIONIZE MEDICINE

BRIDGE MI — In an unimposing complex of buildings on Shaw Lane in East Lansing, an easy walk from the Red Cedar River and a half-dozen Michigan State University dormitories, scientists are searching for the origins of the universe.

They’re also hoping to revolutionize medicine. And train the next generation of nuclear scientists.

And that’s just the stuff they expect to happen.

“We think we know what we’re going to find, but nature hardly ever works out that way,” said Brad Sherrill, science director of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, known as the FRIB.

As many as 1,600 scientists from around the globe are expected to work at times in the facility, on MSU’s campus. A ribbon-cutting Monday, attended by U.S. Secretary of Energy and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, will mark the official opening of the FRIB. At the heart of the $730-million project, mostly funded by the federal government, is the fastest particle accelerator of its kind in the world. It’s OK if you don’t understand what that means. Even the scientists who manage it don’t know everything they’ll find over the expected 50-year lifespan of the facility.

What they do know: The FRIB is a technological wonder, with scientific implications for the world, and economic benefits for Michigan.

“This is the nuclear physics equivalent of the launch of the Webb Space Telescope,” Sherrill said, referring to the 2021 launch of the most powerful telescope ever placed in space.

“That’s a new tool that astronomy never had to look at the atmospheres of planets and stars and distant galaxies. This is a nuclear physics equivalent, being able to see and explore kinds of atoms that we never could before.”

Bridge Michigan spoke to Sherrill and FRIB lab director Thomas Glasmacher recently about the impact the facility will have on Michigan and the world. Oh, and whether a careless grad student could create a black hole.

What’s a FRIB?

FRIB houses the world’s most powerful heavy-ion accelerator. It is a complex of four buildings, with an underground tunnel housing the accelerator. That tunnel is 570 feet long, nearly the length of two football fields, and is 70 feet wide, 12 feet high, and 32 feet under the ground of the MSU campus.

The accelerator propels atoms to half the speed of light to collide with a target. The resulting collisions produce combinations of protons and neutrons that aren’t normally found on earth and don’t hold together forever, called rare isotopes.

Just how rare are these isotopes?

Many are not found on earth, and only believed to exist in stars. Researchers believe the speed of the accelerator will help scientists find as many as 1,000 new rare isotopes.

“The discovery opportunity is related to the power of the beam because if you have more powerful beams, you can make more exotic rare isotopes,” Glasmacher said. “It’s almost like an Easter egg hunt. You know there are some eggs over here, but you find eggs in places you didn’t expect. There are areas of research we know about, but there will be discoveries we make that we don’t know about yet.”

How will FRIB research impact our lives?

Past discoveries of rare isotopes have been crucial in developments from smoke detectors to PET scan imaging for disease, to radioisotope dating of ancient earth history.

One area in which Glasmacher said he feels confident the facility will make breakthroughs is in medical research.

“We’re not a hospital, but we can make these isotopes for researchers who develop therapies, and we can do it quickly,” Glasmacher said.

What does this research have to do with the stars?

Sherrill said work at the FRIB is likely to help researchers understand the evolution of the universe.

Most of the elements in nature are created in stars and stellar explosions, and there are additional elements made in those stellar explosions that are not normally found on Earth. Rare-isotope accelerators like the one at MSU will be able to create some of those rare isotopes, which could help us understand what the first stars in the universe were like.

Who does the research?

Even before the FRIB opened, MSU had the nation’s top-ranked graduate program in nuclear physics program, training one in 10 of the country’s doctoral students in that field.

Beyond undergrad and grad students, “at any given time, we might have 100 or so scientists on site” from around the world, Sherrill said.

Most research projects take about three weeks, but some take months. “We are good for the local hotels,” Sherrill joked.

Is there an economic impact for Michigan?

The facility will employ about 1,000 people permanently, and pump $4.4 billion into the Michigan economy over 20 years, according to a 2017 study.

A positive side-effect of the new facility is it will likely draw more highly educated people to live in the state, Sherrill said. “All these people come to Michigan (to study or conduct research), hopefully some of them will stay.”

Could it blow up or create a black hole?

Glasmacher said he’s heard people in the community worry an experiment gone sideways could cause some kind of global catastrophe – a nuclear explosion or “black holes and, you know, the world going away,” Glasmacher said.

“That’s not going to happen.”

Because particles used in the accelerator are isolated rather than condensed like in a atomic bomb, there won’t be any mushroom clouds over East Lansing.

Why is this such a big deal?

“It was something like 30 years ago, when we got to a point in nuclear physics where we realized that we weren’t going to make progress unless we had a much expanded ability to explore the atomic nucleus,” Sherrill said.

The FRIB allows that exploration.

“Anytime you go somewhere new, you always discover something you didn’t expect,” Sherrill said. “And we know enough to know that our knowledge is incomplete. This will help complete our knowledge of the realm of the atomic nucleus.

“It’d be really great for people to follow along and see what it is we discover,” Sherrill said. “So stay tuned.”

Can I see it?

There are regular tours of the FRIB that you can schedule here.


OPIOID OVERDOSE CRISIS: GETTING NARCAN FROM A PHARMACY IS NOT AS EASY AS YOU MAY THINK

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Drug overdose deaths are at record numbers, yet only slightly more than half the pharmacies in the state have signed on to a program allowing them to dispense Narcan — the opioid overdose antidote — without a prescription.

“You would think that more pharmacies would be willing to dispense naloxone without a prescription due to the burden of the opioid epidemic,” said Chin Hwa (Gina) Dahlem, a researcher at the University of Michigan School of Nursing and lead author on a study of the subject. “I was kind of shocked.”

The data illustrates how difficult it can be to get buy-in on harm reduction policies meant to keep drug users from dying. It also may highlight the difficulty of getting past the stigma associated with addiction and addicts.

“I do worry that some of this is ultimately tied to stigma — not prioritizing this population as being important or (that) you as a pharmacist or a pharmacy have a role to play in addressing this public health problem,” said Dr. Keith Kocher, a U-M emergency department physician who also served as an author of the study.

More overdoses than ever

In 2017 — the same year the federal government declared the opioid epidemic a public health threat — Michigan enacted a standing order allowing pharmacies to distribute naloxone without a prescription.

Since then, drugs have become more powerful and overdose deaths in Michigan — despite decreasing in 2019 — have hit record levels, making the case for wide and easy distribution of naloxone.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported drug overdose deaths increased 16% between 2019 and 2020 to 2,738. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths in Michigan continue to climb to record heights. Provisional data indicates a record high 3,000 drug overdose deaths during the 12 months ending Nov. 2021.

Nationally, the CDC provisional data reports a record high 106,858 overdose deaths during those same 12 months.

Most overdose deaths in Michigan and across the country involve fentanyl, the powerful synthetic opioid that has infiltrated the nation’s illegal drug supply. It’s cut into heroin and pressed into counterfeit opioid pills and mixed into cocaine.

Lagging access

When U-M conducted its recently released study in 2019, 54% of the state’s pharmacies participated in the naloxone program. According to most recent figures  the percentage of participating pharmacies has not grown. In fact, according to MDHHS, 53% of the state’s pharmacies now participate in the program.

Study authors said the pharmacies most likely to participate are those that belong to national chains.

The U-M researchers also studied pharmacies in eight counties across the state. In those eight counties, it found that communities without pharmacies that participated in the naloxone program had higher overdose death rates than those that did participate.

The U-M study also found 85% of pharmacies that said they participate in the Narcan program actually had it available. And communities with pharmacies that stock Narcan had lower death rates than those that don’t.

“We still need to increase our community access to naloxone, whether by pharmacies or by community naloxone distribution programs,” said Dahlem.

The standing order does not mean that naloxone is free at pharmacies. Some insurance carriers may require a co-pay; Medicaid does not require co-pays. People without insurance may get a price break at www.goodrx.com. Otherwise, a two-vial package could cost more than $140.

For a list of pharmacies approved to dispense naloxone: www.michigan.gov/opioids/find-help/naloxone-page.


CENTRAL MICHIGAN PRESIDENT: CUTTING TRACK AND FIELD FINANCIAL DECISION; RACE WAS NO FACTOR

DETROIT NEWS — In his first detailed comments about an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Education and its Office for Civil Rights, Central Michigan University president Robert Davies strongly and repeatedly denied there was any hint of racial discrimination in the school’s 2020 “last resort” and “very difficult” decision to eliminate the men’s indoor and outdoor track-and-field programs.

A complaint filed in October alleged Central Michigan was discriminating against athletes of color by cutting track and field and, eventually, replacing it with men’s golf.

But Davies said the decision, made in part in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, was based solely on finances, NCAA compliance and on-field success opportunities.

“The accusation is contrary to CMU’s core values and ongoing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” Davies said Thursday at a Mount Pleasant news conference, three days after the school was first served with notice from the OCR. “I strongly believe OCR will find no evidence to support racial discrimination.”

In mid-May 2020, as the early stages of the pandemic sent universities scrambling to stay afloat financially, Central Michigan announced it was cutting men’s indoor and outdoor track and field. The move, school officials said at the time, would save the university about $600,000 a year.

On Thursday, Davies said to run a successful men’s indoor and outdoor track-and-field program would cost about $1 million.

Davies said men’s golf, which starts next academic year, would cost the university about half that amount. He also said the school has financial commitments from alumni to help fund golf, though he didn’t have numbers available Thursday, nor has it been decided where the men’s golf team will call its home course.

The university announced the addition of men’s golf in August 2021, getting back into compliance with the NCAA’s minimum-sport-offerings edict. The NCAA gave Central Michigan a two-year waiver after it -eliminated the track-and-field programs.

The complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education accused Central Michigan of cutting a predominantly Black sport to add a predominantly White sport. Russell Dinkins, executive director of the Tracksmith Foundation and a former runner at Princeton, filed the complaint, calling track-and-field programs, “opportunities for Black students that are very important, life-changing. There are kids who only get into college via the participation of track and field.”

Davies on Thursday said eliminating track and field affected 30 student-athletes — three Black, three multi-racial, two international and 22 White (all students’ scholarships were honored). Davies added the golf team has eight commitments for its inaugural recruiting class, three of whom are persons of color.

Central Michigan hired a Black coach, Kevin Jennings, to lead the men’s golf program. Davies said Jennings has a history of “identifying and having diverse golf teams.” Davies also said the school’s golf teams, men’s and women’s, will seek ways to increase diversity, equity and inclusion, including working with nonprofits like Midnight Golf and First Tee of Greater Detroit.

The U.S. Department of Education, in its four-page letter dated Monday, is requesting detailed reasons for Central Michigan’s decision to eliminate track and field, as well as a significant amount of statistical data relating to the ethnic makeup of the university’s student athletes. The OCR also plans to conduct interviews.

Davies and Central Michigan have 15 days from Monday to formally respond.

The federal investigation comes after the ACLU of Michigan began questioning Central Michigan’s decision to eliminate track and field with two letters sent to the school in 2021.

“Central Michigan University is a public institution that has an obligation to remain not only open to the diverse communities it serves, but to also provide students from those communities with a welcoming environment,” Mark Fancher, racial justice project staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan, said in a statement Thursday. “The ACLU of Michigan is concerned that the university’s actions will become a deterrent to prospective students of color, regardless of whether they aspire to be track athletes.”

In eliminating track and field, Central Michigan became the first Division I program in the state of Michigan to cut a sport amid the pandemic. Michigan State later eliminated men’s and women’s swimming and diving; the women’s effort to reinstate their program, based on a Title IX complaint, remains tied up in the federal courts.

Davies said eliminating any athletic program is a drastic and last resort, but one then-athletic director Michael Alford (now athletic director at Florida State) felt was necessary for a school that has seen its enrollment drop by more than 40% in the last decade. Central Michigan’s athletic department, like most its size, isn’t profitable, and is heavily subsidized by the university.

It’s not unprecedented for schools to be forced by law to reinstate sports. In 2018, Eastern Michigan cut four sports teams, including women’s tennis and softball. A court ordered tennis reinstated and allowed Eastern Michigan to add women’s lacrosse to replace the offerings lost by the elimination of softball.


MICHIGAN’S REDISTRICTING PANEL’S FUTURE UNCERTAIN, EVEN THOUGH MAPS LONG DONE

BRIDGE MI — Michigan’s political maps have been done since late December, and thus far have withstood legal challenges. But the commission that created them still doesn’t have a clear path forward on winding down its work.

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission continues to meet, discussing pending lawsuits, final reports and a looming $1.15 million budget deficit members are hoping the Legislature will resolve.

Although meetings are considerably shorter and far less frequent than the marathon mapping sessions the commission worked through last year, its 13 members are still getting paid. The panel recently voted to restore annual salaries to $55,755 per year apiece, reversing an earlier pay raise. How long will they keep convening, especially as the commission initially struggled to meet a quorum of nine members to begin Thursday’s meeting?

There’s no clear expiration date in a 2018 constitutional amendment that created the panel, and commissioners say they’re still weighing options with lawyers.

“To say that there’s no consensus at the present time would be an understatement,” said Commissioner Steve Lett, an independent from Interlochen who updated other commissioners on his latest discussions with the panel’s counsel Thursday.

The commission still has a few loose ends, including a final report necessitated by the state constitution and a $50,000 “lessons learned” video project authorized by the commission that will be ready next month, Executive Director Edward Woods said during the meeting.

The bipartisan panel was created after voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in 2018, replacing a system that allowed the party in power in Lansing to redraw state legislative and congressional districts after the decennial census.

That produced districts that a panel of federal judges in 2019 concluded were a “gerrymander of historical proportions” 

The commission’s work has so far prevailed in court, winning multiple lawsuits, but two remain active in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan: a revised complaint alleging a Voting Rights Act violation because the maps decreased the number of Black-majority state House and Senate districts and a complaint over population deviations in congressional districts. Each of Michigan’s 13 districts has a target population of 775,179 people.

What comes after those lawsuits conclude remains a question mark, however.

The constitutional amendment states that “the terms of the commissioners shall expire once the commission has completed its obligations for a census cycle but not before any judicial review of the redistricting plan is complete.” And legal challenges could pop up at any point during the next decade the maps are in effect.

Some commissioners offered possible workarounds, including Ypsilanti Democrat Dustin Witjes, who suggested the commission set a date to suspend pay and go into perpetual recess once current lawsuits are complete, meeting again if the need arises.

Juanita Curry, a Detroit Democrat, suggested researching what other states with independent commissions have done for guidance on how to move forward.

But other states’ procedures might not legally mesh with Michigan’s constitution, which is ambiguous on how the commission winds down after passing the maps, Lett said.

“Perhaps, after having gone through this process, we could probably write a better constitutional amendment, but that ain’t gonna happen either,” Lett said.

The commission is facing a projected $1.15 million budget shortfall, largely due to outstanding legal bills that came up in the commission’s defense of the new maps. The commission’s initial appropriation was 25 percent of the Secretary of State budget — roughly $3.1 million for this fiscal year — although the constitution states the Legislature “shall appropriate funds sufficient to compensate the commissioners and to enable the commission to carry out its functions.”

Woods, the executive director, appeared before lawmakers earlier this week to request more money, noting that more litigation is possible. Litigation over the 2010 districts, for instance, continued nearly nine years after they were drawn.

“We expect potential lawsuits, possibly after the primary election and also after the general election,” Woods said this week. “And as you know these lawsuits can continue for up until the next 10 years.”

Republican lawmakers grilled Woods and commission chair MC Rothhorn, a Lansing Democrat, over the redistricting process, including the political affiliation of members who self-identified as independents despite having a history of liberal activity on social media.

Lawmakers also questioned the group’s decision to raise its pay and commission a documentary.

“There seems to be a lack of accountability,” said Rep. Ann Bollin, R-Brighton Township. “This is a public body, and I do appreciate the work you did, but… it seems as though a lot of these things you had on your plate were anticipated and yet you really didn’t plan for them.”

Rep. Greg VanWoerkom, chair of the House Appropriation subcommittee on general government, questioned some of the commission’s spending but said lawmakers will consider the new funding request.


MICHIGAN ADDS 14,482 CASES, 67 DEATHS FROM COVID-19 OVER LAST WEEK

DETROIT NEWS — Michigan added 14,482 cases of COVID and 67 deaths from the virus on Wednesday, including totals from the previous six days.

The state reported an average of about 2,069 cases per day over the six days, an increase from 1,496 cases per day last week.

Wednesday’s additions bring the state’s overall total to 2,425,946 cases and 36,002 deaths since the virus was first detected here in March 2020.

After declining for nearly three months, hospitalization and case rates in Michigan are increasing for the third straight week. Cases are also on the rise. This week’s additions are an increase from last week when the state added 10,474 cases and 78 deaths from the virus. The previous week on April 13, Michigan added 7,725 cases and 81 deaths from the virus.

Between April 18-24, about 7.8% of Michigan’s COVID-19 tests returned positive, compared to 5% the week prior. There is an average of 11,500 weekly cases in the state.

The latest figures come as the state and several Michigan counties have relaxed regulations to stem the spread of the virus.

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On Monday, the state reported 511 adults and 15 pediatric patients were hospitalized with confirmed infections and 78% of the state’s inpatient hospital beds were occupied.

It’s a steep decline from records set on Jan. 10, when 4,580 adults were hospitalized with COVID-19.

About 3.5% of the state’s hospital beds were filled with COVID-19 patients and there were an average of 1,140 emergency room visits related to COVID-19 per day in the state as of Monday. That compares to 24% of hospital beds being full and 2,889 daily emergency room visits due to the virus in the first week of January.

However, five Michigan counties remain at a “high” level for the increased burden on health care or severe disease: Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency, Presque Isle and Washtenaw, according to the state health department.

Case counts are well below early January when the state set a new high mark with more than 20,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 per day.

In Michigan, variants of the virus have moved at a high rate, proving more contagious than past variants and infecting both unvaccinated and vaccinated residents.

A new iteration of the omicron variant, BA.2, is now the dominant across Michigan and the country, but experts say another surge of cases is unlikely.

The Food and Drug Administration expanded its approval of remdesivir this week, making it the first COVID-19 treatment for children under age 12.

In Michigan 290 cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, a virus that stems from COVID-19 known as (MIS-C), have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 65% of kids with the complication are admitted to intensive care units and there have been five deaths.

Earlier this month, Philadelphia became the first major city to reinstate indoor mask mandates as cases rose more than 50% higher than 10 days prior. The city is now averaging 1,495 cases per day.

In Michigan, residents ages 30 to 39 currently have the highest case rate of any age group.

As of Monday, 50 new outbreaks were reported over the prior week. The majority, 24 outbreaks, were in long-term care facilities and senior assisted living centers and 15 outbreaks were in K-12 schools. The state is tracking 135 ongoing outbreak cases.

About 66%, or 6.6 million, state residents have received their first doses of a vaccine, and 60% are fully vaccinated. More than 231,000 children ages 5 to 11 in Michigan, or 28%, have received their first dose of the vaccine.

More than 3.1 million, or 36.7% of the eligible population, have received a vaccine booster in Michigan and 5.2 million are fully vaccinated.


MODERNA SEEKS OK FROM FDA FOR EMERGENCY USE OF ITS COVID VACCINE IN KIDS 6 MONTHS TO UNDER 6 YEARS OLD

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Moderna has submitted a request for emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine for children 6 months through 5 years old, the company announced Thursday morning.

In the company’s study of 6,700 kids in the 6-month to under 6-year age group, researchers found after receiving two 25microgram doses of the vaccine they developed levels of virus-fighting antibodies comparable to young adults who received two doses of the full-strength 100 microgram shot.

In the Phase 3 study, which took place during the omicron wave, researchers found the vaccine was 51% effective among children 6 months to under 2, and 37% effective among children 2 to under 6.

The company’s chief medical officer Dr. Paul Burton told USA TODAY effectiveness may be less in the older group because of their changing immune systems.

“Fifty-one percent, while less than what we are used to seeing … is a level that says you certainly have great protection against severe disease and hospitalization,” he said. “The antibody result that we have is what we saw in the 12- to 24-year-olds, and we know in that group we have a strong protection against severe disease.”

While other countries already allow Moderna’s vaccine to be used in children as young as 6, the U.S. has limited the company’s shot to adults. Only Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine is allowed in the U.S. for use in teens and children as young as 5.

Moderna has requests pending with the FDA for emergency use authorization for 6- to 11-year-olds, and 12- to 17-year-olds.

The request to expand its shots to the adolescent group has been stalled since June  because of agency concern about a possible, very rare heart inflammation side effect. Moderna says its original adult dose is safe and effective for this age group and recently submitted a follow-up of its clinical safety and efficacy data at the FDA’s request, which is being reviewed.

Burton said no cases of the rare condition were reported among the young children in the recent trial.

“Omicron, BA.2, all these other subvariants are really starting to tick up and these little kids have no other protection or vaccine available for them,” he said about the 6-months to 2-year-olds. “They have no options right now so this has been our highest priority.”

Competitor Pfizer currently offers kid-size doses for school-age children and full-strength shots for those 12 and older. The company is testing even smaller doses for children under 5 but had to add a third shot to its study when two injections didn’t prove strong enough. Those new results have yet to be released.

Moderna has also recently released data showing a booster shot that includes the original vaccine plus one directed at the beta variant produced two times more antibodies against the beta, delta and omicron variant one month after their shot compared to people who received the original vaccine.

The company said it is currently studying booster doses for the two oldest pediatric age groups and is designing a study to evaluate the potential for boosters in those aged 6 months to under 6 years.

“We believe mRNA-1273 will be able to safely protect these children against SARS-CoV-2, which is so important in our continued fight against COVID-19, and will be especially welcomed by parents and caregivers,” said Stéphane Bancel, Chief Executive Officer of Moderna.


UP NORTH BUSINESSES ARE BUYING HOUSING JUST TO LURE SUMMER STAFF

BRIDGE MI — Housing shortages aren’t new in northern Michigan, where business leaders, elected officials and nonprofits keep ratcheting up pressure to solve it, yet prices keep climbing and new homes come slowly.

But this summer, as tourism peaks and prepares to send billions of dollars into the state’s economy, northern Michigan stands to lose as the red-hot housing market, driven in part by vacation rentals,  collides with workforce shortages.

The result is so few affordable temporary housing options that many employers are finding their own solutions:

  • Cherry Republic is spending $75,000 to add three bedrooms to the basement of a house it bought about 10 miles from its campus in Glen Arbor, and it renovated two mobile homes that neighboring Anderson’s Market will use for its summer staff.
  • Neighbors around Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Park are being asked to rent rooms to summer workers as 1.7 million visitors are expected in July and August.
  • Businesses are signing deals for season-long space at campgrounds so that they can attract traveling workers with RVs or, like Schmitt at Stormcloud, borrow them for staff.
  • Short’s Brewery in Bellaire last week bought a 26-room motel to convert to worker housing.

These examples and more show that Michigan’s seasonal economy risks stalling as summer housing disappears for the critical temporary workforce, which numbers in the thousands.

“It’s just unrealistic to think seasonal workers can afford what the going rate is for renting to tourists,” said Schmitt, co-owner of the brewery. “They can’t do it.”

A shortage of workers is the top concern among northern Michigan businesses, said Warren Call, president and CEO of Traverse Connect, regional economic developers.  “And the reason they point to is housing.”

Estimates from Housing North, a regional nonprofit advocating for housing solutions across 10 counties in the northwest Lower Peninsula, from Manistee to the Mackinac Bridge, says the region will be short 15,500 units by 2025.

No one is tracking the lack of seasonal housing, but experts say it, too, is reaching a critical point.

The housing market

The Rare Bird Brewpub in downtown Traverse City struggled to hire enough staff in summer 2021, and co-owner Tina Schuett thought she came up with a great answer for this year: Buying a place where her workers could live.

Housing, she said, “is just the bottleneck” for most problems facing businesses in the area.

So for this summer she decided to look in town for a house with up to five bedrooms. Or a duplex. Or even a small apartment building.

She found prices that she calls “astronomical.” They were so high that Schuett, with her budget of up to $500,000, never even found a Realtor to help her get serious about the search.

“We can’t purchase it for a decent price,” she said. “We can’t rent it for a decent price.”

So, she said, “it all just kind of got pushed to the side once we realized it just wasn’t attainable.”

The average rental rate in fast-growing Grand Traverse County leapt 16.1 percent from 2019. Now at $1,388, it’s the second most expensive place to rent housing in the state, behind Washtenaw County — which includes Ann Arbor, and is 6 percent more at $1,475, according to recent data from The Washington Post. The statewide average is $1,206, according to rent.com.

Business solutions

Cherry Republic, like a lot of Michigan’s employers that need more seasonal workers than it can find, turns to international students under a federal visa program.

But as competition for those workers grows, landing temporary staff from other countries, including international students who can work for the summer, can’t be taken for granted.

Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville, southwest of Traverse City,  also has offered housing for several years — and it, too, is expanding it this year to fill its openings.

“If you build it, I’ll fill it,”  Jennifer King, vice president of human resources, said she promised resort management.

Short’s and the Bellaire Inn

Community development is a passion for Joe Short, who hopes to build a mixed-use building across from his eponymous pub in Bellaire, a village of 1,000 people in Antrim County, just east of Torch Lake and Grand Traverse Bay.

He already owns the property, including the wine store and pharmacy, and the vacant land used most recently as a pavilion sheltered by former shipping containers. He also owns the town’s post office.

“That was a purchase that wasn’t really something we pursued, it was something that somebody reached out to us and they felt like we would be proper stewards of that property,” he told Bridge Michigan.

His latest purchase also wasn’t planned: The founder and owner of Short’s Brewery bought the 26-room Bellaire Inn last week.

The purchase came after Short once again considered how summer recruiting might go. During the pandemic, the brewery cut hours amid a staff shortage, a move that kept people from having to work 60 to 70 hours per week, he said. He could face hours cuts again, at a time when customers line up to get into the brewery.

The goal for the motel is to use it this summer, charging $495 per month, then convert some of the rooms into year-round apartments.

He hopes that the hotel purchase, for an undisclosed price, can pay for itself so that brewery revenue can support its core operations.

But, he said, “if you don’t have workers, you can’t operate. So it was kind of a necessary evil.”

As Short becomes a reluctant landlord, he said he hopes that municipalities take a lead in addressing housing.

“The bummer is that I don’t really think it should be the responsibility of the business community,” Short said. “I feel like we’re already kind of holding up both ends of the economy. We really need our local units of government to lean into this effort, and be strategic.”

Using federal Build Back Better funds would be a starting point, he added.

“Basically find a way to make municipalities economically viable,” he said. “You need humans to work. Humans need childcare, they need housing. And we’re just not setting ourselves up for success.”


DETROIT CITY COUNCIL WANTS STATEWIDE HOUSING AGENCY TO SPEED UP RENT AID APPLICATIONS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Detroit City Council is urging the statewide housing authority responsible for administering millions of dollars in emergency rent aid to speed up the application process in Wayne County, where it can take approximately 90 days to get funds approved.

Meanwhile, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, or MSHDA, says it has hired staff to process Detroit applications and added another agency in Wayne County to help handle the volume.

Wayne County accounts for about a third of the applications that have come into the state’s COVID Emergency Rental Assistance program, according to MSHDA, which runs the program. Detroit accounts for 19% of all applications.  The resolution, from Council President Mary Sheffield, was approved Tuesday and says the volume of applications in Wayne County demonstrates the need for rent aid dollars necessary to keep people in their homes and avoid eviction.

MSHDA communications director Katie Bach said the agency “shares the sense of urgency reflected in the resolution.”

“MSHDA has communicated with our Detroit grantee, their sub-grantees and City of Detroit staff about the need to increase capacity within their system and process applications faster. We have dedicated program support specifically for Detroit grantees in an effort to expedite processing,” Bach said in an email.

MSHDA has provided $277.8 million in emergency rental assistance dollars in Detroit, she said.

Ted Phillips, executive director of the Detroit-based United Community Housing Coalition, which handles applications where the tenant may be at risk of eviction, cautioned that thoroughness — rather than speed — is important when it comes to keeping people in their homes and getting aid.

“We need to be careful,” Phillips said. “We need to make sure that we’re dealing with court cases and making sure that the cases are resolved. We need to make sure that if people have repair issues that we’re … trying to at least address those repair issues. We need to make sure … if there’s potential scams going on. Things take time for a reason.”

Detroit is unique because of the sheer number of applications, the eviction cases that come through the court system and the nature of housing concerns tenants have, he said.

“When you say Oakland County is processing cases faster or in Ann Arbor, you could get it quicker, well, you’re not dealing with the same volume, you’re not dealing with the same problems,” Phillips said.

Wayne County continues to see the largest volume of applications in the state, Courtney Hierlihy, CERA director for the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, said in a Tuesday statement. In Detroit, the agency is “working each week to increase the number of applications approved” and is dealing with getting rid of duplications to get an accurate count.

“We appreciate council pushing to get CERA funding in the hands of more residents and landlords in Detroit. More than $132 million in rental assistance funds have been approved in the 13 months since CERA has launched, and that number constitutes a huge volume of work,” Julie Schneider, director of the city of Detroit’s housing and revitalization department, said in a statement. She said the city is working with partners to accelerate the process.

What the numbers say

As of Tuesday, Wayne County is behind neighboring counties with the number of applications it had approved: 28,764 out of 74,704 applications, or about 39%, according to an MSHDA dashboard. Macomb County had approved about 44% of its applications. Meanwhile, Oakland County had earmarked payments to just over half of its applicants.

Both counties have a fraction of the total applications Wayne County is handling.

The county has “processed” — meaning a person has either been accepted or denied — about 55% of applications.

In Wayne County, it can take approximately 90 days for applications to get approved. In other counties, it can take anywhere from 17 to 80 days.

Across the state, 120,559 out of 237,469 — or about 51% — applications for rental and utility assistance were approved as of Tuesday. So far, Michigan has processed about 76% of applications.

About $683.5 million in rent and utilities assistance has been spent so far in Michigan. Wayne County alone has spent $219 million. That’s out of roughly $1.1 billion in federal pandemic relief funds the state has received. A household, on average, is getting $5,670. More than 140,700 people have received the help.

Meanwhile, more than 45,000 applications are still “under review” across the state, meaning a caseworker is looking into it or has not gotten to it yet. More than 26,000 applications in Wayne County are in this stage.

“MSHDA has hired staff that are dedicated to processing Detroit applications,” Bach said.

Currently, there are three agencies in Wayne County working on rent aid, she said. In early 2022, the United Way for Southeastern Michigan joined to help speed things up.

The CERA program, which has been running since last March, is expected to stop taking new applications in June although applications will continue to process until funds are exhausted, Bach said.


OAK PARK HIGH CLOSED AFTER BRAWL BETWEEN MEN WHO FORCED WAY INTO SCHOOL, STUDENTS

DETROIT NEWS —  Oak Park High School is closed Wednesday after a fight broke out the day before between students and men who forced their way into the building, school district officials said.

In a letter to parents and posted on the district’s Facebook page, officials said the incident happened just before 3 p.m. Tuesday. They said eight to 10 unidentified men pushed past high school security and staff, forcing their way in and then fighting with students and security staff.

Officials said staff immediately acted to secure the students and the building.

Police were called but the men fled from the school, according to the district. School officials said they have identified one of the men in the group but are asking the public for help finding the others involved.

They also said no weapons were involved in the brawl.

The district said it believes the fight may have been sparked by another fight that happened over the weekend and off school property.

Meanwhile, officials said classes at the high school will be held virtually for the remainder of the week. Classes at the district’s other schools will remain in-person.


ZOOM HEARINGS COULD BECOME PERMANENT FOR MICHIGAN COURTS, BURPS AND ALL

BRIDGE MI — Michigan courts have held more than 5 million hours of hearings on Zoom since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and the virtual option may be here to stay — even if judges worry that maintaining order online isn’t always easy.

The Michigan Supreme Court is debating whether to make permanent what had been temporary rules for remote hearings, a pandemic-era shift facilitated by a fortuitous May 2019 decision to give a Zoom license to every judge in the state.

The proposed administrative order would direct courts to use video conferencing “to the greatest extent possible” regardless of COVID, prompting a vigorous debate between supporters who contend Zoom has expanded access to justice and detractors who say judges need more discretion to prevent legal hearings from devolving into online shouting matches. Attorneys and judges across the state have weighed in, and “we’ve learned that going back isn’t really an option,” State Court Administrator Tom Boyd told lawmakers Tuesday in the House Judiciary Committee. No one wants to “return to a situation where we don’t have remote proceedings,” he said.

“The question is what type of remote proceedings will we have?”

Judges, attorneys and other legal advocates seem to agree that it makes sense to continue using Zoom for lower-level procedural hearings and some civil cases, but several have argued the video conferencing technology is inappropriate for evidentiary hearings and other important pre-trial steps in criminal cases.

“Zoom proceedings in criminal cases is bad policy,”  Judge Kirsten Hartig of the 52nd District Court in Oakland County told Supreme Court justices last month in a remote hearing of their own.

Across the state, district court judges have complained about disruptive and disrespectful behavior during remote hearings, Hartig said.

Attorneys “completely unprepared to represent their clients” have logged on while driving, smoking cigarettes, jogging and wearing swimsuits, she told justices.

Defendants, litigants and witnesses have urinated, slept, smoked marijuana, intentionally farted and overdosed on drugs during remote hearings, she added.

Judges also have seen a “defendant on the record while getting her hair dyed,” a defendant’s “camera pointed towards dog feces on the floor,” pointing a computer camera at a toilet and wiping their bottom with toilet paper, Hartig said.

“The courtroom is a physical space that communicates the important jurisprudence that occurs there,” Hartig said, describing the benefits of in-person hearings. “It encourages court users to know and understand their responsibilities for proper conduct.”

Early in the pandemic, Michigan closed its courtrooms, but opted against moving criminal jury trials online, limiting those to in-person only, Boyd said.

The proposed rule has sparked heated debate, and two Supreme Court justices,  Richard Bernstein and David Viviano, have spoken out against it.

The proposal has prompted more public comments that “probably anything in the history of the court,” Supreme Court spokesperson John Nevin told Bridge Michigan.

But finding a path forward on remote hearing rules for Michigan courts is something  Chief Justice Bridge McCormack “thinks about and talks about all the time,” Nevin said.

“It’s a priority for her,” he said.

‘Barriers to access’

Since the pandemic began, more than 180 trial courts in Michigan have set up YouTube accounts to stream Zoom proceedings, and millions of viewers have tuned in, according to Boyd, the State Court administrator and a former Ingham County district court judge.

The Michigan Judiciary Committee on Tuesday took testimony on the proposed court rules but did not take an official position during what Chair Graham Filler, R-DeWitt, called an “informational hearing” to ensure the public “knows what’s going on.”

As the Supreme Court considers remote hearing rules, early feedback has made clear the general public has benefited from Zoom hearings because people no longer need to take a full day off work, get day care and pay for parking to appear in court for what are often brief hearings, Boyd said.

But Zoom hearings have challenged the “dignity and decorum” of the courtroom, he acknowledged.

Technology “doesn’t work every time” and litigants may not always have the access or capability to log into Zoom, Boyd told lawmakers.

 ‘What’s good for the public’

Under the proposed rule, a judge determining whether a remote court hearing is feasible would have to verify that participants are able to use the technology and ensure that all proceedings are “consistent with a party’s Constitutional rights,” allowing for confidential communication between a defendant and their attorney.

The state is trying to balance expanding access through video conferencing and the judicial discretion “that’s needed to make sure we’re setting the proper environment for those proceedings,” Boyd told lawmakers on Tuesday.

“We must focus on who benefits,” he said. “From our perspective, it has to be the public. The system we adopt going forward must start with and end with what’s good for the public.”

Several judges oppose the proposed rule, however, because it creates a “presumption” that court hearings should be held remotely when at all possible.

“A trial judge’s discretion must be preserved,” 52nd District Court Judge Julie Nicholson of Oakland County told Supreme Court justices last month in a remote administrative hearing.

“There are simply too many factors to roll into a presumption given that this is not a one-size-fits-all solution.”

While remote hearings can increase access, the proposed presumption could be “an inherent pressure for people who have been accused of crimes or convicted of crimes to agree to remote technology even if they have a constitutional right to be present,” Jessica Zimbelman of the State Appellate Defenders office told justices last month.

“The presumption should be for in-person court given the importance of what is at stake: people’s loss of liberty and other serious collateral consequences.”

Criminal defendants have a constitutional right to request in-person hearings, and defendants in civil cases should have the same right, state Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, argued Tuesday in the legislative hearing.

Remote hearings should only be held if “all parties” agree to the format, Johnson said.

“I don’t want to get into a case where you’re letting the judges make the call, where the judges say, ‘I don’t feel like having these people in my courtroom.’ Sometimes that’s more problematic.”


CORONAVIRUS TRACKER | HOSPITALIZATIONS TOP 600 FOR FIRST TIME IN TWO MONTHS

BRIDGE MI — Michigan’s hospitals were treating 624 patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 as of Monday, the first time over 600 since March 18, when there were also 624.

Although the state is only reporting new cases and deaths on Wednesdays, it continues to update COVID-19 hospitalizations three times a week. They have slowly increased since April 13, when there were 513.

Almost all of the growth in COVID-19 patients has been reported in hospitals in the six counties of metro Detroit.

Because of a technical problem the state had not reported updated hospital numbers since Wednesday.

Since then, the number of patients has risen from 532 to 624, and 88 of the 92-patient increase occurred in metro Detroit.

On Jan. 10, Michigan hospitals were treating 5,009 COVID-19 patients.

Case counts are slowly rising in Michigan and the nation but increases in hospitalizations have tended to lag behind.

The latest testing data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and analyzed by Bridge Michigan shows that 7.8 percent of coronavirus tests were positive in the week ending on Friday, up from 6.3 percent the previous week.

That is the tenth highest rate in the nation; Michigan’s rate was eighth highest the previous week.


GRAND RAPIDS POLICE RELEASE NAME OF OFFICER WHO FATALLY SHOT PATRICK LYOYA

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Christopher Schurr is the Grand Rapids police officer seen in video shooting motorist Patrick Lyoya to death after an April 4 traffic stop, Chief Eric Winstrom confirmed Monday. “In the interest of transparency, to reduce ongoing speculation, and to avoid any further confusion, I am confirming the name already publicly circulating — Christopher Schurr — as the officer involved in the April 4 officer involved shooting,” Winstrom said in a statement.

Schurr remains on administrative leave without police powers while an investigation into the shooting continues, Winstrom said. Lyoya’s family, lawyers and others have been demanding the release of the officer’s name.

“An intentional three-week delay in releasing the name of the involved officer, which they clearly knew at the moment of the shooting, is offensive and the exact opposite of being ‘transparent,'” Ven Johnson, one of the family’s attorneys, said in a statement. “Once again, we see the Grand Rapids Police Department taking care of its own at the expense of the family’s mental health and well-being.”

National Action Network founder and president the Rev. Al Sharpton, who eulogized Lyoya at his funeral Friday, also had called for police to release the officer’s name.

“Every time a Black man or woman is arrested in America, their name is immediately put out,” Sharpton said Monday in a statement. “But when this officer put the gun to the back of Patrick Lyoya’s head and decided to pull the trigger, his family had to wait three weeks to find out the name of the man who killed him. Transparency is the first step toward justice in Patrick Lyoya’s name, but it certainly isn’t the last.”

Police said Lyoya was stopped for having an improper license plate on his vehicle. After the stop, he attempted to run from the officer, who chased and tackled him.

The two men wrestled for the officer’s stun gun before the officer pulled his pistol and shot Lyoya. An autopsy found he died of a single gunshot wound to the back of the head.

The death sparked protests in Grand Rapids and across the nation and renewed calls for police reform. Michigan State Police are investigating the shooting. No charges have been filed.

State Police spokesperson Lt. Michelle Robinson said her department was notified that  Grand Rapids police planned to release Schurr’s name.

“The Michigan State Police will continue to ensure that all evidence and facts are accurately collected and documented,” Robinson said in an email.

The State Police will forward the results of the investigation to the office of Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker once it is complete. MSP officials said in a Friday news release the investigation remained ongoing.

“We recognize the importance of this investigation, and we are sensitive to the need to complete it in as timely and efficient of a manner as possible,” an MSP statement said. “As with any investigation, gathering all the facts and documenting every piece of evidence takes time and we appreciate the patience of the community as we work to conduct a thorough and complete investigation.”

A voicemail left with Becker was not immediately returned Monday. The Free Press also left messages seeking comment with Schurr’s union, the Grand Rapids Police Officers Association.

A spot search of federal and local courts found no lawsuits associated with Schurr. The Free Press has asked Grand Rapids police to release Schurr’s personnel file.

Schurr is a 2014 graduate of Siena Heights University in Adrian, according to an online alumni and community magazine that, in fall 2015, celebrated his being sworn into the Grand Rapids Police Department.

He was one of more than two dozen officers assigned to patrol the east service area in Grand Rapids, according to the city’s website.

Schurr studied accounting and criminal justice at Siena, according to the school Registrar’s Office.

He also was a top athlete, hitting a university and conference record height of more than 17 feet, as a pole vaulter in 2014 at the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference Outdoor Championships, according to updates on the school website. He was named the most outstanding performer of the event.

In May 2014, MLive reported Schurr’s pole vault record and quoted him as saying he and his fiancée planned to wed in the African nation of Kenya, which is about 400 miles east of Lyoya’s homeland of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Schurr and his fiancée had traveled to Kenya to help build houses on a mission trip through their church, Corinth Reformed in Byron Center, south of Grand Rapids.

“We’re getting married in Kenya,” Schurr told MLive. “Me and my fiancée went to Kenya on a missions trip last year. We were asked to go again this year, but we couldn’t afford a wedding and the trip, so we decided to combine them.”

The couple decided to wear traditional Kenyan dress for their wedding.

“I have an African outfit already and my fiancée will pick out some fabric and she’ll make a Kenyan-style dress,” he told MLive.


DETROIT GREEKTOWN CASINO RENAMED HOLLYWOOD CASINO AT GREEKTOWN

DETROIT NEWS — Detroit’s Greektown Casino-Hotel will be renamed Hollywood Casino at Greektown on May 1, its operator Penn National Gaming announced Monday, promising a rebranding that will accompany a $30 million renovation of the hotel and other upgrades to the popular venue.

“Becoming Hollywood Casino at Greektown will offer our guests the best of both worlds,” said John Drake, general manager of Hollywood Casino at Greektown. “We’re keeping all of the unique, neighborhood charm that has defined Greektown since we opened our doors, while adding several new amenities that come with being a part of Penn National’s flagship brand family.”

Greektown Casino opened in 2000. Its new moniker is subject to regulatory approvals, Penn National Gaming said in a press release.

Hollywood Casino in Greektown underwent a $30 million renovation of its hotel lobby, including building a new cocktail bar and redesigning all 400 of its rooms and suites. The work will be complete in the coming months, Penn National Gaming said in the release.

Other new bars and restaurants, including Urban Cocktail, Rock Bar, an upscale Dunkin’ and a Detroit Taco Company, will be on-site, the company said. Prism, the property’s steakhouse, will launch a new menu.

The casino also will launch a new technical feature, called mywallet, within its rewards app, mychoice, that will allow players to connect to slot machines and table games from their phones, as well as add funds, collect winnings, earn points and more.

The company also spent $1 million renovating its self-park and VIP parking garages. The remodeled VIP Garage, which has more than 700 spaces, is dedicated to high-tier level players and connects to the casino’s upper-level gaming floor.

Hollywood Casino at Greektown will continue its partnership agreement with Detroit Music Hall for the 2022-23 entertainment season. Performers include Michael Bolton, Wanda Sykes, Boyz II Men, Jim Brewer, America and more.

Hollywood Casino at Greektown will host events May 19 and May 21 to celebrate its rebranding. Information on the events is available at greektowncasino.com/casino/promotions.


US PLEDGES MORE UKRAINE AID AS BIDEN ANNOUNCES MICHIGAN NATIVE AS AMBASSADOR

ASSOCIATED PRESS via DETROIT FREE PRESS — Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Monday after a secrecy-shrouded visit to Kyiv that Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy is committed to winning his country’s fight against Russia and that the United States will help him achieve that goal.

“He has the mindset that they want to win, and we have the mindset that we want to help them win,” Austin told reporters in Poland, the day after the three-hour face-to-face meeting with Zelenskyy in Ukraine.

Austin said that the nature of the fight in Ukraine had changed now that Russia has pulled away from the wooded northern regions to focus on the eastern industrial heartland of the Donbas. Because the nature of the fight has evolved, so have Ukraine’s military needs, and Zelenskyy is now focused on more tanks, artillery and other munitions.

“The first step in winning is believing that you can win,” Austin said. “We believe that they can win if they have the right equipment, the right support, and we’re going to do everything we can … to ensure that gets to them.”

Asked about what the U.S. sees as success, Austin said that “we want to see Ukraine remain a sovereign country, a democratic country able to protect its sovereign territory. We want to see Russia weakened to the point where it can’t do things like invade Ukraine.”

The trip by Blinken and Austin was the highest-level American visit to the capital since Russia invaded in late February.

They told Zelenskyy and his advisers that the U.S. would provide more than $300 million in foreign military financing and had approved a $165 million sale of ammunition.

“We had an opportunity to demonstrate directly our strong ongoing support for the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people,” Blinken said. “This was, in our judgment, an important moment to be there, to have face-to-face conversations in detail.”

Blinken said their meeting with the Ukrainians lasted for three hours for wide ranging talks, including what help the country needs in the weeks ahead.

“The strategy that we’ve put in place, massive support for Ukraine, massive pressure against Russia, solidarity with more than 30 countries engaged in these efforts, is having real results,” Blinken said. “When it comes to Russia’s war aims, Russia is failing. Ukraine is succeeding. Russia has sought as its principal aim to totally subjugate Ukraine, to take away its sovereignty, to take away its independence. That has failed.”

As expected, President Joe Biden announced on Monday his nomination of Bridget Brink to serve as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Brink, a career foreign service officer and Michigan native, has served since 2019 as ambassador to Slovakia. She previously held assignments in Serbia, Cyprus, Georgia and Uzbekistan as well as with the White House National Security Council. The post requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

The announcement comes as American diplomats prepare to return to Ukraine this coming week, although the U.S. embassy in Kyiv will remain closed for now.

Journalists who traveled with Austin and Blinken to Poland were barred from reporting on the trip until it was over, were not allowed to accompany them on their overland journey into Ukraine, and were prohibited from specifying where in southeast Poland they met back up with the Cabinet members upon their return. Officials at the State Department and the Pentagon cited security concerns.

Austin and Blinken announced a total of $713 million in foreign military financing for Ukraine and 15 allied and partner countries; some $322 million is earmarked for Kyiv. The remainder will be split among NATO members and other nations that have provided Ukraine with critical military supplies since the war with Russia began, officials said.

Such financing is different from previous U.S. military assistance for Ukraine. It is not a donation of drawn-down U.S. Defense Department stockpiles, but rather cash that countries can use to purchase supplies that they might need.

The new money, along with the sale of $165 million in non-U.S.-made ammunition that is compatible with Soviet-era weapons the Ukrainians use, brings the total amount of American military assistance to Ukraine to $3.7 billion since the invasion, officials said.

Biden has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of genocide for the destruction and death wrought on Ukraine. Just on Thursday, Biden said he would provide a new package of $800 million in military aid to Ukraine that included heavy artillery and drones.

Congress approved $6.5 billion for military assistance last month as part of $13.6 billion in spending for Ukraine and allies in response to the Russian invasion.

From Poland, Blinken plans to return to Washington while Austin will head to Ramstein, Germany, for a meeting Tuesday of NATO defense ministers and other donor countries.

That discussion will look at battlefield updates from the ground, additional security assistance for Ukraine and longer-term defense needs in Europe, including how to step up military production to fill gaps caused by the war in Ukraine, officials said. More than 20 nations are expected to send representatives to the meeting.


UPPER PENINSULA TRIBES WORK TO RESTORE WILD RICE IN AREAS CONTAMINATED BY MINING

DETROIT NEWS — Dangerous metals such as arsenic and mercury have been found in wild rice beds located on the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community reservation and surrounding areas, according to research from Michigan Technological University scientists and their associates.

The contamination is a toxic legacy of copper mining in the western Upper Peninsula. Samples of sediment, water and rice were taken from L’Anse Bay, located on the reservation, and Lake Plumbago, a nearby inland lake in Baraga County.

According to the study, published in the journal “Applied Sciences,” the “uptake of toxic metals by aquatic plants and algae poses a major risk to ecological and human health.”

Wild rice, known as manoomin in the Ojibwe language, is a semi-aquatic wetlands grass that is abundant in the Great Lakes region and is an important food source for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community as well as wildlife and migratory waterfowl. It is also considered a sacred plant to the Anishinaabe tribes in Michigan.

Beyond the cultural significance of wild rice, it’s an important part of the food web in the area, said Scott Herron, a biology professor at Ferris State University.

“All the other parts of the ecosystem depend upon the calories, energy and, thus, food that wild rice provides to insects, birds, waterfowl, fish and later to their predators,” Herron said.

Heavy metals migrate to the grain of the rice and can be consumed by the species ingesting it, Herron said. Arsenic was found to have the highest presence in wild rice seed samples from both locations, the study said.

Exposure to arsenic through diet can result in a higher risk of cancer, as well as liver and kidney disorders, according to the study.

Erin Johnston, a wildlife biologist with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, said that, fortunately, wild rice in the two test areas has not been ready yet to harvest for human consumption since efforts began to restore it there.

The study attributed the contamination to the dumping of millions of tons of stamp sand from mining operations into the lakes during the copper boom of the early 1900s. Stamp sand is coarse sandlike material resulting from the waste created by the mining industry.

“There are a lot of areas throughout this region that are still dealing with legacy mining,” said Johnston. “There were no environmental regulations at that time to hold anyone accountable for the negative environmental impacts.”

“They would take out the portion of the ore they could use, in this case copper, and everything else was considered waste rock and crushed really finely,” she said.

High levels of heavy metals such as copper, aluminum and others were found in the wild rice tested by the researchers.

“For decades, the tribe has been studying this area to better understand the stamp sands, how they’re moving along the shore and other potential impacts they’re having on the landscape,” said Johnston.

In 2006, the tribe worked to put down a 6-inch to 10-inch soil cap in an attempt to keep the stamp sands from moving along the L’Anse Bay lakeshore.

“We continue to battle every year the issue of the stamp sand moving because it’s located next to Lake Superior and you can’t control the weather,” said Johnston.

Researchers say it is the first such study on an inland lake where wild rice restoration is underway.

Johnston said there was some earlier indication that 19-acre Lake Plumbago had elevated levels of heavy metals, but not to the extent found in the new research.

“Of course, that is, you know, concerning and something we definitely need to look into further,” she said.

Roger LaBine of Trout Creek has had a lifelong relationship with wild rice, whether it was working to harvest it back in 1972 or to restore it to the U.P. today.

“I harvested with my family, my grandparents and my uncle,” he said. “But we had to go to northern Wisconsin to harvest wild rice because the bed on our traditional waters, and where our village was, was destroyed.”

LaBine is a member of the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, whose reservation is in Gogebic County, about an hour south of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community reservation.

LaBine said wild rice is so important to the tribes in the region, the Ojibwe, Potawatomi and Odawa, because it was a staple in sustaining life in the area.

“The Three Fires people believe this was a sacred gift sent by the Creator and placed in the Great Lakes Basin,” he said.

This cultural significance is why tribes throughout the state are working to bring wild rice back to its natural habitats.

“I would not want it to be a commercial crop because then you start getting into that GMO and hybrid rice,” said LaBine.


CITING CASH CRUNCH, CENTRAL MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY PAUSES NEW STUDENT HOUSING

BRIDGE MI — Citing economic uncertainty and declining enrollment, the Central Michigan University Board of Trustees voted Thursday to pause plans to develop a four-building residential complex that would include 179 apartment-style units designed for sophomores, juniors, seniors and transfer students.

The university had already approved $14 million to begin the design phase for the complex, called Washington Commons, and complete construction of one parking lot, renovate two others and demolish some housing that now serves undergraduate and graduate students including students with families.

The board said it plans to reevaluate the housing project by September 30. According to a draft of the resolution approved Thursday, reasons for pausing part of the project include “growing economic uncertainty, current enrollment issues and reductions which will be needed for the 2022-2023 budget.” “CMU can longer afford to be all things to all people,” the resolution said, “and we cannot spend money we do not have.” Given the “university’s fiscal and enrollment challenges…now is not the right time to embark upon this project.”

The vote to pause development is a setback, at least for now. University leaders said they hope the project will eventually make it easier to recruit and retain students by offering independent living options on the Mount Pleasant campus.

The delay comes as CMU seeks to reverse a 43-percent enrollment decline since 2012. As Bridge Michigan reported in March, the university blamed the loss on “complacency” in its efforts to recruit against other schools for a shrinking pool of high school graduates. Among the problems cited in an internal email: CMU failed to keep pace with other schools in upgrading facilities, with the last new residence hall built in 2006.

CMU President Bob Davies told Bridge he does not believe Thursday’s vote will hurt enrollment in the meantime, especially since this project would have taken multiple years anyway.  Some students are concerned about the affordability of the new housing and others are concerned about safety issues related to parking changes.

Richard Studley, the board chair, told Bridge the decision allows the board to tackle the budget with a focus on “student success” before approving a major project.

“And we will have to take a long hard look at programs that are optional, programs that lack rigor, or relevance or excellence. We have to make investments where there’s a positive return in terms of student success,” Studley said.

Davies acknowledged Thursday the school will have more graduates this year than projected first-year students enrolling, meaning reversing the enrollment decline will take time to fix.

What is the Washington Commons project?

The Washington Commons project, as designed, would include 179 units with a total of 412 beds for non-first-year students who wanted to remain on campus.  CMU vice president of student recruitment and retention Jennifer DeHaemers said in a February CMU news release the project is part of the university’s efforts to attract new students and keep current ones.

“Students have made it clear they are interested in modern, more independent living options,”  she said in the post. “If we do not offer those options at CMU, they may seek them elsewhere.”

At Thursday’s meeting, one student recommended using a tiered method where the university offers small units that are cheaper and then have other options at a higher price, including the original plan for apartment style living. Long said that idea could have potential.

“We’ll continue to refine what we’re thinking about when it comes to independent style living, and then being conscious of the cost implications of housing and living on campus,” he said.

All board members voted yes on the resolution, which affirms CMU’s interest in improving campus housing, but puts off until later this year a review of the project.

Trustee Todd Anson said the construction of new apartment-style housing is designed to “meet market-driven needs.”

“I believe that we’ll have a bigger, better, more vibrant CMU after we’re able to get this project implemented, should we get to that point,” trustee Todd Anson said at the meeting.

Some changes will occur regardless of whether the Washington Commons project eventually is approved.

Students who are currently living in housing that will be demolished will move to other housing options at CMU or have the university help them find similar housing off campus, said executive director of student affairs Kathleen Gardner. The current housing will close after the local school district’s academic year has completed.

The parking lot renovations will start this summer, with construction of a new lot to begin in August and demolition of the older housing starting in the fall.

It’s possible the full cost of the project will change. CMU currently anticipates completion of the Washington Commons project would cost $121 million. This number could change if leaders choose a different type of housing or if supply or borrowing costs change.

Long said the university would need to use bonds to pay for the project and he anticipates there will be higher interest rates in the future.


MICHIGAN OFFICIALS WARN RESIDENTS OF EXPECTED COVID-19 CASE INCREASES IN MAY

DETROIT NEWS — State health officials are expecting an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in May as people gather for graduations, proms and other spring events.

Michigan residents are urged to be aware of the increased risk of transmission and “make personal decisions on masking and other strategies to protect themselves from COVID-19,” the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday in a press release.

The rise can be blamed on the spread of the BA.2 subvariant of omicron, a highly transmissible version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Cases are already on the upswing in southeast Michigan.

“We’re definitely seeing a very tiny uptick,” said Dr. Matthew Sims, director of infectious disease research for Beaumont Health. “It’s hard to be sure where it’s going to end up.”

Health experts do not expect a significant increase in hospitalizations or deaths because of the great number of Michigan residents who are either vaccinated and/or boosted or have immunity from infection during the recent spike in omicron cases.

The Southfield-based Beaumont health system had 67 patients admitted with a primary complaint of COVID-19 across its eight southeast Michigan hospitals on Thursday — up from a low point of  29 admitted systemwide on March 29.

“While we wish we could avoid these types of increases in cases, the good news is we have excellent, effective tools to travel safely and gather with loved ones and prevent severe outcomes from COVID-19,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief  medical executive.

Michigan added 10,474 cases of COVID and 78 deaths from the virus on Wednesday, the most recent numbers available, including totals from the previous six days.

The state reported an average of about 1,496 cases per day over the five days, an increase from 1,104 cases per day last week.

Wednesday’s additions brought the state’s overall total to 2,411,464 cases and 35,935 deaths since the virus was first detected here in March 2020. Hospitalization rates in Michigan increased for the first time this past week after declining for nearly three months.

The state health department noted that free KN95 masks are being distributed by community organizations and at local Michigan Department of Health and Human Services offices, county health departments and Area Agency on Aging offices.

The department also advised residents to get tested before traveling or attending group celebrations and gatherings, especially if the event will be attended by people who have increased vulnerability to the virus. People should also get tested if they think they’ve been exposed or have symptoms, and should isolate or quarantine until they test negative.

Free home test a kits are available from the federal government at covid.gov/tests, or visit Michigan.gov/COVIDTest to find a testing site.

“We encourage Michigan residents to make a COVID-19 plan: have masks and over-the-counter tests on hand, speak to your physician ahead of time to find out if you qualify for treatments if you are infected and make sure you are up-to-date on vaccines,” Bagdasarian said.

“We recommend Michiganders test if they have symptoms or if they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, and stay home if they are ill.”


UK TEEN PRETENDED TO BE ETHAN CRUMBLEY IN THREATENING CALL, POLICE SAY

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Schools in Oakland County, including Oxford, Cranbrook, Brandon and Lake Orion, received calls threatening violence on April 8. The suspect is a 16-year-old boy from the United Kingdom, the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office said in a Thursday news release.

In the call to Oxford High School, the suspect pretended to be Ethan Crumbley, the former student on trial for the Nov. 30 school shooting that killed four and injured seven. The suspect used a British accent, the sheriff’s office said, and claimed he was depressed and was going to “shoot up the school” and “finish” the job he started.

Crumbley is currently in Oakland County Jail, without bond, awaiting trial.

The suspect was arrested at his U.K. home on April 13, and has since been released to his parents while the investigation continues, the release said.

“As I said at the time, we were going to be aggressive to hold perpetrators accountable,” Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said. “In conjunction with our law enforcement partners and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and police officials from the United Kingdom, that has in fact occurred and a suspect has been arrested. Let this serve as a message to anyone who would threaten our schools or any other institution in Oakland County. We will come for you.”

The teen is suspected of 37 other threatening calls made to businesses and schools nationwide, the release said. The investigation ultimately involved 16 different law enforcement agencies, including Homeland Security and police in the U.K.

Initially, law enforcement believed the phone calls were coming from Florida and New York.

In the call to a school in Brandon, the suspect allegedly said there was a man in a black pickup truck in the parking lot with an AR-15 gun who was going to shoot up the school, the release said.

The sheriff’s office said that, In multiple of the teen’s calls, “juveniles” could be heard laughing in the background.


VERY WARM WEEKEND ACROSS LOWER MICHIGAN, BUT MORE COLD IS COMING

DETROIT NEWS — A very warm and sunny weekend may skip Michiganians’ thoughts right past spring to summer, but next week will provide more cold reality.

“Above normal temperatures and dry weather is expected later in the day on Saturday through early Sunday,” according to the National Weather Service.

Heat for the weekend

Temperatures in southeast Michigan are on track to top 80 in some places both Saturday and Sunday, with upper 70s likely from west lakeshore communities to the Thumb region and southeast areas. Saturday may start mostly cloudy with some rain, but skies will clear early in the day through Sunday morning, before more rain may move in.

Another cold front

Sunday night, however, things begin to change. Mostly cloudy skies will hold rain showers and possibly thunderstorms. Monday will be cloudy with some rain and chilly temperatures struggling to reach 50 degrees in many areas west and dropping in southeast Michigan.

And then it gets worse.

“Turning much colder early next week as the system opens up and a northern stream infusion of cold air works through on the backside,” the weather service says. “This is forecasted to occur in the Tuesday-Wednesday timeframe over the central Great Lakes … isolated-scattered snow showers look possible.”

Temperatures through Thursday will be in the 40s and lower 50s across the region.

Warmth may wait

The chill just can’t seem to leave Michigan alone. Longer range forecasts predict May will likely be cooler than normal, and southeast Michigan could have above average precipitation.


CORONAVIRUS TRACKER | CASES, HOSPITALIZATIONS UP AGAIN, REMAIN FAR BELOW PEAKS

BRIDGE MI — Michigan on Friday reported 8,723 COVID cases in the past week, or 1,246 per day, a 31 percent increase from the previous week and 56 percent more than two weeks ago.

Caseloads are up in 44 of the state’s 83 counties, but overall infection rates remain low, an average of 12 daily cases per 100,000 people. At the peak of the omicron wave, the rate was 170 cases per 100,000 people.

The state also reported 68 additional confirmed COVID-19 deaths over the past week, or roughly 10 per day. There were an average of 11 daily COVID-19 deaths the week before.

Only two counties have case rates above 20 per 100,000 residents: Washtenaw County (33 of 100,00) and Oakland County (21 of 100,00).

The latest testing data shows the percentage of positive coronavirus tests is now at 7.2 percent, up from 5.5 percent a week ago.

The last time cases and testing rates rose this fast, last July and into August, hospitalizations doubled in less than two weeks to over 900 COVID-19 patients.

As of Wednesday, though, statewide hospitalizations have increased to 532 from 478 on March 30 — an indication that widespread vaccinations, natural immunity and an apparently weaker strain of the virus are contributing to fewer serious illnesses.


GRAND RAPIDS POLICE CONDUCT COULD COME UNDER INVESTIGATION FROM FEDS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The Michigan Department of Civil Rights is attempting to reboot an investigation into the Grand Rapids Police Department’s conduct, seeking assistance from both the Michigan attorney general’s office and the Justice Department.

The department initially launched an investigation in 2019 into whether Grand Rapids police “had engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination” in its policing.

That investigation ultimately wasn’t completed because of a lack of resources at the agency, but the fatal shooting of Patrick Lyoya by a Grand Rapids police officer has prompted conversations on relaunching a probe into the department.

Michigan Department of Civil Rights officials announced Monday the agency had contacted Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel for a “potential collaborative effort” on an investigation of Grand Rapids police as a whole. A Michigan Department of Civil Rights spokesperson said the agency is currently investigating 29 individual complaints against Grand Rapids Police Department officers.

“The residents of Grand Rapids deserve to know that the state of Michigan takes seriously their right to equal treatment under the law,” Michigan Department of Civil Rights Director John Johnson said in a statement.

Nessel’s office has expressed willingness to assist the department in its investigation.

“The Department of Attorney General is meeting with the Department of Civil Rights since their outreach last week regarding their ongoing investigation into the Grand Rapids Police Department,” spokesperson Lynsey Mukomel said in a statement.

“The Attorney General is committed to putting the full resources of her office behind this effort.”

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights has also contacted the federal Department of Justice for assistance on an investigation.

“Pursuant to standard practice, the department considers all information provided to state agencies, including the MDCR, as well as any additional information, in determining whether to open a pattern or practice investigation,” U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Andrew Birge said in a statement.

Michigan Department of Civil Rights officials say the added resources from the state and the federal government would make an investigation into any pattern of repeated discrimination by Grand Rapids police more feasible.

“As we know from other investigations into pattern and practice issues in policing, a thorough investigation of that sort can take years and requires the kind of resources and staffing that the Department of Civil Rights does not have,” department spokesperson Vicki Levengood said over email.

“We have, in the past and again in the wake of this tragedy, approached our federal and state partners at the U.S. Department of Justice and the office of the Michigan Attorney General to ask them to bring their resources to bear in a collaborative effort to investigate the Grand Rapids Police Department, so that the people of Grand Rapids will have answers and the city can make whatever changes may be necessary to help ensure that police protect and serve all Grand Rapids residents fairly and equally.” The department’s initial investigation into Grand Rapids police was launched in May 2019. In March of that year, department officials heard from more than 80 people who detailed their interactions with Grand Rapids police officers during a pair of listening sessions. In the department’s 2019 annual report, agency officials said the listening sessions were prompted “by a number of reports of discriminatory actions by officers of the GRPD, and the release of citizen-shot videos showing troubling interactions between police and residents of color.”

A Grand Rapids Police Department spokesperson said initial training as well as officers’ annual training addresses topics including diversity, ethics, de-escalation, cultural competency and recognizing implicit bias. Training standards are regularly reviewed, the spokesperson said.

Lyoya, a 26-year-old Congolese refugee, was shot and killed by a Grand Rapids police officer April 4 after attempting to run away during a traffic stop. In footage released by Grand Rapids police last Wednesday, after the police officer pulled over Lyoya’s car, Lyoya appeared to not comply with the officer’s requests. The officer appeared to grab him and Lyoya ran, the videos show. The officer repeatedly kneed him and appeared at times to briefly grab him around the neck. The pair fought over the officer’s stun gun before the officer shot Lyoya in the head. Lyoya was facedown on the ground when he was shot.

Lyoya’s shooting and the release of the footage have garnered national attention and sparked protests locally. Some demonstrators say the shooting is another example in the tenuous relationship Grand Rapids police has with local communities of color.

The Michigan State Police are currently conducting an investigation into the shooting. No charges have been brought on the officer involved in the shooting, who is currently on paid administrative leave.


DNR: REMOVING FEEDERS NOT URGENT BUT COULD REDUCE BIRD FLU

DETROIT NEWS — A Michigan wildlife expert said removing outdoor feeders could help reduce the spread of a bird flu.

Avian influenza has been confirmed in at least five counties: Kalamazoo, Livingston, Macomb, Menominee and Washtenaw, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

It can infect a variety of birds, including chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, ducks, geese, wild birds and domestic birds.

The risk for people is considered to be low.

“If you’re concerned about this virus and want to act from a place of abundant caution, removing your bird feeders for now makes sense but it isn’t yet a critical step,” said Megan Moriarty, a state wildlife veterinarian.

“With warmer springtime weather on the way, too, birds will have more natural food sources readily available to them, so chances are many people will be taking down feeders in a few weeks anyway,” Moriarty said Wednesday.

The flu was discovered in domestic parrots in Washtenaw County, the latest detection reported this week by the DNR.


NESSEL CALLS OUT OXFORD SCHOOL BOARD AFTER MEETING WITH STUDENTS, PARENTS

DETROIT NEWS — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel called out the Oxford Community Schools Board of Education on Tuesday, a day after meeting privately with students and parents about what led up to the Nov. 30 mass shooting at the community’s high school.

In a letter to school board members posted on her office’s Twitter account, she reminded the elected officials they have the power to provide for the safety and welfare of students.

“To put it plainly, the families you serve want transparency and – as board members – you have an obligation to provide it,” she said in the letter.

On Monday evening, Nessel held a “listening session” with parents and students.

“Though there were a wide array of opinions expressed, the overwhelming concern shared by all in attendance was a deep desire to learn more about what happened,” Nessel said in her letter.

In the letter, she offered for a second time to perform an independent investigation into the events leading up to the shooting at Oxford High School.

In December, the Oakland County district declined an offer from Nessel to conduct a review of the shooting. Nessel told the board Tuesday the costs of the investigation would be borne by her office and it would be conducted “as not to interfere with the ongoing criminal proceedings” being handled by the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office.

She also set a deadline.

“In order to ensure you have sufficient time to convene as a board to discuss this offer, I am respectfully requesting a response to my offer by May 20th, 2022,” Nessel said.

“The listening session with parents and students in Oxford was incredibly informative,” she wrote to the school board members. “Though there were a wide array of opinions expressed, the overwhelming concern shared by all in attendance was a deep desire to learn more about what happened.”

Last week parents of Oxford High School students and one survivor of the Nov. 30 mass shooting made emotional pleas for improved safety measures inside the school.

Two parents accused school officials of failing to create new policies and procedures to make their children feel safe. They also said they were angry that Oxford Community Schools hasn’t hired a company to perform a third-party review of the rampage that left four students dead and seven other people wounded more than four months ago.

Oxford school board President Tom Donnelly was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday. Donnelly said last week a subcommittee of the school board is in the process of vetting potential companies to do the review.

“As we have more information gathered, an update will be given to our community in an upcoming school board meeting,” Donnelly said in an email to The News.

Parents are also asking for a public review of the district’s current student safety plan and want full community input into an updated school safety plan for the 2022-23 school year that reassures students, helps end learning loss and fully addresses mental health issues.

Recent threats deemed non-credible by police also have many Oxford families, students and community members on edge. Oxford Community Schools was among multiple school districts in northern Oakland County that received threatening phone calls on April 8 that law enforcement deemed non-credible.

The district did not go into lockdown, which some parents challenged on social media. Lake Orion did lockdown, and Clarkston sheltered students and staff in place.

On Nov. 30, four Oxford High School students were killed in the shooting: Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; and Justin Shilling, 17. Six students and a teacher were wounded.

On Thursday, Hana’s father, Steve St. Juliana, and her sister, Reina, who survived the shooting, filed a civil lawsuit against the district and several administrators.

The school had about 1,650 students in classes on the day of the shooting with about 100 teachers and staff, according to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.

In March, the district announced it will create a three-year recovery plan and hire a recovery coordinator and an executive director of student services and wellness to address student mental health needs.


NATIONAL PARK SERVICE PARTNERS WITH MICHIGAN TO PROVIDE EQUITABLE ACCESS TO NATIONAL PARKS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Speaking inside the historic Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit, once the heart of the automobile industry, the National Park Service announced a partnership with the state to improve accessibility to national parks.

While the convergence of automobiles and nature may seem counterintuitive, Charles Sams, director of the park service, said they go hand in hand.

Transportation provides connection, he said.

“The mass production and relative affordability of automobiles transformed the world and made it possible for billions to visit and fall in love with unmatched national parks,” Sams said at a Tuesday news conference, staged at the historic structure Ford built in 1904 as its first purpose-built factory, and where Ford created and first produced the famous Model T in 1908.

The partnership aims to improve accessibility, affordability and mobility for the national parks.

There are six national parks in Michigan: Isle Royale near Houghton, Keweenaw in Calumet, North Country, a multistate trail, River Raisin National Battlefield near Monroe, Pictured Rocks in Munising, and Sleeping Bear Dunes in Empire.

Michigan’s national parks are exponentially growing in popularity, Sams said — visits to Pictured Rocks have increased by 130% in the last 10 years.

And while appreciating nature is wonderful, Sams said the mass visits also present some difficulties.

“The central challenge of developing and managing the National Park System is often providing access and protecting our treasured places,” he said. “And we don’t find those mutually exclusive. … (The NPS must) advance both preservation and access in the context of rising inequity in climate change. We must overcome barriers that preclude our increasingly diverse, urban and aging population from accessing the public lands, monuments, memorials and historic sites.”

The partnership is still in the beginning stages, and the specifics of how sustainability and accessibility will be improved are still to come, said Trevor Pawl, chief mobility officer with the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification.

“We’ll be rolling out innovative mobility technologies and services to fight back against rising emissions, rising congestion, connectivity challenges in transit and national parks across the country but we’re gonna start with the national parks right here in Michigan,” Pawl said.

To address these challenges, the state and the NPS are going to reach out to mobility companies and innovators in summer 2022 to find solutions.

Then, they’ll work with them to bring those ideas to life using state and federal funding.

“The goal here is to provide practical tangible solutions,” Pawl said. “So when a young family drives hours to get to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore they’ll be able to find a parking spot, it will be what helped that emergency vehicle driver at Sleeping Bear Dunes get to the scene just a few minutes earlier, and we want to help that team of park rangers that’s trying to optimize with overflow parking lots.”

If the Michigan partnership is successful, the NPS will bring it to other states.

Pawl remembered when his own child touched the Atlantic Ocean for the first time, and said he hopes this partnership can help more people experience the beauty of nature.

“We’re trying to also think as it relates to some vulnerable audiences that historically have had a really tough time accessing the outdoors,” he said. “For folks in low-income communities where there could be affordability issue, to babies in strollers to the elderly, and see if there are some really inventive ways that we can begin to help those folks be able to experience it.”


LANSING AND OTHER POLICE AGENCIES RETHINK VALUE OF ‘MINOR’ TRAFFIC STOPS

BRIDGE MI — In July 2020, Lansing police were told they could no longer pull over motorists solely for minor traffic violations, such as a cracked tail light or an ornament hanging from a mirror.

The department, apparently the only one in Michigan to do so, joined police agencies in other parts of the country, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Seattle and the State of Virginia that recently took similar steps, as departments rethink the value of having police conduct low-level traffic stops — especially when they end in tragedy. The policies were influenced by cases in which Black motorists were shot following vehicle stops, and as analyses of traffic data show Black motorists are far more likely to be pulled over and searched than white drivers.

The April 4 death in Grand Rapids of Congolese immigrant Patrick Lyoya — who was killed after being pulled over by a police officer over a license plate issue — has brought renewed attention to the debate over what kind of infractions require police interaction with drivers, and how they should be handled.

The Lyoya stop, like so many others, began routinely. “The plate doesn’t belong on the car,” the unnamed officer tells Lyoya as the men stand outside Lyoya’s vehicle, according to videos of the incident made public last week.

Seconds later, Lyoya breaks away from the officer. The officer gives chase, tackles Lyoya, and after a two-minute struggle with the officer’s Taser, the officer shoots Lyoya in the back of the head with his firearm while straddling Lloya on a residential lawn. Police confirmed the only weapons on scene were the officer’s gun and Taser.

The fatality is under investigation by the Michigan State Police, which is expected to forward its findings to the Kent County’s prosecutor’s office to consider possible charges. The officer — who the department has so far declined to name — is on paid leave.

Blacks more likely to be stopped

Traffic stops are among the most common ways in which the public interacts with police officers. Sometimes, though, a mundane stop can turn ugly fast.

A 2021 New York Times investigation found that, in the previous five years, police officers at traffic stops killed more than 400 motorists who had no gun or knife and were not under pursuit for a violent crime. More than three-quarters of the unarmed motorists were, like Lyoya, killed while attempting to flee.

The Times investigation found traffic stops can be risky for cops as well: roughly 60 officers were killed following vehicle stops over the five years studied.

Those findings come amid broad evidence that Black motorists are more likely to be subject to so-called “pretextual” traffic stops — where officers pull over vehicles for minor infractions,  fishing for evidence of more serious crime, such as illegal drug or gun possession.

A 2020 national study of more than 100 million traffic stops found that Black drivers were 20 percent more likely to be stopped than white drivers relative to their share of the residential population. Black drivers also were 1.5 times more likely to be searched than white drivers, though they were less likely to be carrying drugs or guns.

Grand Rapids has known of such disparities for years, including in its own police department. In 2017, the city released a study showing that Black drivers were twice as likely to be pulled over by Grand Rapids Police as white drivers and more likely to be searched than non-Black drivers. The study was part of an effort to reduce bias in the department.

  1. Charles Anderson, president and CEO of the Urban League of Detroit & Southeastern Michigan, said it’s time Michigan police departments reconsider their traffic enforcement practices in light of the circumstances of Lyoya’s death.

“There is certainly a need to re-evaluate pulling people over for very minor problems, especially when they are impacting one race and these pre-text stops where people have died,” Anderson told Bridge.

Pushback from police

Such efforts have met significant pushback in the law enforcement community, with critics arguing that seemingly minor stops are sometimes necessary as a crime-fighting tool.

Robert Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, told Bridge he’s unaware of any Michigan police department outside of Lansing that has enacted a similar policy. He said many chiefs adamantly oppose such an approach because it goes against the very purpose of law enforcement’s core mission: to keep the public safe.

“The laws were made for a reason,” Stevenson said, naming several violations that could be characterized as minor or routine, including the apparent reason for stopping Lyoya’s vehicle.

“The reason we have two headlights and we have brake lights is for visibility, so people don’t run into the back of you,” Stevenson said. “The reason we require a valid license plate is it’s the law. The other reason is stolen cars — stolen cars have improper plates on them, and criminal activities get covered up by improper plates.”

Matt Saxton, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs Association, echoed Stevenson’s view of traffic enforcement.

“If communities don’t want to enforce laws, they should approach the Legislature and ask them to change the laws,” Saxton said.

“We should remember that (Oklahoma City bomber) Timothy McVeigh was arrested at a traffic stop,” Saxton said, referring to the 1985 apprehension of McVeigh by a state trooper for driving a car with no license plate. McVeigh was executed in 2001 after he was found guilty of multiple counts of murder in the bombing of a federal building that killed 168 people.


HOUSE BUDGET PLANS WOULD REQUIRE STATE EMPLOYEES TO WORK IN OFFICE

DETROIT NEWS — The GOP-led Michigan House will require state workers from several departments to return to in-person work by October or risk their funding for the year under proposed budgets making their way through the legislative process.

The department budgets that include the boilerplate requirement advanced from House subcommittees last week and are headed to the full House Appropriations Committee soon. There, the bills could be amended before referral and, eventually, will be negotiated with the Senate for a joint budget proposal.

The boilerplate language was first reported by Bridge Michigan.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s $74 billion budget proposal did not include provisions requiring in-person work but there are plans to return some workers to in-office work by May 1.

House Appropriations Chairman Thomas Albert argued Friday that taxpayers have suffered enough because of staffing restrictions and state government office closures during the pandemic.

“Everyone knows about the issues with the Unemployment Insurance Agency and the Secretary of State, but the concerns are broader than that,” the Lowell Republican said. “State government functions better and serves taxpayers better when employees are interacting with customers and each other in-person. It’s past time to get state government fully working again.”

Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency offices re-opened for appointments in June 2021 after months of claims bottlenecks and call centers unable to keep up with claimant calls. Secretary of State offices reopened for limited essential services in June 2020 but gradually began taking more customers by appointment and, in June 2021, the department said it was taking walk-ins in cases where staff was available.

About 49% of Michigan’s 47,000 state employees have been working remotely during the past 12 months but all departments are expected to return to their “approved work schedules” May 1, said Caleb Buhs, a spokesman for the Department of Technology Management and Budget.

“The approved work schedules can be hybrid, in office or remote based on the individual employee and their role,” Buhs said. “Those with schedules that include in office days will be expected to begin working those days in the office after May 1.”

The department budgets being considered by the House require employees who worked in-office prior to Feb. 28, 2020, to return to working in-person by the start of the new fiscal year, or Oct. 1, 2022.

The provisions would be required under the plan for state departments managing natural resources, agriculture, environment, insurance, regulatory and licensing duties, prisons and transportation.

The budgets also require several departments to prepare reports related to 2021 on how many employees were authorized to work from home, how many worked from home, an estimated cost savings resulting from the remote work and how much office space was reduced.

The state has said it has been seeking to reduce its lease footprint since before the pandemic and that focus increased during the pandemic when several office buildings sat largely vacant.

From March 2020 through March 2022, the state has canceled 18 of its leases, totaling a reduction of about 286,000 square feet, Buhs said.

Albert said Friday he was still seeking ways to further reduce the state’s office space but said, “independent of that effort, it is time for state workers to return to the office.”

“Even workers at Google and in the Silicon Valley are headed back to the office,” Albert said. “Private sector workers across Michigan are headed back to the office, and many returned months ago. State government should do the same for employees who were based in an office prior to the pandemic.”


MSU TO DROP MASK MANDATE IN MAY, BUT WILL KEEP COVID VAX RULE NEXT YEAR

BRIDGE MI — Michigan State University is dropping its face mask requirement for most indoor campus spaces next month, according to a letter to students, staff and faculty Friday from MSU President Samuel Stanley.

But those who work at or attend the East Lansing campus will still be required to have COVID vaccinations and a booster for the full 2022-23 school year, or have an approved exemption.

Last week, the University of Michigan announced it will continue to require students, staff and faculty to be up to date on COVID vaccinations through at least the fall 2022 semester. The university expects to announce a decision on whether face masks will continue to be required before the school’s spring term begins May 3. At MSU, both the Early Detection Program of saliva testing for those with medical or religious exemptions and PCR testing provided at the MSU Clinical Center will end May 13. Those with medical or religious exemptions no longer will be required to routinely test.

“We continue to see a sustained drop in COVID‑19 cases on campus, and with the wide availability of PCR, antigen and home testing in the community, the EDP and Clinical Center testing that were crucial to our success earlier in the pandemic can safely be discontinued now,” Stanley wrote.

At MSU, about 94 percent of students, staff and faculty are vaccinated, and 86 percent have had a booster shot. That compares to a vaccination rate of 65 percent for the state as a whole. At U-M, 98 percent of students are vaccinated and 91 percent have had a booster shot.

Confirmed COVID cases have plummeted in Michigan since December, though they increased again this week. As of Wednesday, the rate of cases was 11 per 100,000 residents, compared to a high of 170 in mid-January.

College campuses, including MSU and U-M, were hot spots for COVID outbreaks in the fall of 2020, leading to public health emergencies and campus-wide quarantines of tens of thousands of students. Michigan State University closed most of its dorm rooms for fall 2020 and virtually all classes at many colleges and universities were held online.

This past fall, however, outbreaks dropped precipitously at college campuses, and the schools were often safer from COVID than their surrounding communities. University officials attributed the decline in COVID-19 to the broad availability of vaccines.

The announcement by the state’s two largest universities mirrors similar moves by the state’s public K-12 schools. When school began in September, almost two-thirds of K-12 students were enrolled in schools that required facial coverings. The vast majority of those mandates have been lifted. One notable exception: face masks are still required in Ann Arbor Public Schools, one of the state’s largest school districts.

“it is clear our COVID‑19 mitigation efforts were successful in allowing MSU to continue most in-person classes and activities safely,” Stanley wrote. “As we have since early 2020, we will continue to monitor and respond to the pandemic as necessary.“


SNOWFALL OF UP TO 3 INCHES EXPECTED ON MONDAY IN METRO DETROIT

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The calm of Easter Sunday will end Monday in a flashback to winter with a snowfall of up to three inches, according to the National Weather Service.

Monday’s morning commute should be snow-free but soon after, around 10 a.m., forecasters expect snow to start falling until about 5 p.m.

The rain in Kansas City that canceled Sunday’s Royals-Tigers game will move northeast overnight, meeting a colder front “coming down from the northern plains” to abruptly change the weather over the Great Lakes, said Trent Frey, a staff meteorologist at the Weather Service’s regional station in White Lake Township.

Over southeast Michigan, Monday’s precipitation could be a mix of snow and rain, “but it’s looking like it’ll be mostly snow,” Frey said. Thermometers in metro Detroit will drop to around freezing overnight, then rise to the mid-30s during the day, “although temperatures aloft will be below freezing, so the snow will stay frozen until it hits the ground,” he said.

Because the ground, including pavement, has warmed with spring sunshine, some snow will melt on contact while the rest accumulates and could slow Monday’s afternoon commute; heavier snow may fall to the northeast, in St. Clair County and the eastern Thumb of Michigan, Frey said.

The forecast caused the city of Detroit’s floriculture team to cancel plans for an outdoor event aimed at showcasing the city’s campaign to spread blooming flowers across the city. The city has planted 2 million daffodil bulbs, four times its previous maximum, in partnership with the nonprofit Daffodils for Detroit, said spokesman Corey McIsaac. The event will be rescheduled soon to show residents and visitors how to find “these awesome clusters of color” throughout the city, McIssac said in an email.

Monday’s throw-back to winter should make next weekend’s weather all the more welcome in metro Detroit — highs for Saturday and Sunday are predicted to be in the mid-70s.


OXFORD SCHOOL OFFICIALS COVERED UP CULPABILITY AFTER MASSACRE, LAWSUIT CLAIMS

DETROIT NEWS — The family of a student killed in the Oxford school massacre filed a civil lawsuit Thursday against the district and several officials. The father and older sister of Hana St. Juliana, 14, accused school district officials of manufacturing a cover story to justify letting accused killer Ethan Crumbley return to the classes despite the student exhibiting a “disturbing pattern of behavior.” That includes an obsession with guns, access to firearms and being in the “throes of a mental health crisis.”

The federal lawsuit is the first of its kind by relatives of a slain student and comes five months after prosecutors say Crumbley killed four students and wounded six others and a teacher during a Nov. 30 shooting spree at the high school.

The claim is at least the third civil lawsuit filed against the district since December, including a $100 million case filed on behalf of survivors.

The lawsuit Thursday accused school officials, including a counselor, of creating and increasing danger to students by letting Crumbley return to class. That includes warnings that he was watching video of a shooting while at school, searching online about bullets and writing “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me . . . blood everywhere . . . My life is useless. . . The world is dead.”

Instead of detaining Crumbley, Dean of Students Nicholas Ejak and school counselor Shawn Hopkins let Crumbley return to class without searching his backpack, according to the lawsuit filed by father Hana’s father Steve St. Juliana and sister Reina, 16, a junior who survived the shooting.

“Less than two hours later, (Crumbley) took his backpack into a bathroom and emerged with his loaded handgun,” family lawyer Michael Pitt wrote. “He opened fire, killing four students, including fourteen-year-old Hana St. Juliana, and seriously injuring seven others.”

The family is seeking unspecified punitive or exemplary damages under the state’s wrongful death statute plus damages for medical, hospital, funeral and burial expenses. The lawsuit also seeks damages for physical and emotional pain and suffering.

The lawsuit also names former Superintendent Timothy Throne and current Superintendent Kenneth Weaver.

There was no immediate comment from school officials Thursday.

But in response to the earlier lawsuits, Oxford school officials have denied “they were negligent in any manner.” Their lawyer also has called the allegations false and said his clients would claim they are immune from liability.

The district has been criticized for releasing Crumbley, an Oxford High School sophomore, back into school after he was pulled from class when a teacher saw a disturbing drawing on his desk that depicted a gun, a bullet and a bleeding shooting victim.

Crumbley allegedly told counselors once he was taken to the office that his drawing was part of a video game he was designing and that he planned to pursue video game design as a career, Throne has said in a statement. Crumbley remained in the office for about 90 minutes and worked on school assignments while the school tried to reach his parents.

After speaking to parents James and Jennifer Crumbley in the school office and again to their son, Oxford school counselors concluded he did not intend on committing either self-harm or harm to others, Throne said. His parents were informed they had 48 hours to seek counseling for their child or the school would contact Child Protective Services. They were asked to take their son home for the day, but they “flatly” refused and left without their son, Throne said.

St. Juliana’s family alleges a high-level coverup by school officials followed the shooting.

“Specifically, the district has sought to avoid accountability by claiming it has a formal policy and practice of returning students to class unless there is a ‘disciplinary’ issue that can be used to either send them home or hold them in the counseling office, and since (Crumbley) did not present a ‘disciplinary’ issue, it had no choice but to return him to class,” Pitt wrote.

The district’s policy of using false justifications “demonstrates egregious deliberate indifference to the danger presented when a student such as (Crumbley), who the school knew was suicidal and presented a clear threat, is returned to the school environment,” the family’s lawyer wrote.

School officials have denied knowing Crumbley was suicidal, according to the lawsuit.

“In truth, the district did know that (Crumbley) was suicidal and possibly homicidal when he was released from the counselor’s office,” Pitt wrote.

Crumbley has been charged with multiple felonies including first-degree murder and is being held without bond in the Oakland County Jail awaiting trial. His parents are jailed and face four counts each of involuntary manslaughter.


TWO-THIRDS OF MICHIGAN DRIVERS STILL HAVEN’T GOT THEIR $400 INSURANCE REFUND

BRIDGE MI — More than two-thirds of eligible insured Michigan drivers still have not received their $400 refund as the May 9 deadline approaches.

Officials confirmed the delays Thursday during a media conference by the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services that announced that $906 million of the $3 billion owed by auto insurers has been returned to drivers.

The refunds are part of 2019 auto insurance reforms — negotiated between Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Republican-led Legislature — that to cut what had been the highest rates in the nation by ending mandatory lifetime coverage for auto crash victims and creating new fee limits for medical treatment.

Anita Fox, director of the state insurance office, said auto insurers must refund the $400 through a check or direct deposit — rather than applying it to customers as a credit.

Fox said she’s confident insurers will issue the refunds before their deadline.

“(The refund) process is huge,” Fox said. “There are 7.1 million drivers and (the state) doesn’t keep that information as per vehicle, your insurance company does. It takes a while to get the process set up and transfer billions of dollars.”

The process has been less than smooth for many, including Ron McDonagh, 62, of Burt.

He said he hasn’t received his check, and was informed by his insurer the $400 refund would be applied toward his upcoming policy premium which renews on April 28, in apparent conflict with the rules.

“I’m low-income and I need the money to get a colonoscopy because I have diverticulitis,” McDonagh said. “I owe (the hospital) $100 and they won’t schedule the operation until I pay it. So I could really use that $400 to take care of my medical needs.”

Fox urged eligible drivers like McDonagh who are encountering similar problems to contact the state at 833-ASK-DIFS.

Michigan has tried to keep the refund process as simple as possible, Fox said.

“This is their money that they paid into this fund,” Fox said, referring to motorists. “You shouldn’t have to fill anything out. You shouldn’t have to take it as a credit. It’s your money that ought to be returned and we know that’s important especially coming out of a pandemic.”

Fox also warned drivers to beware of potential fraud, such as scammers calling consumers to get private information.

“Every time there is money, there are scammers,” Fox said. “We have heard from the Attorney General’s Office that as soon as (the refunds were) announced, there were people who were contacted by scammers asking for information. It’s important that people don’t give out personal information.”

Anyone who had a vehicle, motorcycle or RV that was insured by a policy that allows them to operate in Michigan as of October 31, 2021, is eligible for refunds.

Eligible drivers who have not received their refunds should contact their insurers, who may only give the money back through a check or direct deposit.

Consumers may contact DIFS if they don’t receive their refunds or cannot reach a resolution with their insurers.


BIDEN PICKS UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN DEAN MICHAEL BARR FOR FED’S BANK REGULATION POST

ASSOCIATED PRESS via DETROIT FREE PRESS — President Joe Biden said Friday he plans to nominate Michael Barr, the dean of the University of Michigan’s public policy school, to be the Federal Reserve’s vice chairman of supervision.

The selection of Barr comes after Biden’s first choice for the Fed post, Sarah Bloom Raskin, withdrew her nomination a month ago in the face of opposition from Republicans and one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Raskin’s critics had argued that she would apply the Fed’s regulatory authority to climate change and possibly discourage banks from lending to energy companies.

But with Barr, Biden noted the importance of politics in a Friday statement that said his nominee had previously cleared the Senate on a bipartisan basis.

“Michael brings the expertise and experience necessary for this important position at a critical time for our economy and families across the country,” Biden said.

The Democratic president said that Barr “has spent his career protecting consumers, and during his time at Treasury, played a critical role in creating both the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the position for which I am nominating him.”

Barr is the dean of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. He was an assistant Treasury secretary for financial institutions during the Obama administration who helped design the 2010 Dodd-Frank regulations after the devastating 2008 financial crisis.

Barr, a Rhodes Scholar who clerked for Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court, also served during the Clinton administration at the White House, the Treasury Department and the State Department.

Despite those credentials, some liberal critics last year blocked Barr’s candidacy to become the Biden administration’s comptroller of the currency, a position that is responsible for regulating national banks. These critics viewed with suspicion Barr’s role on the advisory boards of the financial firms Lending Club and Ripple Labs. They also asserted that he had helped dilute proposals for stricter bank regulations during the Obama administration.

But Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, the Democratic chairman of the Banking Committee, voiced full support for Barr.

“Michael Barr understands the importance of this role at this critical time in our economic recovery,” Brown said. “I strongly urge my Republican colleagues to abandon their old playbook of personal attacks and demagoguery and put Americans and their pocketbooks first.”

Others offer strong praise for Barr and say he appears well suited for the Fed position.

David Dworkin, president of the National Housing Conference, which advocates for affordable housing, suggested that Barr’s understanding of Wall Street gives him the right mix of “centrist expertise and progressive policy views’’ to win confirmation in a closely divided Senate.

Barr would be joining the Fed at an especially challenging and high-risk period for the central bank and the economy.

The Fed is set to raise interest rates aggressively in the coming months to try to reduce persistently high inflation. Yet it will be extraordinarily difficult for Fed Chair Jerome Powell — who is awaiting Senate confirmation for a second term — to slow inflation by raising borrowing costs without also weakening the economy and perhaps even causing a recession.

“This is about landing a very complicated plane on the runway smoothly,” Dworkin said. “It’s very hard to do.”


GRAND RAPIDS POLICE FACED YEARS OF RACIAL BIAS COMPLAINTS BEFORE FATAL SHOOTING

BRIDGE MI — Grand Rapids joined the long list of American cities where a Black motorist died at the hands of police on April 4, when an officer shot a Congolese immigrant in the head during a struggle following a traffic stop.

The death of 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya followed years of warnings by community residents over the city police department’s treatment of Black residents — and efforts by the city to improve that relationship.

Police released four videos of the traffic stop and incident on Wednesday, and officials warned of tough days ahead amid a Michigan State Police investigation into the shooting by the unnamed officer.

“The public has my commitment to get through this together. There will be understandable expressions of shock, of anger and pain,” City Manager Mark Washington said during a media conference.

Lyoya was pulled over because his car  allegedly had an improper registration. He was unarmed, but a scuffle erupted after he got out of his vehicle. During the video, the officer is heard telling Lyoya to let go of the officer’s Taser before the shooting.

Long before Lyoya, city officials acknowledged that all was not right with the Grand Rapids Police Department.

Here is a look back:

  • In March 2017, police officers pulled over and aimed guns at a group of five young unarmed Black boys. The incident was followed by heated community discussions at City Commission meetings. Former Chief of Police Dave Rahinsky, who has since retired, apologized to the boys, their families and the Black community, but he maintained that officers followed protocol.
  • The next month, a traffic study was released that showed Black motorists in Grand Rapids were twice as likely to be pulled over as white motorists despite the fact that the city’s Black population was around 14 percent at the time.
  • As a result of the traffic study, the department hired consulting firm 21st Century Policing to evaluate its policies and procedures and find and remove examples of implicit bias. Some of the recommendations the firm made were to increase cultural competency training for officers and host discussions between the community and police.
  • In December 2017, the police faced scrutiny when an officer pointed a gun at an unarmed 11-year-old Black girl before searching and handcuffing her. This incident led to the department adopting a new youth interactions policy that was implemented to protect other children from unnecessary police force.
  • In 2018, there were two more incidents of police officers either pointing guns at or handcuffing unarmed Black and Brown children, prompting the department to update its youth interaction policy just a year after it was created. Police made changes to how youth would be handcuffed, when a child would be put in a police cruiser, and when officers should draw a firearm.
  • In November 2018, citizens criticized the department after a police captain called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on U.S. citizen and Marine combat veteran Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, even though he was carrying multiple forms of identification that proved he was an American citizen.
  • In 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union and Michigan Immigrant Rights Center filed civil rights complaints against police for the situation with Ramos-Gomez and an unrelated incident where police officers pulled over two unarmed teens, one of whom was a 15-year-old of Mexican descent.
  • The complaints led the Michigan Department of Civil Rights to host two public hearings during which residents voiced concerns about the way Grand Rapids police treat Black and Brown people. The state opted against opening an investigation.
  • In late 2019, a city-sponsored survey found 3 in 10 Grand Rapids residents didn’t trust the police department. Unlike the traffic study from 2017, this was an anonymous online survey only.
  • In May 2020, the police budget was increased by $700,000 to $61 million despite calls from some activists to decrease funding to police. (Budgets to many other police agencies nationwide also increased around this time as well.)
  • Later that month, the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis led to several days of protests in Grand Rapids, including some that resulted in property damage, broken windows and police dispersing crowds with tear gas and flash bangs.
  • Following the protests, Grand Rapids officials said they are willing to make police reforms to make the department more accountable and safer for residents. At the time, many activists were still calling for the department to be defunded to better invest in community services.
  • On the morning of April 4, 2022, 26-year-old Congolese immigrant Patrick Lyoya was shot and killed by a Grand Rapids police officer. Chief Eric Winstrom said the investigation, which is being handled by the Michigan State Police, is ongoing. Winstrom wouldn’t give the name of the officer who killed Lyoya, but said the officer was “in shock” following the incident.

ROYAL OAK PLANNING COMMISSION BACKS PLAN TO DEMOLISH BELOVED MAIN ART THEATRE

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The Royal Oak Planning Commission recommended demolishing the Main Art Theatre in favor of a five-story mixed-use building in a 4-2 vote Tuesday night.

The public meeting included a presentation of the proposed building plan and roughly one and a half hours of public comments, mostly from those in support of the theater.

Main Art Theatre, a staple of downtown Royal Oak since 1941 and located at the corner of North Main Street and 11 Mile, has been closed since April 2021 when Landmark Theatres, which operated the Main Art, announced the theater was closing for the foreseeable future.

Friends of the Main Art Theatre formed roughly 10 months ago with the purpose to preserve the theater. The group has held fundraisers and marches to rally support for the iconic building.

Last Saturday, nearly nearly 200 people gathered outside the theater to rally for its preservation in light of the proposed demolition plans put forth by the building’s owner, A.F. Jonna Management & Development Co.

Dennis G. Cowan, the attorney representing North Main Square LLC, the building developers, spoke of the plan for a five-story mixed-use building with retail, office and residential components.

He also cast doubt on the viability of an independent movie theater operating out of the Main Art.

“The entire movie industry is in somewhat of an upset right now,” Cowan said. “All of us here know you can get almost any movie you want at home. We know that there still is a market, but with respect to this particular building, that is not the case any longer. And their numbers were going down dramatically, even before COVID. Subsequently, Landmark decided to pull out.”

Members of the Friends of the Main Art Theatre spoke at the meeting in support of revitalizing the theater.

Jason Krzysiak, president of the group in support of the theater, said, “I would ask that the committee today consider the outpouring of support for this theater, and ask that you either table the plans before you tonight until all stakeholders can meet and plan a win-win situation, or an outright denial.”

The Planning Commission recommendation now heads to the Royal Oak City Commission for review.


PARENTS OF OXFORD SCHOOL SHOOTING SUSPECT SEEK LOWER BOND: WE’VE BEEN MISPORTRAYED

DETROIT FREE PRESS — James and Jennifer Crumbley are asking a judge to lower their bond, arguing the prosecution has unfairly portrayed them as bad parents, and that the “the real facts” about how they raised their son and how they responded to the deadly Oxford school shooting have not yet fully been disclosed.

Each parent wants their bond lowered from $500,000 to $100,000, maintaining they had no idea their son would allegedly carry out a school shooting.

“Even the prosecution is changing its understanding of the facts in this case and has recognized that the Crumbleys may be found ‘not guilty,’ ” defense lawyers argued in a new court filing, adding the Crumbleys are neither a public safety risk nor a flight risk,  “particularly if they are placed on local house arrest status with GPS tethers.”

The defense has long maintained that James and Jennifer Crumbley did not know their son would carry out a school shooting.

“No one expected that the shooter could be or would be homicidal,” the Crumbleys’ lawyers argued in a late Tuesday court filing. “The media contains so much histrionic and emotional information that many of the real facts of this case have been lost upon the public. The real facts … show that this case amounts to a completely devastating event where people w ant to find someone or something to assign responsibility to.”

That “someone” is the Crumbleys — the parents of 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, who is charged with opening fire in his high school with a gun that his parents allegedly purchased for him four days earlier.

Four students died, seven other people  were injured.

The Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office is opposed to lowering the Crumbleys’ bond.

“We believe the current bond for James and Jennifer Crumbley remains appropriate as they have proven to be a flight risk,” Chief Assistant  Prosecutor David Williams said in a statement Wednesday. “We will ask the court to keep the current bond in place.”

The prosecution maintains that the Crumbleys were on the run after learning they were being charged, though the Crumbleys say they never fled but left town on the night of the shooting “for their own safety” and that they planned to surrender the following day at their scheduled court hearing.

The parents are charged with involuntary manslaughter for what prosecutors have alleged amounts to gross negligence: They say the Crumbleys ignored a mentally ill son who was spiraling out of control, and instead of getting him medical help they bought him a gun.

Lawyers for the Crumbleys argue that’s a misrepresentation of what really happened, maintaining their clients did look after their son, and that the events that unfolded at Oxford High School were not their fault.

The defense also challenged claims that the shooting suspect asked his parents to take him to a doctor, but that the parents refused.

Prosecutors have presented text messages from the alleged  to a friend, in which the teen states: “I am mentally and physically dying. … I am going to ask my parents to go to the doctor tomorrow … but this time I’m going to tell them about the voices.”

In another text to a friend, Ethan Crumbley allegedly wrote: “I actually asked my dad to take me to the doctor the other day, and he just gave me some pills and said to ‘suck it up.’ My mom laughed when I told her.”

Prosecutors also have cited a journal entry in which the alleged shooter blamed his parents for what he was about to do.

“I will cause the biggest school shooting in Michigan’s history. I will kill everyone I f—— see,” Ethan Crumbley allegedly wrote. “I have fully mentally lost it after years of fighting my dark side. My parents won’t listen to me about help or a therapist.”

The defense maintains there is no proof of that.

“There is no evidence that the school shooter did ask his parents to go to a doctor, nor did he ever ask,” defense attorneys argued in this week’s court filing.

“It is clear the Crumbleys were absolutely shocked parents who had no reason to foresee what would happen,” defense attorneys Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman argued in their filing. “While the prosecution selected certain pieces of information to portray them as bad and uncaring parents, after cross examination regarding these topics, the testimony revealed there was more to each situation than the prosecution intended to present.”

The cross-examination the defense is referring to involves multiple witnesses who testified at the parents’ last hearing, including a horse farm owner who told the court that Jennifer Crumbley was afraid her son was suicidal, and didn’t want him to be alone after learning he was researching bullets on his phone at school.

The defense also cited the testimony of a police official who said that a school teacher contacted Jennifer Crumbley to let her know that her son had been looking up bullets in class.

“(But the teacher) ended the voice mail message by saying that Jennifer Crumbley did not need to call her back,” the filing states.

The next day the Crumbleys’ son was caught with alarming drawings on a math

paper, met with a school counselor and eventually his parents.

“After the meeting, the parents agreed that their son would begin counseling and he was allowed to remain at school. That afternoon, when the Crumbleys heard there was an active shooter at Oxford High School, James Crumbley drove home and found the Sig Sauer gun was missing along with some of the ammunition.

“He called 911 to report the missing gun and ammunition,” the filing states.

The filing also noted that Jennifer Crumbley drove from work to Oxford that day, “believing that her son may have the gun at school after learning that it was missing from the home and “was afraid her son may kill himself as she texted him “don’t do it.”

The defense lawyers conceded in their filing that the father did buy a Sig Sauger handgun on Nov. 26 — four days before the massacre — and that the mother took her son to the shooting range the following day.

But they had no idea he would carry out a mass shooting, the defense maintains.

“Despite the devastating actions of their son, and the incredible losses he

caused for the victims’ families, friends, and community, Mr. and Mrs. Crumbley are not criminally liable,” lawyers for the Crumbleys argued in the filing.

“The events of November 30, 2021 are undoubtedly the most tragic days the community, the victims, their family and friends, have ever seen. This case clearly involves a young man who was not on any person’s radar to be a threat to himself or any other person,” lawyers for the Crumbleys argued in a filing this week. “This includes not only his parents’ radar, but also among staff at his high school, and the other individuals who testified (at the preliminary) exam.”

The filing continued:

“The testimony showed that everyone involved was shocked and surprised, including Mr. and Mrs. Crumbley. There was no evidence admitted to show that the shooter had made himself a known threat to his parents or otherwise. The worst case scenario that Mrs. Crumbley believed was that (her son) could be suicidal, and she was taking that possibility seriously, particularly after the school counselor was concerned about suicidal ideation,” defense lawyers argued.

Ethan Crumbley remains jailed on no bond in the Oakland County Jail, where he is being held on four first-degree murder and terrorism charges. Through his attorney, the suspect has pleaded not guilty and is planning an insanity defense.

The Crumbleys are due back in court April 19 for a pretrial hearing where their lawyers will argue for a lower bond.


TWO MORE REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES FOR MICHIGAN GOVERNOR FILE PETITION SIGNATURES

DETROIT NEWS — Ralph Rebandt, a pastor from Oakland County, and Michael Brown, a Michigan State Police captain from Stevensville, filed petition signatures Tuesday in hopes of getting on the August primary ballot as Republican candidates for governor.

Rebandt and Brown became the third and fourth GOP gubernatorial hopefuls to submit their petitions, a key achievement for their campaigns, a week before the April 19 deadline.

Other candidates, including former Detroit police Chief James Craig and conservative commentator Tudor Dixon of Norton Shores, are expected to submit their paperwork in the coming days. It remains unclear how many of the 12 Republicans currently seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November will make the ballot.

“I am just confident (about) where my campaign is going,” Brown said, standing outside the Michigan Department of State office in downtown Lansing. “I do think there are some real struggles out there with other campaigns.”

It takes 15,000 valid signatures to get on the GOP primary ballot. The petitions will be examined by state employees and, likely, other campaigns. By May 31, the Board of State Canvassers must complete a canvass of the petitions.

Brown said he submitted 21,800 signatures and was “100%” confident he had met the threshold. His campaign is focused on prosperity and safety for Michigan residents, he said.

“We need an accomplished leader to lead this party into the future,” Brown said. “That’s what my campaign is about.”

Known as “Captain Mike,” he’s served 34 years in the Michigan State Police, currently running the agency’s Southwest District.

Rebandt’s campaign said it submitted 16,300 signatures on Tuesday but plans to file more signatures before the April 19 deadline. He served as the pastor of Oakland Hills Community Church for 35 years. It has a congregation of about 250 people.

Rebandt said he wants to “make Michigan a lighthouse to the nation.”

“We want to bring back sanity to our state by promoting truth, transparency and accountability,” he said.

Rebandt’s campaign has sponsored billboards that are currently posted in what he described as “strategic” areas of Michigan. One of them is a memo to Whitmer and Democratic President Joe Biden.

“Dear Gretchen and Joe, don’t worry about the roads anymore because we can’t afford to drive,” Rebandt said of the billboard’s message.

Garrett Soldano, a chiropractor by trade who became a political activist challenging Whitmer’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, was the first GOP gubernatorial candidate to submit petition signatures for 2022 on Jan. 19. He filed just over 20,000 signatures, according to state records.

Michael Markey, a financial adviser and self-described “moderate,” turned in nearly 22,000 signatures on March 18.


UTILITY UNION: DTE BLOCKING PROGRESS ON CONTRACT FOR NEW MEMBERS

DETROIT NEWS — The Utility Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO says DTE Energy is blocking progress on negotiating a first contract with a small unit of members that organized last year.

The union’s general counsel, David Radtke, contends DTE is elongating the negotiating process by only agreeing to two of about 50 proposals presented outside of wages and other economics. The two sides have met eight times since December, according to the union.

The negotiations are for 27 members of Local 223 who are wind and engineering technicians who are not covered by a contract with about 3,500 other DTE employees; that six-year agreement was reached in March 2021 with Local 223, Radtke said.

DTE representatives “refuse” to agree to some of the same terms reached last year for the current contract, he said. He added the company will only meet virtually once a week for two hours, though a session scheduled for tomorrow is supposed to be four hours.

“We should be way further along in contract negotiations than where we are,” Radtke said. “If they really wanted to reach an agreement, it seems like we would definitely be on wages and benefits but we’re nowhere close.”

DTE, in a statement Tuesday to The Detroit News, said in part: “At all times since the company’s 27 wind and engineering technicians voted to organize, we have engaged in good faith negotiations with the union, with the goal of reaching a fair and responsible first collective bargaining agreement that addresses our mutual needs.

“We are meeting with the union again tomorrow, and we remain committed to negotiating in good faith and optimistic that, through our collective efforts, we will reach an agreement that works for the dedicated wind and engineering technicians and also for our customers.”

In a statement, UWUA President James Slevin called for DTE management to change its stance in the talks: “DTE’s disappointing and disrespectful behavior toward these 27 members since they organized last year is not what we would expect from a company we’ve had a very good working relationship with for almost 80 years.”


DAILY TROUT LIMITS IN LAKE HURON MAY BE REDUCED DUE TO OVERFISHING

BRIDGE MI — Michigan anglers caught too many lake trout and splake in northern Lake Huron last year, which could mean a reduced catch limit this season.

The state Department of Natural Resources is recommending the Natural Resource Commission reduce the daily catch limit for lake trout and splake from three to two fish because recreational anglers exceeded limits spelled out in the 2000 Great Lakes Consent Decree with state tribes.

The NRC will consider the recommendation Thursday.

The consent decree is an agreement that governs state and tribal fisheries spelled out in the 1836 Treaty of Washington, which ceded more than 13 million acres of Native American land in northern Michigan and enshrined fishing rights of the Grand Traverse Band, the Bay Mills Indian Community, the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians, the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians and the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians.

The deal gives tribes 88 percent of the lake trout population in northern Lake Huron and 12 percent to non-tribal anglers. The ratio is reversed on the southern end of the lake: tribes get 5 percent of the trout, while state-licensed anglers get 95 percent.

The deal calls for penalties if either party overfishes — and last year, state anglers exceeded their quota by 21 percent in northern Lake Huron, reeling in 68,518 lake trout, above the 56,782 limit.

That’s partly because declining salmon populations are driving more anglers to target trout, experts said.

“The lake trout is available year-round for the charter fishing industry,” said Eric Andersen, former president of the Michigan Charter Boat Association and current member of the Lake Huron Citizen Fisher Advisory Council.

“You’re taking people out on a charter and the people want to catch fish. They don’t have to catch salmon, they just want to catch fish, so you target lake trout.”

Tom Corenflo, the biological services director for the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, said tribes have not received the state’s plan to reduce its lake trout catch in northern Lake Huron but they should be able to review it by the end of April.

The consent decree expired in August 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed negotiations. The state and tribes are currently negotiating the terms and limits of a new agreement.

Randy Claramunt, the DNR Lake Huron basin coordinator, said the consent decree is meant to set quotas that try to promote a balanced fishery. When the consent decree was established, Claramunt said the lake trout allocation was set at a low amount because the salmon fishery was strong.

Generally, anglers prefer to fish salmon over lake trout because they’re tastier.

“Every few years, we go over our lake trout harvest in the northern region because salmon aren’t readily available,” Claramunt said.

Claramunt said state anglers also exceeded the consent decree’s northern Lake Huron’s lake trout limit by 28 percent in 2018. After triggering the penalty, the NRC reduced the catch limit from three to two in 2019 and met its harvest limit requirements.

When the consent decree’s catch limit was met, the NRC increased the lake trout catch limit in Lake Huron back to three per day. Claramunt said the DNR didn’t recommend keeping the daily limit to two because anglers’ effort wasn’t as high as it is today.

“The effort was gradually declining but then when COVID hit, it jumped back up,” Claramunt said. “A lot of people saw outdoor recreation as a healthy choice during the pandemic.”

According to the DNR, monthly closures are also ineffective unless they happen during the peak angling seasons, which severely reduces angler opportunities.

Moreso, the DNR believes seasonally differing regulations for a fishery can complicate enforcement efforts.

Another option the NRC has to ensure the consent decree’s requirements are met is reducing the lake trout and splake bag limits from three to one fish.

The DNR does not prefer this option because such a change would severely limit the opportunity of state recreational fishers. Claramunt said angler effort is already likely to decrease because of high gas prices, which is needed to fuel boats.

“A one fish limit is pretty excessive and is almost essentially viewed by a lot of our anglers as shutting down the fishery,” Claramunt said.

The Lake Huron Citizen Fishery Advisory Council also does not want the commission to reduce the lake trout and splake catch limit from three to one but does support a reduction to two fish per day.

“The charter captains could lose some of that revenue or customers because it isn’t worth them going out on a big lake for so little fish,” said Andersen of the charter boat group.


CORONAVIRUS TRACKER | HOSPITALIZATIONS UP A HAIR, STILL FAR BELOW MID-JANUARY PEAK

BRIDGE MI — The number of patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 rose Monday to 511, the first time above 500 since March 28.

Patient volumes have fallen since the omicron wave peaked in mid-January at just over 5,000, but there has been a small increase since hitting a recent low of 473 on April 1, according to data released Monday by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Michigan is reporting case, death and testing data only on Wednesdays. It is continuing to release hospital data three days a week.

Federal hospital data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which measures daily admissions for COVID-19 among other indicators, shows a slight rise in the average of daily COVID-19 admissions. Over the past week, the state’s hospitals are admitting an average of 84 new patients a day with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, up from the mid-70s at the beginning of April.

In mid-January, the average was over 600 a day, according to the CDC data analyzed by Bridge Michigan.

Testing compiled by the CDC shows that the percentage of positive coronavirus tests has remained flat, averaging 4.3 percent of all tests, nearly identical to the 4.2 percent of the week before.


WAYNE COUNTY, DETROIT POLICE SEND USED BULLETPROOF VESTS TO UKRAINE

DETROIT NEWS — Detroit police and Wayne County Sheriff’s Office officials announced Monday they’re donating used bulletproof vests to help Ukraine in its war with Russia, joining similar efforts by law enforcement agencies nationwide.

Ukrainian authorities have accused Russian troops of committing war crimes against thousands of civilians during the conflict, which entered its 47th day Monday. Wayne County Sheriff Raphael Washington and Detroit Police Chief James White said the reports of atrocities prompted them to try to help.

“We sit here in the United States, and we’re watching the mass killings that are going on,” Washington said during a press conference at his office’s Detroit headquarters. “So we came up with an idea to try to get the vests we’re no longer using over to the Ukrainian people to help save lives while they defend their area.”

The two agencies are sending about 160 vests to Ukraine, with hopes to send more, White said.

“That’s what we signed up for in this business — to save lives,” White said. “Any opportunity we can take to save someone’s life, whether it’s in the city streets, the county streets or anywhere, that’s what we do.”

The donated vests from both agencies were “just laying around,” Washington said, and were past their expiration dates. Normally, expired vests are recycled and sold back to other agencies, he said.

White said the vests’ expiration date means the manufacturer won’t guarantee they will stop the types of rounds they were made to withstand, but he also insisted they provide protection beyond the listed dates.

“There’s a date stamp on (the vests), but by all means, something is better than nothing,” said Wayne County Sheriff’s Lt. Matthew Gloster. Washington added: “The vests still work. It’s not like they stop working after the expiration date.”

Washington and White declined to list the monetary value of the donation, although new vests used by most officers in both agencies cost between $400 and $600 each, while vests with more protection, used by special response teams, cost $1,000 to $1,200 each, White said.

The agencies sent both types of vests to Ukraine, officials said. “We hope to send more vests in the future,” White said.

In recent weeks, law enforcement and elected officials across the United States have announced similar donations. Last week, the governors of Ohio, Nebraska and Iowa announced they’re sending military-grade helmets and vests to Ukraine.


INDIGENOUS GROUP WANTS JUSTICE AFTER ‘TRAUMATIZING’ RAID AT DETROIT PARK

DETROIT FREE PRESS — A fire crackled softly in a small clearing in the woods of Rouge Park Monday morning. Jefferson Ballew IV, Sonja Ballew and Antonio Cosme stirred a boiling pot of maple sap over the flames.

Beads of sweat rolled down their faces from the nearly 70-degree weather and their proximity to the fire.

When the maple substance reached the perfect temperature and most of the water evaporated, they poured it out and used wooden paddles to stir it until it transformed into sugar.

‘It’s magic,” Ballew IV said.

On Feb. 18, Detroit police officers shut down an Indigenous sugarbush ceremony and threatened arrest at that same clearing in Rouge Park. Videos that circulated online after the event show officers saying, “The sovereign stuff is not valid.”

Cosme, education coordinator with the National Wildlife Federation, said he remembered officers mocking them.

“‘Oh, you have tribal law, how’s that working out for you?’ You know, kind of in a sarcastic way. Another officer responded, ‘Those laws don’t matter here, this is the United States.”‘

Now, the ACLU and Detroit Indigenous Peoples Alliance are calling on the police department to engage in restorative justice.

“We’re primarily concerned about the fact that what happened did not need to happen,” said Mark Fancher, ACLU attorney, at a news conference Monday. “It happened because of ignorance and cultural arrogance, a presumption that because a community chooses to worship the creator in a way that may differ from the ways in which police officers might understand worship, or may differ from their particular faith traditions, that somehow it is less valid, it is somehow less legitimate and somehow not protected by the law.”

Fancher said the ACLU is asking the officers who shut down the ceremony to acknowledge the harm they caused, accept responsibility for that harm and make sure it doesn’t happen again. If the police are worried about a potential safety hazard, they could have pulled an organizer off to the side to discuss it rather than shut the whole event down, he said.

“This entire thing could have gone down a very different way,” Fancher said. “If the officers, for whatever reason, had been concerned about the presence of a fire in this area, once they approached … had they known the importance of it to the community, then their decision probably would not have been, let’s go in and stage a SWAT-type raid and disrupt everything.” Detroit police spokesperson Rudy Harper said the department reached out to set up a meeting, but Sugarbush Project members asked for time to heal.

“The officers did nothing wrong,” Harper said. “The ceremony organizers did not have proper permits from the city.”

In a Feb. 21 statement, police chief James White said the police officers only broke up the event because they saw a bonfire in the middle of a public park without a permit, and it was not “directed as a means to break up a sacred cultural ceremony.”

White apologized for the “interruption” and said he is working with elected officials and community members to “learn and grow from this situation.”

The Sugarbush Project has been operating in Detroit for three years, with the goal of literally and figuratively tapping into the tradition of making maple syrup and passing on other ecological knowledge. Since its inception, project organizers have worked closely with the city and say they have a memorandum of understanding from the city.

On Feb. 18, their memorandum had just expired and they were in the process of renewing it. Cosme said they also filed a permit with the fire department, but it was filed incorrectly due to a clerical error.

Detroit Deputy Fire Commissioner Dave Fornell told the Free Press in February that while the group applied for a permit, they never completed the application and therefore did not have a valid permit. That permit was less consequential, Cosme said — the fire department was not dispatched to their ceremony.

Cosme said he tried to tell the police they were allowed to be there but said the officers were not interested in talking and gave them two minutes to shut the ceremony down.

Alexis Chingman-Tijerina, a leader at the Detroit Indigenous Peoples Alliance, said the raid was “traumatizing,” but it won’t stop them from continuing to practice their sacred traditions.

“Our ceremonies, the necessary work of harvesting, processing and sharing our resources, like maple sugar, are sacred and constitute the foundation of Anishinaabe culture,” she said. “Consent for Indigenous ceremonies and activities does not come from city government, but from the creator and from nature herself. These are not just leisure activities, this is who we are.”

Chingman-Tijerina said Indigenous peoples have suffered a long history of “broken promises, violated treaties and religious persecution.”

The Detroit Indigenous People’s Alliance has a list of demands to prevent such incidents and promote healing, she said. They include for the city to honor all treaties affecting Indigenous rights, recognize and aid the Sugarbush Project, and ensure that police who transgressed apologize and be reprimanded.


JURY: TWO NOT GUILTY OF WHITMER KIDNAPPING; MISTRIAL FOR OTHER TWO

BRIDGE MI — Jurors on Friday acquitted two men accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and told a judge they were unable to reach a verdict on charges against two others charged in the alleged conspiracy.

The jury of six men and six women in Grand Rapids found Daniel Harris, 24, of Lake Orion and Brandon Caserta, 33, of Canton Township not guilty of the felony conspiracy charges that were punishable by up to life in prison.

But U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker declared a mistrial in charges against the alleged ringleaders — Adam Fox, 38, of Wyoming, Michigan, and Barry Croft, 46, of Delaware — after jurors said they couldn’t reach a verdict. Federal prosecutors said they intend to retry Fox and Croft, whom the Detroit News reported remain jailed.

The acquittal of the two men followed a nearly four-week trial during which government informants and undercover agents played starring roles.

But those same men may have been crucial to the acquittals, said Detroit defense attorney Mike Rataj.

“Clearly, the jurors didn’t believe the government witnesses,” said Rataj.

Rataj was the defense attorney for the federal government’s last major domestic terrorism case in Michigan: The Hutaree religious militia group near Adrian.

As with the Whitmer kidnapping, that case resulted in no convictions, as a federal judge in 2012 dismissed charges alleging seven men plotted to kill police officers to spark a revolution against the government.

The identity of Whitmer jurors is private, but all are white and many are from northern Michigan. The Detroit Free Press on Wednesday published short profiles of what is known about them, noting that at least four own guns.

During the trial, prosecutors presented hundreds of hours of recordings from informants, videos and testimony from two men who had already pleaded guilty in the case.

The government contended the men — all militia members — were fed up with Whitmer COVID-19 orders and plotted to kidnap her from her vacation home in northern Michigan and blow up a bridge to delay a police response.

But defense attorneys say the men had no intention of carrying out any plot and instead were egged on by FBI informants. The defense portrayed the men as stoners who talked tough but were incapable of executing the scheme.

The government presented evidence showing surveillance of Whitmer’s second home, but the two men who were acquitted — Harris and Caserta — did not participate it.

Caserta’s attorney Michael Hill told reporters his client never agreed to kidnap Whitmer and said the government had no proof despite hundreds of hours of secret recordings.

“When did he agree? He never did,” Hill said outside the federal courthouse Friday.

Harris was the only defendant to testify and he said he did not agree to kidnap the governor.

Fox’s attorney Chris Gibbons said after the decision he is ready to try the case again and said the acquittals of Harris and Caserta showed the “serious shortcomings” of the case.

Michael Bullotta, a former federal prosecutor now working as a defense attorney, said prosecutors had a glaring problem: There was never a date or specific plan to commit the crime.

That was an “impossibly high hurdle” for jurors, even though Jonker instructed them that a practical plan wasn’t necessary for conviction.

“The governor was not kidnapped. She was never harmed,” Bullotta said, adding, “the jury was left to guess, ‘were they really going to go through with it?”

Bullotta was one of the lead prosecutors in the corruption trial that ended with the conviction of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in 2013.

He suggested federal agents could have waited longer for more concrete evidence, like settling upon a date. But he said he understood why they were also concerned about the governor’s safety.

Following the verdict, Whitmer’s chief of staff, Anne Huls, released a statement saying that “Michiganders and Americans—especially our children—are living through the normalization of political violence.

“The plot to kidnap and kill a governor may seem like an anomaly. But we must be honest about what it really is: the result of violent, divisive rhetoric that is all too common across our country. There must be accountability and consequences for those who commit heinous crimes. Without accountability, extremists will be emboldened,” Huls said.

The alleged plot was revealed when the men were arrested in October 2020. For months there had been protests in Michigan over Whitmer’s COVID-19 policies enacted to lessen infections and reduce deaths but which angered many unhappy with restrictions on businesses and individuals.

There were several protests, including one on April 30, 2020, at which armed militia members entered the Capitol.

The case was viewed as a test of the federal government’s ability to combat what some view as an increase in right-wing extremism.

Susan Corke, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, issued a statement saying that “justice was not served” and “actions of this kind are a direct attack on our democracy.”


MICHIGAN GAS PRICE AVERAGE BELOW $4 FOR THE FIRST TIME IN ALMOST 5 WEEKS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Some good news, especially for those with a commute: Gas prices in Michigan decreased 9 cents a gallon compared to last week, according to AAA Michigan.

Michigan drivers are paying an average of $3.95 per gallon for regular unleaded. That’s 31 cents less than this time in March, but still $1.16 more than April 2021. And the state average is below $4 for the first time in almost 5 weeks, AAA said.

Motorists are paying an average of $59 for a full 15-gallon tank of gasoline, an increase of about $8 from prices in November.

“Motorists are seeing some slight relief at the pump as Michigan gas prices fell below $4 a gallon for the first time in almost five weeks,” said Adrienne Woodland, spokesperson, AAA-The Auto Club Group said in a news release. “If crude oil prices continue to decline, it’s likely that pump prices will follow suit.”

Compared to last week, metro Detroit’s average daily gas price decreased. Metro Detroit’s current average is $3.99 per gallon. This price is 11 cents less than last week’s average, but still $1.16 more than this same time last year.

Most expensive gas price averages in Michigan:

  • Traverse City: $4.17
  • Marquette: $4.15
  • Ann Arbor: $4.03

Least expensive gas price averages in Michigan:

  • Grand Rapids: $3.87
  • Lansing: $3.87
  • Saginaw: $3.88

A search on GasBuddy.com shows two gas stations with the lowest price of $3.53 per gallon (9:15 a.m.):

  • Shell at 31324 10 Mile Rd. in Farmington Hills
  • Sam’s Club at 27300 Wixom Rd. in Novi

‘LET THE MAIN REMAIN’: FANS RALLY TO SAVE REVERED ROYAL OAK THEATER

DETROIT NEWS — A lively rally drew at least 100 people to downtown Royal Oak Saturday amid efforts to save the popular Main Art Theatre from a possible wrecking ball.

Royal Oak residents and other fans braved chilly temperatures to show their support for the venerable theater and drum up support from others.

Many carried colorful signs that read “Let the Main remain,” and “Exposure to Art is Important” as the Detroit Party Marching Band kept the spirits high, prompting passersby to honk their horns in a show of support.

“We have to do everything possible to keep this theater preserved,” Jason Krzysiak, president of the Friends of the Main Art organization, told the crowd. “We love this theater. We love the memories.”

The popular 81-year-old theater at 11 Mile and Main may be replaced by offices, retail and residences. A proposal by A.F. Jonna for a five-story, multi-use development at the Main Art site will go before the city Planning Department for consideration on Tuesday.

Friends of the Main Art, formed in June, wants to lease and manage the Art Deco-inspired movie house through a nonprofit, community-based business model, Krzysiak said.

“We want to run it,” said Krzysiak Saturday. “We should be running it.”

Demolishing the theater would be “detrimental” to the city, said Krzysiak. “(Building condominiums on the property) does not provide improvement to the city, it does not enhance the surviving properties and it doesn’t foster walkability.”

The Main Art Theatre had a huge draw as a boutique-type movie house offering art films and independent cinema as well as cult films shown on Friday and Saturday nights before it closed last summer. Prior to the early 90s, the theater showed commercial and other conventional-type movies and films.

After going dark for the last summer, the marquee read: “Landlord kicked us out. It’s been a fun ride. … RIP 1941-2021.”

Krzysiak said while the owners of the theater are asking $5 million, the Friends of the Main Art would like to lease the theater to keep it standing.

Krzysiak said his group has asked Democratic U.S. Rep. Andy Levin to help look for federal grants and other funding if the Friends of the Main Art are successful in getting the theater’s owners to go along with a leasing plan.

“There’s a win-win solution here,” said Krzysiak Saturday. “Beyond the historic and cultural significance, and we think it is significant, there would be an economic impact (of a demolition) which is going to be detrimental to the city of Royal Oak.”

Levin attended Saturday’s rally and made brief remarks pledging his support for the group, saying, “I want to play a helpful role in keeping art in downtown Royal Oak.”

“I love this place,” Levin told the protesters.

Jessica Bultman, who watched movies such as the popular documentary “Bowling for Columbine” at the theater while she was in high school, said the theater “has a special place in my heart, (and) I want to see this place thrive.”

Nancy Greenia, a Royal Oak resident, said she was a longtime patron of the theater. “We need a variety of arts and entertainment,” Greenia said.

Royal Oak resident Reynold Sutake said tearing down the theater would not only destroy a historic building but be “another victory for the big money crowd” that finances more modern, commercialized theaters.

The Royal Oak City Planning Department is scheduled to discuss the future of the Main Art Theatre at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

Friends of the Main Art is encouraging Royal Oak residents to email the city’s planning commission and urge members to not approve demolition of the theater.

Krzysiak said a lawsuit to stop demolition would be the “worst-case scenario.”


IT’S EARLY, IT’S COLD, BUT OPENING DAY HAS ARRIVED AND SO HAVE FANS

DETROIT NEWS — Opening Day in Detroit dawned with overcast skies and the threat of rain.

But the day held the promise of a near-typical start to a baseball season after two years of pandemic-related changes, and then a lockout during this off-season that at times looked like it would significantly push back the start. Instead, after a week’s delay, baseball is back.

Vendors were out early preparing for crowds expected hours before the game’s 1:05 p.m. start. Temperatures were just about 40 degrees; not baseball weather, exactly, but pretty much the norm for Detroit Opening Days in early April.

In the distance, music is playing as generators run and smoke is coming from grills being fired up. Traffic on Woodward is light.

8:30 a.m.: Getting the grill going

For Casey Poirier, of Clyde, Mich., tailgating at the Tigers’ first game is a tradition. So is wearing the suit festooned with the baseball team’s logos. He said his sister made it for him and he’s worn it every Opening Day that he can remember.

Before 8:30 a.m., he was cutting up green peppers on a makeshift counter on a pickup truck bed gate to grill along with some brats and kielbasa.

Nearby the group he was with were lounging in chairs under a collapsible canopy. Poirier said there were heaters running under the tent to take the chill off.

“This is what it’s all about,” he said. “And hopefully we’ll get a Tigers win.”

7:30 a.m.: The early birds

With baseball mitts in hand, Jacob Burger and Warren Wisniewski, both 19 and from Allen Park, milled about at the main entrance of Comerica Park, waiting to get in early and perhaps score a few autographs.

“For me, this is the start of summer and the start of baseball in Detroit,” Wisniewski said.

He said this is the first time he’s come down to the ballpark for Opening Day. Burger is an old hand, this being the second year he’s had tickets to the season’s first game of the year at the stadium on Woodward.

“And I come to just about every Tigers home game,” Burger said.

Both said they’re looking forward to the season and think the home team has a shot at making the playoffs this year.

“If Riley Green and (Spencer) Torkelson step up, we’ll be good,” Wisniewski said.


MACOMB COMMUNITIES VOTE TO WITHHOLD HIGHLAND PARK PORTION OF WATER BILLS

DETROIT NEWS – Several Macomb County communities voted this week to withhold the Highland Park portion of their city’s water bills from the Great Lakes Water Authority.

Macomb Township, St. Clair Shores and Sterling Heights joined the communities across southeast Michigan pushing back at having to make contributions toward a $54 million tab the water authority said Highland Park owes, dating to 2012.

Macomb Township said it would withhold “water and sewer costs attributable to Highland Park’s non-payment, and place those funds in escrow while a just settlement of this matter is pursued,” according to a township resolution.

The payments will cease at the start of the fiscal year 2023 on July 1.

Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor urged Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to mediate a settlement.

“She’s passing the buck, but the buck stops with her,” Taylor said. “The state created this problem.”

After a century of water independence, the state shut down Highland Park’s water plant in November 2012 due to issues with cloudy water. Highland Park was hooked up to Great Lakes Water Authority on an “emergency” basis and remains so a decade later.

Those costs have been passed onto other communities served by the water authority, and in the last decade, Macomb County communities have contributed $13.5 million toward the arrearage. If those payments continued another year, that would jump to $15 million.

To date, Macomb Township had paid in $1.43 million and is slated to contribute nearly $178,000 in fiscal year 2023. Macomb Township has about 92,000 residents, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

To date, St. Clair Shores, population 59,000, has paid in about $1.5 million since 2012 and would pay in another $165,000 in 2023.

Mayor Kip Walby of St. Clair Shores said he was at a gathering recently with about 15 people. Three of them asked about Highland Park, he said.

“It’s upsetting to them,” Walby said. “The bills are already high.”

Whether it’s a judge or the state, Walby said, “we need someone that’s a third party to mediate the situation and come to some type of resolution. That’s what I haven’t seen.”

John Caron, city councilman and mayor pro tem of St. Clair Shores, said the issue drew public attention when the Great Lakes Water Authority sent letters to each community, listing their contribution to the debt so far, and how much they would contribute in 2023.

“To see what each community is paying, to cover what Highland Park is not paying, really brings the issue to the forefront,” Caron said. “It’s caused communities to take action.”

Caron believes the matter will end with a “court injunction requiring Highland Park to pay part of what they owe.”

“Just not paying is not acceptable,” Caron said.

Non-payment will beget non-payment, leaders said.

“The payments will stop,” said Taylor of Sterling Heights, whose community has paid in about $2.7 million to the Highland Park debt, with about $345,000 on deck in 2023.

Taylor predicted that “dozens” of communities would pass similar resolutions to withhold the Highland Park-related funds.

“Ultimately, this is going to affect us,” Taylor admitted. “But it will also apply pressure on the Great Lakes Water Authority to get the state involved.”

Highland Park sees the matter differently.

It sees its decade-long relationship with the water authority as a marriage neither side wanted. It says it has been overcharged for water and tried in the court of public opinion, even after winning in the court of law.

Highland Park cites a 2021 Wayne County Circuit Court ruling that “subsumed” any debts under a $1 million judgment over Detroit.

In an April 1 letter to Great Lakes Water Authority leadership, Highland Park Water Director Damon Garrett wrote that “Highland Park is dismayed by GLWA’s unregulated authoritarian strategy to characterize it as the scapegoat to cover its justification for rate increases to support their bloated organization.”

Garrett continued: “The city is disgusted by the impact of GLWA’s frivolous lawsuits, blatant disregard for contracts and the utmost disrespect that they have for their own settlement agreements.”

Great Lakes Water Authority, meanwhile, said Highland Park has paid 1% of its water bill and 50% of its sewer bills since 2012, but nothing since April 2021. Highland Park says the recent non-payments are invoices for past overcharges.

Litigation is ongoing.

Communities have grown restless about paying bills for service they didn’t use.

Macomb Township Supervisor Frank Viviano penned a March 23 letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, urging her involvement.

“By any measure, this is an unfair burden to place on the residents of Macomb Township,” Viviano wrote.

“The state of Michigan bears some responsibility for the circumstances that led to this dispute,” Viviano wrote. He added that “a higher authority has the ability to step in and become a part of the solution.”

So far Whitmer has been reluctant to do so.

In multiple statements to The Detroit News on the Highland Park-GLWA debt dispute, the governor’s office has “encouraged” the sides to work things out, but has not indicated a willingness to get involved further or cover the arrearage, as some communities are asking.

“The likely result of the path we are all on will be costly and time-consuming litigation,” Viviano wrote to Whitmer.

At a March 30 press conference, Viviano joined the leaders of Shelby Township, St. Clair Shores and Sterling Heights in announcing plans to withhold the funds.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel called the press conference, alongside Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller.

“Enough is enough,” Hackel said.

Macomb County communities have joined their counterparts in Downriver and western Wayne County in withholding the funds.

Oakland County shares in its neighbors’ frustration, but has been unwilling to withhold funds, believing this would starve the system of resources.

As Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash told The News: “It’s not like we can take the water back from Highland Park. It just means that there’s less money to spend on operations and maintenance and capital projects.”

Great Lakes Water Authority Interim CEO Suzanne Coffey has said she does not see the withholding scheme as a mutiny but as a way of raising awareness and urging state involvement.

“I wish it didn’t have to be quite so controversial,” Coffey said in an appearance Sunday on WDIV-TV’s Flashpoint, “but the reality is raising awareness is going to help us to get the problem solved.”


TIM ROBINSON, STAR OF ‘DETROITERS,’ IS SHOOTING TV PILOT FOR HBO MAX IN FERNDALE

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Tim Robinson of “Detroiters” is again showing his hometown loyalty by bringing his latest project in suburban Detroit this week.

Some Ferndale residents were notified by letter of plans to shoot scenes at a home in their neighborhood on Thursday, Friday and Monday (April 7, 8 and 11) for a TV pilot called “Computer School.”

Written and executive-produced by Robinson and Zach Kanin, two of the co-creators of “Detroiters,” the potential HBO Max series is about a recent high school graduate and his uncle (played by Robinson) who are classmates in a computer class in a Motor City suburb.

Word spread Thursday that a large shoot was happening near Ferndale’s Geary Park. In the letter explaining the filming, a location manager for “Computer School” wrote that no disruptions were anticipated to the daily routines of those living in the neighborhood.

“Our goal is to make this a positive experience for everyone involved,” the letter stated.

This is the second TV project that Robinson, who grew up in Clarkston, has done since “Detroiters” was canceled by Comedy Central after its second season in 2018.

Robinson had a critically-acclaimed hit in 2019 with “I Think You Should Leave.” a sketch comedy series for Netflix that he also co-created with Kanin. Its second season arrived in 2021.

Although “Detroiters” had a short run on cable TV, it has continued to draw viewers through streaming. Set in Detroit and filmed in and around the city, it chronicled the antic efforts of two best friends, played by Robinson and co-creator Sam Richardson (real-life pals who originally met through Detroit’s improv comedy scene), to keep their small advertising agency afloat. Among its best-known fans is Questlove, drummer for the Roots and Oscar-winning filmmaker for “Summer of Soul,” who has made his hopes for a “Detroiters” revival clear on Twitter.

Questlove tweeted in March, “I’m willing the return of Detroiters back on the air.”


24 HOURS OF DELIBERATIONS, STILL NO VERDICT IN WHITMER KIDNAPPING CASE

BRIDGE MI — Jurors weighing the case of four men accused of plotting to kidnap Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer entered their 24th hour of deliberations on Wednesday without reaching a verdict.

The jury of six men and six women deliberated for eight hours on the third straight day in Grand Rapids.

So far, they have asked U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker for the definition of “weapon,” to review transcripts of witness testimonies, and, on Wednesday morning, for office supplies like Post-it notes and paper clips.

Adam Fox of Wyoming, Michigan, Daniel Harris of Lake Orion, Brandon Caserta of Canton Township and Barry Croft from Delaware face up to life in prison if convicted on kidnapping and weapon of mass destruction charges.

Trial veterans who spoke to Bridge Michigan said the length of the deliberations means jurors are taking their job seriously.

“They’re certainly back there working,” said Michael Rajat, a Detroit attorney who persuaded a judge to dismiss charges in the 2010 Hutaree case over allegations that religious extremists tried to kill a police officer.

“Generally speaking, the longer the jury is out, not always, but more times than not, it’s in the benefit of the defense. That said, every jury is different, we can’t paint them with a broad brush. We’ll have to wait and see, no one can possibly guess as to what’s going on back there.”

Marquette County Prosecutor Matt Wiese told Bridge on Tuesday it’s not unusual in a complex case for a jury to be out for an extended period of time.

“What that tells me is that the jury is doing their due diligence and making sure they cover all the charges by analyzing and evaluating all the evidence that came in during the trial,” Wiese said.

The deliberations follow a nearly four-week trial in which prosecutors contended the men trained for weeks to kidnap the Democratic governor in 2020 and blow up a bridge to slow police response.

The government presented hundreds of hours of recordings from informants, videos and testimony from two plotters who have already pleaded guilty to kidnapping charges.

Prosecutors contend the men were involved in the militia movement and hoped to start a “second civil war,” going so far as to make explosives and surveil the governor’s vacation home in northern Michigan.

“Physical violence,” Fox said in a video played during opening arguments. “That is the only way we’re going to win our rights back and take back what is ours.”

Defense attorneys contend the men never engaged in a specific plot and were egged on by FBI informants with credibility problems.

Lawyers say the defendants  were frustrated with COVID-19 policies, smoked a lot of marijuana and engaged in tough talk that posed no real threat.

“This was stoned, crazy talk and not a plan,” Joshua Blanchard, an attorney for Croft, told jurors last month.

The identity of jurors is private, but all are white and many are from northern Michigan. The Detroit Free Press on Wednesday published short profiles of what is known about them, noting that at least four own guns.


WHITMER ASKS STATE SUPREME COURT TO STRIKE DOWN MICHIGAN’S 91-YEAR-OLD ABORTION BAN

DETROIT FREE PRESS — With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to overrule or weaken Roe v. Wade before its current term ends, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is asking the Michigan Supreme Court to rule that a 1931 law criminalizing abortion violates the state constitution.

If the state supreme court rules in Whitmer’s favor, abortion would remain legal regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court rules.

There are 2.2 million women of childbearing age in Michigan, Whitmer told the Free Press on Wednesday, and those women deserve to know that their rights will be protected.

“A woman must be able to make her own health care decisions, with the advice of a health care professional that she trusts. A politician shouldn’t be making these decisions for her,” Whitmer said in an exclusive interview. “And, frankly, if we fail to act, and abortion becomes illegal in our state for virtually any reason — including cases of rape and incest — we will have one of the most extreme laws in the country. It’s critical that we push forward.”

Michigan’s 1931 abortion law has never been repealed. But Michigan Supreme Court justices ruled that the law was unenforceable in 1973 after the U.S. Supreme Court found that state bans on abortion violated the U.S. Constitution.

The federal Supreme Court’s conservative majority is widely expected to abandon or eviscerate that landmark ruling in a case brought after the State of Mississippi enacted a law barring abortion after 15 weeks. If the high court rules that Mississippi’s ban on most abortions is constitutional, performing or undergoing an abortion in Michigan may once again become a felony.

State Attorney General Dana Nessel has said she will not prosecute physicians for providing abortions or women for seeking them. But all three of the Republican candidates vying to replace her this fall are opposed to abortion, and abortion providers across Michigan say they’ll close shop if the high court overturns Roe. County prosecutors can also bring charges, and the stakes are too high.

Whitmer’s suit, filed Thursday in Oakland County Circuit court, asks the Michigan Supreme Court to declare the 1931 law contrary to the state constitution and enjoin prosecutors in the Michigan counties that have abortion clinics from enforcing the law.

The argument that Michigan’s ban violates the state constitution is similar to the one abortion rights advocates made to the U.S. Supreme Court — namely that all state bans violate the federal Constitution’s guarantees of due process and privacy.

But unlike the federal Constitution, Michigan’s state constitution protects a right to bodily integrity, which could allow Whitmer’s lawyers to make a stronger argument before the state Supreme Court.

“There are two fundamental arguments here — around due process, privacy and bodily autonomy, and under the equal protection clause,” Whitmer told the Free Press. The 1931 law, she said, is “based on paternalistic justifications that have made Michigan women second-class citizens.”

The governor says the looming threat to Roe, in conjunction with other court rulings that have limited access to abortion, means there is sufficient uncertainty about exactly how abortion law is implemented in Michigan for the state Supreme Court to rule.

Whitmer said a state Supreme Court ruling that Michigan’s constitution precludes an abortion ban, would give prosecutors, providers and patients the clarity they need.

Whitmer, who is running for reelection this year, has campaigned mostly on what she calls dinner-table issues like repairing the roads or improving schools.

But she said abortion enjoys the same broad support.

“It is polarizing in some camps. But this is overwhelmingly supported by the majority of people in Michigan” — seven in 10, Whitmer said, referencing a recent poll — “and regardless of how we personally feel about abortion, a woman’s health, not politics should drive important medical decisions. … With the dynamics on the Supreme Court, this is not a remote possibility. It’s become very clear that this is highly likely to happen. We have been investigating and strategizing about how we protect this right for women in Michigan,” Whitmer said.

The governor has asked the Legislature to pass a law protecting Michigan women’s right to choose, but in a briefing with reporters Wednesday, she conceded the GOP-controlled body is unlikely to act.

“We’re using every tool available — and this is a unique set of tools — to protect women, and protect our our constitutional right to bodily autonomy, to make our own determination and protect our economic freedoms, as well,” she said.

Whitmer lawsuit invokes a little-known gubernatorial power, called “executive message,” to ask the Michigan Supreme Court to take up her case directly, circumventing the trial court and the state Court of Appeals, and to expedite a ruling.

The governor has noted that child-bearing entails economic challenges. She said many women who terminate a pregnancy already have children, and fear they can’t provide for a growing family.

“I think it’s important that we’re very honest in this conversation. Proponents who claim that they’re focused on on something else, it’s very clear that the conversation is all about controlling women’s bodies,” she said. “When you look at this antiquated law that is on our books, it was written 91 years ago, it was paternalistic in nature, intended to keep women at home, to take women’s ability to make their own choices away.

“This is a really heavy moment, one that women (of a previous generation) never imagined that we would be here, fighting so hard to just protect our rights as full American citizens.”


OPENING DAY: CHILLY, YES, BUT WILL RAIN DELAY THE GAME?

DETROIT NEWS — A wet Opening Day appears likely for the Tigers and their fans Friday, and it won’t be very warm.

Scattered to numerous rain showers are expected in the afternoon, according to Bryan Tilly, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in White Lake Township, with a low pressure system moving through lower Michigan and bringing “unsettled weather.”

Game time conditions

Rain is mainly expected after 2 p.m., about an hour after the Tigers and the Chicago White Sox are slated to hit the field at Comerica Park.

“It’s not going to be the whole time, it’s just going to be off and on,” said Tilly. “… With a 70% chance (of rain), it looks like there’ll at least be a couple of occasions where there’s rain falling at the stadium.”

With cooler temperatures and a high of 48, a mix of snow and snow pellets is also possible at times, he added.

“Hopefully, there’ll be breaks,” said Tilly. “… And then it’ll be up to the crew there at the stadium to determine if they can play in it or not.”

A chilly tradition

Early April in Detroit often means unpredictable weather for Opening Day. Last year, snow showers persisted during a significant portion of the game. 2020 saw a delayed start to the season due to the pandemic, so Opening Day in July was warmer, though no fans were allowed in the stands to enjoy it. It was chilly but dry in 2019. And 2018’s home opener was delayed a day due to rain, only for it to start snowing during the rescheduled opener.


CORONAVIRUS TRACKER | COVID HOSPITALIZATIONS RISE FOR FIRST TIME SINCE JANUARY

BRIDGE MI — The number of hospitalized patients in Michigan with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 rose Monday for the first time since mid-January, with 497 now being treated statewide.

It’s a small increase of 24 since Friday but represents the first increase since the state reported a far higher number — 4,918 patients — during a virus surge on Jan. 14.

Increases in hospitalizations were reported Monday in six of the state’s eight “emergency preparedness” regions, though the rise in two of the regions (northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula) were by a single patient each.

Patient counts in Southwest Michigan increased from  66 to 77, in central Michigan from 32 to 42, in east-central Michigan (which includes the Thumb and Lake Huron shoreline) from from 34 to 41 and western Michigan from 40 to 46.

Combined, the two regions in metro Detroit fell by 12, from 265 to 253 COVID-19 patients.

Overall, the rate of new COVID-19 infections have remained low for over a week, though the percentage of recorded coronavirus tests coming back positive has risen in the past two weeks.

More COVID information from the state will be available Wednesday when the latest data comes out. Just this week, Michigan switched from thrice weekly postings of COVID cases, deaths and testing to releasing the data only once a week. That data will now come out on Wednesdays.

In other COVID news, Michiganders on Medicare Part B, which covers medical costs, can now get up to eight free at-home COVID tests each month at participating pharmacies, including Michigan’s 260 Rite Aid locations and participating CVS, Walgreens, Kroger and Costco pharmacies.

Beneficiaries should bring their Medicare card. The free tests add to the ongoing effort by the Biden administration to make testing easily available as a way to track and stop the spread of COVID-19.

Michiganders also can still receive free at-home COVID tests at 70 Michigan libraries. Testing remains free at sites throughout the state as well.


GLWA MAKES POWER SWITCH AT TWO DETROIT PUMP STATIONS BEFORE SPRING STORMS

DETROIT NEWS —  Two pump stations on Detroit’s east side are now using power supplied by DTE Energy, after spotty service from Detroit’s Public Lighting Department contributed to flooding in the area after a storm last June, Great Lakes Water Authority officials announced Tuesday.

Both the Freud and Blue Hill pump stations are now using power from the region’s largest electric utility. Two others on Detroit’s west side will be switched to DTE this spring, possibly by July, said Navid Mehram, chief operating officer of the Great Lakes Water Authority, a regional organization that handles water and sewer services for 88 communities.

GLWA Interim CEO Suzanne Coffey also showed off three new transformers at the Tuesday press conference at the Freud Pump Station.

“What this does is to make sure that we have good reliable power to pump as much as we can,” Coffey said. “I would tell you the limitation in the system is the pipes. This is why it’s such a big problem.”

Wayne County experienced widespread flooding after a June 24 storm last year, from Detroit and the Grosse Pointes on the east side to Dearborn and the west side of Detroit. Homeowners who were flooded have sued the GLWA. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency.

Mehram explained that the transformers power the pumps inside the station. During the June 2021 storm, unreliable power “limited the pumps that were available to us,” he said.

Each of the three transformers can support three pumps or a total of nine pumps; there are eight pumps inside Freud, meaning there is more power capacity than pumps available.

“During the conversion effort, GLWA did tests on all of our electrical equipment that support the pumps and through that all the testing turned out good,” Mehram said. “It showed that all of our equipment are functioning well and ready for the spring storm.”

In addition to the three transformers at Freud, two at Blue Hill Pump Station are now on DTE Energy. Power quality monitoring has been installed at Freud, Blue Hill and Conner Creek pump stations, allowing the system to monitor in real time the strength of the electrical connection powering those facilities, authority officials said.

Coffey said the system’s design hasn’t changed from last year. It can still process about 1.7 inches of water in an hour.

“But what more commonly occurs is rain over the course of a day,” Coffey said.

The system can process about 3.3 inches of rain in 24 hours, she added.

“When you see us notify communities or people about the fact that we’re concerned about rain, it’s because we’re seeing a forecast that is more than, say, 3.5 inches in a day,” Coffey said.

The addition of DTE service and the transformers will help the system reach that capacity, rather than fall short of it, she said.

Coffey said GLWA’s final report on what led to the widespread flooding after last year’s storm is expected later this month.


3 WAYNE COUNTY BRIDGES TO BE REPLACED AS PART OF MICHIGAN REPAIR PROGRAM: WHERE THEY ARE

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Seventy-eight locally owned bridges are being repaired, replaced or removed as part of the state transportation department’s new bridge bundling program intended to save money and improve conditions.

The work began last month and is expected to continue through the end of the 2024 construction season.

Three bridges in Wayne County are part of the project: Miller Road, Rotunda Drive and Streicher Road. All will be replaced.

Locally owned bridges belong to places like counties and cities rather than the state. Find bridge repairs near you here.

Federal regulations require inspections at least once every two years of all bridges longer than 20 feet on public roads, and more frequently for seriously deteriorating bridges. Among the 1,029 state- and locally owned bridges in Wayne County, 38% are in good condition, 50% are fair and 12% are rated in poor shape. Michigan ranks ninth among states for its percentage (11%) of bridges in poor condition, according to U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration data. Nationwide, about 7% of bridges are in poor condition.

“We are addressing poor bridges as best we can,” said Matt Chynoweth, director of MDOT’s bridge program. “But we have fewer bridges in good condition and a large backlog of bridges in fair condition that could be one or two inspection cycles away from transitioning to poor.”


WEST BLOOMFIELD SCHOOL DISTRICT NAMES NEW SUPERINTENDENT

DETROIT NEWS — The West Bloomfield School District Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to hire Dania Bazzi as the district’s next superintendent.

Bazzi is superintendent of Ferndale Public Schools and was named superintendent of the year by the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators in 2022. She was one of three candidates the West Bloomfield school board interviewed to replace Superintendent Gerald Hill, who is retiring.

“I am extremely excited and humbled to join the West Bloomfield family,” Bazzi said. “I am eager to work alongside the strong community of educators within the District. Thank you to President Brickman, the Board of Education, and the community for believing in me.”

Bazzi’s start date is July 1, but she will attend a West Bloomfield strategic planning meeting this month, the district said in a news release.

Bazzi has a doctorate in philosophy, curriculum and instruction as well as an educational specialist degree in curriculum and instruction from Wayne State University. She has a master’s degree in teaching, mathematics and social studies from the University of Michigan, according to biographical information released by the district.


U-M, MSU THRIVE WHILE MICHIGAN REGIONAL UNIVERSITIES SCRAMBLE FOR STUDENTS

BRIDGE MI — For Michigan public universities, state demographic trends have been a ticking time bomb: Fewer students are graduating from high school each year, and a smaller percentage of those who do are heading to college.

But the pain is not universal.

Enrollment at 12 of the state’s 15 public universities is down nearly 46,000 students, collectively, since 2012. But at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Michigan State University, student enrollment has grown over that period — by 7,000 students at U-M and over 700 at MSU. It’s also up 62 students at Michigan Tech. The result is, effectively, a tale of two university systems — impressive growth at the state’s two flagship schools, U-M and MSU, along with Tech, with regional schools competing in a zero-sum competition for a shrinking pool of students.

Add a pandemic and students and families more skeptical of higher education in general, and suddenly Michigan’s universities — which  operate independently — find themselves in a tighter, more competitive market.

This is not Michigan’s problem alone. Since 2015, enrollment in public four-year schools has dropped 8 percent nationally among those 24 years old or younger.

MSU’s Director of Marketing and Communications in the Office of Admissions Julia Janssen acknowledged “the competition is a lot more fierce between colleges” as universities shift from a “growth economy into the market share economy.”

Officials at three regional universities that suffered sharp declines — Central Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University and Ferris State University — cited the broadening pool of first-year admissions at MSU as a factor in their own enrollment downturns.

“Frankly, for a lot of students, a big school like MSU can be very tantalizing,” said Kristen Salomonson, dean of enrollment services at Ferris State, where enrollment is down 29 percent and 4,100 students since 2012.

CMU (down 43 percent) and EMU (down 35 percent) told Bridge Michigan that MSU is their biggest competitor.

Kevin Kucera, EMU’s vice president for enrollment management, said the school prides itself on undergraduate research opportunities and small faculty-to-student ratios. But that’s not always enough.

“I think that matters to a lot of families,” he told Bridge. “And for some students, that doesn’t matter. And they want to go to a football game at a packed stadium and they want a chance to go to a Rose Bowl and that’s cool. I mean, I get it. We are not going to appeal to everybody and no regional university will appeal to everybody.”

The rich get richer

U-M and MSU have cast wider nets and accepted more first-year applicants since 2012. And they’ve done so with no apparent drop in academic achievement in the students accepted.

MSU and U-M received over 37,600 additional applications in 2020 compared to 2012 and granted admission to more students each year. Yet, average ACT scores for students enrolled at MSU have stayed the same, and U-M’s have actually increased. The two schools now enroll 29 percent of all in-state students headed to a Michigan public university, up from just under 26 percent in 2015.

In contrast, at Central Michigan, financial aid averaged $7,843 in 2020. That’s up 29 percent from $6,066 in 2015.

Compounding the problem for the smaller schools are lower levels of state funding for higher education. Michigan ranks 47th in the nation in  per-student funding of higher education.

There has also been an uptick in Michigan high schoolers going out of state for college. In 2020, nearly 6,100 students chose an out-of-state school, which amounted to nearly 12 percent of those attending a four-year school. That’s up from 5,700 in 2015, when they accounted for nearly 9 percent of all four-year students.

So what’s the strategy for regional schools?

At Ferris, administrators are selling the message that college can be affordable for less-affluent families by expanding scholarships. For example, the school’s “Bulldog Bonus” lets students earn up to $2,000 in scholarship funds if they are admitted, attend a financial aid workshop and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.

The number of state high school students seeking federal financial aid has been sluggish. In Michigan, 40.9 percent of Michigan high school seniors had completed the FAFSA as of March 25. That’s down from 42.5 percent at the same time last year.

At EMU, Kucera said the school tries to sell students in these metro Detroit counties by plugging the potential to save money on housing by commuting to EMU in Ypsilanti.

EMU is investing in paying for bus transportation so prospective students can visit campus. Enrollment data shows EMU has had a bit of success in attracting more incoming first-year students from Detroit — 99 students in 2021, up from an average of 77 students from 2016-2018.

Kucera said EMU is proud of its student diversity and wants to ensure that the current population, with a significant minority of students needing financial aid, gets enough support to complete their degree. In 2020, 38 percent of EMU students were eligible for a federal Pell Grant for lower-income students, compared to 19.3 percent at U-M.

A state with independent players

In Michigan, each of the 15 public universities is autonomous, making its own decisions — a level of independence enshrined in the state constitution.

MSU and U-M can make decisions to boost enrollment — increasing financial aid, admitting more students — independently. For better or worse, that means they often find themselves competing against each other for students.

In many other states, such as North Carolina, California and New York, there are integrated university systems or over-arching governing boards.

States with more unified systems are unlikely to control admission standards, said Frimpomaa Ampaw, department chair of advanced studies in leadership policy at Morgan State University in Maryland.

Yet, a centralized approach can help stabilize enrollment “because the programs are not necessarily duplicated across all the institutions.”

“Most systems control the new programs that are made and so every school is able to sort of specialize in something versus every school doing everything to everybody,” Ampaw said.

Pscholka, the former Republican legislator, said lawmakers often talked about changing the system, perhaps with an eye at consolidating some universities.

But the constitutional dimensions of that independence make it unlikely to change anytime soon. Legislators have learned that “the hardest thing to kill is the school mascot,” Pscholka said. “I think politically it would be very difficult.”


DETROIT TIGERS OPENING DAY 2022: YOUR GUIDE TO WEATHER, PARKING, RESTRICTIONS, MORE

DETROIT FREE PRESS — While this year’s Detroit Tigers Opening Day isn’t technically the team’s first since 2019, for fans it may as well be.

2020’s game, postponed amid the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, was ultimately held in July with no fans in the stands. In 2021, a limited number of spectators were permitted into the stadium for the team’s home opener, but festivities were tamed by spiking cases and a vaccination effort still in its infancy.

Friday’s event (which also almost didn’t happen) marks an apparent return to “normal”: Comerica Park will allow full stadium capacity and will not require masking; parties, tailgates and barbecues will again fill the city’s streets and bars.

Planning to head downtown for the return of Detroit’s favorite unofficial holiday? Here’s everything you need to know.

When is Tigers Opening Day?

When: 1:10 p.m. Friday April 8.

Where: Comerica Park, Detroit.

TV/radio: Bally Sports, WXYT-FM (97.1; other radio affiliates).

Starting pitchers: Tigers LHP Eduardo Rodríguez (9-3, 3.61 ERA last year) vs. White Sox RHP Lucas Giolito (11-9, 3.53 ERA).

Opening Day weather forecast

Veterans of Detroit’s past Opening Day games will be unsurprised to learn that Friday’s forecast calls for a coat and an umbrella.

A high temperature of 47 degrees is predicted, with cloudy skies throughout the day and possibly a light shower in the afternoon, according to the AccuWeather forecast. Chance of rain is at 55%.

Detroit traffic information

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Plan to get to downtown Detroit early. In addition to Opening Day, Friday is part of the regular work week, meaning the roads won’t be packed just with fans but with daily commuters as well.

Gates at Comerica Park will open 90 minutes prior to the game. The park’s surrounding streets — including Brush, Montcalm, Witherell and Adams — will be closed off for pedestrian use only.

Looking to avoid driving altogether? Information about other transportation options, including Detroit’s SMART and DDOT bus systems, can be found here.

Opening Day parking pointers

Lots in District Detroit open two hours prior to the game, and parking is allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. Spots can also be reserved ahead of time via Comerica Park’s ParkWhiz app portal.

Parking nearest to the park runs a cool $47 per spot; but for those willing to walk a few blocks, prices range from $17 to $22.

Fans will have to park nearly a mile from the stadium in order to pay less than $10 for a reserved spot, but don’t forget: The QLine is offering free rides for the rest of the year.

Comerica Park policy changes

  • Bag policy: With exceptions for diaper and medical bags, Comerica Park now prohibits visitors from bringing bags, purses and clutches into the park. Each attendee may bring a single-compartment wallet no larger than 5″ x 7″ x 1.5″.
  • No coolers or outside food/drink: The park now prohibits guests from bringing coolers as well as outside food or drinks, with the exception of one factory-sealed water bottle per person, and sealed drink boxes for children.
  • COVID-19: While Comerica Park does not currently employ any masking or vaccination requirements, the venue asks fans to stay home if they feel sick, seek a COVID-19 test prior to attendance, and to respect social distancing within the stadium. A complete health and safety handbook is available here.
  • Cashless payment only: Comerica Park is now a cashless venue, meaning food, drinks, merchandise and other on-site amenities can only be purchased with a credit or debit card. For those who arrive without cashless payment methods, Comerica park has installed three Cash2Card kiosks, which instantly transfer cash currency onto a temporary Visa card. The kiosks are located in concourse sections 121, 138 and 328.

New food at Comerica Park

Comerica Park has announced several new food options arriving at concession stands this season. Here are the most notable:

  • Pasties: the traditional, flaky Polish pastries will be available with a variety of fillings, ranging from classic combinations like potato with cheese and sausage with sauerkraut, to more inventive options like brisket mac ‘n cheese and Coney dog.
  • Fresh Italian sausage: grilled and topped with marinara, peppers and onions.
  • Milk ‘n cookies: a large chocolate chip cookie served with a half pint of local Guernsey Farms milk.
  • The Notorious P.I.G.: served on an onion roll, this sandwich features smoked pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, onion straws, pickled jalapeño and a drizzle of barbecue sauce.
  • Fat Rooster chicken sandwich: spicy fried chicken, homemade pickles, slaw and honey mayonnaise on a Hawaiian-style roll.
  • Impossible Burger: the famed plant-based burger patty is topped with lettuce, tomato and onion.
  • Gyro nacho: gyro meat, romaine lettuce, chopped tomato, onions and creamy tzatziki sauce on top of crispy pita chips.
  • Beer braised brat: grilled and simmered in beer and butter, then topped with sauerkraut and served on a pretzel bun.

Other Comerica Park updates

  • Gift for first 10,000 guests: Throughout the season, Comerica Park will offer a free gift to the first 10,000 fans to arrive on select game nights. On Opening Day, early birds can snag a 2022 season schedule magnet.
  • New & improved Chevrolet Pavilion: Located in left field, the pavilion has been updated with a new, field-facing bar and fresh Atwater Brewery branding.

Things to do in Detroit

It’ll be hard to move around downtown Detroit without bumping into a party or two on Friday.

The Opening Day Block Party, hosted by The Annex nightclub and Brass Rail restaurant, is one of the biggest bashes making a comeback this year. Starting at 9 a.m. Friday, attendees can enjoy live beats by more than a dozen of the city’s best DJs, along with VIP bottle service, a full food menu and plenty of projector screens for keeping tabs on the game. Tickets start at $20.

The Music Hall will host the Grand Slam Opening Day Festival in its outdoor amphitheater, which will be furnished with heated tents to keep fans warm and dry. The event features live DJs, games, food trucks and more. Ticket prices range from $10 to $30.

Of course, you also can check in on your favorite bars, restaurants and venues on social media to see if they have anything planned for Opening Day — or to at least find their hours of operation that day.


MACKINAC BRIDGE REOPENS AFTER CLOSURE FOR HAZARDOUS ICE

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The journey is finally clear for drivers traveling between Michigan’s peninsulas. The Mackinac Bridge has reopened after falling ice forced its closure for several hours Sunday, according to the Mackinac Bridge Authority.

Plows on the bridge worked to shake the ice loose as large slabs were coming off the towers, some as long as 7 feet, according to Mackinac Bridge Authority posts on Twitter.

Falling ice has plagued the bridge recently causing intermittent closures during the past week.

“Each winter, ice forms on the cables and towers of the Mackinac Bridge, usually from freezing rain,” Dan Weingarten, communications representative for the Michigan Department of Transportation said during a closure last week. “When winds increase or temperatures rise, that ice can dislodge suddenly, sending sheets or spears of ice cascading down to the bridge deck below. Ice can drop more than 300 feet before hitting the bridge deck and the pieces are sometimes large enough to damage vehicles or cause injuries.”


3,600 CANCELED FLIGHTS BEDEVIL TRAVELERS; 1 ROYAL OAK FAMILY TOOK LONG WAY HOME

DETROIT NEWS — The news from Spirit Airlines during his planned return trip to Michigan from Florida over the weekend wasn’t what Jake Neher and his family were expecting.

The senior editor for Detroit Today on WDET was supposed to be flying home from Orlando on Friday, but after delays, the flight was canceled and they couldn’t get a another one until as early as Tuesday, he told The Detroit News on Sunday night. And that was simply unacceptable, he said, traveling with two children.

He wasn’t alone.

Airlines canceled more than 3,600 U.S. flights over the weekend and delayed thousands more, citing weather in Florida and other issues.

FlightAware, a website that tracks flights, noted major disruptions at several Florida airports, including in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa and Orlando, as well as Baltimore, New York and other airports around the country. JetBlue, Southwest, Alaska Airlines, Frontier, Spirit and American Airlines were most affected.

JetBlue and Spirit canceled one-third of Sunday’s scheduled flights. Local news reported storms in Florida on Saturday. Several airlines said Sunday that operations are returning to normal.

Neher rented a car for his family to drive back, and, given high gas prices and a hotel stay plus the cost of meals, he estimated the trip cost $1,000, with $500 for the car rental alone, he said.

Plus, his now-7-year-old’s birthday happened during the trip back to Michigan on Saturday.

“When we asked, all they said is that it was the weather,” said Neher, 34, of Royal Oak, adding that he spoke to others who rented cars to drive back. Renting a car “seemed like that was the only option if we wanted to get back in time to go to work and school on Monday.”

Spirit not only didn’t have alternative flights but didn’t help with finding another airline to fly on or offer to pay for a hotel for them, he said. They were reimbursed for the canceled flight, he said.

An email seeking comment from Spirit was not immediately returned Sunday night.

“It was frustrating. I’ve got two small kids, what are we going to do,” Neher said. “We didn’t know where we were going to stay that night. How are any of us going to afford any of this.”


NEW HOMES DEMAND IS HIGH IN MICHIGAN. SO ARE BUILDER COSTS — AND PRICES

BRIDGE MI — The home building industry in Michigan is entering the second quarter of 2021 expecting the spring to launch a wave of buyer demand, due in part to the record low numbers of existing homes listed for sale.

However, builders and their suppliers — after already navigating a pandemic and shortages of everything from plywood boards to labor — also say that volatility in their industry hasn’t ended. They’re facing still more pricing pressures, hiring shortages and market uncertainty, even as they brace for what they say should be a busy season.

The combination is just “weird,” said Darian Neubecker, vice president at Robertson Brothers Homes in Bloomfield Hills. “There’s no other way to say it.”

As a result, average costs are climbing along with prices, ranging from 15 to 20 percent, Neubecker told Bridge Michigan.

That means a new home that recently sold for $200,000 is now about $240,000.

“We’ve never been in a market like this,” Neubecker said. “… It’s a challenge to build a house and deliver it (to a buyer).”

Increases from all sides

Residential construction is still waiting for its full rebound in Michigan, where the pace of new home building is about one-third of its peak in 2004, when permits were issued for 44,450 single-family houses. The number plummeted to 6,344 in 2009 amid the Great Recession, and has hovered between 15,000 and 16,000 new homes since 2016.

The state’s builders tout as good news that the pandemic didn’t derail construction in 2020, and how — a year later — it  reached a four-year high, even amid product shortages.

Yet even after weathering that uncertainty, Michigan’s builders now look ahead and wonder, what’s next?

Many now are expecting to build more houses this year, but know that it will look different. For one, it will take months longer to reach the point where a buyer can move in.

Larger companies, like the publicly held M/I Homes, which is based in Columbus, Ohio, and sells in 16 states, will lock in prices with suppliers so that when a contract with a customer is signed, it doesn’t change. Sable, too, is able to pre-buy materials to lock in a price, Bitely said.

One way builders have fought supply shortages is to work with suppliers on limiting selections to streamline manufacturing and shipping. Instead of 20 faucet options in a kitchen or bath package, a buyer may find five.

Adding predictability to the supply chain allows a builder to better plan construction capacity, Schwanke said, while controlling costs.

Some say the price swings seem to be stabilizing, but prices of items that are used for building remain much higher than before the pandemic, Schwanke said. Before any spring increase, lumber is up 178 percent from January 2020, and engineered lumber — like what’s used in plywood — is up more than 60 percent over that time.

“It doesn’t matter what you’re buying, it’s up,” he said. “And it’s up substantially.”

The National Association of Home Builders continues to urge the federal government to ease tariffs on wood products coming from Canada. It says lumber price fluctuations caused home prices to increase $18,600 since August, in part because the U.S. increased tariffs to 17.99 percent in the fall, up from 8.99 percent.

Also impacting all areas of home costs, builders said, is the worker shortage among suppliers and building companies. It’s been a years-long problem in the building trades in Michigan, but it’s getting worse, said Michael Stoskopf, CEO of the Home Builders Association of Southeastern Michigan, as early retirements and demand for skilled workers increases.

Changing affordability

In some ways, “this should be the golden age of building for the next 10 years,” said Neubecker of Robertson Brothers.

Incomes are increasing, Neubecker said, and unemployment is low. Demographic trends show that demand for housing should increase, and the price of existing homes continues to climb as fewer listings create competition. In Michigan, the average home price jumped 13 percent by the end of February, when compared to a year earlier, reaching $238,518.

Estimates from the National Association of Realtors say the U.S. is short at least 5 million homes. Michigan’s population grew just 2 percent from 2010 to 2020 — the second-slowest rate in the nation — but the number of new households doubled, as more adults chose to live with fewer people. That household formation rate is projected to grow another 3.7 percent by 2030, according to the Urban Institute.

As prices climb, many people are still willing to pay for building products, either for new construction or remodels, said Matt Gillis, manager of Bernard Building Center in Hale, located west of Oscoda in a lakes region of northeast Michigan.

“People with money don’t shy away from the costs,” Gillis said. “I’m still seeing a lot of people buying. There are too many people still looking for houses.”

Bernard Building Center is bidding on 13 new home projects, Gillis said. Buyers are waiting for contractors, who he said are “extremely busy.”

“I don’t see new home sales slowing down any time soon,” he said.

Builders still worry, since with the Federal Reserve trying to stem inflation, interest rates are rising. The 30-year mortgage interest rates reached a national average of 4.89 percent on Thursday, up from about 4.5 percent a week earlier.

As interest rates climb, buyers who need mortgages face paying more every month. Neubecker said rates remain low compared to a decade ago, but builders also recognize a 1 percentage point increase can make a difference to some buyers.

In that $200,000 home example, it would have cost $956 per month or a bit less on a 30-year mortgage if it had been taken out a few weeks ago. But now that its price climbed to $240,000 due to increased costs and interest rates went up this week, that same home would cost $1,248 per month.

The effect on demand is one thing. So is affordability in communities.

“At some point, and we don’t know what that is yet, the consumer can’t afford to buy, even if they want to,” Bitely said. “When that happens our business is going to start to slow down.”


STILL WAITING ON $400 AUTO INSURANCE REFUND? HERE’S WHAT DRIVERS SHOULD KNOW

DETROIT NEWS — Michigan drivers who have not yet received their $400 per vehicle insurance refund should hold tight about another month while insurers get those checks in the mail, state officials said.

Insurers, which were transferred about $3 billion in early March to disburse refunds, have until May 9 to complete the distribution of refunds to Michigan drivers, according to the state.

The Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association transferred the about $3 billion total to insurers March 7 and insurance companies are required to distribute the money via $400 refunds per vehicle through check or direct deposit. The distribution includes about 7.5 million policyholders.

Insurers were asked to distribute the refunds “as soon as they can, but no later than May 9,” said Michigan Insurance and Financial Services Director Anita Fox.

“Depending on the processes they have to put in place, it may take some insurers longer than others,” Fox said.

The Insurance Alliance of Michigan would not say how many of its members had distributed the refunds Thursday but said the companies were “working diligently” to get the money out.

“The great news is that insured drivers don’t have to lift a finger to receive their refund,” said Erin McDonough, executive director for the Insurance Alliance of Michigan. “If anyone tries to contact a driver asking for personal information related to their refund – it’s a scam.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called on the MCCA to issue refund checks and distribute its $5 billion surplus in November. The association, which levies assessments to cover claims for people injured in catastrophic car crashes, found it could return about $3 billion in surplus to policyholders through individual refunds.

The association’s surplus grew from $2.4 billion in late 2020 to $5 billion as of June 30, in part due to the 2019 no-fault auto insurance reforms and higher-than-expected returns.

The 2019 no-fault auto insurance reform has been under scrutiny for months because of provisions that took effect in July that made significant cuts to the fee a medical care provider could be reimbursed by insurance companies for providing care for individuals who were catastrophically injured.

The cuts have led some medical providers to close their doors or stop taking auto accident survivors, forcing some of those victims out of their homes and into facilities or hospitals.

Who is eligible for the refund?

The refund will be distributed by insurance companies to clients who had a car insured with the company as of Oct. 31, 2021. Most individuals — including those with motorcycles or RVs — will receive the full $400 refund while those with an insured historic vehicle will receive $80.

Individuals who were “garaging” vehicles as of Oct. 31, 2021, without policies on the car will not receive a refund.

“It only applies to those who were paying the premiums to drive their vehicles on Michigan roads,” Fox said.

How will the refund be sent?

The money is expected to be distributed to drivers through paper checks that will be mailed or direct deposited into accounts.

What if the refund doesn’t arrive?

Check to make sure the refund wasn’t direct deposit into an account. If not, individuals who don’t receive their refund by May 9 should contact their insurance company or call the state at (833) ASK-DIFS.

“DIFS stands ready to answer questions or help resolve any concerns that Michiganders may have regarding their refunds,” Fox said in early

Should I give out personal information if called?

Fox and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel have warned against giving out personal information over the phone to callers who may purport to be processing a refund. She said there have been reports of scammers attempting to take advantage of those awaiting their refunds.

“People should never give out their personal information over the phone from an unsolicited call,” Fox said in early March.


DETROIT SPORTS COMMISSION TO CELEBRATE 2024 NFL DRAFT SELECTION WITH A PARTY APRIL 14

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The Detroit Sports Commission is throwing a football-themed party on April 14 at Campus Martius Park to celebrate Detroit being selected as the host of the 2024 NFL draft.

Starting at 4:30 p.m., the community event will feature music by Official Lions GameDay DJ Ray Ya Dig, fun activities, food trucks, swag giveaways and appearances by Lion Legends, cheerleaders and Detroit Lions mascot Roary.

Charles Davis, an NFL on CBS analyst, will emcee the event, which will feature the unveiling of a “custom interactive display representing Detroit that will have a permanent home in the city where fans can gather to celebrate the historic announcement,” according to a statement released by the Detroit Sports Commission.

The 2024 NFL draft is a three-day event that will bring entertainment for local football fans and a number of out-of-town visitors to the area.

“The NFL’s decision to select Detroit as the host city for the 2024 NFL draft is a huge win for our city and its residents and is a testament to the revitalization and synergy that is happening,” Detroit Sports Commission executive director Dave Beachnau said in a statement. “We look forward to celebrating this momentous announcement with the community and the Lions organization.”


FORD RECALLS 737K VEHICLES TO FIX OIL LEAKS, TRAILER BRAKES

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Ford is issuing two recalls covering over 737,000 vehicles to fix oil leaks and trailer braking systems that won’t work.

The oil leak recall includes the 2020 through 2022 Ford Escape SUV and the 2021 and 2022 Bronco Sport SUV with 1.5-Liter engines. A housing can crack and oil can leak onto engine parts, which can create a fire hazard.

Dealers will replace the housing if needed. Owners will be notified starting April 18.

The trailer braking recall includes F-150 pickups from 2021 and 2022, as well as the 2022 F-250, 350, 450 and 550. Also covered are the 2022 Maverick pickup, and Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs.

A software error can stop trailers from braking, increasing the risk of a crash.

Dealers will update brake control software. Owners will be notified starting April 18.


CORONAVIRUS TRACKER | NEW CASES REMAIN STEADY BUT POSITIVE TEST RATE RISES

BRIDGE MI — Michigan public health officials reported 1,550 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, or a daily average of 775 for Tuesday and Wednesday.

That put the seven-day rate at 626 daily cases, unchanged from Monday.

However, the percent of recorded coronavirus tests coming back positive inched up on Wednesday, to 4.6 percent over the most recent two days. That increased the weekly rate to 3.7 percent, up from 3.4 percent on Monday.

A lower percentage indicates less community transmission of the disease.

The state also reported 72 additional COVID-19 deaths.

The increase in the percent of positive tests comes as the state has discovered more cases linked to the omicron BA.2 subvariant, considered more transmissible than the initial variant of omicron that hit the state in December, January and February.

As of Monday, 217 cases of the BA.2 subvariant have been confirmed in Michigan, according to state data provided to Bridge Michigan. About 63 percent of them, 137 in all, were confirmed in metro Detroit’s Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties.

Health experts are unsure whether BA.2 could spark another surge. Where it’s most prevalent, in New York and New England, case counts have started to rise but remain relatively low. It has been blamed for sharper increases in several European and Asian countries.

Hospital admissions, now considered a more important barometer of whether restrictions should be adopted, continue to fall. Michigan reported 478 patients statewide with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, the first time below 500 since July 30, when there were 407 COVID-19 patients.

On Jan. 10 there were 5,009 statewide, the most ever during the pandemic.

Michigan officials also announced Wednesday that anyone, including those returning from a spring break vacation, can find free at-home COVID tests at 70 Michigan libraries. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has shipped 24,000 test kits to the libraries, to be offered on a first-come, first-served basis under the expanded program. (Find library locations here.)

Michiganders are asked to limit them to five per household. Testing remains free at sites throughout the state as well.


MACOMB COUNTY JOINS GLWA MUTINY OVER DISPUTED HIGHLAND PARK DEBT

DETROIT NEWS — Several communities in two of Michigan’s largest counties have pledged to withhold a portion of their water bills to the regional water authority as they protest their subsidies of disputed Highland Park water-related debt.

Four Macomb County communities — Sterling Heights, St. Clair Shores, Shelby Township and Macomb Township — on Wednesday joined a growing chorus of cities in western Wayne County voicing opposition to paying off $54 million in Highland Park arrearage to the Great Lakes Water Authority.

Macomb County leaders encouraged their counterparts in other communities to do the same. To date, Macomb County communities have paid $13.5 million connected to the Highland Park debt.

“Enough is enough,” said Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel at a 45-minute Wednesday press conference.

The alleged debt in question stretches back to 2012, when Highland Park was forced to join the Detroit water system after years of environmental violations at its water plant.

Great Lakes Water Authority says Highland Park has paid only 1% of its water bill and 50% of its sewer bill over that time. Highland Park, meanwhile, says it was overcharged for years and cites a 2021 Wayne County Circuit Court ruling that says it does not owe money but is owed $1 million from Detroit.

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller viewed that case differently. “Highland Park, you are taking advantage of your neighbors, enabled by the courts,” Miller said Wednesday.

Great Lakes Water Authority, which didn’t respond for comment Wednesday, has said it needs the funds to operate, and that bad debt has to be spread among its remaining customers.

Frustration grows in Metro Detroit

Communities in Oakland County also have voiced frustration with the Highland Park debt but have not decided to withhold funds.

“We really need the state to step in,” Oakland County Water Commissioner Jim Nash said this week. “It’s something that we just need to take care of, and they’re (Highland Park) not in any more of a position to do it than we are. The state ordered it. We need to have the state respond to this, in my mind.”

Karen Mondora, director of public services for Farmington Hills, said the city is on the hook for $31,000 of the disputed debt in fiscal year 2023, which begins July 1. It has paid nearly $285,000 to date.

Brian Baker represents Macomb County on the GLWA board. It was his idea to send the letters from GLWA to its member communities, announcing how much each had paid toward retiring the alleged Highland Park debt and asking for the state’s help resolving the issue. Baker estimated the Highland Park arrearage costs Macomb County homeowners $75 to $100 per year.

Highland Park has argued that water independence is its path forward. Between the cost of replacing old lead water lines and refurbishing its old plant, it would cost anywhere from $90 million to $100 million, Highland Park Water Director Damon Garrett has said.

Miller, the public works commissioner, questioned that plan.

“That building needs to be bulldozed. It can’t be fixed,” Miller said of the Highland Park water plant, which was decommissioned in 2012 due to cloudy water. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Highland Park City Administrator Cathy Square has argued that what doesn’t make sense is remaining a GLWA customer. Not only did Highland Park have water independence for decades, prior to 2012, it had water rights to Lake St. Clair, Square noted.

“It is not cost-effective to stay on GLWA water,” Square said.

Highland Park’s defense

The committee also heard Highland Park’s side from the city’s water Director Damon Garrett.

Highland Park was overcharged for years, Garrett said, to the tune of roughly $13 million. He cited the 2021 Wayne County Circuit Court ruling in favor of the city.

GLWA maintains that Highland Park stopped making payments in April 2021. Garrett portrayed the non-payment differently, as a reaction to past overpayment.

A GLWA representative was not present at Tuesday’s committee meeting.

“We are escrowing that because we believe that we were overcharged,” Garrett said. “So we are invoicing them monthly that the payments should go against what we overpaid, the $13 million.”


HIGH WINDS ACROSS MICHIGAN KNOCK OUT POWER TO ABOUT 78,000 HOMES

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The number of homes without power throughout Michigan steadily grew Thursday morning, with high winds gusting up to 50 mph., and a wind advisory in effect until 2 p.m.

By 9 a.m., two of the state’s largest utilities reported about 78,000 customers had lost electricity, with a potential for many more outages before the high winds were expected to die down.

The rapidly escalating number of outages raises fears of a repeat from last summer, when utilities were criticized for their response to power outages that left hundreds of thousands in the dark for days.

In those outages, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel urged DTE Energy and Consumers Energy to credit customers with lost power.

And in addition to the high winds, the National Weather Service in White Lake Township said Thursday to expect a wide temperature swing from the mid 60s and rain in Detroit, down to freezing and snow, especially close to the Ohio border.

By about 7 a.m. Thursday, DTE was reporting more than 17,000 customers throughout Southeast Michigan without power — less than 1% of its total customers — with more than 50 crews in the field working on repairs.

Within less than an hour, that number jumped to nearly 20,000 customers, and then by 9 a.m., more than doubled to about 54,000 customers.

Consumers Energy said it had more than 14,000 customers without power, which became 24,000.

Both utilities urged customers to report power outages so crews could be dispatched to repair damage and to stay clear of downed lines.

In addition, a half-full freezer usually can hold food safely for up to 24 hours.

Saturday and Sunday temperatures are expected to reach the 50s.


AS 2ND COVID VACCINE BOOSTER APPROVED, SHOULD MICHIGANDERS GET IT?

BRIDGE MI — Older Michiganders and those with certain health conditions may soon be able to get fourth doses of a COVID-19 vaccine — actually, second boosters — following authorization of the shots Tuesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Late in the day Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backed the FDA decision. Boosters are “especially important for those 65 and older and those 50 and older with underlying medical conditions that increase their risk for severe disease from COVID-19,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said in a prepared statement.

But while the initial vaccines in 2020 and first boosters last year were long-awaited, a fourth dose may not be as crucial for healthy people, especially while cases remain relatively low, some experts have said.

“That third shot is critical. This (fourth) one is a little extra, so in some ways, it’s a harder call” to make, said Dr. Arnold Monto, a University of Michigan epidemiologist and long-time researcher of coronaviruses.

Monto chaired the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee as it weighed safety and effectiveness of the three U.S.-authorized COVID vaccines in 2020 and 2021.

The committee was not consulted on the latest question about fourth doses, but will meet April 6 to discuss long-term questions of when boosters should be given and what variants should be included in them, Monto said.

More immediately, those at higher risk for COVID-19’s worst outcomes — people with chronic conditions, or those who work in high-risk jobs — should consider the fourth dose. Likewise, those most concerned about their vulnerability against COVID-19 will find “reassurance” against waning immunity from the first booster they likely received last fall, Monto said.

Additionally, BA.2, a version of the omicron variant, is now circulating in Michigan, a threat to what is now a relatively low case rate, Monto added.

The subvariant appears to be at least 30 percent more transmissible than its predecessor.

But even Monto, at 89 years old, won’t roll up his sleeves just yet.

“I won’t rush out and get it right now, because things are pretty good,” he said, referring to case rates in Michigan that have dropped to lows not seen since last summer. The state reported Monday just 419 cases for each of the past three days, the lowest weekly average since it was at 603 daily cases on July 31.

Rather, Monto will seek a booster in a few weeks, before traveling to Minnesota to visit his son.

“It’s about your own level of risk,” he said.

The FDA made its decision on preliminary data, but said the vaccine is safe and will boost the waning protection of earlier doses.

The FDA authorized the following:

  • A second booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine for individuals 50 years or older,
  • A second booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine for anyone 12 years and older who is immunocompromised, including those who have undergone solid organ transplantation.
  • A second booster dose of the Moderna vaccine for those 18 and older who are immunocompromised, including those who have undergone solid organ transplantation.

The FDA said it based its decision, at least in part, on data from the Ministry of Health of Israel. That data found no safety concerns among about 700,000 adults who received second boosters of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Separately, there were no safety concerns from another study of 120 adults who received a second Moderna booster.

And the vaccines appeared to be effective in another study, in which 274 healthcare workers at a single center in Israel received a second booster of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. After two weeks, researchers found an increase in neutralizing antibody levels against the coronavirus, including both delta and omicron variants.

Others, too, were weighing in on a fourth dose in anticipation of Tuesday’s announcement.

Because it takes two or three weeks for cases to surge and boosters kick in within days,  “it’d be rational for low-risk folks to wait. I’ll probably get it now, but close call,” Dr. Bob Wachter, the chair of medicine at University of California San Francisco who writes about personal risk and COVID, tweeted over the weekend.

Vaccines in Michigan are plentiful right now, so supply isn’t an immediate concern, said Farah Jalloul, state emergency preparedness coordinator with the Michigan Pharmacists Association.

The bigger concern, she said, is that people will wait too long. She likened it to the flu season,  which often takes hold in October: “A lot of people don’t think about their flu vaccine, though, until there’s three inches of snow on the ground.”

Dr. Russell Lampen also advised against trying to time the boosters.

The “best time to be vaccinated is two weeks before the next surge occurs,” said Lampen, a medical director of infection prevention at Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health.

Trying to time a vaccine to COVID’s waves is as tricky as trying to nail stock market fluctuations — and more dangerous.

“I would be reluctant to try to game it,” he said of the vaccine, though he noted that COVID ultimately will settle into more predictable seasonal patterns.


OXFORD SHOOTING SURVIVOR DISTRIBUTION PLAN EXPANDS ELIGIBILITY FOR MORE STUDENTS, STAFF

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The finalized plan for how $2 million in donations will be distributed to the families of Oxford school shooting victims and survivors expands eligibility by increasing the designated area where applicants must have been present at the time of the shooting.

The draft protocol for distribution included the hallway where the Nov. 30 shooting occurred, two restrooms and a classroom. The final version includes all classrooms and another bathroom along the hallway, meaning that hundreds of students and staff are now eligible to receive funds.

The donation pool, which stood  at $2.03 million as of Tuesday afternoon, is being managed by the National Compassion Fund. The money has been donated by individuals and some corporations.

The nonprofit facilitates donations to victims of mass crimes. Its previous campaigns include mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe High School in New Mexico.

The categories of eligibility criteria still stand at three: legal heirs of those killed, those wounded by gunfire — defined as being hit by shrapnel or bullets — and those present at the site of the shooting who are experiencing psychological trauma and seek mental health treatment by May 7. The proposed plan, released in February, had a shorter deadline for those in the final category, requiring them to have received mental health counseling by March 30.

This extension allows families and students to reflect on their mental state and gives them time to seek help if needed, said Jeff Dion, executive director of the National Compassion Fund and manager of the Oxford fund.

“One of the things we know about trauma is that most trauma will resolve on its own,” Dion said, “and the trauma that doesn’t resolve on its own — usually within about three months or so — that’s the trauma that’s most likely to benefit from some sort of mental health intervention to help alleviate symptoms with the person.”

The protocol also now includes those who provided direct assistance to gunshot victims, even outside of the designated area, or did something that prevented loss of life. Students and faculty who were in close physical proximity to the gunman and at imminent risk of death or helped a gunshot victim may be eligible to receive a higher level of payment.

The finalized plan follows a town hall meeting March 21 where parents and community members provided feedback on the draft plan to the National Compassion Fund’s Steering Committee.

“Through the town hall and the written comments we received, we got a clearer picture of what people were exposed to on that day,” Dion said, explaining why the committee decided to expand the area of eligibility. “We heard that people in those classrooms could see the shooter or couldn’t lock the door, and so there was some really horrible stuff people were exposed to.” That was the reality of Nov. 30 for Ryan Shelby’s 15-year-old daughter, who was in Room 223 and remembers making eye contact with Ethan Crumbley during the incident through her classroom door’s window. She and her classmates were in the room without a teacher and were unable to lock the door, Shelby said.

Despite this, Shelby said the process of finalizing the distribution plan has been harrowing and no amount will resolve the trauma for those in the high school that day.

“At the end of the day, these kids aren’t the same kids who walked in that building on Nov. 30,” he said. “How do you quantify trauma?”

Two of his daughters, a sophomore and a junior, were in the building during the shooting. The sophomore is eligible to receive  money but the junior, who was in the choir room, is not. But both are in counseling, costing Shelby more than $500 a month.

“My daughters feel fortunate to come out of (the shooting), even guilty at times,” he said. “They’ve had to grow up really fast. Triggers are everywhere — the nightmares, loud noises. They’ll be fine one moment and then something will set them off.”

His eldest daughter decided to continue school online after weeks of trying to return to the classroom, and the youngest attends in person but finds solace in imagining what her future holds after graduation.

“The biggest thing is they no longer trust adults to keep them safe,” Shelby said.  “These kids just, no matter what they’re told or how strong they are, want to go back and feel normal and safe again. And that’s the biggest struggle.”

The amount gifted to individuals will be based on how much money is collected through May 20 — when the fund is set to close for donations — and a review of all applications. Funds gifted to recipients can be used however they desire.

A portal for applications is expected to be published April 15, with a deadline of May 6, and funds are expected to begin distribution June 17.


NORTHERN LIGHTS MAY LIGHT UP MICHIGAN’S SKIES THIS WEEK

DETROIT NEWS — The northern lights may illuminate parts of Michigan on two nights this week.

Geomagnetic storms are expected from Wednesday night until Friday morning, according to the Shawn Dahl, a forecaster with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

A minor storm watch is in effect early Wednesday evening and a moderate watch is in effect for Thursday night, Dahl said, adding that the forecast has changed “a lot” since it was first announced early Tuesday and would likely continue to be adjusted.

The most significant event, a strong geomagnetic storm expected to take place late Wednesday evening into early Thursday morning, will be the result of charged particles hurtling toward Earth’s upper atmosphere at an estimated 522 miles per second, according to the prediction center.

The northern lights, or aurora borealis, form when those particles — electrons, not protons — collide with the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere, creating dancing waves of colorful light in the sky.

The eruption of particles is the result of an event called a Coronal Mass Ejection, referring to the corona, or the outermost part of the sun’s atmosphere, which produces solar wind. Two ejections occurred this week, according to the prediction center.

Starting at 8 p.m. Wednesday through 5 a.m. Thursday, the lights, which Space.com dubs the “Holy Grail” of skywatching, may be visible in portions of northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, depending on the strength of the geomagnetic storm.

That is assuming clear skies and low light pollution, of course.

How to know where northern lights will be visible

Storm strength is indicated by an activity index that uses data from magnetic observatories around the world to measure disturbances to the planet’s magnetic fields. The index uses numbers from 0 to 9: the higher the number, the stronger the geomagnetic storm.

Combined with location data, the Kp-index can help determine how strong a storm needs to be for residents to be able to see it.

The Kp-index value in Michigan ranges from 5 in the Upper Peninsula to 7 just north of Detroit, according to See the Aurora, meaning a storm would need to be classified as “minor” to be visible in the U.P., but “strong” near Detroit.

On Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, the Kp-index for the coming storm will reach its peak, Kp6, from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., according to the prediction center’s three-day forecast as of early Tuesday afternoon.

Here’s where the northern lights could be visible:

  • At Kp6, people in the U.P. as well as those north of Houghton Lake in Lower Michigan might be able to see the sky light up.
  • From 2-5 a.m. Thursday, Kp-index will be 5, meaning the lights may be visible in the U.P. only.

What else to know about northern lights

Northern lights work in a way similar to neon lights, according to NOAA.

In the collisions between the particles from the sun and Earth’s atmosphere, the electrons transfer their energy to the atmosphere, exciting the atoms and molecules to higher energy states. When they relax to lower energy states, they release energy in the form of light.

The Northern Lights most frequently appear in a radiant green color, but blue, yellow, pink and red are also possible, according to the Aurora Zone. The color of the lights is dictated by the gases with which the electrons collide, which vary based on altitude.

Green is the most common, because most solar particles typically collide with our atmosphere at an altitude of around 60 to 150 miles, where there are high concentrations of oxygen.

The Northern Lights are not the only product of this process. When it occurs in the Southern Hemisphere, aurora australis, or the Southern Lights, are born.


MORE BOOSTERS, BETTER GUESSES: 5 THINGS YOU STILL SHOULD KNOW ABOUT COVID

BRIDGE MI — COVID has largely receded from the headlines in the past month, replaced by the horror in Ukraine, frustration at the gas pump and a collective gasp over Sunday’s Oscar dust-up.

On Monday, the Whitmer administration announced it will pare back the frequency of its public reporting on COVID from three times a week to once a week, starting next Monday.

So is COVID over? Not yet. Here are 5 things to keep in mind.

BA.2 is still a threat

The omicron subvariant, BA.2, continues to drive up rates around Europe, and it has become prevalent in COVID cases in the state of New York — 42 percent of cases, according to news reports. It’s likely it may fuel COVID transmission here, too, but officials remain hopeful. In fact, even in New York, officials have said they don’t expect the same steep increase in cases that the first omicron variant brought.

As of Friday, just 131 Michigan cases had been confirmed as being BA.2, according to state data. That’s likely an undercount since the state doesn’t subject all virus samples to genetic testing.

Vaccines continue to appear to protect against the severest outcomes and hospitalizations, and Michigan’s deadly omicron spike in recent months likely conferred some lingering natural immunity, said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive.

As in New York, Michigan cases overall remain relatively low. The state reported Monday just 419 cases for each of the past three days, the lowest weekly average since it was at 603 daily cases on July 31.

Still, early data has suggested that the variant is “inherently substantially more transmissible” — 30 percent or more — than its omicron predecessor, and that means Michigan is far from free and clear from what was at one time dubbed the “stealth” subvariant.

Another shot for older adults, and perhaps for small kids

The Biden administration is expected to make a second booster available to Americans 50 and older some time this week, the New York Times has reported.

Pfizer and Moderna — drugmakers of the two mRNA vaccines authorized in the U.S. — had asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to authorize the additional doses, noting that protection from the first booster waned over time. Experts, however, disagree about how much another shot will help, as the state’s Bagdasarian acknowledged.

“Neither the virus nor the vaccine have really been around with us for long enough for us to really look at long-term immunity,” she told Bridge Michigan on Monday.

Meanwhile, the FDA is expected to weigh in on vaccines for younger children this spring. Moderna last week asked the FDA to authorize its vaccine for children 5 and under, while Pfizer paused its request as it awaits more testing data.

The longer the wait, though, the tougher it will be to sell parents on vaccinating very young children, especially parents already on the fence about vaccinating their children against COVID, said Dr. Matthew Hornik, president of the Michigan chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Antiviral drugs, and where to get them

Meanwhile, supply chain kinks with two COVID antiviral drugs, Paxlovid and molnupiravir appear to be loosening. According to a continually updated federal listing here, 284 Michigan pharmacies carried either or both of the antiviral medications as of Monday.

Supplies varied from more than 100 of the 5-day regimen at some sites to fewer than a dozen at others. National chains Meijer, Walgreens and CVS are listed among the sites, many clustered in southeast Michigan, Lansing and Grand Rapids, but some rural counties had just one provider.

An important caveat: The antiviral drugs, which limit the virus’ ability to replicate and worsen symptoms, must be taken within five days of the onset of the infection to be effective.

“So by the time you get tested, the result goes back to your doctor, and your doctor can prescribe it — it’s not the easiest thing” to get the medication in time, said Dr. Dennis Cunningham, director of infection control and prevention at Henry Ford Health.

For that reason, some antiviral drugs have been redirected to hospitals like Henry Ford, although they are “primarily for our patients in the ER,”  Cunningham said.

What’s ahead?

Even as cases dip, Cunningham and others say they worry that the warmer months will bring false reassurance and a return to last year, when COVID nearly zeroed out in Michigan, only to be reignited in the fall by the delta variant. The virus can linger especially in people who are immunocompromised, offering greater potential for the virus to mutate, he said.

Two years into the pandemic and loads of data offer far better clues to the virus’ behavior, but no guarantees, he and others said.

“We really don’t know what’s going to come down the road,” he said.


MICHIGAN STATE STILL REQUIRES MASKS IN CLASSES, LABS. HERE’S WHY.

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Local and state COVID-19 guidance prompted Michigan State University to lift its masking rules earlier this month, a school official said, but the university is still requiring students to wear masks in class.

While it lifted masking requirements nearly everywhere else on campus, MSU continues to require students and staff wear masks in classrooms, labs and shared research spaces as a continued measured focused on making students and staff feel more comfortable.

“We believe leaving the masking requirements in place at this time allow for extra peace of mind for students and employees and faculty in classes so they can focus: for faculty on teaching and students on learning,” MSU spokesperson Dan Olsen said.

Classrooms and academic labs with multiple people inside were the only exceptions to MSU President Samuel Stanley Jr.’s announcement on March 3, in which he said the campus-wide mask mandate was ending.

MSU also lifted COVID-19 vaccination requirements for people attending most events, but students, staff and faculty must be vaccinated.

The mask mandates were lifted just in time for the last men’s basketball game of the regular season against Maryland on March 6. Conversations continue around COVID-19 processes and prevention measures, but the mask mandate remains in place in academic settings, Olsen said.

Olsen said classes face continued rules in part because students are required to attend class for their own academic success and faculty must attend to do their jobs. No one is required to attend games or events at campus venues.

“That’s more of a personal decision,” Olsen said. “We thought that was another important factor.”

Some faculty, like Megan Donahue, a distinguished professor in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, support continuing masking requirements for students and staff in educational settings.

“As a faculty member, I can ask students visiting me to mask up. I think that’s good convention to adopt long term,” she said in an email. “Let’s try to keep these airborne diseases from ripping through our campus.”

Lifting the remaining mask mandates is something MSU won’t rule out, Olsen said.

In addition to masks, students, faculty and staff have been required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 unless the university granted a valid exemption.

While the school is lifting the mask mandate, Stanley said, masks remain “strongly recommended” for anyone who is not vaccinated against COVID-19 or who is otherwise medically vulnerable.0


‘MESSY’ STORM EXPECTED TO BRING ICE, SNOW TO MOST OF MICHIGAN OVERNIGHT

DETROIT NEWS — A “messy” mix of snow and sleet is expected for much of Michigan Tuesday night with a winter weather advisory in effect for much of the state through Wednesday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

About the only portion of the state not facing an advisory for some portion of the overnight hours and Wednesday morning is extreme southwest Michigan, including Benton Harbor east to Coldwater.

Ice and snow

The system is arriving from the Central Plains and moving northeast, according to Sara Schultz, a meteorologist with the weather service in White Lake Township.

For southeast Michigan, from 8 p.m. Tuesday, mixed precipitation will change over to freezing rain during the evening and overnight, according to the weather service.

Snow and sleet accumulations of up to one inch and ice accumulations around one tenth of an inch are expected for the counties of Wayne, Oakland, Monroe, Livingston, Washtenaw and Lenawee.

“A burst of snow and sleet moves into the area west of US-23 by 8 p.m. and then spreads southwest to northeast across metro Detroit and the northern suburbs,” said the weather advisory.

The weather service cautions drivers that slick roads could impact the Wednesday morning commute. The advisory is in effect in southeast counties until 10 a.m.

The storm is expected to impact Midland, Bay, Saginaw, Shiawassee and Genesee counties after 10 p.m., and, from midnight until noon Wednesday, the advisory will be in effect in Huron, Tuscola, Sanilac, Lapeer, St. Clair and Macomb counties.

It will be a sloppy day in northern Michigan, as well. From early Wednesday morning and until 2 p.m., the following cities in northern Lower Michigan will also be impacted: Mancelona, Gaylord, Grayling, Mio, West Branch, Tawas City, Standish and Charlevoix.

Brief burst of warmth

Temperatures in the upper 30s during the day Tuesday will drop to below freezing at night in Metro Detroit, Schultz said, but Wednesday will be significantly warmer as southerly winds move through the region. Highs in southeast Michigan are expected in the low 60s by Wednesday afternoon.

It will be short-lived, however. The end of the week and the weekend are forecast to return to chilly days and cold nights, though mainly dry.


CORONAVIRUS TRACKER | CASES, POSITIVE RATES REMAIN LOW

 

BRIDGE MI — Michigan continues to emerge from the omicron wave of COVID-19 cases, with hospitals treating fewer COVID-19 patients and fewer, on average, new cases.

The state reported 1,575 new cases, or an average of 788 for Thursday and Friday. That lowered the average daily rate to 651 cases over the past week. It’s the lowest daily average since Aug. 1 when the average was 633 cases.


AT OXFORD COMMUNITY SCHOOLS, NEW POSITIONS AIMED AT HEALING

DETROIT NEWS — The Oxford school district will create a three-year recovery plan and hire a recovery coordinator to address student mental health needs in the wake of last year’s mass school shooting, its superintendent announced this week.

Ken Weaver, who was promoted to superintendent on March 4, announced on Thursday Oxford Community Schools has created several new positions, including a recovery coordinator and an executive director of student services and wellness.

The new positions are to ensure students get the support and care needed to heal, said Weaver, who had been deputy superintendent of curriculum and instruction since 2014.

Weaver said the district is also adding two counseling positions to the high school and two family-school liaisons who will work with students to improve social and emotional behavior at the elementary school.

“Over the last three months, we have been working to establish a ‘new normal’ at Oxford High School,” Weaver said in a statement. “It has been a difficult but rewarding process to see our students begin to recover and resume some of their previous activities and routines. We know that we have a long journey ahead of us. One that may take several years for some of our students.”

On Nov. 30, four Oxford High School students were killed in the shooting: Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; and Justin Shilling, 17. Six students and a teacher were wounded.

The school had about 1,650 students in classes the day of the shooting with about 100 teachers and staff, according to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.

The recovery coordinator will coordinate the mental health recovery efforts across the district, as well as coordinate trauma clinicians, therapy dogs, community outreach and student response, Weaver said.

This position is funded through a 3-year federal grant. The amount of the grant was not available Friday afternoon.

The student services and wellness job will oversee building-level mental health programming and personnel for all students. This includes guidance services, social work, social-emotional learning and restorative practices. The position is permanent, Weaver said.

The family-school liaisons, who will be social workers, will be funded with state and Medicaid money.

Two counseling positions will be added to the high school to lower caseloads to address the increased needs of students. These positions are in addition to the existing four positions at OHS. These positions are funded through a three-year federal grant.

Oxford parent Brian Cooper said on Friday he was encouraged to hear about the new positions.

“I feel they are necessary in the process of healing. I am concerned about whether or not there will be people interested or available to apply for the positions,” Cooper said.

Weaver said the district has received advice from five schools that have experienced similar trauma, guidance from mental health experts who specialize in addressing trauma and feedback from the community.

“We also know that we are going to have many ups and downs in the coming weeks, months and years as we experience events that will bring about strong emotions from our school community,” Weaver said. “Through it all, we must continue to lean on each other and work together to strengthen our resolve to come through this tragedy.”

Weaver said after the district’s spring break, which is next week, he will announce the process for creating a recovery plan that will focus on safety, mental health, staff retention and wellness, social-emotional learning, community outreach and a permanent memorial process.

The district will seek parent and staff input through a survey and will host forums for high school students, parents, and staff.

“We will share the plan and host a town hall to receive feedback from our stakeholders,” Weaver said.


UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN NAMES LONGTIME DEAN AS ITS NEW PROVOST

DETROIT NEWS — University of Michigan School of Dentistry Dean Laurie McCauley will become the university’s second most senior academic officer.

The board of regents on Thursday approved McCauley’s appointment as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the recommendation of interim President Mary Sue Coleman.

“Our university will greatly benefit from Dean McCauley’s proven leadership skills, depth of experience, and demonstrated commitment to teaching, discovery and higher education,” Coleman said.

McCauley’s 13-month appointment is effective May 6. She currently earns $547,892 annually and will be paid $570,000 in her new role.

Besides serving as dean of the UM dental school since 2013, McCauley has served as chair of the health sciences deans council and as academic co-lead on the planning efforts for the university’s next major capital campaign.

The provost is the chief academic officer and is responsible for collaborating with the president on academic priorities and allocating funding.

She arrives as UM is beginning a search for a new president. The board of regents fired former UM President Mark Schlissel in January after regents said a series of emails showed an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate.

UM faced a wave of sexual assault scandals during ousted Schlissel’s tenure that past victims say reflects the attitude of neglect by leadership.

McCauley succeeds Susan Collins, who is departing UM in May to become president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

Collins stepped into UM’s provost position in 2020 amid the departure of Martin Philbert, the former provost who left the university amid sexual misconduct allegations. UM in 2020 agreed to pay $9.25 million to eight women who said they were victimized by Philbert.


HUEL PERKINS AND MONICA GAYLE BID FAREWELL IN FINAL BROADCAST

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Huel Perkins and Monica Gayle bid farewell to viewers Friday in their final broadcast as Fox 2 Detroit anchors.

They’ve long been household names in the Motor City, teaming up to deliver local TV news and forging a strong bond with viewers over a quarter century.

They said their official goodbyes with the 6 p.m. newscast.

Fellow anchors Roop Raj and Amy Lange paid tribute to Perkins and Gayle in a pair of retrospective segments during the broadcast.

Perkins and Gayle then offered a heartfelt final on-air message to their viewers, co-workers and families.

The two anchors started as a team in 1997 and announced their decision to retire together on Feb. 23.

“To have the privilege of working with the same team, in the same city with loyal viewers like you for 25 years is extraordinary, and for that we are so grateful,” said Gayle.

“Grateful that you have embraced us as part of your family,” added Perkins, “invited us into your homes, allowed us to tell your stories, to share your joy, your sorrow, your dreams, to cheer with you when the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup, or the Tigers made it to the World Series or even as the Lions just kept trying and trying to do the best they could.”


STATEMENT FROM HENRY FORD HEALTH REGARDING RESPONSE OF E.A.R.T.H. WEST BLOOMFIELD TO PROPOSED MENTAL HEALTH FACILITY’S POTENTIAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS

The need for mental health services has reached crisis levels across our nation. We are honored for the opportunity to increase access to those services and eager to make this a reality for the communities we serve.  When we acquired the land in the 1980’s we committed to being good neighbors and mindful stewards of the land. Over the years we have taken a thoughtful approach to our development plans.  Our newest development meets all state environmental regulations, and of the 40 acres rezoned for this project, we are only using 15. Robust conservation efforts associated with this project include the permanent preservation of more than 17 acres (42% of the property) of woodlands and wetlands through a conservation easement; and positioning the building in order to minimize the impact on natural features. Throughout this process, we have partnered closely with community leaders and neighborhood associations. These conversations resulted in: reducing the height of the building from 3 stories to 2 stories; limiting parking and access to the front of the building in order to preserve a substantial wooded area; and creating a tree buffer between the building and the adjacent neighborhood. The building will be built to achieve LEED certification for environmental sustainability as well. We look forward to sharing our progress in the coming months.

 -Denise Brooks-Williams, Senior Vice President and CEO, North Market, Henry Ford Health


MACKINAC BRIDGE REOPENS AFTER WEATHER CONDITIONS CAUSED CLOSURE

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The Mackinac Bridge has reopened after it was closed for several hours Thursday due to weather conditions.

Icy conditions have plagued the bridge connecting Michigan’s peninsulas for the past day, according to the Mackinac Bridge Authority.

High winds, between 35-49 mph, were also reported Wednesday.

The bridge was also closed most of the day Thursday due to weather conditions and falling ice before reopening at about 10:30 p.m.


AVIAN INFLUENZA CONFIRMED IN WILD BIRDS IN THESE MICHIGAN COUNTIES

DETROIT NEWS — Highly pathogenic avian influenza has been confirmed in wild birds in at least three areas in eastern Michigan, the state Department of Natural Resources said Thursday.

The virus was identified in free-ranging Canada geese and tundra swans from St. Clair County, in Macomb County snowy owls as well as a mute swan in Monroe County, officials said in a statement.

The confirmations followed tests of six Canada geese and two tundra swans collected last week at St. Clair Flats State Wildlife Area, according to the release. The mute swan was found March 15.

The geese, swans and owls all were infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza, subtype H5N1.

The findings followed officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development confirming the bird flu last month was detected in a non-commercial backyard flock of birds in Kalamazoo County.

“This confirmed positive finding of highly pathogenic avian influenza in wild birds prompts several steps that are informed by Michigan’s Surveillance and Response Plan for HPAI in wildlife,” DNR director Dan Eichinger said. “The DNR and MDARD are working that plan with other experts and stakeholders and taking advantage of every available resource that aims to limit the spread of HPAI.”

In addition to geese and swans, avian influenza can infect free-ranging and domestic poultry such as chickens, turkeys and quail, the DNR said.

“Ducks and geese are considered carriers; however, geese generally do not pass it on,” the department said Thursday.

Authorities last week said nearly 7 million chickens and turkeys in 13 states have been killed in 2022 due to avian influenza.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the recent bird flu infections in flocks do not present an immediate public health concern. No human cases of the avian influenza viruses have been detected in the United States. While it can be transmitted to humans, it is unusual and typically due to close contact with infected birds.

Spread of the disease is largely blamed on the droppings of wild birds, such as ducks and geese, which often show no signs of illness. But studies suggest the virus can be tracked into secure chicken and turkey barns on equipment, workers, mice, small birds, and even dust particles.

Infected wild birds have been found in at least 21 states, and the virus has been circulating in migrating waterfowl in Europe and Asia for nearly a year.

State and federal officials remain hopeful that the disease won’t spread as extensively as during an outbreak in 2015 that resulted in the deaths of about 50 millions chickens and turkeys, causing egg and meat prices to soar. Bird flu hit more than 200 farms in 15 states, costing the federal government about $1 billion and the poultry industry an estimated $3 billion.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development urged poultry owners to increase their own biosecurity precautions “by minimizing the number of people coming in contact with birds, isolating birds from wild birds whenever possible, and disinfecting hands and clothing after coming in contact with poultry,” state officials said Thursday.

Meanwhile, the DNR said it has canceled the roundup and relocation of Canada geese for the year.

“The DNR will make limited exceptions in approved situations where there are elevated human health and safety concerns,” officials said Thursday. “Sites that have received roundup permits will be refunded their application fees.”

The DNR and others, including the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Veterinary Services and Wildlife Services, also are partnering to conduct avian influenza surveillance.

Residents who notice the deaths of three or more free-ranging birds should report it to the DNR by calling (517) 336-5030.


MICHIGAN REDISTRICTING COMMISSIONERS REVERSE THEIR OWN PAY RAISE

BRIDGE MI — Bowing to public and political backlash, Michigan redistricting commissioners on Thursday voted to rescind a pay raise they gave themselves in February after they had completed new congressional and legislative maps.

The 13-member panel voted to restore their own pay to $55,755 per year, reversing an earlier 7 percent raise. Their salaries are again now set at 35 percent of the governor’s.

“Certainly, there have been a number of public comments that weren’t very complimentary” of the initial pay raise, Commissioner Steven Lett told reporters after the meeting. “We took those into consideration, and I think all the commissioners gave it a second thought.” Brittni Kellom, a Democrat, was the only commissioner on the bipartisan panel to vote against the pay change. Members had considered reversing the pay increase at earlier meetings as they also continued to debate when — and how — to disband until new political maps need to be drawn again in 10 years after the next U.S. Census.

The commission completed most of its work by late December, but there are two ongoing lawsuits challenging the legislative and congressional maps they created, which are set to be used for the first time in Michigan’s fall elections.

As Bridge Michigan has previously reported, the voter-approved constitutional amendment that created the citizen-led redistricting commission in 2018 did not include a clear expiration date for the panel.

Members considering whether to disband are expecting a legal opinion from their attorneys by April 8. If the commission does choose to disband, commissioner pay would stop 30 days later, said Edward Woods III, communications and outreach director.

“No one’s trying to be here in perpetuity, and no one’s trying to waste taxpayers’ money, but we’re trying to be responsible to the constitution,” Woods said. “We want to be done. Don’t mistake it. But we want to be done correctly.”

Along with ongoing lawsuits, the commission needs to pay all outstanding bills before its work is complete, Woods said. Current budget funding from the Michigan Legislature will “possibly” last through April, outgoing Executive Director Sue Hammersmith told reporters.

But the panel is preparing to ask for an additional allocation, Hammersmith added, noting the commission could run into a “shortfall” because of ongoing litigation and attorney fees associated with “defending the maps” in court.

The commission’s map-making process has been a first for Michigan, where lawmakers had long drawn their own political boundaries, leading to what a federal judge in 2019 called gerrymandering of “historical proportions.”

The commission’s maps have faced legal challenges too. An ongoing GOP lawsuit alleges the congressional maps do not adhere to equal population rules. Another alleges state House maps are not fair to Democrats.

The pay raise debate resolved Thursday reinforced the public nature of the new commission, said Wood, the communications and outreach director.

“It really speaks to what I like to say is the greatest civics lesson in the world, the Michigan independent citizens redistricting commission, because it’s truly government for the people, by the people, and they actually listen and you can trace how they listen through their decisions.”


ACCUSED OXFORD SHOOTER, WILL REMAIN IN ADULT JAIL

DETROIT NEWS — Ethan Crumbley, the alleged Oxford High School shooter, will remain in the Oakland County Jail for at least another month, rather than moving to the juvenile jail as his defense team has requested.

Crumbley, 15, has been jailed since Nov. 30, the day of the mass shooting at the school.

“The court has not been presented with any new information to disturb its March 1 order,” which is that Crumbley remain jailed at the adult facility, said Judge Kwame Rowe.

The next monthly placement hearing, along with a pre-trial hearing, will be held on April 21,  Rowe said.

Rowe asked if the attorneys had heard back from the center that will evaluate Crumbley, as he mounts an insanity defense. Loftin, one of his defense attorneys, said a report was expected back in about 45 days.

Deborah McKelvy, who served as his guardian-ad-litem for Crumbley, took issue with a prosecution brief that argued it’s the parental role to secure Crumbley’s schooling.

“It’s no longer the parent’s responsibility,” McKelvy argued, and has not been since he has been jailed.

But McKelvy said that on Tuesday, she heard from Oakland County Corporation Counsel, offering two educational options: a disciplinary academy, or online schooling.

He could not start cyber school until September, at the earliest.

The second option, when Crumbley turns 16 next month, is a high school equivalency or GED program, with a path to community college classes, McKelvy said. There have been talks with the jail about allowing Crumbley daily access to a laptop, to do school work.

“There has been a lot of movement in that,” McKelvy said. She met with Crumbley on Wednesday, and said he’s deciding his next move.

Thursday’s hearing lasted about 15 minutes.

Authorities allege that after fatally shooting four classmates, and wounding seven others, Ethan Crumbley surrendered himself to a school resource officer. Killed in the shooting were Hana St. Juliana, 14; Tate Myre, 16; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; and Justin Shilling, 17.

Police originally took Crumbley to Oakland County Children’s Village, the juvenile jail in Waterford Township. But after his Dec. 1 arraignment, during which the teen was ordered jailed without bond, he’s been in a medical clinic at Oakland County Jail. There he has no contact with other inmates, and little with staff, except for deputies who patrol the area every 15 minutes.

In the five months of his incarceration, Crumbley has had several visits from his attorneys and guardian-ad-litem Deborah McKelvy, and has received “fan mail,” according to prior testimony.

As Jason Smith, executive director of the Michigan Center for Youth Justice, wrote January in The Detroit News: “A court that decides to detain a youth in an adult jail must also hold a review hearing once every 30 days, with a 180-day limit unless there is a ‘good cause’ extension.”

The monthly review hearings and 180-day limit are federal requirements, by way of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

Crumbley was last in court Feb. 22 for a placement hearing. At that hearing, Oakland County prosecutors said Crumbley was “calculated” and “enjoyed his dark side,” while defense lawyers countered that the teen cried out for help but received none.

Judge Kwame Rowe ruled then that Crumbley should remain at Oakland County Jail.

Crumbley is charged as an adult with four counts of first-degree murder, one count of terrorism causing death, seven counts of assault with intent to murder and 12 counts of felony firearm in the Nov. 30 shooting that killed four and wounded seven others. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Defense attorneys Paulette Loftin and Amy Hopp in January filed intent to mount an insanity defense. No ruling has been made on Crumbley’s competency to stand trial.


MICHIGAN CANCELS STATEWIDE TORNADO DRILL TO AVOID CONFUSION

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Michigan’s statewide tornado drill set for 1 p.m. Wednesday has been canceled as a precaution against the threat of an actual severe weather.

Thunderstorms are forecast in southeast Michigan between 3 and 11 p.m. south of Interstate 96, with the potential for 1-inch hail and wind gusts, the National Weather Service said.

The threat of tornadoes also are likely in Ohio and Indiana.

Michigan had planned to hold a statewide tornado as part of Michigan’s Severe Weather Awareness Week, but with the chance of strong to severe storms in the afternoon it was called off to prevent confusion.

The National Weather Service said it canceled its weekly test of the NOAA all-hazard weather radio, which was scheduled with the drill, because of the potential of dangerous weather.

Tornadoes can happen any time, but are more prevalent in the spring and summer.

The drills, which are held periodically nationwide, give communities a chance to practice what to do an be aware of what happens when the alarm goes off.

A tornado Watch means conditions exist for a tornado to develop, while a tornado warning means a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar and is approaching.


STAR WITNESS: WHITMER KIDNAP PLOTTERS WANTED ‘BOOGALOO’ WAR TO STOP BIDEN

BRIDGE MI — Militia activists who plotted to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hoped to start a second civil war before the 2020 presidential election and keep Joe Biden out of office, a former colleague testified Wednesday in federal court.

Ty Garbin of Hartland — currently serving a 75-month sentence after pleading guilty to a kidnapping conspiracy charge in January 2021 — testified against remaining defendants Wednesday in the blockbuster federal trial that experts say is a test of the government’s ability to crack down on growing domestic extremism.

Plotters anticipated that kidnapping Whitmer would “kick off” the “boogaloo,” Garbin said, referencing a far-right movement whose adherents believe that the United States is poised for a new civil war that will lead to societal chaos. “The goal was to complete it before the presidential election,” Garbin said of the kidnapping plans in testimony before jurors who will decide the fate of four defendants on trial for the alleged plot. “We wanted to cause as much disruption as possible to prevent Joe Biden from getting into office.”

Plotters also worried that kidnapping Whitmer could be “more difficult” after the election if she joined Biden’s cabinet, Garbin said, alluding to 2020 reports that Biden considered the first-term Democratic governor to be his running mate, a position that ultimately went to Kamala Harris.

The men discussed “whether (Whitmer’s) security detail would increase from being state police troopers and state law enforcement to being federal secret service,” Garbin said, teling prosecutors the plan included blowing up a bridge near the governor’s northern Michigan vacation home to slow any police response.

The testimony from Garbin, a 26-year-old airplane mechanic, was among the most dramatic and overtly political to date at the ongoing trial of Adam Fox, 38, of Wyoming, Daniel Harris, 24, of Lake Orion, Brandon Caserta, 33, of Canton Township, and Barry Croft, 46, from the state of Delaware.

Kaleb Franks of Waterford Township also reached a plea with federal prosecutors and is expected to testify against defendants, who face the possibility of life in prison if convicted on kidnapping and weapons conspiracy charges.

Defense attorneys contend FBI informants and undercover agents entrapped the militia activists, whose frustration with Whitmer’s pandemic-era health and safety orders produced little more than “crazy talk” until they were egged on by the government that is now prosecuting them.

In cross examination Wednesday, defense attorney Julia Kelly sought to undermine Garbin’s credibility by pointing out inconsistencies between his courtroom testimony and his initial statements to the FBI on Oct. 7, 2020, the day he and other defendants were arrested in a sting operation.

Showing him a transcript of his initial FBI interview, Kelly reminded Garbin that he had initially downplayed the alleged plot, saying he was “turned off” by talk of a potential kidnapping and had stayed with the militia group “just to drink and hang out.”

Garbin “lied to a federal agent,” said Kelly, who represents Harris.

Garbin repeatedly told Kelly he did not recall details of that FBI interview.

In testimony earlier Wednesday, Garbin told prosecutors that he and colleagues planned and trained to execute the plot, surveilling the Whitmer family’s vacation property and constructing a “shoot house” to simulate the extraction.

Garbin also testified all four defendants participated in key meetings. And he identified them in audio and video recordings obtained by FBI informants and undercover agents.

Fox, the accused ring leader, was saving money to purchase explosives and had discussed kidnapping Whitmer from her vacation home in a summer 2020 meeting where other defendants were “nodding their heads in agreement,” Garbin testified.

Croft —  a self-described leader of the Three Percenters militia movement who the FBI says helped craft improvised explosive devices — “proposed committing a series of robberies to generate funding for firearms or whatever else we needed,” Garbin said.

Harris, he testified, did not join colleagues on a September 2020 surveillance mission at Whitmer’s vacation home because he had consumed too much alcohol that night.

But Harris appeared to be a willing participant who told colleagues he knew a bomb maker and warned them that at “some point we’re going to reach the point of no return, meaning that … we weren’t going to be able to return to our families or lead a normal life,” Garbin testified.

Another defendant, Caserta, also missed the nighttime surveillance mission because of “excessive drinking,” Garbin said, but fellow plotters gave him a “rundown” the next morning, and he was “nodding in agreement.”

Prosecutors played a recording of Caserta telling colleagues it was his “personal choice” to be involved in planning meetings and training exercises. And, on the day he was arrested in October of 2020, Caserta threatened violence against police after receiving a traffic ticket.

“If this s*** goes down, if this whole thing starts to happen, I’m taking out as many of those motherf***ers as I can,” Caserta said in a video played for jurors, which Garbin testified was an apparent reference to the “Boogaloo” war that the plotters believed their kidnapping would trigger.

If we’re doing a recon and we come up on them, you better not give them a chance,” Caserta continued in the recording. “You tell them to go, or they die. They are the f***ing enemy, period.”

Those recordings are among more than 100 pieces of audio and video evidence that prosecutors expect to use in the ongoing trial, which began March 9 and is expected to continue into April.

Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Michigan have already shown jurors weapons used by the defendants, along with dozens of chat logs from encrypted services the defendants used to communicate.

Defense attorneys are expected to continue questioning Garbin on Thursday.


JUDGE: OXFORD SCHOOL SHOOTING SUSPECT’S NAME WILL NOT BE USED IN MY COURT

DETROIT FREE PRESS — At the request of the prosecutor, a judge has decided that the name of the Oxford school shooting suspect will not be mentioned in her courtroom during the duration of his parents’ cases.

“There is some precedence but no real legal authority for the mandatory exclusion of the shooter’s name,” Oakland County Circuit Judge Cheryl Matthews wrote in her decision Tuesday. “However, calling the shooter by name does not appear to have relevance to these proceedings, and prohibiting its use does not appear to prejudice the defense in any way.”

The defendants she is referring to are Jennifer and James Crumbley, who are the first parents in the United States charged in a mass school shooting, allegedly carried out by their 15-year-old son.

Their case has sparked international attention not only because of its precedence, but because it involves a detail that prosecutors believe makes this case different from any other school shooting: It was the parents, they say, who bought their son the gun that he used to shoot up his school.

Given the intense publicity over the parents’ case, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald asked the judge to keep the shooting suspect’s name out of the parents’ case to prevent future massacres by copycat shooters seeking glory.

“Shooters want to be famous. It’s one of the key motivators for most shooters, and it was definitely a motivator for the Oxford shooter,” McDonald said in a statement. “He wanted to be famous, and he wanted to be remembered.”

But McDonald has vowed to do her best to erase his memory, and to prevent any future shooter-wannabes from trying to one-up the Oxford suspect.

“Each shooter wants to be as famous, or even more famous, than the last shooter,” McDonald said. “So when we repeat the Oxford shooter’s name and continuously publicize his photo, we’re contributing to future shootings. I’m not going to be a part of that.”

The prosecution has portrayed the Crumbleys’ son as a “disturbed,” lonely, and attention-starved teenager whose life went from having only one friend before the shooting, to getting “fan mail’ from all over the world after the shooting. In an effort to keep the teenager locked up in an adult jail, prosecutors disclosed to the judge the boy’s jailhouse communications, including one in which he asked a jail official, “how do I get my fan mail.”

In granting McDonald’s request, the judge has ordered both sides not to speak the suspect’s name in court, or use it in court filings.

The judge on Tuesday also assigned two additional lawyers to the Crumbleys out of concern that their case could trigger a mistrial because their lawyers work for the same law firm. The judge said she was concerned that this could create a conflict of interest down the road between the spouses, so she gave them each an independent lawyer to advise them of potential conflicts.

The Crumbleys are charged with involuntary manslaughter for their alleged roles in the mass shooting. Prosecutors say the couple ignored a troubled and depressed son who needed help, but instead of getting him that help they bought him a gun and never shared that information with the school when they had the chance to.

Their son is charged with first-degree murder for the deaths of four students who were killed in the Nov. 30 massacre that also injured six students and a teacher, several who are still struggling to recover from life-altering injuries. The suspect has pleaded not guilty and is planning an insanity defense. He is due in court Thursday for a hearing, though Judge Matthews’ decision does not apply in his court case.

The teenager’s lawyers could not be reached for comment.

The Crumbleys have pleaded not guilty and maintain they had no way of knowing their son would carry out a school shooting, that they kept the gun safely stored in their home, and that they are not responsible for the students’ deaths.


$8 MILLION AWARDED FOR MICHIGAN ELECTION SECURITY AMID FUNDING DISPUTES

BRIDGE MI — Local and county clerks have access to $8 million to improve voter security but their requests for additional legislative support ahead of the 2022 election remain unanswered.

The Michigan Bureau of Elections on Tuesday announced federal funding will be available to local and county election clerks to buy new locks and cameras, upgrade polling software and other security-related improvements before the November elections.

The bureau is providing the money through the Help America Vote Act, which Congress passed in 2002 to provide clerks with additional funding. The announcement came the same day a state court dismissed a Republican-backed lawsuit seeking to stop private companies from funding 450 Michigan clerks. Ongoing disputes over private and public funding of elections come at time when there are sharp, partisan differences over the security of Michigan’s election laws following the 2020 presidential election when clerks were strained by the volume of absentee ballots while facing scrutiny amid Donald Trump’s unfounded allegations of voter fraud.

The $8 million was made available in response to a letter sent in February by the associations representing the state’s municipal and county clerks asking for additional funding ahead of the 2022 election. The groups also asked legislators to pass procedural changes.

Delta Township Clerk Mary Clark, president of the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks, said the federal grant allots $1,500 per precinct.

“That provides clerks a funding stream to do some things that they likely cannot do without it,” Clark told Bridge Michigan on Tuesday. “I’m going to get a new lock system put on the office doors. It’s very timely and well thought out.”

BOE Director Jonathan Brater said on Tuesday at a House Election and Ethics Committee hearing the grant funding is a one-time allocation based on temporary dollars.

“On an ongoing basis, a more reliable state funding stream would help ensure that in future years, those security practices are able to continue,” Brater said.

Local election officials have complained of needing more resources to efficiently and accurately handle results. In 2020, many clerk’s offices in Michigan and elsewhere accepted grants from a philanthropy associated with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to help with election costs.

A state court on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit over private funding awarded to more than 450 Michigan clerks during the 2020 election, rejecting GOP claims that the election grants dispensed during the pandemic were aimed at Democratic cities to unfairly boost liberal turnout.

The claims are “moot” because the privately funded grants, from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, the nonprofit funded by Zuckerberg, “were available to all jurisdictions that sought them,” Michigan Court of Claims Judge Thomas Cameron wrote in his 10-page opinion.

The Michigan House and Senate last year each passed legislation to bar private grant funding for future elections, as several other states have done. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed those bills.

Michigan Republicans are now attempting to go around her through the Secure MI Vote petition drive, which among other changes would prohibit donations to help fund elections.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, both Democrats, on Tuesday celebrated the dismissal of the private grant lawsuit, calling it a failed attempt to undermine confidence in the election process.

“It was meritless and misguided and the court rightly noted the ability for nonpartisan nonprofit organizations to work directly with local communities to ensure they have the support they need to protect and count every valid vote,” Benson said in a statement. “It further underscores the need for the legislature and federal government to provide sustained funding for elections, so that clerks across the state and political spectrum have consistent and sufficient funds to run accessible and secure elections.”

In 2020, clerks were given eight additional hours before election day to prepare absentee ballots for counting. Brater, the state election director, said clerks’ need for additional time varied based on the jurisdiction’s population and specific election procedures.

He said he believes clerks need more than eight hours to reap the benefits of pre-processing absentee ballots.

“Although clerks appreciated the time, it was something that was introduced relatively close to the election so there wasn’t a lot of time to build it into their planning,” Brater said.

Seventeen states allow clerks to process absentee ballots before election day. Another 16 states, including Michigan, allow clerks to process ballots before the polls close on election day. And 17 states don’t allow clerks to process ballots until polls close on election day.

Republicans have been introducing legislation to tighten voter laws, including requiring the Secretary of State to remove voters who don’t respond to a letter notifying them they need to update their birthdate or who haven’t voted since 2000 from the state’s Qualified Voter File. But like other legislation passed by Republicans over election rules, vetoes for those measures are likely from Whitmer.


MODERNA SAYS ITS LOW-DOSE COVID SHOTS WORK FOR KIDS UNDER 6

DETROIT NEWS — Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine works in babies, toddlers and preschoolers the company announced Wednesday — and if regulators agree it could mean a chance to finally start vaccinating the littlest kids by summer.

Moderna said in the coming weeks it would ask regulators in the U.S. and Europe to authorize two small-dose shots for youngsters under 6. The company also is seeking to have larger-dose shots cleared for older children and teens in the U.S.

The nation’s 18 million children under 5 are the only age group not yet eligible for vaccination. Competitor Pfizer currently offers kid-sized doses for school-age children and full-strength shots for those 12 and older.

But parents have anxiously awaited protection for younger tots, disappointed by setbacks and confusion over which shots might work and when. Pfizer is testing even smaller doses for children under 5 but had to add a third shot to its study when two didn’t prove strong enough. Those results are expected by early April.

Vaccinating the littlest “has been somewhat of a moving target over the last couple of months,” Dr. Bill Muller of Northwestern University, an investigator in Moderna’s pediatric studies, said in an interview before the company released its findings. “There’s still, I think, a lingering urgency to try to get that done as soon as possible.”

The younger the child, the smaller the dose being tested. Moderna said a quarter of the dose it uses for adults worked well for youngsters under age 6.

Moderna enrolled about 6,900 tots in a study of the 25-microgram doses. Early data showed after two shots, youngsters developed virus-fighting antibody levels just as strong as young adults getting regular-strength shots, the company said in a press release.

Moderna said the small doses were safe, and the main side effects were mild fevers like those associated with other commonly used pediatric vaccines.

Once Moderna submits the data to the FDA, regulators will debate whether to authorize emergency use of the small doses for tots. If so, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention then will decide whether to recommend them.

While COVID-19 generally isn’t as dangerous to youngsters as to adults, some do become severely ill. The CDC says about 400 children younger than 5 have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic’s start. The omicron variant hit children especially hard, with those under 5 hospitalized at higher rates than at the peak of the previous delta surge, the CDC found.

COVID-19 vaccines in general don’t prevent infection with the omicron mutant as well as they fended off earlier variants — but they do still offer strong protection against severe illness.

Moderna reported that same trend in the trial of children under 6, conducted during the omicron surge. While there were no severe illnesses, the vaccine proved just under 44% effective at preventing any infection in babies up to age 2, and nearly 38% effective in the preschoolers.

Moderna said also said Wednesday it will ask the Food and Drug Administration to clear larger doses for older children.

While other countries already have allowed Moderna’s shots to be used in children as young as 6, the U.S. has limited its vaccine to adults. A Moderna request to expand its shots to 12- to 17-year-olds has been stalled for months.

The company said Wednesday that, armed with additional evidence, it is updating its FDA application for teen shots and requesting a green light for 6- to 11-year-olds, too.

Moderna says its original adult dose — two 100-microgram shots — is safe and effective in 12- to 17-year-olds. For elementary-age kids, it’s using half the adult dose.

But the FDA never ruled on Moderna’s application for teen shots because of concern about a very rare side effect. Heart inflammation sometimes occurs in teens and young adults, mostly males, after receiving either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. Moderna is getting extra scrutiny because its shots are a far higher dose than Pfizer’s.

The risk also seems linked to puberty, and regulators in Canada, Europe and elsewhere recently expanded Moderna vaccinations to kids as young as 6.

“That concern has not been seen in the younger children,” said Northwestern’s Muller.


MICHIGAN REPORTS 1,423 NEW CORONAVIRUS CASES, 8 DEATHS OVER 3 DAYS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The Michigan health department reported 1,423 new COVID-19 cases over a three-day period Monday, an average of 474.3 per day, bringing Michigan to 2,073,010 confirmed cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

Another eight coronavirus-related deaths were also reported Monday. This increases the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 32,619.

Of 11,896 confirmatory tests reported by the health department Sunday, 517 yielded positive results for a positivity rate of 4.35%.

Data from the health department include 307,145 probable cases and 2,806 probable deaths, for a total of 2,380,155 cases and 35,425 deaths.


PROSECUTOR: LET’S STOP USING OXFORD SCHOOL SHOOTING SUSPECT’S NAME

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald has asked a judge to intervene on a touchy subject: mentioning the name of the Oxford school shooting suspect.

McDonald believes that by repeating 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley’s name in court and the media, other copy-cat shooter’s may be emboldened to do the same given all the publicity the Oxford case has gotten.

Her concern about the issue prompted her to ask the judge to issue an order barring both the defense and prosecution from using Ethan’s name during the duration of his  parents’ case, which has generated international attention. James and Jennifer Crumbley are the first parents in America to be charged in a mass school shooting. They are accused of ignoring a depressed son who prosecutors say spiraled out of control and shot up his school, allegedly with a gun that his parents bought him.

“School shooters often seek notoriety and attention in committing their egregious acts,” McDonald wrote in a court filing. “The publicity generated by a school shooting notably gives the perpetrator the notoriety that they sought, but also can inspire and motive at-risk individuals to commit similar acts of violence.”

By keeping Ethan’s name mum, McDonalds hopes to “help protect against future school shootings.” In court, she has suggested both sides refer to him as the “perpetrator,” the “defendant’s son,” or “James and Jennifer’s son.”

Prosecutors have portrayed Ethan Crumbley as a “disturbed,” lonely, and attention-starved teenager whose life went from having only one friend before the shooting, to getting “fan mail’ from all over the world after the shooting.  In an effort to keep the teenager locked up in an adult jail, prosecutors disclosed to the judge the boy’s jailhouse communications, including one in which he asked a jail official, “how do I get my fan mail.”

Ethan Crumbley is currently housed in the Oakland County Jail on first degree murder charges for the deaths of four students. Six other students and a teacher were also injured in the shooting – several who are still struggling from their injuries. Since the Nov. 30 massacre, the prosecution has disclosed excerpts from the teenager’s journal, in which he allegedly expressed his admiration for Adolf Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer, writing: “When you die, you need to be remembered for a long time.”

The 15-year-old suspect also described in his journal what type of gun he needed to shoot up his school and that he would surrender so that he could “witness the pain and suffering he caused,” the prosecution has argued.

Through his lawyers, Ethan Crumbley has pleaded not guilty and is planning an insanity defense.


DEARBORN POLICE WARN AGAINST SHOOTING TOY GUN AT PEOPLE IN TIKTOK CHALLENGE

DETROIT NEWS — They may be toys, but Dearborn police aren’t playing when they warn kids not to use toy guns to shoot at people as part of a TikTok challenge.

Officials said they have responded in recent weeks to numerous incidents of people being shot at random by toy guns that fire balls made of water-absoring gel — some people were injured. The balls are called Orbeez.

Police said they’ve arrested one teen who is expected to face assault charges in one such incident.

“Once again we find ourselves dealing with a dangerous trend on social media that has influenced our young people to make dangerous choices that can have lifetime consequences,” Dearborn Police Chief Issa Shahin said in a statement. “I encourage parents to talk to their kids about what they see on social media and to pay attention to the next inevitable dangerous trend that is sure to arise.”

Investigators said they believe shooters in the incidents are kids participating in a so-called  “Orbeez Challenge” and posting them on the TikTok video-sharing app. In the challenge, TikTok users film themselves loading Orbeez balls into plastic guns, driving by people and shooting people at random.

Shahin said his department has a zero-tolerance policy on such TikTok challenges that endanger the public.


CORONAVIRUS TRACKER | 2,770 NEW CASES, 50 MORE DEATHS IN MICHIGAN

BRIDGE MI — Michigan reported 2,770 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, including 825 old backlogged cases.

Without the older cases, the state averaged 972 new cases for both Thursday and Friday, or 1,385 with them.

The state also reported 50 additional COVID-19 deaths, including 35 that followed a review of health and medical records.

Because of the backlogged cases, the percent of positive tests over the past two days was 6.7 percent, well above the 3.3 percent averaged over the past week. It’s unclear when the backlogged cases actually occurred.

The state’s 164 hospitals reported treating 624 patients who have confirmed or suspected COVID-19, down from 690 on Wednesday.

It appears many of the backlogged cases came from metro Detroit, with Detroit reporting 680 cases, nearly seven times more than the 102 reported on Wednesday.

There were 489 new cases in suburban Wayne County, up from 219 on Wednesday and case counts were elevated in Oakland, Washtenaw and Macomb counties as well.

The state said the 825 cases were from a “backlog of previously unreported historic test results received and processed” on March 17.


3-YEAR ‘FLEX ROUTE PROJECT’ TO BEGIN MONDAY ON I-96 IN OAKLAND COUNTY

DETROIT NEWS — Road work will begin Monday on a three-year project to turn part of Interstate 96 in Oakland County into a route that utilizes the median shoulder to alleviate rush-hour congestion.

Drivers will start encountering lane closures and diverted traffic for the I-96 Flex Route Project between Kent Lake Road in Lyon Charter Township and the Interstate 275/M-5/Interstate 696 interchange in Novi in May, after about two months of preparation, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

The project, Michigan’s second “flex route,” will rebuild the median shoulder so that it can be used as an additional lane during morning and afternoon peak travel hours. Cameras and electronic message boards will be used to let drivers know when the lane is available for use.

“It is pretty simple: no one likes sitting in traffic. It takes away from valuable time at home, with friends, or at work,” said MIchigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. “… Orange cones and barrels are hitting the road as work begins on our Flex Route, where the freeway shoulder can be used by motorists during peak travel times to save drivers time on their commutes.”

A flex route system is a lane control system that uses cameras and electronic messages alert drivers when an extra lane — the rebuilt median shoulder — is available, according to MDOT. The first flex route was installed on U.S.-23 north of Ann Arbor, in Washtenaw and Livingston counties.

The flex route is slated for a stretch of the freeway that sees an average of 88,531 cars a day, according to MDOT. It will cost an estimated $269 million and is funded through Whitmer’s Rebuilding Michigan program, the governor said.

Starting in May and through late fall, work will begin between Kent Lake Road and Wixom Road, and eastbound and westbound traffic will be shifted onto the westbound lanes, with two lanes open in each direction to accommodate the rebuilding of the eastbound lanes.

In that time, traffic will have three eastbound lanes and two westbound lanes between Wixom Road and the I-275/M-5/I-696, and the following ramps will be closed until late fall:

  • The northbound and southbound Kent Lake Road ramps to eastbound I-96
  • The northbound and southbound Milford Road ramps to eastbound I-96
  • The eastbound I-96 exit ramps to Milford and Wixom roads
  • The Milford and Wixom road ramps to westbound I-96

In 2023, rebuilding will continue on eastbound I-96 from Wixom Road to the I-275/I-696/M-5 interchange, and traffic will have two eastbound lanes and two westbound lanes shifted onto the westbound side of the freeway through these limits.

The following year, westbound I-96 will be rebuilt from the I-275/I-696/M-5 interchange to Kent Lake Road. I-96 traffic will be shifted to the eastbound side of the freeway, with two lanes open in each direction.

In addition to rebuilding the media shoulders, the project will include sign upgrades and active traffic management installation, including intelligent transportation systems equipment, overhead gantry installation and ramp signals for metering traffic onto the freeway.

Electronic message boards will alert drivers with speed advisories and travel information.

The first flex route was installed on U.S.-23 north of Ann Arbor from M-14 to M-36 in Washtenaw and Livingston counties in 2017.


HERE’S WHERE THE SMALL CABIN STOLEN FROM AN UP NORTH PROPERTY WAS RECOVERED

DETROIT FREE PRESS — A small brown cabin with a white door and metal roof reported stolen from a northern Michigan property has been recovered.

The Houghton Lake Post of the Michigan State Police located the cabin March 15, according to a news release.

The cabin was found using leads and tips from the public at a residence in Orange Township located in Kalkaska County, MLive.com reported. Orange Township, according to Google Maps, is an area south of where the cabin was reported stolen.

A photo released by Michigan State Police shows some damage to the cabin. Plywood covers the entryway to the cabin. Yellow caution tape surrounds the cabin. The metal roof also shows some damage.

The owner of the cabin reported it stolen in February. The 12-foot-by-28-foot cabin was last seen between Nov. 18 and Dec. 16 set on County Road 571 in Coldsprings Township, also in Kalkaska County.

When the cabin was reported stolen, Trooper Matthew Scott, who was investigating the case told the Free Press then the cabin’s owner, lived in it for a couple of years until he left it to take up residence somewhere else, recently reported the 12-foot-by-28-foot structure missing, but he’s unsure what happened to it or why anyone would want to steal it.

Two suspects are believed to be involved with the theft, according to reports, and the case is still being investigated.


UIA DIDN’T ENSURE BACKGROUND CHECKS FOR 5,500 STAFFERS. SOME HAD PRIOR CRIMES, AUDIT SAYS

DETROIT NEWS — The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency failed to ensure background checks were conducted for more than 5,500 employees as the agency ramped up its numbers under a wave of new claims at the start of the pandemic.

The agency also allowed departed workers continued access to the unemployment system, leading in at least one case to about $3.8 million in fraud, according to an audit of the agency’s personnel management. The agency has yet to hold the staffing agencies responsible for employees who committed fraud.

A total of 63 of 139 departed workers sampled by the Auditor General’s office had continued access to the Michigan Integrated Data Automated System (MiDAS) “to view and make unauthorized changes to claims for an average of 32.6 days after their departure,” the audit said.

“The continued access contributed to the $3.8 million UIA fraud the former worker committed in mid-2020,” the audit said. If the fraud hadn’t been detected when it was, it would have resulted in more than $12 million in fraud, the Auditor General’s office estimated.

Auditor General Doug Ringler rated the agency’s overall handling of new and departing employees as “not sufficient” and found four material conditions, the more serious of findings in a state audit.

The state said Friday the audit took place between October 2019 and late 2020, when the agency’s work force grew five times from pre-pandemic staffing levels.

“As UIA worked quickly to increase the department’s capacity to address Michiganders’ needs, the execution was far from perfect,” said agency Director Julia Dale. “The lessons learned and opportunities articulated by the audit serve as the platform to launch an improved Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency.”

Since the audit, the agency has established new policies and procedures addressing “system access, criminal background checks, data security, staff training and contractor hiring,” Dale said.

The UIA paid roughly $137 million through June 2021 to three staffing agencies, 16 Michigan Works agencies and other state departments for extra staffing during the pandemic.

It also paid $34.2 million for limited-term employees as it processed a record 5.2 million claims resulting in $36.5 billion in benefit payments between March 15, 2020 and June 28, 2021.

The agency, according to the audit, failed to secure confidentiality agreements with two staffing agencies or provide data governance training to staffing agencies. Additionally, the agency waited three months after the effective date of staffing contracts worth $8.3 million and $5.6 million to actually sign the contracts.

The audit found the agency did not make sure pre-employment background checks were conducted on 5,508 workers. In addition, 71 of 169 workers still employed had one or more convictions for financial crimes such as identity theft, armed robbery and embezzlement, according to the audit.

The audit also showed the state Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity did not include conflicts and ethics language in two purchase orders with agencies, language that prohibits contractors from doing anything of impropriety that might influence a state employee “by the direct or indirect offer of anything of value.”

Within two weeks of those purchase orders being completed, the program manager who executed the order asked the agency about job opportunities and was hired by the agency about eight months later.

“Although the interactions between the parties give the appearance of a potential conflict, nothing came to our attention to indicate the staffing agency received any favorable treatment, either financially or otherwise,” the audit said.


CENTRAL MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY WILL TEMPORARILY SHUTTER SOME DORMS NEXT FALL

DETROIT NEWS — Central Michigan University is planning to temporarily shutter four residential halls next fall, officials announced Thursday.

The North Campus residential community of Larzelere, Robinson, Calkins and Trout halls will be temporarily closed. About 200 first- and second-year students who were signed up to live in those halls this fall will be relocated to residential facilities on the south side of campus, where officials say services will be amplified.

The announcement first was made to the students living in those communities in an email sent by Kathleen Gardner, executive director of student affairs.

She said the decision was made based on enrollment estimates for the fall semester that show the university will have more housing than students living on campus.

Gardner told The Detroit News she did not have those estimates available Thursday.

“We can meet student needs by expanding housing options on the south of campus and reopening Troutman, Wheeler, and Kulhavi Halls in the Towers,” Gardner wrote. “These changes will enable CMU to provide higher service and support to students by streamlining operations.”

A follow-up, campus-wide email indicated that the move is aimed at enhancing the experience of living on campus after two years of social distancing during the pandemic.

CMU spokesman Aaron Mills said during the pandemic the college had students spread out across campus in “de-densified residential communities, often on floors with several vacant rooms.”

“In some cases, this meant some students had fewer opportunities to meet new friends and build community. It also meant that some services, including campus dining, were stretched thin, trying to accommodate a smaller number of students in multiple locations,” Gardner and Shaun Holtgreive, interim associate vice president for student affairs, wrote in the letter.

Food service hours that had been curtailed with be broadened, they said.

“Weekend hours will resume at the Eatery and Dine & Connect, and Social House will reopen for lunch, dinner and late-night dining Monday-Friday,” Gardener and Holtgreive wrote.

While the move provides more opportunities for students to meet new people and participate in campus life programs, the temporary closures also, “allows significant cost savings for CMU while preserving jobs,” Gardner and Holtgreive wrote.

Mills said the plan includes reopening Wheeler Hall, which was used for quarantine and isolation space due to COVID. He added that Kulhavi Hall had been offline due to lower numbers of students, and Troutman Hall is newly remodeled.

Mill said 3,666 students lived in residence halls during the fall 2021 semester, Mills added.

Gardner told The News the university is planning renovation projects in the four residential halls while they are closed. She said the four dorms would be reopened “in the near future” but did not provide a date or year.

CMU requires freshmen and sophomores to live on campus. This year, CMU housed students in 18 residential halls but next year 16 dorms will be open including the newly-renovated Cobb Hall.

CMU’s enrollment has been declining in recent years and it lost more than 4,000 students since the pandemic began. But problems began before that.

The school in 2012 had more than 27,000 students, and enrollment had fallen to 19,431 by 2019. In 2021, CMU enrolled 15,465 students, which was a drop of about 11% compared to 2020 when 17,344 students were enrolled, according to a report by the Michigan Association of State Universities.

CMU’s enrollment decline over the last two years is the largest out of all the state’s 15 public universities.

Jennifer DeHaemers, CMU vice president for student recruitment and retention, previously attributed part of CMU’s enrollment decline to the university being behind in recruitment strategies used by institutions it competes with for students.

She said in November that CMU has hired new staff to turn the enrollment tide and is stepping up efforts to compete by upgrading its on-campus housing, investing in new technology that tracks potential students, and making campus tours smaller and more focused on areas of study.

“Turning enrollment around isn’t done in one day or one year,” DeHaemers said. “If you had a 10-year history of declining enrollment, you will not turn that around in one year. It’s a long game.”


MICHIGAN STUDENTS PUSH FOR FILLING GAPS IN SCHOOL MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Brittyn Benjamin-Kelley and Thyaba Mymuna have little faith in the system now in place to support student mental health in Michigan schools — a gap, they say, that must be filled.

What’s needed to address student mental health are more therapists and psychologists, they said during a panel discussion Wednesday co-hosted by Chalkbeat Detroit, Bridge Michigan, and the Detroit Free Press. Watch the full conversation here.

Brittyn, a senior at Cass Technical High School in Detroit, said her school, which enrolls 2,400 students, has only a handful of counselors. “That’s stressful for everyone,” she said. “I feel like we need more people for that in our school and other schools.”

Poor mental health among teens has been a growing issue, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 1 in 3 high school students had experienced persistent feelings of hopelessness in 2019, a 40% increase since 2009.

Leading pediatric associations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association last year declared a national emergency in children’s mental health, citing the pandemic’s ongoing toll.

Districts across the state have $6 billion of COVID-19 relief funding to spend, which some schools are using to address the youth mental health crisis. That level of investment can range from hiring social workers and counselors, creating curriculums focused on student well-being and purchasing therapy dogs.

Thyaba, a junior at Cousino Senior High School in Warren, said prioritizing the mental health needs of students should be on par with the emphasis placed on physical health and fitness in schools.

“We already have nurses and doctors, at least at our school, to help students physically because they really give importance to athletes. But if you’re giving importance to athletes and students, they should also give importance to their mental health,” Thyaba said.

The discussion follows a January poll that showed Michigan residents overwhelmingly support increased mental health resources.

Elizabeth Koschmann, executive director of a University of Michigan program ​​created to make mental health services accessible to students, said the solution to supporting student mental health during the pandemic may not require hiring more professionals. Instead, equipping current school employees with the needed “tools, resources, and professional development” may be what will help address their students’ mental health.

“We have already seen that even with incredible funding opportunities, a lot of positions in schools go unfilled because the positions are incredibly demanding, they’re hard, they’re often under-salaried, they’re emotionally taxing,” she said.

“We have got to reframe our understanding of who these individuals are working in our buildings, and ensure that we’re not setting them up for failure and burnout and exhaustion.”

Increasing student input and feedback in school decision-making, Brittyn said, should be a main priority. Usually, she added, students go to their peers for advice about how to cope with stress, or direct each other to outside resources or professionals they can go to for support.

“I feel like the students and the youth, they raise awareness, they try to come up with their own programs, their own resources,” Brittyn said. “We’re working together because we feel like there’s no one else who can do something for us.”

Amanda Holiday, a Detroit parent and early childhood program director at Congress of Communities, suggested school districts send students home with a list of resources for mental health services available in or outside of school.

The organization found in a recent survey of primarily Latino families in southwest Detroit that many overwhelmingly wanted to talk about mental health support for their children. The priority among parents, Holiday said, was for schools to “meet (student) needs before they become emergency level.”

Thyaba said she believes that acknowledging and listening to students should be the goal of school leaders as they consider how to spend their COVID-19 relief money.

“I don’t think it’s too much to expect people in power to support us, especially when it comes to mental health,” she said. “There’s so many people struggling with mental health and I see every day on the news and all over social media people killing themselves, and it all just hurts me so much because I’m just like, they could have been helped, but they weren’t.”


FEDERAL PANEL TO DECIDE FATE OF MICH. CONGRESSIONAL MAP AFTER UNEQUAL POPULATION COMPLAINTS

DETROIT NEWS — A federal three-judge panel will decide whether Michigan’s newly adopted congressional district map should be redrawn to secure more equal populations after more than an hour of arguments Wednesday that one judge described as an “exercise in tediousness.”

An attorney for several Michigan Republicans argued Wednesday that the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission was not able to show that neutral and consistent criteria drove the group’s decision to forgo more equal populations in favor of communities of interest.

“They’ve just not articulated anything,” said Jason Torchinsky, a lawyer for the Republicans challenging the map.

Torchinsky asked the judges to order “small, surgical” changes to the map to balance out numbers, noting “population equalizing is an exercise that mapmakers can do relatively quickly.”

The suit filed earlier this year challenged the commission’s new 13-district congressional map on the grounds that it didn’t comply with the federal concept of “one person, one vote” requiring equal population numbers among districts.

The lawsuit noted several districts were under and over the 775,179-person limit per district with two coming 487 and 635 people outside of the total. The majority of other U.S. states are able to come much closer in balancing their populations among districts, Torchinsky argued.

The commission countered Wednesday that it had stayed within what it believed were practicable deviations from the required population totals. The group’s litigation lawyer, Richard Raile, said the commission had to balance population totals against maintaining communities based on a host of criteria, including media markets, historical significance or cultural ties.

He said what the Republicans were asking was easier said than done, comparing population tweaks to attempting to solve a Rubik’s cube.

“The problem with assuming we can do that is that it’s bald speculation,” Raile said.

Four members of the commission were in attendance Wednesday: Commissioners Anthony Eid, Rebecca Szetela, Dustin Witjes and Cynthia Orton.

The three-judge panel — made up of Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Raymond Kethledge, and U.S. district judges Janet Neff and Paul Maloney — peppered both sides with questions during the hearing. All of them were appointed by Republican former President George W. Bush.

Kethledge questioned why the Republicans did not produce a map with those “surgical” adjustments if it was as easy as they said. Without showing it was possible, he said, the plaintiffs were asking the panel to consider “the advisability of ordering an abstraction.”

“You’re just offering your own sense of that,” he told Torchinsky. “You’re telling, not showing.”

The Republicans did provide an alternate map in their initial filing but it was largely built around the group’s communities of interest claim, which was thrown out earlier this month.

Neff criticized the arguments against the deviations in population as “niggling” and an “exercise in tediousness.”

“Isn’t this a little like asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” Neff asked.

“It’s an exercise in tediousness,” she added. “They have laid out what they think is a valid map…and all you’re doing is niggling” over relatively small deviations.

Though the court previously dismissed a challenge to the map for how it implemented “communities of interest,” the arguments Wednesday often came back to that concept since it was one of the reasons cited for population deviations among the districts.

The judges noted there wasn’t a consistent definition for communities of interest in the Michigan Constitution, but it was not something they could weigh in on.

Torchinsky warned that — without a clear definition for communities of interest or any solid stopping point on population deviations from the court — future commissions could draw maps with even wider deviations.

“If you allow it here, there’s no definitional limitation to it,” he said.

Kethledge, noting the commission pointed to public comment to justify its decisions, asked both parties to submit proof from public comments opposing or supporting the claim that the public wanted the communities of interest cited by the commission over more equal population distributions.

Parties are required to submit those citations by Tuesday.

Heather Meingast, an assistant attorney general representing Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in the case, asked that the court, regardless of its ultimate decision, keep timing in mind. The filing deadline for candidates is April 19 and whatever changes were suggested for the map would have to be updated in the qualified voter file before that time.

“It’s a Herculean task. It’s time-sensitive. It’s labor-intensive,” Meingast said. “There isn’t going to be a way for us to do that and meet the April 19 deadline.”


DAIRY COWS WANT TO MAKE DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME PERMANENT. DOES MICHIGAN?

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Measures to make Daylight Savings Time year-round are getting bipartisan support from state and national legislators.

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that would make Daylight Saving Time permanent. The bill came days after the nation turned its clocks forward one hour this week, and as the Michigan Senate is sitting on a bill that would do the same thing and passed the House in March 2021.

Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, who sponsored the Senate’s version of the bill, said changing the clock does more harm than good. Irwin’s bill encompasses both the part of Michigan that operates in the Eastern Time Zone and the four Upper Peninsula counties that operate in Central Time. “The tradition of changing our clocks twice a year is anachronistic,” Irwin said. “The switching of the clocks twice a year is causing real disruption in people’s lives.”

Americans alternate between standard time and Daylight Savings, which countries like Germany and the United States implemented to save energy during World War I. It became a national practice in the United States in the 1960s.

Irwin is referring to studies that showed an uptick in traffic crashes, workplace injuries and productivity loss that occur when Americans change their clocks.

According to 20 years of data analyzed by federal officials, the first week of Daylight Savings Time is linked to a 6 percent increase in car crashes. There’s also a link to workplace mishaps: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration analyzed data from 1983 to 2006 that showed “Daylight Savings Time results in people getting 40 minutes less sleep, a 6 percent increase in workplace injuries and nearly 68 percent more workdays lost to injuries.”

Irwin said those problems would be mitigated if lawmakers stuck with one time.

If they did, people would first notice sunlight — as the sun wouldn’t rise until about 9 a.m. during the winter and set an hour later, around 6 p.m., said Martin Baxter, an earth and atmospheric professor at Central Michigan University.

Opponents of keeping Daylight Savings Time argue it will result in icier road conditions because of the late sunrise, more cars on the road and colder mornings.

“A lot of this is a matter of opinion and based on people’s unique schedules,” Baxter said. “Weather-wise, I don’t think there would be that many more impacts, with just an hour’s difference and considering that when we go to work now it’s already dark.”

The measure has support from one constituency: dairy farmers, whose cows are used to being milked at specific times.

“When you change the time, typically their production backs off for a period until they settle into their new routine,” said Bob Thompson, president of the Michigan Farmers Union.

“Having a stable timeframe is much better than just switching back and forth. Just set the time and leave it.”

An extra hour of sunlight in the evening could help people cope with seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression related to changes in the seasons and daylight hours.

Jacob Rivard of Romeo has the condition and said it can be especially hard at the start of winter when the sun sets at 5 p.m.

“There’s a two to three month period where I just completely shut down,” Rivard said. “In recent years, I’ve planned trips to warmer places to temporarily recharge the battery when things get bad.”

If the U.S. House of Representatives follows the Senate’s lead and passes the bill, Michigan would not need to pass its own legislation to keep the summer schedule of Daylight Savings Time year-round.

Irwin said if passed, his bill would only go into effect if neighboring states Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania adopted similar legislation. Ohio passed a similar but nonbinding resolution in 2020. Sixteen states have enacted legislation for year-round Daylight SavingsTime.


CHILD REUNITES WITH FAVORITE TOY LEFT AT METRO AIRPORT THROUGH VIRAL SOCIAL MEDIA POST

BRIDGE MI — Austin was accidentally lost by his family at Detroit Metro  Airport in early March. He was sitting near the water fountain in the middle of the McNamara Terminal March 4 when Commerce Township resident Mary Joyce found him.

Austin, a stuffed animal, was left behind in the often stressful craze of airport travel. Through the power of social media, Joyce was able to return the beloved toy cow to its rightful owner, a baby named Rae from Ohio.

“I have seven kids and my two sons are both autistic, and they are very, very attached to their plushies,” said Joyce, 51. “I know what would happen in my life if either of them lost their stuffed animals, so I picked him up.”

She went to a nearby gate where airport personnel made a lost and found announcement over the loudspeaker, but no one came to claim Austin. Joyce walked around the airport with him, hoping someone would see the cow, until her flight to New York.

Although she had no success at the airport, she was determined not to give up, and Austin became her travel companion. The pilot on her flight thought it was funny and took a picture with the stuffed cow, which led to Joyce creating an Instagram account for Austin.

And then everything exploded.

The DTW Facebook account posted about it, hoping to find its real owner, in a post that now has more than 12,000 shares. And then, six days after Austin was left behind, Rae’s mom saw it and commented on the post.

“I saw someone said, ‘This is mine; this is my daughter’s favorite toy, and we were devastated,’ ” said Joyce, who contacted the commenter right away.

“The mother texted me immediately and texted me pictures of her daughter with the cow. There had been a few people who had said, ‘Oh, this is mine,’ but I kind of knew they were fibbing. I don’t know how I knew it, but I just knew. I was very positive that this was this cow’s family.”

And so Joyce packed up Austin and sent him back to his family.

A lot of strangers wouldn’t pick up a random stuffed animal from an airport and spend days trying to find its owner. Joyce said she never second-guessed her goal.

If the family had packed the toy cow while trying to travel light, it must have meant a lot to the child, she said.

“I kind of know if a parent brings an animal like that to an airport, there’s a reason for it,” Joyce said. “And if the kid loses it, it can be a crisis.”

Joyce had no idea that her mission to reunite a kid with a stuffed animal would be so popular, but she’s so happy that it did.

“I was shocked,” she said. “I’m just glad it worked. I’m glad we got it home, and I’m glad the baby was happy to get back because, like I said, I know what it’s like.”

Rae’s family sent Joyce a brand new stuffed cow, so she can keep up the Instagram account.

“It’s the exact same cow, it has arrived at my house and he will now be my traveling companion.”


MICHIGAN GAS TAX HOLIDAY ALL BUT DEAD. NOW, LAWMAKERS EYE OTHER OPTIONS.

BRIDGE MI — A Republican proposal halting Michigan’s gas tax collection for six months is all but dead — despite winning support from both chambers of the Legislature.

The Senate voted 24-14 Tuesday to advance the measure, which would have suspended the state’s 27.2-cents-per-gallon gas tax for six months between April and September this year.

Although the bill now heads to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, she signaled last week she would veto the GOP-backed bill. Even if she were to sign the bill, the plan would not take effect until March 2023 — almost a year after the proposed effective date of the gas tax relief. That’s because legislative rules require two-thirds support to take immediate effect. “Those that voted against immediate effect are the ones … that are not going to be able to deliver any kind of relief immediately to our drivers.” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, told reporters Tuesday.

Now, the election-year battle over gas relief moves to Whitmer’s request to the Biden administration for a holiday from the federal 18.4 cent per gallon gas tax — as well as talks to suspend the state’s 6 percent sales tax on gasoline.

The debate comes amid sticker shock and anger over skyrocketing gas prices across the country — a spike worsened by the ongoing inflation and the U.S. ban on Russian oil following the Russian war with Ukraine.

Gas prices have risen nationwide 11 straight weeks. In Michigan alone, a gallon of gas has spiked to $4.32, from $3.10 at the start of the year.

Michigan Senate Republicans’ plan to suspend state gas tax collections for a year would have cost the state roughly $770 million in revenue, including $725 million from the Michigan Transportation Fund and $45 million for state and local road and bridge repairs, according to a House fiscal analysis.

GOP legislators have argued that, with more than $7 billion in revenue surplus, the state is capable of shouldering the cost. Democrats agree relief is needed but said funding roads repair is a priority as well.

With the tax holiday likely dead, both Republicans and Democrats on Tuesday expressed willingness to suspend or completely do away with the 6-percent sales tax on gasoline.

Michigan is one of seven states where motor fuels are subject to some or all of the statewide general sales tax, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said he is considering legislation to suspend the sales tax on gas until the end of the year.

The tax dollars collected on gas sales go toward the state’s school aid fund and general fund, and Ananich told Bridge Michigan last week taxpayers deserve some of the “windfall” revenue Michigan has collected.

At the beginning of fiscal year 2022, the state had expected to receive $621 million based on the price of $2.84 per gallon, Senate Democrats spokesperson Rosie Jones told Bridge.

That estimate likely will rise significantly since the price of gas has soared.

“If (the gas price) goes back down to levels where we were at before, I’d be happy to have it end early,” Ananich told Bridge. “Obviously I don’t want to hurt schools … but I think we can solve that (concern) after we give people relief.”

Multiple Republicans, including Shirkey, embraced the idea. Shirkey said he would like to see the sales tax eliminated.

“I want to drive a stake in the heart of sales tax on gas. It’s just been a dumb tax from Day One,” he said. “I’m anxious to get the rest of the (legislative leaders) together and move this forward.”

Ananich said he is open to negotiations.

“I think a relief holiday right now is the most appropriate way to go,” he said.


JUDGE APPEARS SKEPTICAL THAT FORMER GOV. SNYDER CAN PLEAD 5TH AMENDMENT IN FLINT LAWSUIT

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Lawyers for former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and some of the other criminal defendants in the Flint water crisis said they believed the statute of limitations had expired when their clients gave testimony in a related civil lawsuit — before their indictments were unsealed — a federal judge was told Tuesday.

Lawyers for Snyder, former Flint emergency managers Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley, former Flint public works official Howard Croft, and former Snyder adviser Richard Baird told U.S. District Judge Judith Levy why their clients should not have to take the stand at the civil trial of two consulting firms, which began last month.

But Levy gave no indication she intends to quash the subpoenas issued to Snyder and the other potential witnesses. She said it is clear they waived their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination when they agreed to testify in depositions in the civil lawsuit back in 2020. She repeatedly asked attorneys to demonstrate to her how the depositions and the trial are not all one legal proceeding — which would mean those waivers remain in place. But she never appeared to receive a satisfactory answer.

“If I had known at the deposition what I know now, I certainly would have invoked the (Fifth Amendment) privilege,” said Kalamazoo attorney Randall Levine, who represents Baird.

“That’s life,” Levy replied.

Further, Levine said, prosecutors had assured him that Baird “was not a target” of the Flint criminal investigation. “I had a right to rely on the government’s representations, and I did,” in consenting to Baird testifying in a deposition, Levine said.

“There was a new prosecutor at the time of the deposition, and you knew that,” Levy replied.

Earley, Ambrose and Croft all were charged criminally in 2016, when Attorney General Bill Schuette was in charge of the investigation, only to see those charges dismissed in 2019 after an election cycle replaced Schuette with Attorney General Dana Nessel. Then, under Nessel, a one-person grand jury brought new charges in 2021 against Earley, Ambrose and Croft, plus charges against Snyder and Baird, who had not been charged previously.

Snyder’s deposition took two days and the transcript, which has not yet been made public, fills 831 pages, Levy was told.

April 2020 — six years after Flint’s water supply was switched to the Flint River from Lake Huron — was generally seen as the time when the statute of limitations expired for criminal charges in the lead poisoning of Flint’s drinking water supply.

When Earley testified in a civil deposition in late July 2020, “we thought the statute of limitations had run,” Juan Mateo, a Detroit attorney representing Earley, told the judge. Mateo said he did not know that Earley had been indicted back in March 2020, although the indictments were not unsealed until 2021.

William Swor, a Detroit attorney representing Ambrose, said that like Earley, “Mr. Ambrose did not know that he had already been indicted” when he gave his deposition.

Levy said there was apparently an “incorrect assumption” that the statute of limitations had expired, even though Ambrose was aware “there was a possibility, even a probability” that he could face criminal charges at the time he waived his Fifth Amendment rights by answering questions in a deposition.

Levy, who said she will issue a written ruling, floated a possible compromise under which videos of the depositions of Snyder and the other potential witnesses would be shown to jurors. Lawyers would then present arguments, outside the presence of the jury, on whether any additional questions could be asked through live testimony. Lawyers for Snyder and the other potential witnesses sounded generally positive about taking that approach.

Lawyer for the indicted witnesses said giving live answers to even the exact same questions puts their clients at greater risk for criminal prosecution, partly because their clients might not answer those questions in exactly the same way that they did during the deposition.

But lawyers for the defendants in the civil lawsuit — Lockwood, Andrews and Newnam (LAN), its parent company, Leo A. Daly Co.; and a second company, Veolia Water North America Operating Services — said Snyder and the others should have to give live testimony.

The civil trial, which is being held in Ann Arbor, could last four months.


OHIO WOMAN CHARGED WITH LEAVING THREATENING, RACIST VOICEMAILS FOR MICHIGAN LAWMAKERS

DETROIT NEWS — A 58-year-old Ohio woman is facing charges of ethnic intimidation and making a false threat of terrorism after leaving threatening messages last year for two Black lawmakers.

Charges were filed against Sandra Bachman of Batavia, Ohio, in Lansing district court Tuesday related to voicemails Bachman is alleged to have left for Democratic state Reps. Sarah Anthony of Lansing and Cynthia Johnson of Detroit.

Bachman was charged with one count of false report or threat of terrorism, one count of ethnic intimidation and two counts of malicious use of telecommunications services.

Bachman will be arraigned on the charges in-person on March 31.

“This rise in threats against elected officials will not be tolerated,” said Attorney General Dana Nessel, whose office authorized the charges after a Michigan State Police investigation.

“Those who think hiding behind a phone or keyboard will prevent them from facing criminal charges are severely mistaken,” Nessel said in a statement. “I appreciate the work done across state lines to bring accountability in this case.”

Johnson said she hoped the case against Bachman moved smoother than the stalled case against a man charged in January 2021 with threatening her.

“I hope that we can turn a page one day where people who do bad things to people really pay for what they do and not be given a slap on the wrist,” Johnson said.

The terrorism count filed against Bachman is considered a felony and carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison while the ethnic intimidation charge is a two-year felony. The telecommunications misdemeanor charges carry a six-month penalty.

Bachman is alleged to have left a voicemail for Anthony in May 2021 that called her a “traitor” and warned her to cancel an upcoming bill.

“And, um, you won’t see the bullet coming, let me tell you that,” the voicemail said, according to Nessel’s office. “So, stop this s— and you’re fired. We’ll be coming to Michigan soon to remove you from your post.”

In June 2021, Bachman is alleged to have left the following message: “Well, baby-doll, n—– lip b—-, monkey, we are going to get you. You will die. You are one of the worst offenders. We actually have a tier too, in like points for how much you are worth once we kill you. … You’re going to die and I’m happy about it. The whole world will be rejoicing, just know that. Sleep well.”

Threats against Michigan public officials have increased amid disagreements over pandemic restrictions and the November 2020 election.

The charges against Bachman come in the middle of a trial of some of the men accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer due to her response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Johnson began getting threats in 2020 after calling out a witness who spoke at a hearing involving Rudy Giuliani, the personal lawyer of former President Donald Trump, when he provided testimony and witnesses at a December Michigan House Oversight Committee hearing into potential irregularities in the Nov. 3 election.

She was censured in 2020 over a Dec. 8 Facebook video responding to threats in which she told supporters to do “things right and in order” but advised Trump’s backers to “be careful” and “walk lightly.” She then said, “We ain’t playing with you.” She also told her supporters to “hit their a—s” in the pocketbook.

Johnson maintains the censure and committee removal from Republican and Democratic House leaders over her December comments was unwarranted and opened the flood gates for thousands more threats and vitriol directed toward her.

“They were throwing red meat,” Johnson said.

Michael Varrone of Charlotte was arraigned in January 2021 on two counts of a false report or threat of terrorism and one count of false report of a bomb threat. One of the terrorism counts related to a threat Varrone is alleged to have directed toward Johnson on Dec. 12 in a voicemail left on the office line of state Rep. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell.

Varrone was bound over to circuit court in August before he was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.


CORONAVIRUS TRACKER | CASES CONTINUE FALLING FAST, HOSPITALIZATIONS DWINDLE

BRIDGE MI — Michigan reported 1,365 new COVID-19 cases over the past three days on Monday, or an average of 455 per day, lowering the seven-day average to 703, down from 745 on Friday.

The state also reported 24 additional COVID-19 deaths.

The percent of coronavirus tests coming back positive fell to 3.4 percent over the past week, and 3.7 percent over the most recent three days. A month ago, the rate was 11.5 percent. A lower percent positive rate indicates less community spread of the virus.

There are now 729 patients being treated in Michigan hospitals with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, down from 772 on Friday.

The average rate of cases and the number of COVID-19 hospital patients are the lowest since reported early August. The last time the positive test rate was lower was July 20 when it was 3.3 percent.


UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN TO PULL RUSSIA INVESTMENTS

DETROIT FRE PRESS — The University of Michigan will start the process to end its current investments in Russia, the school announced Tuesday morning. In addition, the school won’t make any future investments.

The school said it was making the move because of increasing financial risks associated with these investments and as part of its condemnation of the Russia attack on Ukraine.

The school’s endowment was just over $17 billion as of the end of June 2021, the latest figures available. That makes U-M’s endowment one of the largest in higher education.

The university did not disclose exactly how much money it had in investments in Russia.

Earlier this month, U-M Interim President Mary Sue Coleman decried the attacks.

“I condemn this invasion and the ruthless attack on freedom,” she said in a statement then. “The grief, anger and hurt are devastating, and I feel such sorrow for the many members of our community whose loved ones and communities are in harm’s way.”

Several colleges and universities across the nation have made similar moves, including Yale University and the University of Colorado. Several other states have also told colleges to pull investments, including Virginia, Ohio and Arizona.


ACCIDENTAL DROWNING CAUSE OF BRENDAN SANTO’S DEATH, MEDICAL EXAMINER SAYS

DETROIT NEWS — A medical examiner concluded 18-year-old Brendan Santo died in an accidental drowning, nearly five months after the Rochester Hills native went missing on the campus of Michigan State University.

The Ingham County Medical Examiner’s office listed acute ethanol intoxication as a contributing factor since Santo’s blood alcohol content was at about 0.22, according to a Feb. 9 autopsy report.

Law enforcement recovered Santo’s body from the Red Cedar River on Jan. 21 after a private investigator hired by the family alerted police to what he believed to be the boy’s body about a mile and a half downriver of where Santo was last seen.

In a statement Monday, the Michigan State University Police Department thanked all those who assisted with the case and said they kept the Santo family in their thoughts.

“This remains an open investigation while law enforcement continues to examine the items recovered at the scene, which is routine in an investigation such as this,” said Dana Whyte, a spokeswoman for the agency.

“When the investigation is complete, the autopsy results will be included in the report that is submitted to the Ingham County Prosecutor for review.”

Santo was among thousands who went to East Lansing on Oct. 29 ahead of a rivalry football game between MSU and the University of Michigan.

The Grand Valley State University student vanished shortly before the game, and family, friends, volunteers and law enforcement searched for him for roughly 80 days before he was found on Jan. 21.

The search started within a day after Santo left Yakeley Hall, on the northern edge of campus near Michigan Avenue, where police say the teen was last spotted walking away shortly before midnight.

He had driven his truck to campus and planned to stay with friends in the complex of residence halls known as the Brody neighborhood, a nearly 15-minute walk west, his family has said.

MSU President Samuel Stanley, Jr. previously confirmed the security camera at the entrance of Yakeley Hall was not operational on the night Santo was last seen.


MICHIGAN GAS PRICES MAY STAY HIGH. WHERE TO FIND LOWEST PRICES, SAVE MONEY

BRIDGE MI — Driven by  Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, gas prices in Michigan jumped to $4.23 on average this week, with highest prices in the Upper Peninsula, north central Lower Peninsula and metro Detroit (except Wayne County).

For the eleventh straight week, the nation’s average gas price also rose, climbing 26.4 cents from a week ago to $4.32, according to AAA Michigan.

Michigan’s average is up 88 cents from a month ago, and it’s $1.43 per gallon higher than a year ago. The reasons include production from the nation’s oil companies, which still haven’t ramped up to pre-pandemic levels, and sanctions on Russia, “one of the top energy exporters on the planet,” said Matthew Ross, a finance  professor of finance at Western Michigan University.

“That is sending ripple effects throughout global oil markets, which is directly translating the higher prices at the pump,” Ross said.

Many consumers are now finding ways to save what they can at the pumps and their behavior could impact prices, Ross told Bridge Michigan.

“If enough consumers cut back on their use of fuel, you would expect the price at the pump to decline,” Ross said. “We may already be seeing some of that because folks are so surprised about how much the price has gone up.”

Ross said it’s uncertain how much gas prices will increase as a lot of that depends on what happens between Russia and Ukraine. The cost of a barrel of oil leaped to $123 right after the invasion, but more recently fell below $110 per barrel.

Gas prices typically increase in spring, as driving picks up in warmer months and refineries switch to more expensive blends of summer gas that slow the evaporation as temperatures rise.

Shop for the best price.

Like with many consumer goods, you may be able to find a better deal — especially if you fold the hunt for a lower price into your driving patterns so that you stop at a cheaper pump with little effort (and no extra driving).

Gas stations pay for fuel, including the taxes, when it’s delivered. So pricing may reflect a tank that was purchased before a price increase, said Mark Griffin, president of the Michigan Petroleum Association (MPA), which represents 400 businesses that operate 1,500 locations like gas stations and distributors in the state.

Geography and the area’s relative affluence may also play a role. The Upper Peninsula stations pay an extra 8 to 10 cents per gallon in transport fees. Downstate areas with a lot of competing stations — or price-conscious customers  — may have the lowest prices.

Sometimes, a few miles can make a big difference.

There are more tricks to pay less

Smartphones make shopping for a deal easier. Get the apps for your favorite stations and check the map for prices along your route.

You also can carry cash to use if you spot a station offering a discount if you don’t charge the purchase. That could be 10 cents a gallon. One 15-gallon fill-up would save $1.50. Four in a month would save $6. And over the course of a year, that could be hundreds of dollars saved on what you’d buy anyway.

GasBuddy is one app that tracks prices among competitors. If you face longer drives and may be in unfamiliar territory, it can help you find cheaper gas. Geico also gives consumers a gas station tracker,  as do AAA and Gas Guru.

Consumers can also use popular navigation apps,  such as Waze and Google Maps,  to track local gas prices.

Another strategy: Use less gas.

How you drive can affect fuel consumption, says AAA Michigan.

Among changes to consider:

  • Keep up with regular maintenance.
  • Keep tires properly inflated.
  • Drive the speed limit. Fuel economy on the highway will drop significantly as speeds increase above 50 mph.
  • Avoid hard acceleration.
  • Adjust your speed to “time” the traffic lights to limit repeated braking and acceleration.
  • Coast when approaching a red light or stop sign, take your foot off the gas early and allow your car to coast down to a slower speed until it is time to brake.
  • And looking ahead to summer: Prepare to minimize your use of air conditioning.

COVID-19 DELAYS TRIAL IN PLOT TO KIDNAP GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The trial for four men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that was scheduled to resume Monday has been postponed at least until Thursday because an essential participant tested positive for COVID-19.

U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker ordered the delay Sunday. Undercover FBI agents and informants were expected to testify in the coming weeks, as were two co-conspirators who pleaded guilty prior to trial as prosecutors build their case against four defendants accused of plotting to kidnap Whitmer.

The trial could last more than a month.

In testimony last week, prosecutors sought to counter defense claims that the four were entrapped, tricked by the FBI into joining a kidnapping conspiracy that wouldn’t have occurred to them otherwise. Prosecutors laid the groundwork of their case by calling FBI investigators to explain how they obtained covert recordings and social media posts.

They entered some of that key evidence.

On Thursday, jurors heard for the first time a recording of one of the defendants specifically talk about kidnapping the Democratic governor. Barry Croft Jr. could be heard saying there should be “a quick, precise grab” of Whitmer.

Jurors heard him and defendant Adam Fox in social media postings and recordings ranting about purported government abuses and saying violence was a valid response. Prosecutors say Croft and Fox were plot ringleaders.

Prosecutors said authorities arrested Fox, Croft, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta in October 2020 to thwart the kidnapping and to ensure the men couldn’t follow through on bids to buy powerful explosives.

In 2020, Whitmer was trading taunts with then-President Donald Trump over his administration’s response to COVID-19. Her critics regularly protested at the Michigan Capitol, clogging streets around the statehouse and legally carrying semi-automatic rifles into the building.

Whitmer, who is seeking reelection this year, rarely talks publicly about the case and isn’t expected to attend the trial. She has blamed Trump for stoking mistrust and fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn hate groups and right-wing extremists like those charged in the plot. She has said he was also complicit in the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.


IS FEDERAL COVID CASH ENOUGH TO SOLVE MICHIGAN SCHOOL MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS?

BRIDGE MI — Two years of frustration, disruption and loss have taken their toll on Michigan students, exacerbating a youth mental health crisis that has been building for more than a decade.

Michiganders want schools to take action, polls show, and educators are stepping up to the challenge, drawing on research showing that emotional distress and student learning do not mix well. Michigan schools have no shortage of funds on hand, thanks to $6 billion in federal COVID relief, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is recommending a budget that includes an additional $361 million for student mental health.

Yet it’s not clear how far that money will go. Districts have hired social workers and counselors, selected new social-emotional learning curriculums, and purchased therapy dogs. But students’ needs are immense, and the pandemic-roiled labor market is limiting districts’ efforts to hire additional staff.

At stake is the post-pandemic recovery of Michigan’s youngest residents, not just emotionally but academically.

“We have kids that are chronically depressed and addicted,” said Paul Liabenow, executive director of the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association. “There is a massive backlog of need.”

Broad consensus on mental health

Michigan has taken notice of the mental health struggles of students like Khyiana Tate.

“Students — me included — we’ve been isolated, ” said Khyiana, a senior at the Michigan School for the Deaf. “I was stuck at home. A lot of times I was depressed. They don’t know what it’s like to have outside socializing just be snatched right from under us.”

For Tate, one solution is to hire more social workers and counselors.

Many Michiganders would agree. They put higher priority on addressing COVID funds, according to a January poll conducted by Chalkbeat and the Detroit Free Press. Policymakers, too, have turned their focus to student mental health with budget proposals and efforts to revamp a healthcare system that lacks enough beds and providers to meet the needs of youth who are battling mental illness at growing rates.

Yet schools are struggling to find mental health workers to hire. The pandemic caused turmoil in labor markets, adding to a shortage of trained school social workers that began years beforehand, said Kim Battjes, a professor at Michigan State University who trains school social workers. If districts can find someone to hire, Battjes said, they must often find ways to train them on the job.

“It’s like, ‘Yay, we’re getting money! Oh no, we don’t have people to fill these positions!’” she said. “School districts are hiring people who have never even worked with a kid a day in their life as therapists in schools.”

COVID funds alone won’t be enough to improve working conditions in schools, which have been deteriorating for years, making hiring more difficult, said Elizabeth Koschmann, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan and the director of TRAILS to Wellness, a nonprofit that shares research-based mental health practices with schools.

At the same time as federal funds are becoming available, Michigan has a massive budget surplus. With student activists calling for expanded mental-health services in the wake of last year’s school shooting in Oxford, Whitmer wants the state to invest an additional $361 million in student mental health. That proposal will likely be challenged by the Republican legislature, which proposes spending the surplus on a tax cut.

Still, these new investments may not be able to keep up with the need for mental health services. Consider the Grand Haven School District in western Michigan, where a string of six suicides betweeen 2011 and 2017 spurred district leaders to expand their mental health staff to the levels that many other districts are trying to reach today.

Even as other districts in the area struggle to hire mental health workers, Grand Haven’s larger staff is struggling to keep up with mental health needs.

“We’re seeing the trickle effects of the constant chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic,” said Katie Havey, a district social worker. We’re seeing more kids needing major interventions. We’re doing more suicide screenings and seeing higher levels of threat assessments.

“It is crazy to reflect on all of these things that we’re doing really well and realize that we could still use so much more support.”


PISTONS ANNOUNCER GEORGE BLAHA OUT FOR REMAINDER OF SEASON, WILL UNDERGO HEART PROCEDURE

DETROIT NEWS — Iconic Pistons play-by-play announcer George Blaha, who has been with the team for 46 seasons, will miss the remainder of the season as he prepares for a heart-bypass procedure, the Pistons announced Sunday.

After a routine checkup last week revealed an issue, Blaha’s doctors scheduled the heart procedure for Tuesday, and they expect the 76-year-old to have a full recovery.

“I am disappointed to miss the remainder of the season, but my health is the number one priority right now, and I have a great team of doctors guiding my short-term and long-term health,” Blaha said in a team statement.

“I’m grateful that they caught my issue early and they expect a full recovery. I look forward to getting back to full speed with rest and rehabilitation during the offseason and returning next year for my 47th season calling games for the Pistons.”

Blaha has been behind the mic for all three of the Pistons’ championship seasons, and he has become synonymous with the Pistons throughout each of their eras.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to George. He’s one of the best in the business and he’s seen almost everything in the business, both college and the pros,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said before Sunday’s game at Little Caesars Arena.

“He’s a man’s man and he knows the game. Thoughts and prayers to him as he goes through his health situation. We’re going to miss him the rest of the season, and my thoughts go out to him and his family.”

From his trademark “Count that baby and a foul!” after a made shot to the familiar “Off the high glass!” Blaha has been for many Pistons fans what Ernie Harwell was to Tigers fans or Vin Scully was to Dodgers faithful — a golden voice.

“George is part of our family and he and his wife, Mary, have our full support every step of the way,” Pistons team owner Tom Gores said in the statement. “George is in the best of care and in great spirits. We join his many fans, friends and colleagues in wishing him a full and speedy recovery.”

Blaha started his career with the Pistons in 1976 and has called more than 3,200 regular-season games and more than 260 playoff games.

In 2008, he was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. He also has received many awards, including the Ty Tyson Award for broadcasting excellence by the Detroit Sports Media Association and two-time Michigan Sports Broadcaster of the Year from the National Sportscasters and Sports Writers Association in 2003 and 2007.


MICHIGAN HOUSE OKS BANNING MAILING OF UNSOLICITED BALLOT APPLICATIONS, AGAIN

DETROIT NEWS — The Michigan House on Thursday adopted a series of bills, largely along party lines, that would ban certain practices for absentee ballots and the financing of election equipment.

The legislation would stop the unsolicited mailing of absentee ballot applications, prohibit the use of digital signatures for absentee ballot applications and ban third parties from contributing money toward election equipment.

The bills, which sponsors said would help to shore up election security, are likely headed for a veto from Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer should they get through the GOP-led Senate. In October, Whitmer vetoed almost identical legislation.

The provisions are also present in a petition initiative, Secure MI Vote, currently gathering signatures in the field and expected to be sent to the Legislature instead of the November ballot. Should the GOP-led Legislature adopt the proposal if it gets enough valid signatures, it would become law and avoid Whitmer’s veto pen.

State Rep. Andrew Beeler, R-Fort Gratiot, said his bill banning electronic signatures on absentee ballot applications addresses Michigan’s “vulnerable” elections by creating greater transparency and accountability.

“In any honest evaluation of election laws, Michigan is one of the easiest places to vote,” Beeler said. “…In order to ensure that each new voice is heard, we cannot afford to have unsatisfactory safeguards in place to prevent fraud.”

Democrats criticized the legislation as an attempt to suppress absentee voters on the unproven premise that there was fraud in the November 2020 election.

“All these bills do is rob our disabled, our seniors, our Black and Brown voters from the freedom to vote,” said Rep. Brenda Carter, D-Pontiac. “This bill will change the makeup of our electorate and negatively impact the lives of people we sit in this very chamber to serve.”

Whitmer’s office, when asked about the legislation, said Thursday the governor would “protect the will of Michigan voters and the integrity of our elections.” “Robust” protections already are in place to do so, Whitmer’s spokesman Bobby Leddy said in a statement.

“Every Michigander deserves to have their voice heard as they exercise their constitutional right to vote in a safe and secure election,” Leddy said..

One bill, which passed 57-44, would ban a third party from contributing to any local government running elections either money to purchase election equipment or election equipment itself. The bill passed with the support of three Democrats: Reps. Sara Cambensy of Marquette, Yousef Rabhi of Ann Arbor and Richard Steenland of Roseville.

A bill prohibiting county, city, or township clerks or the Secretary of State from sending unsolicited ballot applications passed 56-45, with Democrats Cambensy and Steenland supporting. The bills, sponsored by Rep. Julie Calley, R-Portland, also would prohibit clerks from making applications available earlier than 75 days before an election.

The third bill, prohibiting electronic or digital signatures for absentee ballot applications, passed 58-43, with Democratic state Reps. Kevin Coleman of Westland, Tullio Liberati of Allen Park, Cambensy and Steenland voting in support.

Some of the bills address actions Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson took ahead of the November 2020 election, when in the midst of the pandemic she sent unsolicited absentee ballot applications to each of Michigan’s 7.7 million registered voters. The state also allows an online absentee ballot applicant to click a box allowing the Secretary of State to send the voter’s stored digital signature to his or her city or township clerk along with the application.

Benson currently is working to formalize rules explicitly allowing for the acceptance of digital signatures on absentee ballot applications.

Rep. Matt Koleszar, D-Plymouth, argued the GOP-led legislation passed Thursday will only make it harder to vote in the next election.

“If you vote yes on this bill to create a barrier between someone and their constitutional, fundamental right, I struggle to find the patriotism in that vote,” he said.

But Rep. Sarah Lightner, the sponsor of the bill banning third party contributions toward election equipment, argued elections should be funded by public funds and to adopt another funding source would sow doubt in the integrity of the state’s elections.

The Springport Republican pointed to doubts that arose over millions of dollars that went to local clerks from the the Chicago-based Center for Tech and Civic Life, a group associated with Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.

“How do you ever know if the money is being handed over with strings attached?” Lightner said.

“Drawing this clear line in the sand gives the public peace of mind that our elections, which are a fundamental function of government, are funded solely by the government without undue influence from individuals pushing their own political agendas,” she said.


SCAMMERS PRETEND THERE’S A PROBLEM WITH YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS, NUMBER

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Rising gas prices, rising food prices and rising overall inflation are bound to fuel financial anxiety, especially among seniors on a fixed income.

So why should we be surprised that scammers know how to play up the fears of inflation too?

Fraudsters last year engineered a sophisticated pitch to send letters to seniors to tell them that they needed to call a toll-free number to activate their cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security benefits, according to Gail Ennis, inspector general for the Social Security Administration.

The mail looked legitimate because the scammers sent letters that included the Social Security Administration letterhead.

But no one needs to call a toll-free number or take any action to receive cost-of-living adjustments on Social Security benefits.

The 5.9% cost-of-living adjustment was automated and began with benefits payable in January to more than 64 million Social Security beneficiaries.

Social Security officials aren’t texting pictures of badges

You definitely can’t always trust what you see.

Fraudsters know how to spoof legitimate phone numbers out of Washington to make the information that pops up on your Caller ID look more believable. And the crooks know how to create fake versions of ID badges that many federal employees use to gain access to federal buildings.

Scammers have been known to text potential victims a picture of a government badge to reassure you that they’re the real deal.

The con artists might rattle off real “badge numbers” or send emails with attachments containing personal information about a phony “investigation.”

Ennis, who was part of a media call before “Slam the Scam Day” on Thursday, said there are four signs of a scam:

  • Someone is pretending to be an official when they’re not.
  • They’re telling you about a problem or way to get better benefits.
  • They’re pressuring you to act quickly.
  • And they’re demanding that you pay in a specific way — maybe putting money on gift cards, depositing cash at an ATM that offers cryptocurrency, or wiring money.

In some cases, the crooks even ask you to box up cash and mail it to them to fix a problem. One woman felt so threatened, according to Social Security experts, that she put $20,000 in cash in a box to mail to a pharmacy in Phoenix so the scammers could pick up the box there.

But she soon felt something was wrong and acted immediately to get authorities to help her intervene with the shipping company and get that money back, Ennis said.

Don’t send cash — or buy gift cards — if someone claims to be from a government agency.

Kilolo Kijakazi, acting commissioner of Social Security, said fraudsters continue trying to trick people into providing personal information or money.

Scammers can pretend there’s a problem with your Social Security benefits or your Social Security number. The caller could scare you into thinking that your Social Security number has been connected to running drugs and money laundering across the border.

Some might even threaten you if you don’t act quickly.

Kijakazi said the agency received more than 568,000 reports of Social Security related scams in fiscal year 2021 that triggered nearly $63 million in losses. Consumers can go to oig.ssa.gov to report Social Security scams.

Social Security isn’t contacting you via social media — or messaging apps

Another new trick: Scammers are now impersonating government agencies and others on social media and then trying to get you to engage on various apps, such as WhatsApp or Google Hangouts. Scammers try to remain anonymous, keep up some type of secrecy and protect their own identities by using such messaging apps that have privacy-focused features.

Social Security, of course, isn’t going to try to talk with you via WhatsApp.

Hang up if you get a robocall. Ignore a text or email. Government employees aren’t going to threaten you and say you’re about to lose Social Security benefits if you don’t act now.

Bottom line: Your Social Security number is not about to be suspended. And you’re not going to solve any problems with benefits by moving the conversation onto WhatsApp.


MICHIGAN OKS EXPANDED BOBCAT HUNTING SEASON OVER ACTIVISTS’ CONCERNS

BRIDGE MI — Hunters and trappers can now kill bobcats in the southern Lower Peninsula in the fall.

Over objections from animal activists, members of the Natural Resource Commission voted 7-0 on Thursday to create a bobcat season in nine more counties: Muskegon, Montcalm, Gratiot, Saginaw, Ottawa, Kent, Ionia, Clinton and Shiawassee.

The wildcats with bobbed tails, which are about twice the size of cats, disappeared from the Lower Peninsula after the logging boom in the late 1800s but can now be found in every Michigan county.

In addition to creating an 11-day season in the southern counties, state regulators also expanded the hunting and trapping season in the northern Lower Peninsula to 20 days with two full weekends. The limit per hunter remains one.

“The population is fairly resilient and able to absorb harvest pressure,” said Adam Bump, a bear and furbearer specialist for the Department of Natural Resources, which recommended the expanded season.

“When we’re opening those nine counties, we’re really just opening a larger area to harvest the same population.”

National Resources Commissioner David Nyberg said state data indicates the bobcat population is expanding and can support an expanded hunt.

“We’re also going to be able to further support the actual act of conservation through the funding of licensed dollars that supports that work,” Nyberg said.

Expanding bobcat hunting to the southern Lower Peninsula means more people can buy licenses that fund the state’s wildlife conservation efforts.

In 2020, some 13,400 people registered to hunt or trap a bobcat. It costs $15 for a furbearer hunting license for those ages 10 and 64. That price drops to $6 for people who are 65 and older.

Proponents say the expansion won’t impact the population of bobcats because they are hard to hunt and trap. One Michigan survey found that only 365 of 2,810 people who hunted bobcats in northern Michigan bagged one.

Michael Schippa of Michigan Versatile Hunting Dog Federation said he’s been catching and releasing bobcats for 25 years. He said he believes bobcats in Michigan have come from states like Ohio and Indiana.

“The expansion is a very conservative approach that the DNR has taken,” Schippa said. “We have animals going back and forth across state borders. We will always have that exchange.”

But animal advocates oppose the hunts because the bobcats are primarily killed for their pelts.

“This proposed expansion will cause untold harm to bobcats and kittens hunting and trapping orphan dependent kittens, leaving them to starve or die of predation or closure,” said Molly Tamulevich, the Michigan director for Humane Society of the United States.

Another speaker, Trish Marie, said she worries the expanded hunt will increase the rodent population in the southern Lower Peninsula.

“I have a kajillion squirrels covering my property and the primary prey of bobcats is squirrels,” Marie said. “Bobcats play an important role in keeping the number of squirrels, chipmunks and other rodents down.”

Marie also noted that the DNR is recommending expanding bobcat season when other states are restricting or banning killing the animal.

Some states, including Illinois and Coronavirus Tracker | Michigan positivity rate below 4 percent

Michigan reported 1,656 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, or an average of 552 over each of the past three days, as well as 16 deaths.

That lowered the seven-day average to 800 cases a day, down from 830 on Friday. It was at 5,500 daily cases a month ago.

There are now 875 patients in Michigan hospitals being treated for confirmed and suspected COVID-19, down from 972 on Friday. The last time there were fewer was Aug. 11 when there were 859 COVID-19 patients.

Over the most recent three days of coronavirus testing, 4.4 percent of 50,459 tests were positive. Over the past week the rate is 4 percent, above the 3 percent target to indicate no community transmission. But two weeks ago the rate was nearly 8 percent and it was 19 percent a month ago.


MICHIGAN AG DANA NESSEL ANNOUNCES FIRST CHARGES IN BOY SCOUTS INVESTIGATION

ASSOCIATED PRESS VIA DETROIT FREE PRESS — Michigan authorities on Wednesday announced the first criminal charges stemming from the state’s review of child sexual abuse lawsuits against the Boy Scouts of America, charging a former troop leader before his release from a New York prison on separate crimes.

Mark Chapman, 51, is accused of sexually assaulting two boys at the time he was a scoutmaster in the Roseville, where he also worked in and attended The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Starting in 2000, one victim was abused at the church — where the troop sometimes met — and other places from the time he was 13 or 14 until he was 17, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said. The second victim was assaulted for years beginning when he was about 11.

One of the men called a tip line.

“It’s not just important for us to hold the person accountable for all the harm that was suffered by the victims … but to prevent future crimes from occurring,” Nessel said at a news conference in Detroit. The charges, she said, “are only the beginning.”

Chapman, who is due to be paroled in New York this week after serving more than nine years for child abuse convictions there, was charged now so he cannot leave the criminal justice system, she said. Authorities were working to extradite him to Michigan. The Associated Press could not immediately determine if Chapman has a lawyer.

The attorney general’s office and the Michigan State Police last year launched a joint review of what now are 5,000 civil claims forwarded by the Boy Scouts. A completed review of 550 claims resulted in roughly 60 inquiries being sent to state police for further investigation.

The Boy Scouts last month reached a tentative settlement with a bankruptcy committee representing more than 80,000 men who say they were molested as children by Scout leaders and others. All told, the compensation fund would total more than $2.6 billion, which would be the largest aggregate sex abuse settlement in U.S. history.

Also Wednesday, Nessel gave an update on a yearslong probe of sex abuse by clergy in the Roman Catholic Church. It has resulted in 11 prosecutions.

The office has reviewed all but 245,000 of 5 million paper and digital documents from Michigan’s seven dioceses. The review has identified 454 accused priests and 811 reported victims, she said.


NATIVE AMERICAN GROUP DEMANDS DETROIT COPS CULTURAL AWARENESS TRAINING

DETROIT NEWS — A Native American group is demanding Detroit police undergo “cultural awareness training” weeks after officers broke up a ceremony in Rouge Park involving fire that was performed without a permit and an expired memorandum of understanding with the city.

The Detroit Indigenous People’s Alliance issued a statement Wednesday about the Feb. 18 incident involving the Detroit Sugarbush Project, which says on its website is dedicated to “connecting youth in Detroit to Indigenous experts in the cultural tradition of making maple syrup” as was done by the Anishinaabe and Potawatomi tribes.

“Our response has taken some time, as we have been tapping trees, hauling sap and boiling it down for the past two weeks,” Wednesday’s statement said.

The group last month “hosted a sacred fire with a small group of sugarbush organizers and urban native peoples,” in Rouge Park on Detroit’s northwest side, the statement said.

“Despite being informed of the ceremonial nature of this gathering … officers threatened to arrest Indigenous participants, including members of federally recognized tribes, forcing them to extinguish this sacred fire,” the statement said. “This was a desecration.”

“Many share responsibility for this night: event organizers, police, and communications between city departments,” the statement said.

At the end of the statement, the group issued nine “demands,” including a call for officers to attend cultural awareness training, and that the city permanently recognize the Sugarbush Project and “work toward Land Back … the concept of returning lands to the original peoples who were stewards of those lands prior to European invasion and colonization.” The group also wants the city to work with the Sugarbush Project to make the location of the event “more accessible to our elders and community” and provide some funding.

Antonio Cosme, who helped organize the ceremony, told The Detroit News he hopes city, fire and police officials will work with the coalition so that future ceremonies will be held without issues.

“What I’d like to see happen is for the city departments to communicate better,” he said. “We’d had (a memorandum of understanding) with the city for two years.”

Cosme acknowledged the memorandum of understanding had expired prior to last month’s event, and that the group didn’t have a valid permit to perform the ceremony.

“The MOU had expired the week before the event,” he said, adding that the group was still waiting for a permit.

“We had applied, but the maple sap doesn’t wait for the permit process,” he said. “The city is slow about getting permits out.”

Three days after the incident, Detroit Police Chief James White issued a statement explaining that officers responded to a report of a fire in the park and that the group had shown officers “no evidence of compliance with key components of the expired MOU, such as a fire permit and proof of insurance.

“The officers’ actions were only due to the bonfire in the middle of a public park without a permit and was not directed as a means to break up a sacred cultural ceremony,” White said.

However, White added in his statement: “We would like to apologize for the interruption of a sacred ceremony. I have directed our Executive Manager of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Mary Engelman, to identify opportunities for our officers to work with the organizers.

“I’ve been in contact with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, state and local elected officials, and community members. I plan to meet with Michigan Sen. Adam Hollier and the Native American community to learn and grow from this situation,” White’s statement said.


BIRMINGHAM SCHOOLS BUDGET SHORTFALL GOES FROM $1.6 MILLION TO $14 MILLION

DETROIT FREE PRESS –Birmingham Public Schools miscalculated its budget by $11 million this year, and finance officials revised the district’s estimated shortfall from $1.6 million to $14.3 million.

The district also revealed in a finance update at the end of February that it has been overcharging property taxpayers in the district, and that the error will result in a credit to taxpayers. The overcharge this year amounted to $2.2 million, according to Maria Gistinger, interim assistant superintendent for business services.

The dramatic revision in the budget’s expected shortfall is unusual for a school district. It’s still unclear how exactly the district amassed such a shortfall, which is equivalent to about 10% of the district’s general fund spending.

Birmingham officials did not respond to an interview request from the Detroit Free Press, but shared a statement to community members that the district overestimated student enrollment numbers while underestimating salary, health insurance, payroll tax, retirement and other benefit costs.

Superintendent Embekka Roberson wrote in a letter to the community that the district planned to share more updates about the shortfall going forward.

“We can and will do this transparently and responsibly with minimal impact on our students’ education,” she wrote. “We will keep our families, staff, and students updated on this situation in the days ahead.”

Nearly 7,400 students attend Birmingham Public Schools, a district in Oakland County.

The district lost 186 students between this school year and last, according to state data. Schools in Michigan are funded per student. Birmingham officials wrote that the district originally projected it would receive $6 million more in state aid and property taxes than it actually did.

Craig Thiel — research director at the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, a nonprofit government research organization based in Livonia — said now that the district is well into the budget year, which ends about four months from now on June 30, it likely has a much clearer picture of its spending.

But Thiel also said the high discrepancy between the original budget reported by Birmingham and the amended budget reported this month is unusual.

What happens next?

The district has a rainy day fund balance of $20 million, but Birmingham’s policy allows it to use only about $3 million to $4 million toward addressing the shortfall, according to a district Q&A about the budget.

The district only vaguely addressed whether there would be budget cuts to address the shortfall. Officials wrote in the Q&A that Birmingham’s leadership team would first explore “other funding avenues at the federal and state levels, seeking cost-saving opportunities, expanding revenue generating programs, and creating a long-term financial planning process.”

“If the structural deficit persists or gets worse, we will have to make tough choices and difficult adjustments in the weeks and months ahead,” reads the Q&A.

The district also wrote that it is planning to strengthen its exit process to help retain students who might be planning to leave to stem enrollment loss.

It’s unclear how tax credits will come to property owners who were overcharged. The district has pledged to work with its auditors and attorneys to more accurately calculate its millage rate. Gistinger wrote that this year, the district miscalculated enrollment numbers and property tax values, which led to the over-levy. Taxpayers can expect a lower millage rate next year to compensate, she wrote.

Spokesperson Anne Cron wrote in an email that the district’s school board will be reviewing and voting on the amended budget at its next regular meeting at 7 p.m. March 15.


GOP-LED LEGISLATURE TO PROPOSE 6-MONTH PAUSE OF MICHIGAN’S 27-CENT GAS TAX

DETROIT NEWS — The Republican-led Legislature will start voting Wednesday on legislation that would suspend Michigan’s 27-cent gas tax as well as a resolution calling for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer “to support energy independence.”

House Speaker Jason Wentworth and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey announced the plan Wednesday morning in a joint statement a day after Whitmer signed on to a letter calling on the federal government to put a pause on the 18-cent per gallon federal gas tax.

Under the legislation to be voted on Wednesday in the House, Michigan’s 27-cent-per-gallon gas tax would be removed through the end of the fiscal year, or over the next six months.

“Why in the world would we write a letter to Congress asking for lower gas prices somehow, someday when we can just step up and fix it ourselves?” Wentworth, R-Farwell, said in a statement.  “Michigan has billions of dollars in surplus revenue available and one of the nation’s highest state fuel taxes. The solution here isn’t complicated.”

While the House will vote Wednesday to suspend both the gas and diesel tax, the Senate will push the bill through next week after a five-day layover required when new bills pass from one chamber to the next.

Shirkey and Wentworth estimated the suspension of the 27-cent-per-gallon fuel tax would save drivers a total of about $750 million over the six-month pause.

“This is a serious situation that requires more than letter writing and the magnanimous gesture of asking someone else to foot the bill,” Shirkey said in the statement. “Six in 10 Michiganders are living paycheck-to-paycheck, struggling to feed their families, heat their homes and put enough gas in their cars to get to work. Republicans in the Legislature will again vote to help residents keep more of what they earn, but we need the governor to lead instead of abdicating her responsibilities to Washington.”

Michigan’s average price of gas as of Wednesday was $4.25, according to AAA estimates. The average price a month ago was $3.37.

Whitmer joined five other governors on Tuesday calling on congressional leaders to suspend the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon until the end of the year.

“At a time when people are directly impacted by rising prices on everyday goods, a federal gas tax holiday is a tool in the toolbox to reduce costs for Americans, and we urge you to give every consideration to this proposed legislation,” the governors’ letter said.

Shirkey and Wentworth noted that the governor also has on her desk a $2.5 billion tax cut plan that includes increased deductions for seniors, a personal income tax cut and a $500 child tax credit. Whitmer has said the cuts proposed are “unsustainable” and instead touted her plan to roll back taxes on some retirement incomes and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit.

“Rejecting our income tax cut and passing the buck to Washington, D.C., here doesn’t solve a thing,” Wentworth said in the Wednesday statement. “The governor keeps saying she wants to cut taxes, but I’m not sure she’s actually willing to do it. I guess we’ll find out soon.”

The Legislature also plans to pass a resolution urging the governor to put her support behind “energy independence” and end “her opposition to the Great Lakes tunnel project.”

Whitmer in November 2020 called for the shutdown of Enbridge’s 68-year-old Line 5 segment through the Straits of Mackinac, but the governor has not not moved to block a planned tunnel to house a new segment of Line 5. She ordered her departments to process permit applications for the tunnel project as they would normally even as she called on the pipeline’s closure.

The pipeline has yet to close as Enbridge and the state remain locked in legal battles over the shutdown order in court.

The $500 million tunnel is awaiting one more state approval before construction starts from the Michigan Public Service Commission as well as permitting approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Line 5 carries about 540,000 barrels of light crude oil and natural gas liquid. Studies over the impact of a Line 5 shutdown are conflicting, with industry-sponsored assessments predicting large increases in gas prices and opposition-sponsored studies predicting a smaller impact on wallets because of alternative transportation such as other pipelines, rail and trucking.


MICHIGAN REDISTRICTING PANEL FINISHED MAPS MONTH AGO. WHY IS IT STILL MEETING?

BRIDGE MI — Despite approving the new congressional and state legislative maps over two months ago, the Michigan redistricting commission continues to meet, and commissioners continue to get paid.

That’s partly because there’s no clear expiration date for the group created in 2018 by a voter-approved constitutional amendment that some observers and experts now say was too vague.

“The drafters (of the amendment) did sort of create an issue,” Steve Liedel,  an attorney who worked as legal counsel to former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, told Bridge Michigan. The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission was created after voters overwhelmingly supported a constitutional amendment that changed how the state draws boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts.

The prior process, in which the majority party in the Michigan Legislature drew the districts every decade after the decennial census, led to some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country.

The constitutional amendment states that “the terms of the commissioners shall expire once the commission has completed its obligations for a census cycle but not before any judicial review of the redistricting plan is complete.”

There are now two legal challenges pending against the maps that were approved by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission in December.

A simple reading of the constitution would suggest that once those lawsuits are resolved, the commission’s work would end — but some commissioners say it’s not that clear.

The maps are expected to go into effect later this month, but it could take months for the legal issues to be resolved. And there could be more legal challenges in the next few years as well.

The old districts, approved in 2011, were challenged in federal court by the League of Women Voters in 2017 and the case dragged on to 2019.

The issue has gained resonance in the past few weeks when commissioners voted to increase their salary by 7 percent to nearly $59,650 and the 13-member commission asked its legal team to advise them on when to stop meeting.

Nancy Wang, the executive director of Voters Not Politicians, the group behind the push for the constitutional amendment, told Bridge Michigan in a text message the amendment will have to be interpreted by the commission’s lawyers.

“It is impossible to answer or even analyze questions regarding hypothetical mid-cycle litigation without knowing the issues, the parties, or the precise timing, all of which would impact such analysis,” Wang said.

Rebecca Szetela, the chair of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, told Bridge Michigan “it seems more likely that the commission should disband rather than just continue on for the next nine years in perpetuity.”

“That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

She said she believes the legal opinion should be able to shed some light on the issue, and clarify the commission’s next steps.

“That’s the concern that if we disband, and then the call goes out two years from now, are we going to have that nine immediately that we need to take action?” Szetela said, referring to the fact that the constitution requires at least nine members to be present in order to have a quorum.

Liedel, however, said it might be necessary to get a judge to decide what the commission does next.

“The Legislature can’t pass a law (to decide length of commissioner’s term),” Liedel said. “And the commission can’t adopt language with regard to the length of their terms that would be inconsistent with the Constitution.”

So, Liedel said, it is likely a court would have to decide whether a new lawsuit automatically extends the commissioners’ terms, or whether the Michigan Secretary of State would have to select 13 new commissioners in the same decade.


MICHIGAN ADDS 1,656 CASES, 16 DEATHS FROM COVID-19 OVER 3 DAYS

DETROIT NEWS — Michigan added 1,656 cases of COVID-19 and 16 deaths from the virus on Monday including totals from Saturday and Sunday.

The state reported an average of 552 cases per day over the three days.

Monday’s additions bring the state’s overall total to 2,062,354 confirmed cases and 32,134 deaths since the virus was first detected here in March 2020.

Hospitalization rates and case counts in Michigan have been on the decline for the last seven weeks, indicating to some health experts that the fourth surge is subsiding as predicted.

The latest figures come as the state and several Michigan counties have relaxed regulations to stem the spread of the virus.

State employees in standard office and outdoor settings are generally no longer required to wear masks while working, effective Thursday.

Wayne County lifted its emergency mask order for K-12 schools earlier in February. The county’s decision came after state health officials dropped public health advisories regarding mask usage in most indoor public settings and K-12 schools.

Health departments in Washtenaw and Oakland counties lifted COVID-19 orders related to K-12 schools at the end of February.

On Friday, the state reported 865 adults and 27 pediatric patients were hospitalized with confirmed infections and 81% of the state’s inpatient hospital beds were occupied.

It’s a steep decline from records set on Jan. 10, when 4,580 adults were hospitalized with COVID-19.

About 6% of the state’s hospital beds were filled with COVID-19 patients and there were an average of 983 emergency room visits related to COVID-19 per day in the state as of Friday. That compares to 24% of hospital beds being full and 2,889 daily emergency room visits due to the virus in the first week of January.

Case counts continue to drop from early January when the state set a new high mark with more than 20,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 per day.

As of Monday, 29 new outbreaks were reported over the prior week. The majority, 22 outbreaks, were in long-term care facilities and senior assisted living centers. Another seven outbreaks occurred in K-12 schools. The state is tracking 535 ongoing outbreak cases.

About 65%, or 6.5 million, state residents have received their first doses of a vaccine, as of Friday, and 59% are fully vaccinated. More than 225,000 children ages 5 to 11 in Michigan, or 27%, have received their first dose of the vaccine.

More than 3 million vaccine booster doses have been administered in Michigan.

Approximately 2% of those fully vaccinated have been reported with a breakthrough infection, according to the state health department.


DETROITER, 62, READY TO FIGHT IN UKRAINE. HIS FAMILY IS ‘100% OPPOSED’

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Inside a Pentecostal church on 12 Mile Road, a group of Ukrainian-Americans and pastors stood around M. Dujon Johnson, their heads bowed and hands stretched out, some touching the Detroiter in a show of support.

“Deliver us from evil,” they said Friday afternoon, reciting the Lord’s Prayer at Church of the King in downtown Berkley.

A pastor then asked God to protect Johnson, 62, who had told the group he’s on his way to Ukraine to fight alongside their forces.

Johnson said he was with the Peace Corps Response in Ukraine from 2018 to 2019, teaching at Cherkasy National University and Cherkasy State Business College. While living in Ukraine, “my job was to train university professors in how we bring transparency and democracy in the classroom,” teaching about government and civic society, Johnson said. After the pandemic began, he taught online at the Ukrainian universities. Now, he said he’s planning to go back to Ukraine — this time to be on the front lines with Ukrainians defending their land against Russia’s military attacks.

Speaking with the Free Press, Johnson described his plans and provided a copy of his flight itinerary.

He said he is taking a flight Wednesday to Amsterdam and then Krakow, Poland. He then plans to cross over into Ukraine to meet up with groups in Cherkasy coordinating foreign fighters. He said he’s been in touch with Ukrainian officials and other contacts he developed while living there with the Peace Corps.

Johnson said he’s a veteran of the U.S. Army and served in Germany in the 1970s. He expects to be given a weapon once he joins up with Ukrainian forces.

“I’m actually going to fight,” said Johnson, who lives on Detroit’s west side. “That’s the purpose. It’s not humanitarian; it’s actually going to fight. I’ll be issued a weapon once I once I get there.”

At the Berkley church Friday, about a dozen Ukrainian Americans showed up to thank him and praise his efforts, trying to help him with getting a medical kit and binoculars before he leaves. He turned down an offer from them of monetary assistance.

“If a democratically elected government can be wiped off the map, the question is: Who’s next?” Johnson said. “Is it Estonia? Is it Poland? Is it Lithuania? Is it Hungary? Where does it stop? With Hitler, people kept thinking he would stop as he was invading these countries.”

Inspired by Black history

Born and raised in Detroit, Johnson said his experiences as a Black man motivate him to help Ukraine.

“As an African American, we have a legacy, a history of standing for what is right,” Johnson said, standing outside the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Warren. “It goes way back.”

Johnson said African Americans in the U.S. spoke out against the anti-Chinese immigration laws in the 19th century and the Nazis during World War II who targeted Jews and others.

“When people hear about Black Lives Matter and voting rights, they think it’s just for Black folks, but we’ve always stood up for what’s right for all people” Johnson said. “So I’m going there, because the concepts of democracy, freedom, being treated right, that’s just part of our legacy. And I feel compelled to uphold it.”

The issue of race has come up amid the war in Ukraine, with some Black students saying they were mistreated by border guards and not allowed to board trains, according to media reports.

Johnson added: “I’m not a war guy,” saying he has worked in his career to bridge divides and promote peace.

But given the severity of what Russia is doing, “I don’t fear fighting, I fear not fighting,” he said.

The State Department is expressing caution about U.S. citizens going to Ukraine.

“Ukrainians have shown their courage and they are calling on every resource and lever they have to defend themselves,” a spokesperson for the State Department said in a statement to the Free Press. “We applaud their bravery. However, our Travel Advisory remains: U.S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine, and those in Ukraine should depart immediately if it is safe to do so using commercial or other privately available options for ground transportation.”


YPSILANTI’S HAAB’S RESTAURANT ENDS 87-YEAR RUN, ANOTHER INSTITUTION GONE

BRIDGE MI — The songs of Frank Sinatra still came through the speaker in the lobby of Haab’s Restaurant on Friday afternoon, but this time his crooning about good-byes hit closer to home.

After 87 years in operation, the landmark restaurant that defined the city’s downtown had closed for good the night before.

[Mike] Kabat, who’d spent 47 years behind that counter and answering that phone, said he’s had trouble envisioning a day when he’d show up at the restaurant but have no customers, no reason to open the kitchen and no idea of what will come next.

“It’s been terrible,” Kabat, 80, told Bridge Michigan.

Kabat and David Kabat, his son and business partner, announced the closing to staff at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, then sent an email on Friday morning to the 7,000 people who received regular email updates from them.

The Haab’s closing was sudden, planned just days ago as David Kabat’s doctors told him he needed an immediate lifestyle change due to a health crisis, his father said.

But looming over that was COVID-19 and all of the changes the restaurant had to absorb during the pandemic. By the time the family health crisis struck, there was no cushion left to keep the doors open.

Thousands of restaurants are estimated to have shuttered in Michigan since the pandemic began and — even as the latest wave of COVID fades — more closings still may hit the state’s industry, said Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association.

“Some narrowly survived,” he said, “but that leaves their health so complicated that it won’t take much (to make them vulnerable).”

That includes beloved institutions like Haab’s, the kind of places that helped define downtowns and lead restaurant movements in cities.

Common Grill, which anchored downtown Chelsea, will close this month as founder and chef Greg Common announced in mid-February. Roast, a Michael Symon restaurant, closed suddenly in January, years after it trailblazed a new wave of restaurants in downtown Detroit. Osteria Rossa closed at the end of 2021 in Grand Rapids.

“The connection people have with some restaurants gets very personal and very deep,” Winslow said. “You become close with the owner … it’s hard when it goes away.”

That was clear on Friday at Haab’s as Mike Kabat talked about how he was well into his career in hotel and restaurant management in the 1970s when Oscar Haab approached him, asking the Ann Arbor native to buy the restaurant Haab had founded with his brother Otto in 1934 amid the Great Depression.

During an interview, the phone kept ringing with people who wanted to tell him that they couldn’t believe that Haab’s would not reopen and that they would miss it.

And people knocked on the door: Men telling Kabat that they’d come to his restaurant since they were children. A woman who handed over a card with her name and phone number, hopeful that he would give her a cherished photo of her late mother, a former Haab’s employee of the year.

Haab’s was known for many things. It could host a crowd, like a post-football party for University of Michigan fans and television broadcasters. Holiday events and business meetings, including for General Motors executives who once worked a few miles east in Ypsilanti Township, fueled business. Many customers came from across Washtenaw County to celebrate family milestones.

During the pandemic, the restaurant couldn’t help but change. Mike and David Kabat ran the restaurant’s carryout operation when the state ordered restaurants to close dining rooms. As reopening was allowed, many staff did not return, forcing the partners to shoulder all of the management, David, 51, in the kitchen and Mike in the “front of the house.”

With only some of the 30-person staff returning to work, that kept pressure on as customers returned, some slowly.

Business group meals tapered off, as people hesitated to gather and many businesses worked remotely. The customer base — which Kabat described as “mature” — didn’t feel as comfortable going out amid the unpredictability of COVID.

The Kabats own the building and the apartments above it, something that helped their bottom line. And $172,000 in federal Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans helped them to bridge the financial gap.

But David’s health became a crisis, Kabat said. “His prognosis was not good.”

And the father and son, supported by the rest of the family, made the hard decision. They had no fallback.

And, said Mike Kabat, no sense of relief yet.

He’ll figure out what will happen to the building over the next few months. It’s filled with 90 years of keepsakes: from the original menus to more recently designed swizzle sticks for the annual plumber and pipefitter conventions.

Employees were given information on how to apply for unemployment on Thursday. They will return next week for severance checks and leftover food. Perishables will be sent to Food Gatherers, an Ann Arbor food bank.

Kabat said he doesn’t regret a minute of the years he’s devoted to the restaurant, nor the decision to close because of what it means for his son. What he will miss is the community.

“There wasn’t a choice,” he said.


MICHIGAN GAS PRICES SET NEW 2022 RECORD — AND THEY’RE LIKELY TO KEEP CLIMBING

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Gas prices hit $4 a gallon in metro Detroit and soared even higher in the Upper Peninsula early Monday, surging an average of 42 cents in Michigan in a week and setting a new high for the calendar year.

But brace yourselves, that likely won’t be the worst of it — at least for a while.

“Rising crude oil prices sent Michigan pump prices soaring to the highest prices since June of 2013,” said Adrienne Woodland, spokesperson for AAA Auto Club, which tracks gas prices. “Pump prices will likely continue to rise as crude prices continue to climb.”

The conflict between Ukraine and Russia is mostly to blame, as it continues to bring uncertainty to the market. Inflation also pushed prices upward as the world uses more oil, and on top of that, oil production globally has tightened.

The average price in the state on Monday for regular unleaded was $3.97 a gallon, according to AAA. That’s 60 cents more than this time last month, and $1.25 more than this time last year.

In terms of fill-ups, you’ll pay about $59 for a full,15-gallon tank.

The average national gas price was $4.01 a gallon,

The highest prices have been in Michigan is $4.26 in May 2011.

On Tuesday, for instance, the Marathon gas station at Hilton and 10 Mile in Ferndale was selling regular gas for $3.58 a gallon, by Friday, the price at the same station jumped 30 cents to $3.88.

Total domestic gasoline stocks decreased by 500,000 barrels of crude oil to 246 million, according to the Energy Information Administration. Gasoline demand increased slightly from 8.66 million barrels a day to 8.74 million.

An increase in gas demand, combined with a reduction in total supply, is contributing to price increases.

Oil prices surged above $100 a barrel — the first time since 2014 — after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. On Monday, West Texas Intermediate, a grade of crude oil and oil pricing benchmark, was $123.15 a barrel.

The most expensive places for gas in Michigan: Marquette, $4.07 a gallon; metro Detroit, $4; and Benton Harbor, $4. Least expensive: Traverse City, $3.86; Grand Rapids, $3.93; and Ann Arbor, $3.94. To help, the IEA has coordinated a release of 60 million barrels of crude oil from its 31 member countries’ strategic reserves, including the U.S., Germany, Canada, South Korea, and Mexico.

The announcement did not detail the amount of each contribution from each country, but half of the release — 30 million barrels — is expected to come from the U.S.

Still, it likely will have a limited effect on prices at the pump, given that the amount of oil is small in comparison to the amount of oil that flows daily from Russia around the globe. Russia exports about 5 million barrels a day of crude oil, about 12% of global trade.

Personal Finance Columnist Susan Tompor contributed.

Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or fwitsil@freepress.com.

To save at the pump

Here are a few tips from Personal Finance Columnist Susan Tompor to save on gas:

  • Drive less. It’s common sense, but you might be surprised how much it adds up.
  • Us a mobile app to comparison shop. GasBuddy, Gas Guru, and AAA have apps.
  • Pay with cash. Many stations offer a deal on cash-only sales instead of credit.
  • Join a warehouse club, like Costco or Sam’s which generally sells gas at a discount.
  • Enroll in gas rewards programs like GetUpside and Kroger Fuels Points. Some credit cards also offer special gas discounts and cash back for gas purchases.

MICHIGAN CLOSES GAP ON RACIAL DISPARITIES IN COVID-19 DEATHS

BRIDGE MI — In the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic, African-Americans in Michigan represented four of every 10 COVID-19 deaths, a startling number given they make up 14 percent of the state’s population.

The tragic trend took advantage of the health disparities afflicting communities of color: Blacks are more likely to suffer from heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other ailments that made them more susceptible to COVID-19.

Now, nearly two years after the pandemic began, those disparities have nearly vanished, with Blacks now at 18 percent of all COVID-19 deaths. That’s still above their makeup within the state but it’s half the rate from the pandemic’s early days. According to a new report from a statewide task force created to address racial disparities, state and local leaders worked with public health professionals to change behaviors to help protect entire communities.

“We felt we had no choice but to act,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said Friday at a press conference to announce the report and its findings. Gilchrist, who led the task force, said he lost 27 family members and friends to COVID-19.

“Michigan families were losing brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, cousins, teachers, students and grandparents. And communities of color cannot afford for us to wait.”

Gilchrist and others said the task force focused on encouraging people early in the pandemic — long before vaccinations — to wear masks and social distance. They specifically reached out to people in exposed occupations like public transportation employees who had to work in-person and were often face-to-face with dozens of people a day.

Thomas Stallworth, a senior advisor to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer who directed the task force, said the state talked with employers and explained the importance of masking and other preventive measures to benefit their employees.

“They had to take steps to protect their folks and they did,” Stallworth said.

Those efforts appeared to work. A survey taken by the state in 2020 showed that African-Americans were far more likely to wear masks. The survey showed 81 percent were “always” wearing them, compared to 69 percent of everyone else, according to the report.

Those changes may have helped change the arc of the pandemic: Through August 2020, Blacks comprised 39.2 percent of COVID-19 deaths, according to a Bridge Michigan analysis of state demographic COVID-19 data. Since then, they’ve comprised 13.9 percent — almost exactly their  proportion within the state.

That’s despite Blacks having the lowest rate of vaccinations in the state. While 53 percent of white residents have completed vaccination, 40 percent of Blacks are fully vaccinated, according to the state. The unvaccinated account for over 80 percent of COVID-19 deaths since Jan. 1, 2021.

Stallworth said the task force is continuing to work to improve vaccinations among minorities, who have cited distrust in medicine among a host of reasons.

In addition to noting steps already taken — like promoting masks and vaccines and helping more people connect with doctors — the task force also made recommendations that would continue improving health prospects for communities of color.

Among its recommendation, the task force calls for:

  • Lowering the number of people who are uninsured or underinsured, because the uninsured are less likely to have health conditions treated, making them more susceptible to COVID-19 and potential future viruses.
  • Continuing to fund neighborhood vaccination and testing sites. Easier access to the sites improves the likelihood of getting tested or vaccinated, officials said.
  • Maximizing use of school-based clinics. The state started a pilot program with the Detroit public schools to offer vaccinations to students with parental consent, Stallworth said.
  • Improving access to high-speed internet. During the pandemic, many people stayed in contact with healthcare providers via telemedicine calls. Because many people in poverty do not have those resources, the task force said the state has spent over $23 million to help put laptops in homes and train people in how to use them.

As much as the task force was focused on improving outcomes related to COVID-19, it also looked at making long-term improvements to help minimize the health disparities that already exist.

Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the state’s chief medical executive, said COVID-19 provided the impetus to make changes that affect people today and in the future.

“This is probably not the last public health emergency,” she said. “So the goal … is to shore things up.”


FAITH GROUPS DELIVER HOUSEWARMING KITS TO RESETTLED AFGHAN REFUGEES IN SE MICHIGAN

DETROIT NEWS — Housewarming gifts traditionally are seen as tokens to add to a new place. But the ones headed to about 30 households in southeast Michigan over the weekend were a way to not only do that but help families start over.

On Saturday, members of Dawoodi Bohras Community of Detroit and regional congregations under Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints joined the nonprofit Zaman International to deliver welcome kits to Afghan refugees resettling in the region.

The volunteers fanned out across Washtenaw County with food, silverware, bedding and more for the new residents finding their first homes since fleeing.

The act was both a show of communal generosity and a pledge to give back, coordinators say.

“It shows the powers of groups that are able to come together,” Monica Boomer, chief impact officer at Zaman. “As individual congregations they’re able to do so much but it just grows exponentially when they come together.”

Her group, which is based in Wayne County and officially launched as a nonprofit in 2004, has long collaborated with others to serve the less fortunate and earned renown for its efforts.

In addition to programs providing food, clothing, medications and shelter, Zaman last year worked with the agencies overseeing refugees headed to Michigan from Afghanistan once the military and government fell to the Taliban and American troops departed.

The state was assigned to receive more than 1,600 refugees through last month, with most in southeast Michigan or Metro Detroit.

The 30 households presented housewarming gifts Saturday represent nearly 100 people, including children, Boomer said.

Between 40 to 50 volunteers helped deliver the gifts, said Zainab Hachem, a volunteer with Zaman International who helped load vehicles on Saturday.

“I think it was an amazing turnout,” she said. “We had things ranging from household items like can openers to towels, pots and pants, pillows. …

“I hope that this serves a big impact, especially with Ramadan coming up next month. … Hopefully these items will be of utilization for these families so they can prepare their food and use that as a means of having dinner every night.”

Zaman worked with Samaritas and the other resettlement agencies overseeing them to assess their most pressing and long-term needs.That included “things we take for granted … anything that they would need to really start their journey to permanent housing here in Michigan,” she said.

To stock enough toiletries winter gear, and other items, Zaman worked with its partners as well as the Dawoodi Bohras and Latter-day Saints, which already had relationships.

“Fundamental to our belief is to reach out and help others because we follow Jesus Christ and that’s what he did,” said Rachel Cannon, communications director for the Westland, Michigan Stake in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “We’re all children of God. We want to show love to anyone who is in need.”

Donating needed items for the distribution was equally important to the area members of the Dawoodi Bohras, a Muslim community with ties to India.

The effort coincided with the Dawoodi Bohra’s global Project Rise initiative that aims to help others through programs targeting areas such as food security, clean water and education.

“As a community of immigrants ourselves, it’s an honor to be able to support Zaman International’s mission of welcoming our newest neighbors,” said Mariyah Saifuddin of West Bloomfield Township, who is joining the effort and has been active with the local Dawoodi Bohra’s community outreach group.

The congregations rallied volunteers to deliver the gifts over several hours Saturday.

The recipients, who can continue to find help through Zaman services, have faced much adjusting to their new country and transitioning, Boomer said.

“We’ve heard a lot of relief that the families are able to leave the hotels and get started. They’ve been eager to find work, learn English, enroll their kids in schools.”


MICHIGAN REPUBLICANS TO WHITMER: WE DARE YOU TO VETO INCOME TAX CUTS

BRIDGE MI — Michigan’s Republican-led Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a $2.5 billion plan that would cut individual income tax, expand senior relief and create a child tax credit but force unspecified spending cuts in future years.

The election-year proposal now heads to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, putting pressure on the first-term Democrat to sign a plan that is considerably larger than her $757 million tax cut proposal.

Whitmer’s office says she’s “all-in on cutting taxes for seniors and working families” but the governor is expected to veto a GOP plan she calls “fiscally irresponsible” and “unsustainable”given non-partisan projections it could force more than $1.8 billion in annual spending cuts despite one-time federal stimulus funds. Republicans contend the state budget is large enough to allow for tax cuts. One-time stimulus funds helped grow the Michigan government budget from $58 billion in 2019 to $63 billion in 2021.

“Every Michigander needs help at this time of record-high inflation, supply chain shortages and communities struggling to recover from shutdowns,” said sponsoring Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton. “No Michigander has been immune from the state of our economy and no Michiganer should be left behind when it comes to providing substantive tax relief.”

The GOP plan brokered by House and Senate leaders would reduce Michigan’s individual income tax rate from 4.25 percent to 3.9 percent. That would cut taxes for millions of Michiganders – everyone except those who don’t earn enough to pay tax – but high earners who pay the most tax would save the most money.

A family of four with an income of $63,829 — the median for Michigan in 2020 — would save $153 next year, for instance. A family of four with $200,000 in earnings — which would put it in the top 5 percent of earners — would save $630.

The GOP plan, approved by the Senate in a 22-15 party-line vote, would also create a $500 per-child tax credit for families. And it would double a senior income tax exemption from $20,000 to $40,000 for an individual while lowering the qualifying age from 67 to 62 years old.

As part of a deal with the House GOP, Senate Republicans agreed to drop a $490 million corporate tax cut from the package now heading to Whitmer. But the upper chamber approved separate standalone legislation on Thursday that would cut the corporate rate from 6 percent to 3.9 percent, sending that proposal back to the House for additional consideration.

Michigan is flush with roughly $7 billion in federal stimulus funds and another $7 billion surplus, but federal rules generally prohibit states from using the stimulus money to pay for tax cuts.

To comply with the federal law, the non-partisan Senate Fiscal Agency projects that Michigan would have to generate new revenue or cut spending by $4.1 billion across the next three fiscal years in order to pay for the GOP tax cut.

“This legislation will create a massive, ongoing, multi-billion-dollar budget deficit” that could force future tax cuts or painful cuts to public schools, road repairs, and police and fire protection,” Whitmer warned Thursday in a letter to legislative leaders.

“It is my sincere hope that we can now come together to negotiate a compromise that fully considers a budget alongside any tax policy decisions while putting the people of Michigan first,” Whitmer continued, requesting a meeting next week.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, criticized the governor’s comments.

“A sure sign someone has been in government too long is if they’re trying to convince you the bureaucracy can’t afford a $2.5 billion tax cut when it has an $8 billion surplus.” he said in a statement. “The governor’s veto threat is a slap in the face of Michigan residents struggling to fill their gas tanks and pay for groceries at a time of record inflation.”

Whitmer’s plan would expand the Earned Income Tax Credit for low and middle-income workers from 6 percent to 20 percent of the federal version, reversing a 2012 cut to the state-level program. The administration estimates 738,400 households would benefit, with the average credit increasing by more than $300 a year

As Whitmer and GOP leaders both eye tax cuts, a business coalition is urging an even larger EITC expansion: A bill from Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, would increase the credit to 30 percent of the federal level over four years, eventually boosting the credit by an average of $460.

The credit “is explicitly designed to encourage greater participation in the workforce because it is only available to families that work,” local chambers of commerce from Detroit, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Flint and other regions wrote in a recent letter to Whitmer and GOP leaders.

“In a time when many employers are having difficulty filling available jobs, the EITC has a proven track record of pulling people into the workforce.”


SHIPWRECK DISCOVERED IN LAKE SUPERIOR AFTER 130 YEARS: ‘STILL BEAUTIFUL’

DETROIT FREE PRESS — After searching more than 2,500 miles of the bottom of Lake Superior, the Atlanta — a 172-foot schooner-barge that sank during a terrible storm — has been found, preserved in the icy water just as it was when it went down more than 130 years ago.

Even the gold letters of the ship’s nameplate are still visible.

“It is truly ornate and still beautiful,” Bruce Lynn, executive director of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, said. “It is rare that we find a shipwreck that so clearly announces what it is and the nameboard of the Atlanta really stands out.”

The discovery, which the society announced this week, solves another mystery of what happened to hundreds of vessels swallowed by the lake and offers historians a window into the past.

The shipwreck is sitting 650 feet below Lake Superior’s surface, about 35 miles away from Deer Park in Luce County in the Upper Peninsula.

In that depth, which is beyond what a human diver and sunlight can reach, the water is in the low to mid-30s, a temperature that preserves shipwrecks.

It gives you a sense of what it was like to travel on the Great Lakes during dangerous conditions, before the Coast Guard and modern technology to predict the weather, communicate with others and navigate.

And society spokesman Corey Adkins said the discovery may also give descendants of the crew that didn’t survive some peace.

“Many people out there think the Edmund Fitzgerald is the only shipwreck on the lakes,” he said. “While that’s an important shipwreck on the lake — 29 men lost their lives on it — five people lost their lives on the Atlanta.” “Their stories,” he added, “don’t deserve, for lack of a better term, to get washed away.”

There are more than 6,000 Great Lakes shipwrecks, which have taken the lives of 30,000 mariners, according to the society. Of those, there are about 550 wrecks — most of which are undiscovered — in Lake Superior.

The society also has a shipwreck museum at Whitefish Point.

To find the shipwreck, more than 2,500 miles of Lake Superior were mapped by the society last summer with Marine Sonic Technology using side-scan sonar, a sonar system for detecting and imaging objects on the seafloor.

Multiple sonar sensors — called a transducer array — send and receive acoustic pulses that help map the lake floor and detect objects.

In this case, it detected the Atlanta.

Records show the ship sank on May 4, 1891.

Its home port was Port Huron, and it was bound with a load of coal in tow of the steamer Wilhelm when both vessels got caught in a northwest gale. In the storm, the towline winch snapped. The crew took to the lifeboat.

They pulled at the oars for hours and eventually came within site of the Crisp Point Life-Saving Station. But, while attempting to land, the boat overturned — twice — and only two men made it safely to the beach.

The survivors said all three masts broke off during the storm, and video from a remote operated vehicle confirmed that account.

All three masts broke off flush with the deck and the hull is starting to split.

“It was tough out there for them,” Adkins said. “If anyone is seeing this, reading this, and you are one of the family members — a great- and great-great grandchild of the crew — contact us.”


60-DEGREE DAY LIKELY COMING FOR SMICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY TO RELAX COVID-19 MASK MANDATEOME OF US IN MICHIGAN

BRIDGE MI — Michigan State University will loosen its mask requirement effective Sunday, university President Samuel Stanley Jr., told the campus in an email.

Masks will no longer be required in most indoor settings on MSU property including offices, libraries and dining halls. But they will still be required in classrooms, labs and research spaces when there is instruction being done or research being conducted. Masks will also continue to be required in buses and health care facilities.

Faculty, staff and students are still required to be vaccinated and boosted against COVID or get an exemption, according to the Thursday email. But MSU athletic events will no longer require a mask and proof of vaccination. “Masks still are strongly recommended for those who are unvaccinated, have symptoms of COVID-19, have been exposed to the virus or are medically vulnerable,” the email said.

The president encouraged people to respect individuals’ decisions if they choose to continue masking. Students are on spring break next week.

The news comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed its mask guidance last Friday, with the CDC urging continued mask usage only in counties with high risk levels. MSU’s East Lansing campus is in Ingham County, which is currently listed at a medium level, and thus is considered a mask-optional county by the CDC.

The University of Michigan still has an indoor mask requirement in effect.


MICHIGAN ADDS 2,105 CASES, 233 DEATHS FROM COVID-19 OVER 2 DAYS

DETROIT NEWS — Michigan added 2,105 cases of COVID-19 and 233 deaths from the virus on Wednesday including totals from Tuesday.

The state reported an average of 1,052 cases per day over the two days.

Of Wednesday’s tallied deaths, 207 were identified during a delayed records review, according to the state health department. If a death certificate is matched to a confirmed COVID-19 case and that record in the state’s system does not indicate that the individual died, the record is updated during a records review that’s conducted twice each week.

Wednesday’s additions bring the state’s overall total to 2,058,856 confirmed cases and 32,050 deaths since the virus was first detected here in March 2020.

Hospitalization rates and case counts in Michigan have been on the decline for the last seven weeks, indicating to some health experts that the fourth surge is subsiding as predicted.

The latest figures come as the state and several Michigan counties have relaxed or intend to curtail regulations to stem the spread of the virus.

State employees in standard office and outdoor settings are generally no longer required to wear masks while working, effective Thursday.

Wayne County lifted its emergency mask order for K-12 schools earlier in February. The county’s decision came after state health officials dropped public health advisories regarding mask usage in most indoor public settings and K-12 schools.

Health departments in Washtenaw and Oakland counties lifted COVID-19 orders related to K-12 schools at the end of February.

On Wednesday, the state reported 1,004 adults and 26 pediatric patients were hospitalized with confirmed infections and 81% of the state’s inpatient hospital beds were occupied.

It’s a steep decline from records set on Jan. 10, when 4,580 adults were hospitalized with COVID-19.

About 6% of the state’s hospital beds were filled with COVID-19 patients and there were an average of 1,097 emergency room visits related to COVID-19 per day in the state as of Friday. That compares to 24% of hospital beds being full and 2,889 daily emergency room visits due to the virus in the first week of January.

Case counts continue to drop from early January when the state set a new high mark with more than 20,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 per day.

Coming off the highest case numbers of the entire pandemic, all of Michigan’s regions are experiencing declines in case rates and hospitalizations, the state health department noted earlier this month.

Three medical teams from the Department of Defense remain in Michigan at Covenant Saginaw, Henry Ford Wyandotte and Lansing-based Sparrow Health System.

In Michigan, variants of the virus have moved at a high rate, proving more contagious than past variants and infecting both unvaccinated and vaccinated residents.

The state, as of Friday, confirmed 5,000 cases of the omicron variant and 31,000 cases of the delta variant by genetic sequencing at the Michigan Bureau of Laboratories in Lansing. The majority are in southeast Michigan.

Although a small percentage of tests are selected for genetic sequencing, health officials believe roughly 95% of cases of COVID-19 in the country are caused by the omicron variant, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The percentage of COVID-19 tests returning positive in Michigan is on the decline. Minnesota and Indiana have the highest case rates in the Midwest; California and Texas have the highest case rates in the U.S.

Between Feb. 21-27, about 7.2% of Michigan’s COVID-19 tests returned positive, compared to 7.7% a week prior. There is an average of 12,625 weekly cases in the state.

Residents aged 30–39 currently have the highest case rate of any age group.

As of Monday, 50 new outbreaks were reported over the prior week. The majority, 30 outbreaks, were tallied in long-term care facilities and senior assisted living centers. Another 17 outbreaks occurred in K-12 schools, two at child daycare or sports programs, and five in jails or detention centers. The state is tracking 782 ongoing outbreak cases.

About 65%, or 6.5 million, residents have received their first doses of a vaccine, as of Tuesday, and 59% are fully vaccinated. More than 221,000 children ages 5 to 11 in Michigan, or 27%, have received their first dose of the vaccine.

More than 2.9 million vaccine booster doses have been administered in Michigan.

Approximately 2% of those fully vaccinated have been reported with a breakthrough infection, according to the state health department.


MICHIGAN MAY RESTRICT WITHDRAWALS FOR BOTTLED WATER LIKE NESTLE

BRIDGE MI — The Michigan Legislature might soon look at a package of bills that would change how the state protects groundwater. However, the goal of the bills and the legal tool the sponsors want to use might be at odds.

Do you remember when Nestlé applied to increase the amount of groundwater it was pulling from wells near Evart, Michigan?

Nearly 81,000 people asked the state to turn down the request. Only 75 indicated they supported the request. But despite overwhelming opposition, the state approved the permit in 2019. It said it had to, under the law. A lot of people were outraged.

Since then environmental groups have been trying to change the law.

“The problem with the whole water bottling system is that we’re just…we’re simply taking that public resource and turning it into a commodity. And if we walk too far down that road, we wind up to a place where water is only available for those who can afford it,” said Sean McBrearty with Clean Water Action.

He’s working with legislators to find a way to restrict groundwater withdrawals for bottled water.

Democratic Representative Yousef Rabhi is one of the sponsors working to draft the legislation.

“Right now, the Great Lakes Compact protects the Great Lakes from water withdrawal so that a state like Arizona couldn’t come and hook a pipe up to Lake Michigan and start pumping. But as long as the water is bottled and in small containers, there is no prohibition on the amount of water that can be taken out of the Great Lakes,” Rabhi said.

Once they’re drafted, the package of bills would do a couple of things: It would target companies that bottle water and it would expand the Public Trust Doctrine. That doctrine says the state holds resources in trust for the people. It must protect those resources.

The doctrine already covers surface water such as streams and lakes. It does not protect groundwater.

Lawmakers killed that idea back in 2006.

That’s when Michigan was putting together state laws to comply with the Great Lakes Compact. The intention at the time was to include groundwater under the Public Trust Doctrine protection.

Bob Wilson was counsel for the Senate Natural Resources Committee at the time. He says the idea was that water -whether underground or on the surface- is one big hydrological system.

“Because the public trust doctrine extends to bottomlands in the Great Lakes and surface water, it should also extend to the groundwater,” he said.

But there were powerful groups who didn’t want the state regulating groundwater. Big businesses including farms and manufacturers said, ‘no.’

They did not want government regulations on the amount of groundwater they used. They also understood that, “it imposes a duty on the state to protect the resource, not just enable the state the option of doing so,” said Michael Blumm, a law professor at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon who’s written extensively on public trust doctrine issues.

If the state doesn’t protect resources, citizens can take the issue to the courts.

Bob Wilson, the long-time advisor in the Michigan Senate, said it’s a good move to expand the public trust doctrine to include groundwater.

He thinks, though, it’s a mistake to single out water bottlers for regulation.

He said whether it’s bottled water, beer, irrigating crops, or manufacturing, every kind of groundwater withdrawal should be treated the same.

“You needed to regulate and take a look at the withdrawal of the water simply for the impact itself on our natural resources. It shouldn’t matter, the end users of the water, it shouldn’t matter at all.”

Still, it’s hard for politicians to ignore people’s outrage about bottled water. Think back to those 81,000 public comments protesting Nestle’s water withdrawal plans.

Representative Rabhi says people want something done about it.

“This legislation is to say, look, it’s not OK for a company to come to Michigan, pump out our groundwater. Put a price tag on it and make a profit. That’s not OK.”

Two years after it won its permit to pump more groundwater in west Michigan, Nestle sold its water bottling operation to a different company, Blue Triton. Later that year, Blue Triton announced it would not take advantage of the permit after all.

When asked for comment for this story, the company responded, “Blue Triton Brands is not in a position to comment on the legislation at this time as it has not been introduced and made public.”

The legislation is expected to be introduced in mid-March.


60-DEGREE DAY LIKELY COMING FOR SOME OF US IN MICHIGAN

MLIVE — A storm system is heading our way. Southern Michigan could have a really spring-like period in the dry stretch in the middle of this storm.

We are now transitioning from entirely winter-like storms to storms that pull some spring weather from the south. The track of the low pressure center makes all the difference in staying on the cold, snowy side of a storm or getting into the warm sector on the south side of a storm system.

The next storm will put at least the southern half of Lower Michigan in the warm sector for about 24 hours. Saturday should also have some dry conditions in the afternoon across southern Lower.

Here’s the forecast of the coming storm system. Focus at least once on the track of the storm center by looking at the smallest, inner closed circle of the dark pressure lines.

The storm center is going to track across the Straits of Mackinac region. By the second half of Saturday afternoon, areas from Saginaw, Bay City and Grand Rapids and southward will be in the dry, warm sector of the storm.

Here’s what the two best models say for a temperature forecast Saturday afternoon.

The European Model is usually pretty close at three days out. The U.S. Model is often a few degrees too cold at this far out in time. I would say anywhere from Grand Rapids to Flint and southward should make it to 60 degrees late Saturday afternoon. Kalamazoo, Lansing and Jackson should easily warm into the 60s Saturday.

The warmth should hang on into Sunday morning, although it will come with rain.

By Sunday morning the 60-degree warmth should finally make it into southeast Lower Michigan. The whole Detroit area and Ann Arbor area should have spring-like temperatures Sunday morning.

This will be the first 60-degree day in the Detroit area since Dec. 11 of last year.


WHITMER ISSUES EXECUTIVE DIRECTIVE TO SPEED UP MICHIGAN POTHOLE REPAIRS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who campaigned in 2018 on a promise to “fix the damn roads,” told the state roads agency Wednesday to pull out all stops to quickly address Michigan’s pothole problem.

That includes paying overtime, hiring more contractors, and speeding payments to local road agencies, Whitmer said in a news release after issuing an executive directive to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

“We’re kicking this into overdrive,” said Whitmer, who faces reelection in November.

“Dealing with car damage from driving over potholes while on your way to work or school is frustrating for every Michigander. No family should have to spend their hard-earned money on repairing a flat tire or a broken axle caused by these potholes. That’s why I’m directing the state transportation department to speed up pothole repairs.”

A cost for the speed-up plan was not immediately disclosed.

Whitmer said the directive is intended to address a short-term pothole problem, but she will continue to address a long-term fix to the condition of state roads.

She directed MDOT to continue broader road improvement projects to prevent potholes and other road surface issues from developing in the first place.

Whitmer said that taking office the state has repaired, replaced, or rebuilt over 13,000 lane miles of road and over 900 bridges. Her latest budget proposal gives a $1 billion boost to the state road agency.

In 2020, Whitmer announced, and the State Transportation Commission approved, a five-year, $3.5 billion road bonding plan after the Legislature rejected her proposal for a 45-cent-per-gallon increase in the state fuel tax.


MICHIGAN LAWMAKERS ADVANCE $2.5B TAX CUT PLAN

MLIVE — Michigan lawmakers advanced a proposal for slashing taxes Tuesday, approving a $2.5 billion plan to cut the state income tax rate to 3.9%, expand tax breaks for seniors and put funding toward paying down pension debt.

The Republican-led legislation would bring the state income tax from 4.25% to 3.9%, offer a $20,000-per-person income tax exemption for seniors 62 and older and drop $1.5 billion in one-time funding into paying down pension debt for local governments, road commissions and the Michigan State Police. The plan would also create new tax credits for qualified dependents.

House members voted 71-33 to advance HB 5054 to the Senate. They also voted 62-42 to pass SB 768. Both bills earned some support from a handful of Democrats, including Reps. Jewell Jones, D-Inkster, Karen Whitsett, D-Detroit and Shri Thenadar, D-Detroit.

The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, would allocate $1.5 billion in one-time funding from the state’s general fund surplus to reduce debt and improve the finances of public employee retirement systems.

Republican supporters called the proposal a way to offer meaningful tax relief to all Michigan residents, while some House Democrats questioned the long-term feasibility of the plans and whether reducing the income tax was the best way to provide targeted tax relief.

“This proposal is a no brainer,” said Thomas Albert. “If their pensions run out of money, the income tax relief we’re providing seniors won’t do them any good… Making this investment now will help deliver promised retirement benefits and essential public services in the future – without saddling our children and grandchildren with more debt.”

House Democratic Leader Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township, argued that the Republican proposal would put an unnecessary strain on the state’s revenue and would risk losing American Rescue Plan funding.

The federal government requires a state’s tax revenue to exceed the amount it took in in 2019, prior to the pandemic’s effects on the economy and government coffers. If that condition isn’t met, the state would need to cut its spending or return American Rescue Plan funds.

“This Republican tax shift is the most fiscally irresponsible action we’ve ever seen before in our chamber. Losing $6 billion in revenue in revenue is an astonishing hole in our government, and this wound to our state, our public services, our financial health will pain the people of Michigan for decades,” Lasinski said.

House Bill 5054, sponsored by Albert, provides $1.5 billion in one-time funding from the state’s general fund surplus to reduce debt and improve the finances of public employee retirement systems. Most of the funding would go to pension plans for local governments and road commissions, with an additional $350 million to improve financing in the Michigan State Police retirement system.

The plan is the latest in a string of tax cut proposals circulated by Michigan officials in light of record-high revenues in recent years.

“This is the only plan that gives relief to all Michigan families, workers and seniors,” Hall said. “If we cant do it now, when we have millions of dollars of surplus, we’re never going to do it.”

The Michigan Senate recently approved a plan to reduce both the individual income tax rate and the corporate income tax rate to 3.9%. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has proposed repealing Michigan’s so-called “pension tax” and increasing a tax credit for low-income working people from 6% to 20%.

The state’s corporate tax rate cut would stay the same under the bills passed Tuesday, a change from the Senate-passed version that would have cut it to 3.9%. Tax plans from the Legislature and the governor’s office represent a statement of priorities as budget talks get underway.

“We know that it’s easy to sell a tax cut,” said Rep. Yousef Rabhi during an impassioned floor speech Tuesday. “Things can turn on a dime and they have before, we know it,” Rabhi said. “We are making a structural change that will gut our state government for years, decades to come.”

Rabhi called the measure “pure and utter fiscal irresponsibility.”


MICHIGAN STATE EMPLOYEES WON’T HAVE TO MASK AT WORK STARTING THURSDAY

BRIDGE MI — Most Michigan government employees will no longer be required to wear a mask to work beginning Thursday unless told otherwise by their department directors.

The Michigan Office of State sent a letter to state departments on Monday that employees in standard offices and outdoor settings are generally no longer required to wear masks to protect against COVID-19. However, there are exceptions for employees working in high-risk settings such as long-term care, healthcare and correctional facilities.

“More changes to policies may be coming in the following weeks,” Director of the Office of the State Employer Liza Estlund-Olson wrote in the letter. “We look forward to seeing more of the smiles of our coworkers as we continue with our work.” The change comes as school districts and counties recently lifted mask mandates as the amount of COVID cases and hospitalizations decreased statewide.

State agencies may have different policies for visitors and to address specific operational needs. Local health departments and organizations can adopt their own masking requirements. According to the Office of State, masking requirements may return as COVID-19 conditions evolve.

Jana Nicol, an employee at the Michigan Department of Transportation, said she is concerned about officials lifting the mask mandate because her department is requiring employees to return to the Lansing headquarter or regional offices twice a week beginning in May.

“I’m worried because our building has not been remodeled and has an old air system,” Nicol said. “Even before the pandemic, if a cold was being spread around, it seemed like everyone would get it.”

While Estlund-Olson referenced recently relaxed guidelines from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in ending mask requirements, the Michigan Republican Party accused the Whitmer administration of playing politics.

“The political science continues to shift as polling shows Democrat policies are becoming more and more unpopular,” MIGOP Communications Director Gustavo Portela said in a statement Tuesday.

“With majorities on the line in the U.S. House and Senate, along with a number of gubernatorial elections like here in Michigan, Biden and Whitmer are shifting away from these unpopular policies in an attempt to save their own skins at the ballot box this November. We’re not going to let Michiganders forget their policies wreaked havoc on our economy.”


MORE THAN 1,000 RALLY FOR PEACE FOR UKRAINE IN DETROIT’S HART PLAZA

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Children draped in blue and yellow flags joined the chorus of more than 1,000 voices singing in Ukrainian at a gathering Sunday afternoon at Detroit’s Hart Plaza in support of peace for Ukraine amid an ongoing Russian invasion.

Supporters spilled onto Jefferson Avenue, near the Joe Louis monument known by many as “The Fist,” as they waved large the Ukrainian flags and chanted “Hands off Ukraine” and “Ukraine wants peace.” Others held handmade signs reading “Stand with Ukraine” and “Stop war in Ukraine,” while motorists circled the intersection honking and waving flags in support.

Organized by the Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan, or UACRC, the event came three days after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the commencement of a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Jordan Fylonenko, communications lead of UACRC and one of the event’s organizers, said he was “blown away” by the large turnout, adding that the size of the crowd shows “the importance and gravity of what’s going on right now with the community.”

“It shows that what you’re watching on TV matters to people,” Fylonenko said. “It’s not just something going on (thousands of) miles away. It’s going to affect people here. It’s going to affect the United States. And we’re standing here to ask for people for support.”

Katherine Morozovska, a Troy resident with family in Ukraine, was adorned in a vinok — a traditional Ukrainian flower crown — and blue and yellow face paint. She said the outpouring of multi-ethnic support at the rally repeatedly brought her to tears.

“It means the world to me and my family, and every single Ukrainian out here, that I’ve seen people from Georgia, from Kazakhstan, from America,” Morozovska said.

Natalia Melnyczuk, a Livonia resident who lived in Ukraine for seven years, agreed, wishing Ukrainians “the freedom of choice to decide what kind of government to live under.”

The crowd, which met about 1 p.m. and marched on Woodward Avenue for a short while before returning to Hart Plaza, stayed to linger in the winter sunshine, showing no sign of leaving a few hours into the gathering. Organizers handed out Ukrainian snacks and hot coffee to supporters in exchange for donations as traditional music played from loudspeakers.

Although many attendees seemed to take comfort in a shared heritage and mission, they voiced feelings of anger, fright and sadness at a Russian assault on Ukraine’s independence.

“It’s not fair that innocent people are getting killed just because one man is hungry for power,” Morozovska said. “I’m here today to honor my people … and stand for what’s right.”

Police presence was measured, with some officers seen standing with supporters for pictures. Detroit Police Department and Michigan State Police officers focused primarily on traffic and crosswalk control.

The rally was organized in part to fundraise, Fylonenko said, urging supporters to contribute “donations, medical supplies, whatever they can provide.” A list of recommended charities is available at www.uacrisisresponse.org/donate.


PARENTS OF 2 OXFORD SHOOTING SURVIVORS SUE SCHOOL STAFFERS, DISTRICT

DETROIT NEWS — The parents of two students who survived the Oxford High School shooting last year are suing staffers and the district, alleging they failed to protect the youths and had reason to believe the suspect would commit violence.

The lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court lists Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Timothy Throne; Principal Steven Wolf; dean of students Nicholas Ejak; counselors Pam Fine and Shawn Hopkins; as well as three unidentified teachers.

It was launched by the lawyer for the mother of John and Anthony Asciutto as well as the father of another student, Marco Vackaro.

Much of the filing centers on the events leading up to accused shooter Ethan Crumbley bringing a Sig Sauer handgun to the high school on Nov. 30.

Among the allegations are that Throne and Wolf “had knowledge of (Crumbley’s) mental disturbance and dangerous ideations,” including after he allegedly left a severed bird head in the boys’ bathroom and “posted countdowns and threats of bodily harm, including death, on his social media accounts.”

The lawsuit accuses the superintendent and principal of downplaying the incidents and ordering others not to discuss them.

It alleges Fine failed to notify police or the school liaison officer after learning the day before the shooting that Crumbley allegedly had ammunition and a teacher saw him searching for more online.

On Nov. 30, after a teacher allegedly spotted Crumbley’s disturbing pictures in math class, including writing “blood everywhere” and depicting shooting victims, his backpack wasn’t searched, the court filing alleges.

“ …”Defendants who knew the relevant facts, knew that (Crumbley) needed immediate psychiatric intervention and should not be allowed access to the school and its students until the same could be obtained. …Upon information and belief, after being allowed to return to his classroom, EC took his backpack to a school bathroom, loaded ammunition into the 9mm handgun, and commenced his mass school shooting,” attorney Robert Giroux said in the filing. District officials and the attorney representing the school did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit recounts that John Asciutto and Marko Vackaro were shot at while walking down a hallway. Vackaro was not struck and drove Asciutto to the hospital for treatment.

Meanwhile, Asciutto’s brother hid with more than 20 other students in a classroom for about an hour, according to the lawsuit. “During that time, they heard someone using the handles on the art room door, trying to enter,” Giroux wrote.

Four Oxford classmates — Hana St. Juliana, 14; Tate Myre, 16; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; and Justin Shilling, 17 — died in the attack. Six other students and a teacher were wounded.

The suit accuses the defendants of supervisory liability, state-created danger and violating Michigan’s Child Protection Act. It seeks an unspecified amount of damages.

The shooting has sparked other litigation.

Attorney Geoffrey Fieger filed a $100 million lawsuit against the district on behalf of survivors of the mass shooting in December then amended it with 11 new counts against school officials.

In response to that case, Oxford school officials have denied “they were negligent in any manner.” Their lawyer also has called the allegations false and said his clients would claim they are immune from liability.

Myre’s parents have also sued Crumbley, his parents as well as six high school personnel.

Meanwhile, Crumbley remains at the Oakland County Jail as he awaits trial on 24 felonies including first-degree murder and terrorism. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

His parents, James and Jennifer, were ordered this week to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter in connection with the rampage.


NEW GUIDANCE: MOST IN MICHIGAN CAN DITCH THEIR MASKS FOR NOW

BRIDGE MI — The federal government gave its blessing on Friday to making masks optional indoors for broad swaths of the nation, including for residents in 66 of Michigan’s 83 counties.

In a nod to waning COVID-19 infection across the nation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday suggested that mask wearing should be optional in counties where COVID spread is low and hospitals are no longer strained by COVID patients.

Under the CDC’s new three-tied risk system, which asks local officials to look beyond just new case numbers, most Michigan counties meet the “mask-optional” guidance.  In fact, about 70 percent of the U.S. population now can feel more comfortable about going maskless indoors, though the CDC makes clear that individuals have different levels of risk.

The tiers are based on three factors: a community’s case rates, new COVID-related hospital admissions, and the number of beds occupied by COVID patients. County risk levels can be found here at the CDC’s homepage, as well as a more detailed list of recommendations, including the recommendation to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Under the CDC’s new advisory system:

  • Residents in low-level counties should consider mask wearing based on “personal preference, informed by your personal level of risk.”
  • Residents in medium-level counties should talk to a health provider and consider masks indoors if they are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe illness. Anyone who lives with or has social contact with someone at high risk for severe illness, should consider testing and masking indoors.
  • Residents in high level counties should wear a well-fitting mask in public indoors, including in K-12 schools and other community settings, regardless of vaccination status or individual risk.

The new guidance was not unexpected.

Less than a month ago, as omicron continued to batter the country and Michigan, the CDC stepped up mask recommendations by asking people to wear N95s or any other high-quality mask they could wear comfortably and “consistently.”

But cases and hospitalizations have plummeted since then.

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer dialed back the state’s mask recommendations just over a week ago, even as the final few county health departments that still had school mask mandates rescinded theirs.

Some of the mandates were lifted immediately; others — including Oakland and Washtenaw counties — were effective Feb. 28, meaning students would have returned to mask-optional classrooms, anyway, Monday.

But expect to see masks in plenty of places still in Michigan, at least in the immediate future. Michigan hospitals are likely to keep mask policies for visitors in place, for example. Spokespeople for some of the largest health systems — the newly merged Spectrum and Beaumont health systems, known as BHSH, Trinity Health Michigan, and Michigan Medicine — said patients and visitors still must be masked.

And a mask mandate remained in place Friday at Detroit Public Schools Community District, and will likely stay in place for some time, according to a statement by Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti, noting once again “the city’s lower vaccination rates and higher transmission rates.”

The guidance is unlikely to change everyday behavior for many in a state where residents have already decided to keep or ditch masks. The guidance makes clear that everyone’s risk level may be different, especially for those who are immunocompromised or face high risk of severe

JAMES, JENNIFER CRUMBLEY ORDERED TO STAND TRIAL AFTER BREAKDOWN IN COURT

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Not long after James and Jennifer Crumbley broke down crying in court after hearing an excerpt from their son’s journal, a judge ordered the distraught couple to stand trial for their alleged roles in the deadly Oxford school shooting, concluding they could have stopped the rampage that was carried out by their “troubled” son.

“The court finds that the deaths of the four victims could have been avoided if James and Jennifer Crumbley exercised ordinary care and diligence in the care of their son,” 52-3 District Court Judge Julie Nicholson said in reaching her decision. “There was extensive testimony that Ethan Crumbley was certainly a troubled young man, and that the (parents) had knowledge of that situation. But they purchased a gun, which he believed was his and and that he was free to use.”

The judge’s decision came down not long after entries from Ethan Crumbley’s journal were read in court, including this one that brought the couple to tears.

“I’m sorry for this mom and dad. I’m not trying to hurt you by doing this. I have to do this …  I hope my parents can forgive me for what I do.”

Prosecutors say Ethan Crumbley wrote those words before he allegedly carried out the Nov. 30 shooting that killed four classmates and injured seven others.

In the journal, the 15-year-old also allegedly blamed his parents for what he was about to do.

“I will cause the biggest school shooting in Michigan’s history. I will kill everyone I f—— see,” Ethan allegedly wrote. “I have fully mentally lost it after years of fighting my dark side. My parents won’t listen to me about help or a therapist.”

He also allegedly wrote: “The first victim has to be a pretty girl with a future so she can suffer like me.”

Perhaps most chilling, said Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald, was this excerpt: “I have zero help with my mental problems and it’s causing me to shoot the school. My parents won’t listen to me.”

The journal entry was among many pieces of evidence that were entered during a two-day preliminary exam in which the prosecution successfully convinced the judge to order the Crumbleys to stand trial on involuntary manslaughter charges.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Shannon Smith argued there is no evidence in the journal — or anywhere else — that Ethan told his parents that he planned to carry out a mass shooting, nor is there any evidence that the parents knew he would do this.

“The element that they can never prove is that Jennifer and James Crumbley knew that their son was going to commit the school shooting,” Smith said. “The prosecution knows this, which is why they stretched hard to make these people look like the worst parents in the world.”

Parents ‘weren’t friendly’

Hopkins said the meeting with the Crumbleys was different than other meetings he has had with parents and their kids.

“They weren’t friendly or showing care to their son,” Hopkins said. “They didn’t greet him. They didn’t hug him.”

Hopkins said he expressed to the parents that he was concerned about Ethan’s well-being and suicide ideation, gave them a list of mental health resources and said that “he needs someone to talk to for mental health support. I said as soon as possible. Today, if possible.”

But Jennifer Crumbley said that day was not an option because she had to return to work. He doesn’t recall the dad saying anything, and noted “I have never had parents arrive at the school and not take their student home.”

Hopkins said he met Ethan Crumbley during his freshman year, but that it was a brief encounter over Zoom and involved making his schedule.

He said that Ethan had no history of disciplinary problems at school, and there were no records of him being bullied. On one occasion, a Spanish teacher contacted him about Ethan and said that the student appeared sad.

Hopkins said that he checked on Ethan. After waiting outside a classroom for him, he said he went up to the teen and said, “Hey, I hear you may be having a rough time. I’m here if you need to talk.’ ”

He said, “OK.”

But Hopkins never heard from him.

Thursday’s hearing also included testimony from:

  • A gun shop owner testified that James Crumbley came into her shop on Nov. 26 with a minor and purchased the 9 mm handgun, telling her “I’ve had my eye on it for a few days.”  Police say the gun was used in the school shooting, though the defense argued on cross-examination that it’s not illegal for a minor to temporarily possess a handgun under certain circumstances, like target shooting with a parent.
  • The manager of a shooting range testified that on Nov. 27, two days before the school shooting, Ethan and his mom went target shooting together. Video was played in court of the mom and son target shooting together, though the defense argued that there’s nothing illegal about that.
  • Oakland County Sheriff Sgt. Matthew Peschke, who helped search the Crumbleys’ home on the day of the shooting, also testified Thursday. He said police searched Ethan’s room and found shell casings from a gun in plain sight, a nearly empty bottle of whiskey, folding knives, feces from a small animal and a Nazi coin — all of which were shown on a screen in court.

Prosecutors also sought to introduce as evidence a marijuana grow operation that police found in the Crumbleys’ basement. But the defense objected, arguing that information was irrelevant to the case. The judge sustained the objection.


REDISTRICTING COMMISSION GIVES ITSELF 7% PAY INCREASES DESPITE $1.2M SHORTFALL

DETROIT NEWS — The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission voted on Thursday to give its 13 members a 7% pay raise, an increase that the members framed as a cost of living adjustment in line with inflation.

The increase, approved 8-3, boosts commissioner pay from about $55,000 to about $59,000. The vote comes as their work begins to taper off and the commission faces a $1.2 million shortfall through the remaining fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The commission said its pay raise, estimated to total about $32,000 through the end of the fiscal year, will be covered by the more than $100,000 in savings realized with the departure of their general counsel, who submitted her resignation last month and whose last meeting was Thursday.

“By failing to increase the salaries we’re effectively reducing our salaries because of the inflation rate,” said Chairwoman Rebecca Szetela, an non-affiliated member of the commission.

Commission member Doug Clark voted against the increase, citing the commission’s main task — drawing new voting districts for the state House, Senate and Congress — was complete at this time.

“I don’t believe that we should have a salary increase based on our workload diminishing at this time,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the prudent thing to do at this point.”

Clark, a Republican, was joined in opposing the pay increase by Commissioner Cynthia Orton, a Republican, and Commissioner Richard Weiss, a non-affiliated member of the commission. Republican members Erin Wagner and Rhonda Lange were not present for the vote.

The 13-member commission is seeking a legal opinion on when the duties of commission members expire and how their pay should be handled moving forward. While the commission’s maps are complete, they still are completing final reports on their work and are facing two lawsuits challenging the maps.

At any point in the next 10 years, the maps could face additional challenges in court potentially leading to a court order for the commission to redraw the maps, at which point the commission would need to reconvene.

The constitutional language that created the commission appears unclear about how long their pay should continue. It requires each commissioner’s salary be at least 25% of the governor’s salary, or $39,825, and that their terms last through a “census cycle.” The language requires the Legislature to fund the commission for “each year the commission operates.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer did not include funding for the commission in her proposed budget, which begins Oct. 1.

The commission also is exploring ways to approach the GOP-led Legislature for more money. The commission faces a $1.2 million shortfall based on their “best guess” of ongoing legal costs for the defense of its maps.

Through January alone, the commission spent $477,000 on litigation and local counsel to defend the commission and its maps in court.

“We are in active conversation on how best to approach the Legislature in requesting these funds,” said Executive Director Suann Hammersmith.

The Senate would consider “any legitimate expenses,” said Matt Sweeney, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.

“But commissioners giving themselves pay raises at taxpayer expense isn’t likely to fall into that category,” he said.

Rep. Greg VanWoerkom, the Norton Shores Republican who chairs the Appropriations General Government Subcommittee, was critical of the commission.

“What job do you know where you vote for your own pay increase even when your work is done?” VanWoerkom said in a Thursday statement. “Already running a deficit, the Legislature and taxpayers will have plenty of questions should they come asking for more funding.”

The commission has come under fire for the pay raises and a roughly $50,000 expenditure for the production of a “lessons learned” documentary on their work.

On Thursday, the commission disclosed it’s spent roughly $48,000 on public opinion polling regarding the commission’s work and name recognition among Michigan voters. The commission said the purpose of the polling was to inform the work of current and future commissions.

The polling released Thursday found 41% of respondents had heard “something” about the 2018 constitutional amendment changing Michigan’s redistricting process, a figure that dropped nearly 12 percentage points from a baseline assessment in March 2021. The survey of 600 likely Michigan voters was conducted Feb. 11-14 by the Glengariff Group and had a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points. The initial baseline survey was conducted March 27-31, 2021.

Additionally, the survey found 35% of those contacted had heard of Michigan’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission and 66% of Michigan voters said the state should continue using an independent commission to redraw its political lines every 10 years.

“One of the things moving forward for any commission to realize is they need to have realistic expectations about the difficulty of engaging the voters across the state,” said pollster Richard Czuba.


MICHIGAN ENROLLMENT TICKS UP, BUT STILL DOWN SINCE BEFORE PANDEMIC

BRIDGE MI — Enrollment in Michigan schools grew slightly this year, but Detroit districts continue to lose students.

The addition of nearly 6,000 students, or 0.4 percent, may be a hopeful sign that parents are becoming more comfortable sending their children to classrooms nearly two years after Michigan schools were first shuttered due to COVID, officials said.

“We’re starting to see that public education is getting back to normal,” said Casandra Ulbrich, president of the state board of education. “Having a consistent in-person education opportunity for kids is going to help us continue to see these numbers increase.” But statewide enrollment is still down 3.7 percent since before the pandemic — and 5 percent in Detroit districts — raising questions about where those students went and concerns that declining student counts could hurt district finances.

“Let’s say you’ve lost 10 students, a small number — that’s $87,000 right there,” said Bob McCann, executive director of the K-12 Alliance, an advocacy group, noting that Michigan schools received an average of $8,700 per pupil last year. “The loss of a small number of students can have a direct impact on a district’s bottom line and the services they’re able to deliver.”

Enrollment fell by 256 students, or 0.5 percent, in the Detroit Public Schools Community District. That’s an improvement over last year, when enrollment fell by 3.7 percent.

Detroit is far from the only big-city school district grappling with enrollment declines. There are fewer students on the rolls this year in New York, Memphis, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

The same holds true in Michigan, where urban school districts have seen enrollment declines in line with DPSCD’s over the last two years. District officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Overall, the latest data suggest that Michigan’s statewide enrollment is beginning to stabilize. This fall, the state enrolled 1,443,456 students, an increase from 1,437,612 the previous fall.

In a sign that some parents remain concerned about in-person instruction, enrollment in fully online charter schools in Michigan has risen 63 percent, or 6,200 students, since fall 2019. Driven by the increase in virtual enrollments, charter school enrollment statewide increased by 988 students, or 0.6 percent..

Statewide, the enrollment increase was driven by students of color and students from low-income families:

  • Black enrollment rose 1.89 percent from fall 2020, while hispanic enrollment rose 3.16 percent. White enrollment fell 0.7 percent since fall 2020. Enrollment in all three categories has declined since fall 2019.
  • Among students from low-income families, enrollment rose 2 percent over the last year, though it has declined by 2 percent since fall 2019.

Kindergarten enrollment rose sharply this year, increasing 7 percent or 8,200 students from the prior year. That’s a reversal from last year, when enrollment declines were concentrated in kindergarten. At the same time, a marked decline in the cohort that started kindergarten during the 2020-21 school year suggests that some parents opted to have their children repeat kindergarten.

It is unclear why statewide enrollment has declined since the outset of the pandemic. While data points nationally suggest that homeschooling has increased during the pandemic, Michigan doesn’t collect homeschool enrollment data, and the state doesn’t publish private school enrollment data. Students may have left the state, though many other states are also seeing enrollment declines. And setting aside the pandemic, Michigan’s declining population is likely also playing a role.

“I don’t know” why enrollment is declining, McCann said, but he added that more families may be comfortable sending their kids to school as the pandemic wears on.

“We certainly heard at the beginning of the school year from parents who weren’t convinced it was safe to send their kids back,” he said. “We may be in a little bit of a different position in 2022.”

Michigan counts students in October and February. The February counts for this year aren’t yet available.


CORONAVIRUS TRACKER | COVID-19 CASE LEVELS NOW LOWEST SINCE AUGUST

BRIDGE MI — Michigan reported 5,931 new COVID-19 infections over the past five days on Wednesday, dropping the seven-day average to the lowest point since mid-August.

Over the past week the state has averaged 1,394 cases a day, the lowest since it was 1,339 a day on Aug.18. A month ago the state was averaging nearly 16,000 cases a day.

But the state also reported 312 additional COVID-19 deaths, including 250 that came after a review of health and medical records. Of all the reported deaths, 227 occurred in February and 73 in January.

There have now been 878 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in February over 23 days. In January there were 2,774.

The percent of coronavirus tests coming back positive fell again, with 7.7 percent of the tests over the past week coming back positive. That rate was 9.8 percent last Friday and 31 percent a month ago.

The number of patients hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 fell as well, down to 1,657 on Wednesday. There were 1,745 patients a week ago and just over 4,200 a month ago.


UKRAINIAN AMERICANS IN MICHIGAN ‘WATCH IN HORROR’ AS RUSSIA ATTACKS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Ukrainian-Americans in metro Detroit are anxiously following Russia’s attack on Ukraine, calling for support as they worry over the fate of family and others.

“It is hard to watch,” Olena Danylyuk, of Bloomfield Hills, said early Thursday morning.  “We are extremely disturbed, saddened, and angered by the senseless violence.”

Danylyuk, an immigrant from Ukraine who is vice chair of the Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan, worries about family and friends in her native country.

She said that one of her sisters and her children have fled the capitol of Kyiv, hiding in a small town. Others are in the city of Lviv. She said that they were not expecting a war today.

“They woke up in total shock,” Danylyuk said.

There are more than 39,000 Ukrainian-Americans in Michigan, according to 2019 Census data. They have held two rallies in recent weeks in support of Ukraine and are planning a third one at 5 p.m. Thursday at St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic in Warren.

“Ukrainian-Americans watch in horror as their ancestral homeland is being invaded by the Kremlin’s forces,” Mykola Murskyj, chair of the Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan, said in a statement late Wednesday night. “There’s only one aggressor in this — Russia. … Innocent people are losing their homes and their lives.”

Murskyj added: “We urge our fellow Americans to pray for the resolution of this senseless violence and for the safety of the Ukrainian people. Slava Ukraini! (Glory to Ukraine.) God bless the United States and Ukraine.”

In a statement released late Wednesday, President Biden said: “The prayers of the entire world are with the people of Ukraine tonight as they suffer an unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces. President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering. Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way. The world will hold Russia accountable.”

Murskyj also blamed Russia.

“At the United Nations Security Council tonight, country after country has pleaded with President Putin to choose peace at the very same moment that ballistic missiles are exploding Ukrainian cities,” he said. “Russian leaders — desperate to destroy Ukraine’s democracy — have chosen war over diplomacy.”

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, a former CIA and Pentagon official who has been outspoken in criticizing Putin, said on Twitter late Wednesday: “Firing artillery or missiles into Ukraine makes clear that Putin has his own distorted, delusional view of the world. He’s lying about the need for military operations to propagandize his own people — and he’s taking us into a very serious and dangerous chapter.”

U.S. Rep Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, wrote on Twitter Thursday morning: “Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified declaration of war against the sovereign nation of Ukraine calls for an immediate, strong, and coordinated response from the U.S. and our allies. Praying for the people of Ukraine.”


MICHIGAN’S UPPER PENINSULA BURIED IN RECORD SNOWFALL

DETROIT NEWS — As Metro Detroit prepares for more snow, parts of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are digging out from record-breaking totals.

The National Weather Service office in Marquette reported two consecutive days with multiple historic precipitation numbers. Some 21.6 inches fell, burying the prior Feb. 22 record of 7.5 set in 1974, the weather service reported.

“Yesterday’s snow was the single largest snowfall amount for any day in February on record,” NWS said, announcing the stunning total for Tuesday.

There were other heavy hauls noted across the U.P.

“Areas prone to NE wind lake-effect have had their fair share of snow the last couple days,” said in a statement Wednesday, referring to Lake Superior.

On Monday, the station notched 0.70 inches of melted snow or precipitation, beating the record 0.37 set on Feb. 21, 1979.

Then came the snow: 9.7 inches, burying the previous record for the date, 6.9, set in 2009.

Tuesday again had double feats. Marquette saw 1.36 inches of precipitation, blasting the old record from 2017: 0.38.

But the snowfall record was legendary.

Some 21.6 inches fell, burying the prior Feb. 22 record of 7.5 set in 1974, the weather service reported.

The old record for the month was 19.4 set on Feb. 26, 2002.

Negaunee Township added to its massive haul this winter.

“An additional 2 inches of snow fell at the National Weather Service Office in Negaunee Township between 7 AM and 1 PM which brings our official 54 hour storm total to 37.1 inches,” the weather service tweeted Wednesday.

Other totals the agency recorded between Monday and Wednesday included 30 inches in Ishpeming; 24 in Sands Township; 23 in Herman; 22 in Trowbridge Park; 20.8 in Baraga; and 14.4 in Ironwood.

Meanwhile, Marquette has seen 56.3 inches of snow so far in February, the weather service reported Wednesday. That’s 26.1 inches above normal.


JUDGE TO DECIDE IF OXFORD SCHOOL SHOOTING SUSPECT SHOULD MOVE TO YOUTH DETENTION CENTER

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Oxford school shooting suspect Ethan Crumbley is due back in court Tuesday to find out if he will be sent to a youth detention center, as his lawyers have requested.

The defense argues that an adult jail is no place for the 15-year-old suspect, who is locked up on terrorism and first-degree murder charges for allegedly carrying out the Nov. 30 mass shooting at Oxford High School with a gun his parents bought him. Four students died and six students and a teacher were injured in the shooting.

Prosecutors have argued that Ethan Crumbley belongs behind bars due to the severity of the alleged crime. He is being held on no bond in the Oakland County Jail. His lawyers are fighting to have him sent to the Children’s Village in Pontiac pending the outcome of his case.

The defense has expressed concerns that Crumbley can hear the adult prisoners in nearby cells, which is a violation of a federal statute that says juveniles held in adult jails or prisons cannot be within sight or sound of adult inmates. The defense also has argued that the teen’s mental and emotional wellbeing may be harmed in that environment, and that a juvenile facility is more fitting, where he could go to school and get more help.

“I understand the severity of what occurred. I think everybody does, including Mr. Crumbley,” Deborah McKelvy, a guardian ad litem assigned to Crumbley, has argued in court.

But, McKelvy added: “I do have concerns for him and his mental and emotional well-being. … The jail is not conducive, not designed for juveniles.”

Ethan Crumbley’s lawyer, Paulette Loftin, also has argued that the teenager has never been in trouble before the shooting and has no history of assaulting kids.

“There are other juveniles housed at Children’s Village charged with murder. This would not be the first time,” Loftin has argued.

The prosecution is adamantly opposed to moving him out of jail, saying Ethan Crumbley is where he belongs given what happened.

“This was a mass murder at a school .. It was planned. It was premeditated. … He targeted juveniles,” Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor Marc Keast has previously argued.

Those arguments convinced a lower court judge to keep Ethan Crumbley in jail. The case is now before Oakland County Circuit Judge Kwame Rowe, who scheduled a hearing for 2 p.m. Tuesday to take up the issue.

Ethan Crumbley is charged in the deaths of four classmates. According to police and prosecutors, Crumbley shot up his school using a gun that his parents had bought him four days earlier as a Christmas present.

The parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley, also have been charged in the case. They are facing involuntary manslaughter charges for allegedly failing to keep the gun secure, and never notifying the school about the gun when they had a chance to.

Ethan Crumbley has pleaded not guilty through his lawyers, who have said they are preparing an insanity defense.


GRAND HAVEN UPS PARTY VIBE WITH DOWNTOWN STREET CLOSURE ALL SUMMER

MLIVE — Grand Haven is upping its downtown party vibe with the full closure this summer of a block of its main street for social gathering and outdoor dining.

The first block of Washington Avenue, from Harbor Drive to First Street, will be closed to traffic from May 1 through Sept. 30. Half the street was closed the last two summers to allow for more outdoor dining during COVID pandemic restrictions.

 

The Grand Haven City Council on Monday, Feb. 21, unanimously approved the one-year experiment.

“The thought is we’re creating a gathering space for the community to and enjoy and that in turn will … create a more vibrant area that more people visit,” said Jeremy Swiftney, executive director for the Main Street Grand Haven Downtown Development Authority.

After studying the issue since last summer, the DDA recommended the council close the street, leaving access for emergency vehicles, from May through October. The council amended that timeframe to the end of September to avoid the appearance of “a dead zone” when cold temperatures push people back inside.

The area is also part of Grand Haven’s social district, meaning drinks from participating establishments can be taken out onto the sidewalks to be consumed. City officials said they will have to check state rules to see if those drinks also can be taken onto the closed public street.

The block is home to about nine eating and drinking establishments, including The Kirby House, Odd Side Ales, Long Road Distillers, Anna’s House and Porto Bello.

Each establishment will be able to delineate its own outdoor area on the public street using planters, ropes or other items. The concrete barriers the city made available last year to protect the outdoor areas from street traffic will not be used this summer.

In addition, the DDA will create an area for the public to use with picnic tables and games, Swiftney said.

Tim Riley, general manager of The Kirby House, said his establishment plans to offer more outdoor music on the street this summer.

“It’s not just about food and beverage there,” Riley told the council. “That’s a great space for tourists, for locals to gather and meet…This expands the opportunity for others to enjoy that space.”

The block also is home to two retail shops, The Calico Cat and the Surf Shop, as well as Harbor View Eye Care optometry.

Swiftney said sufficient breaks in the outdoor dining areas should take away concerns about access to retail shops.

Kelly Larson, owner of Fortino’s retail shop in the next block of Washington, told the council the street closure will be good for the downtown.

“I love the vibe,” she said. “I think it’s super fun…It’s a really great effort to maintain the excellent atmosphere downtown.”

The social district, allowed under state law pushed forward during the pandemic, is among the “interesting opportunities” COVID brought about, said Grand Haven City Council Member Ryan Cummins.

“I never thought we’d be dining in the streets,” he said.

The council made special consideration for The Toasted Pickle, also located in the next block of Washington, at the request of owner Jim Avery. It will be allowed again this summer to use about two parking spaces to create its own outdoor dining space on Washington Avenue.

Avery said having the outdoor dining space “was wonderful” for this business and he received “a ton” of positive feedback about other outdoor dining areas as well.

Establishments that use Washington Avenue for outdoor seating most likely will be charged rent for using the public space. City Manager Patrick McGinnis said he will bring proposed rent amounts to the council soon.

It will be up to each business to decide how much of the outdoor space they will use. Some may not need as much as they did the last two years since pandemic-related restrictions on indoor dining have been lifted, Swiftney said.

The street closure will take away 22 parking spot, which is 11 more than last year’s partial street closure took up.

Doug Vance, owner of The Copper Post at Washington and First Street, said more parking is desperately needed.

Vance didn’t directly address the Washington Avenue closure, but said his customers and tenants of 11 apartments above his business struggle to find parking downtown. Vance inferred he has plans to upgrade his 150-year-old building, but only if the council does something about the lack of parking that he said he brought to its attention along with suggestions for improvement a year ago.


NORTHERN MICHIGAN HEALTH DIRECTOR QUITS, CITES ANGER OVER MASK MANDATES

BRIDGE MI — A northern Michigan health officer who drew intense criticism over school mask mandates in six counties announced her resignation Tuesday, citing a “hostile work environment” created by the multi-county Board of Health.

Lisa Peacock will leave her positions as health officer for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, which covers Emmett, Charlevoix, Otsego and Antrim counties, and the Benzie-Leelanau District Health District, on April 29, according to her resignation letter.

The resignation follows months of vitriol in the region over school mask mandates her department implemented. The department rescinded the orders last week, as did several other health departments, citing falling COVID-19 case rates. But Peacock told Bridge Michigan late Tuesday that she didn’t believe her relationship with the health board “was getting better any time soon.” Her resignation from the Northwest Michigan health department means she will also no longer serve as health officer in Benzie and Leelanau counties, because those counties contract with Northwest Michigan for a health officer.

“I love my job and I love the people of northern Michigan,” Peacock told Bridge Michigan late Tuesday. “But my health is suffering.”

Some members of the board of the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, made up of two commissioners from each of the four counties, had tried to fire Peacock last fall over the mask mandate, but that motion failed on a 5-3 vote. While the four counties share a health department, they are politically split between conservative and progressive constituencies.

In September, shortly after Peacock had instituted school mask mandates in the six counties amid the delta variant, a board of health meeting was so tumultuous that two commissioners resigned and Peacock took a medical leave.

She also had become a known face to local residents from weekly public COVID updates, streamed on Facebook, with Traverse City-based Munson Healthcare.

Even after the mask mandate was lifted last week, the board of health is still  considering cutting the health department’s budget, Peacock told Bridge, citing the agenda for a meeting next week.

“I am most disappointed in the recent retaliation I have endured for the issuance of a public health order aimed at protecting children, school staff, and the general public,” Peacock wrote in her resignation letter, given to board of health members at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“I am extremely disheartened by the board members who have questioned my integrity and intentions and have even expressed their belief that I deserve the abuse I have received. The public attacks and campaign of humiliation at public meetings is something I no longer have the strength to endure, and no reasonable professional would, either.”

The resignation appeared sudden. Just a few hours earlier, Peacock appeared publicly in the regular call with Munson Healthcare. She said she was optimistic about declining COVID case rates and about celebrating those as a community.

“This is wonderful that we’re in the stage, and we expect to see that happen for longer periods of time as COVID evolves,” she said.

“As we move through the cycle together, it’s just important to understand that we know more now, we have more tools in our toolbox, and we’re able to kind of enjoy this recovery post-surge,” she said.

At noon Tuesday, she joined a call with fellow executive committee members of the Michigan Association for Local Public Health, which represents Michigan’s local health departments.

“She said nothing about it (leaving),” said Norm Hess, the group’s executive director.

Peacock was set to become MALPH’s president this past October. But last fall, as political divisions over COVID policies mounted, several county commissioners unsuccessfully tried to oust Peacock and the health department’s medical director Dr. Josh Meyerson.

Given the local “difficulties,” she asked MALPH President Nick Derusha to continue his role, Hess said.

Hess and Derusha told Bridge Tuesday evening they were not aware of Peacock’s resignation. Both, though, said they were not surprised, given the community’s reaction to her mask orders.

“It’s a sad, sad day when a true local public health professional that has dedicated her career to protecting the health of her community is driven out by pandemic politics,” Derusha said.

He said Peacock’s feelings are shared by other health officers who also have endured two years of criticism and second-guessing over pandemic orders.

“If somebody says they don’t feel like that, they’re probably lying,” he said.


AFTER MASSIVE FIRE, OAKLAND HILLS WILL BUILD A REPLICA CLUBHOUSE

THE OAKLAND PRESS — Following the massive fire at the Oakland Hills clubhouse on Thursday, the club is moving forward on rebuilding and making the club operational for the golf season that opens in a few months.

“I can report that at our board meeting this past Saturday morning, the board unanimously made an easy decision to determine that the restored. rebuilt clubhouse will be a replica of what the iconic clubhouse was before the fire,’’ Oakland Hills President Rick Palmer said on a Zoom on Monday morning.

He said the decision was easy after the outpouring of support from the membership and the golf community.

They are in the process of looking at architects for the rebuild.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation by the Bloomfield Township Fire Department.

“Our insurance carrier will make the final determination if it is a total loss, however we are operating internally and planning that it is a total loss and taking steps assuming that will be the case,’’ Palmer said.

The club has also retained an independent insurance adjuster. Palmer said it’s still too early to comment on any specifics such as dollar amounts.

He confirmed that much of the memorabilia was saved through efforts of the fire department. The fire crew had a window and asked Oakland Hills workers where the memorabilia was located.

“”They kept going in and out of the facility and actually passed that out to our employees who formed a kind of bread line and loaded that into the van,’’ Palmer said. “There are a lot of items that got recovered, a lot of our valuable items got recovered, but we’re just assessing whether they are fully OK and restored.’’

He said they are hopeful to retrieve more items.

Palmer was emphatic about one thing.

“What happened at Oakland Hills was very devastating emotionally, but tragedies are Oxford schools and COVID-19. We lost things,’’ Palmer said. Four students were killed at Oxford High School in November.

The plan is for a full golf schedule for this year.

“Keep in mind that other than the clubhouse fire, our tennis building, our golf shop, golf operations building and maintenance facility were all untouched.,’’ Palmer said.

Some type of temporary structure could be added. It is unclear at this point.

“That is ongoing right now, what are our options, where will that be, what does it look like. And really we want to move quickly but we want to move slow in order to move fast because we’re really making not just the 2022 decision, we’re making 2023 and potentially 2024 depending on the process,’’ Palmer said.

He said the USGA has been helpful offering assistance for temporary structures like they do at events for pavilions and merchandising.

Palmer said Oakland Hills will help reschedule weddings and charity events at nearby country clubs that have offered to help.

He also noted along with local clubs, the Golf Association Managers of Michigan have reached out and made all of their facilities available for dining and other things for Oakland Hills members.

Also the National Club Association has established a nationwide marching fund for monetary assistance to the workers who will be out until they get opened up.

Palmer said there were 25 full-time employees in the building when the fire broke out. That is the typical number of workers for January, February and March. Once the golf season gets going they typically have 300 employees.

Palmer was on the Zoom call from Barton Malow offices in Southfield. Or, as he called it, Oakland Hills South. The construction company on Friday offered space for 25 workstations, along with technology and anything else required.

“We are fully operational from an administrative perspective 48 hours after we started. Besides the physical space, their employees welcoming our employees has been overwhelming,’’ Palmer said.

When the  recent $12 million renovation of the South Course at Oakland Hills was ongoing the motto was “forward together” which Palmer said is absolutely appropriate for the next steps.

“We are resolved and dedicated to move forward with all diligence to come back stronger than ever. We are confident about our future and all the great things we hope to achieve,’’ Palmer said.


MICHIGAN NEEDS SKILLED WORKERS, BUT LACKS ENOUGH INSTRUCTORS TO TRAIN THEM

BRIDGE MI — Mary Kay Voeks unlocked the door to a darkened classroom at Mt. Pleasant High School. She flicked on the lights to reveal 12 empty desks with 3-D printers on each of them.

In the front of the room were two large, yellow robotic arms.

Two years ago, this classroom, along with a fully outfitted computer lab across the hall, were filled with 60 students a day learning industrial electronics, computer programming and robotics. But the classrooms have gathered dust the past two school years.

It’s not for lack of interest — students from across Isabella and Gratiot counties sign up for this career and technical education program every spring. And businesses in the mid-Michigan region still want employees with skills in robotics, said Voeks, the principal of the Gratiot-Isabella Technical Education Center, which is located in a wing of the high school

But career tech officials can’t find an instructor.

The program instructor at Mt. Pleasant High quit in August 2020. For 18 months, Voeks has been advertising for a replacement — someone with technical know-how, no teacher license required — and received zero applications.

The reason is simple, sobering, and similar to what is happening at some other career tech centers around the state:

“People in this industry are getting paid three times what a (K-12 classroom) teacher would be paid,” Voeks said.

CTE enrollment in Michigan has grown 21 percent since 2013-14. More than 100,000 high school students — 30 percent of all 10th- through 12th-graders — took at least one CTE class in 2020-21.

Career tech programming has taken on greater importance as Michigan businesses have struggled to find enough skilled workers.

That same worker shortage has hit CTE. The more demand there is for skilled workers in a field, the harder it becomes to find instructors to offer training in that field. While businesses can increase pay to find skilled workers, high school-level career and tech education programs are limited to the pay scale of traditional teachers, because of union contracts that set school district pay scales, according to CTE administrators who spoke to Bridge.

Recently in the Gratiot-Isabella Career Center, “we had a mechanical drafting instructor who resigned after the first trimester of this year,” said Doug Bush, associate superintendent of CTE. “They were offering him $25,000 more to come back to work for his old employer.

“Luckily, we found a replacement,” Bush said.

New instructors, no matter if they are experts in culinary arts or computerized manufacturing, are usually paid the same pay as a first-year teacher, which is typically under $40,000 a year.

By comparison, the average salary in Michigan for an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air condition) technician is, including overtime, $65,000 a year.

“We have had an HVAC class, state approved, for two years, and we cannot find an instructor,” said Chris Machiniak, assistant superintendent of career and technical education for Berrien Regional Educational Service Agency, which provides services for school districts in that west Michigan county.

“The higher skill you get, the more they can walk out and make three times in the private sector what they can make in (CTE),” he said.

Machiniak said CTE classes related to engineering, manufacturing and industrial technology have been particularly hard hit by the worker shortage.

“We’ve had business and industry pressure put on us” to offer industry-related classes, he said. “We said, ‘look, give us someone (one of your employees) part-time (as an instructor).’ But they can’t find enough people to do the work they have, so they can’t. “If we can build a pathway (to train more students in CTE), we could be cranking kids out in a year or two,” Machiniak said. “But (businesses) need people now.”

CTE instructors in Michigan need certification in their field, but are not required to have a teaching license, any background in education or a college degree of any kind.

Instructors who lack a college degree are required to take classes toward a degree in their field, but they have 10 years to complete the degree, said Gratiot-Isabella’s Voeks. Still, Voeks’ center has had no luck finding anyone who would allow her to unlock the computer and electronic robotics labs for good.

“We may have to find a young person or someone who’s retired,” Voeks said. “That’s the niche, and we haven’t found them yet.”

After the instructor left in August 2020, the Mt. Pleasant career tech center received delivery of a new industrial robot. The box sits in a closet, unopened.

Voeks picked up a plastic face mask filter from one of the desks in the industrial electronics and computer lab. It’s the last project students completed on the center’s 3-D printers. in the spring of 2020.

“It’s disappointing we have such an outstanding place for students and it sits idle,” Voeks said. “There are so many jobs out there. We’re the pipeline, and I feel bad we can’t fill that pipeline.”


ROYAL OAK LIBRARY CLOSING SOUTH ENTRANCE FOR NEW TERRACE CONSTRUCTION

THE OAKLAND PRESS — Workers are set to begin construction Tuesday on a new colorful terrace on the south side of the Royal Oak Public Library.

The south side entrance of the library will have to close for up to a month, and patrons will be limited to accessing the facility at the entrance on 11 Mile Road.

Library Director Sandy Irwin said the north entrance has ADA compliant paddles that allow wheelchair or walker users and others to open the doors there.

The new terrace will overlook the Centennial Commons downtown park when it is finished and have cafe-style tables and chairs.

Overhead, 14 lime green canopies will be attached to tubed columns of stainless steel 13-feet high to offer shade out on the new 76-by-44-foot terrace, which will include new floodlights.

“We’re really looking forward to it,” Irwin said, “and hope to do some of our programs out on the terrace.”

Library employees will begin to plan which programs they conduct on the terrace after it is completed, and start offering the programs in the summer, she added.

Irwin was named library director last year and last worked at the public library in Durango, Colo.

“We had an enclosed terrace there and seating outside,” she said. “People enjoyed picking up lunch and reading out there.”

Similarly, Irwin said she expects the terrace in Royal Oak to draw more people to the library area and spur more foot traffic inside as well.

“We’re excited to envision the future of the whole area here and how the library interacts with Centennial Commons,” Irwin said.

The canopies are made of circular ribbons of steel with openings in the center and on a portion of the outside.

Color on the canopies is powder-coated and enamel baked to keep it from requiring repainting because of flaking, said Judy Davids, the city’s community engagement specialist.

“It’s going to be spectacular and add a pop of color,” Davids said. “The terrace will be a major focal point of the park.”

Most of Centennial Commons is already completed, but there are features that will be installed in the coming months.

The park will be further landscaped after spring arrives and the snow fencing protecting the sod is removed.

Workers will begin installing a unisex bathroom and a nearby splash pad after the weather warms up, Davids said.

“All the plumbing has been completed, but there’s some concrete work to be done,” she said.

The splash pad will cover a 26-by-52-foot area and have 18 fountain jet heads that spray water up from the ground.

The area will be covered with granite pavers and a large concrete bench will be added along one side of the splash area, Davids said.

Royal Oak opened Centennial Park to the public in December 2021. The opening coincided with the community’s 100th year as a city.


CAUSE OF MASSIVE OAKLAND HILLS FIRE? THOSE AT SCENE SAY, ‘WE MAY NEVER KNOW’

DETROIT FREE PRESS — It was one of Michigan’s largest wooden structures and modeled after George Washington’s historic mansion at Mount Vernon.

More than 24 hours after Thursday’s momentous fire that destroyed the historic Oakland Hills County Club clubhouse, firefighters were still pouring water Friday afternoon on “hot spots,” trying to keep the piles of century-old timbers from reigniting.

They’d spent the entire night on the scene at Maple Road just east of Telegraph in the heart of Oakland County’s affluence, officials said Friday. At the same time, local firefighting veterans were looking ahead.

The Bloomfield Township Fire Department was forming a team of inspectors, to include experts from the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and from multiple insurers that are said to have provided coverage for the venerable clubhouse. Bloomfield Township Fire Marshal Peter Vlahos predicted they’d end up conducting “one of the most extensive investigations that I’ve ever been involved with” in the community of more than 42,000 residents.

Yet, already both Vlahos and his boss — Fire Chief John LeRoy — said they believe that the cause of the blaze may never be known.

Like most commercial buildings, the clubhouse was equipped with heat-sensitive, ceiling-mounted sprinklers which — when their “fusible link melts, usually at 165 degrees Fahrenheit” — begin emitting a mist-like spray usually in a circular pattern, according to Craig Holmes, a retired civil engineer and risk-management consultant in Brighton. Still, the clubhouse sprinklers had been unable to quench the fire.

The fire’s origin and initial spread “may have been in the walls and between the floors, so the sprinklers couldn’t get at it,” LeRoy said. The initial 911 call for the fire came at 9:17 a.m. Thursday after a cook smelled smoke in the kitchen, although it’s unknown whether the fire started there, LeRoy said.

His dire prediction: “We’ll probably never know what truly happened, the damage is so far advanced.”

The piles of ancient smoldering timbers are so daunting that fire inspectors will be challenged to survey the ruins, Bloomfield Township Fire Marshal Peter Vlahos told the Free Press. Likewise, Vlahos also said he was doubtful that a cause would be pinpointed.

“We’re going to have to use some heavy machinery” to move debris so that inspectors can, literally, get to the bottom of the conflagration’s trail of evidence, Vlahos said.

And when they get there? Clear evidence of the fire’s cause may well have gone up in smoke.


UKRAINIANS RALLY IN WARREN WITH POLITICIANS AND FAITH LEADERS IN SUPPORT OF HOMELAND

DETROIT NEWS — When people tell Borys Potapenko that his Ukrainian activism is a result of his personal connection to the country, he scoffs.

Though his own family history is rife with examples of violence endured in Ukraine in the past century, Potapenko, 71, says he advocates for Ukraine because of the millions of lives lost due to wars and famine and the others that might be lost if Russia invades Ukraine.

Potapenko, with the Detroit chapter of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, helped organize an “All-Community Rally” Sunday with the Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan to speak out against the threat from Russia and to commemorate protesters who were shot by snipers in Ukraine in 2014 known as “the Heavenly Hundred” and others who died. 

“It’s got to do with 40 million dead in the 20th century, 14,000 more in the last eight years. And God only knows what is going to happen perhaps in the next days,” said Potapenko.

President Joe Biden last week said he was “convinced” Russia President Vladimir Putin had decided to invade Ukraine, including an assault on the capital, Kyiv, a city of nearly three million people. Hundreds of thousands of Russian troops are stationed at the Ukrainian border, but the country denies its intention to invade.

“What President Biden is doing right now is totally unprecedented,” said Potapenko. “For him to say that Ukraine’s freedom is so important that the U.S. will band their allies together, that they will stand up to Putin, that they will defend Ukraine, that’s like a wild dream.”

In Warren, some 250 attendees trickled into the crowded banquet hall, and the rally began with opening remarks by Mykola Murskyj, chairman of the crisis response committee, who said he grew up listening to his grandmother’s stories about the struggles Ukrainians endured before their country declared independence in 1991.

“The prospect that Vladimir Putin’s ambitions of empire could undo centuries of freedom fighting, could undo all the work of millions of fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, who left home to fight for freedom … That terrifies me,” said Murskyij.

By the committee’s estimate, 46,000 people of Ukrainian heritage live in Michigan. The event Sunday was held to raise awareness about the imminent danger of a Russian invasion and occupation, as well as to highlight the plight of Ukrainians living in Crimea, including the region’s indigenous Muslim population, the Tatars.

Murskyij and other organizers spoke of the massive human and economic toll of a war in Ukraine, and penned a letter to Biden and urged the federal government to enact severe, immediate sanctions against Russia if the country invaded Ukraine, including personal sanctions against Kremlin leaders. They also recommended continued  defense security assistance.

Senior U.S. officials on Sunday defended their decision to hold off on crippling sanctions of Russia ahead of an expected invasion, leaving open the door for a diplomatic solution.

“In these coming days and weeks, we will have to decide whether our convictions mean anything,” said Murskyij. “Whether right and wrong are something more than nice ideas.”

A Presentation of the Colors, in which American and Ukrainian flags were carried onto the stage by Ukrainian-American veterans, followed Murksyij’s remarks. The crowd, all standing, sang both countries’ national anthems, before a prayer for peace was led by the Rev. Daniel Schajkoski of the Immaculate Conception Ukrainian Catholic Church.

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts joined organizers in calling on the U.S. to continue its support of Ukraine’s democracy, and emphasized the importance of unity between Democrats, Republicans and Independents in the country when it comes to protecting Ukraine’s democracy.

Fouts commended politicians like U.S. Rep. Hayley Stevens, D-Rochester, and Rocky Raczkowski, chair of the Oakland County Republican Party, for attending the rally Sunday and embodying that unity.

The newly elected mayor of Hamtramck, Amer Ghalib, said he attended the event in the solidarity with the Ukrainian community which is “part of the fabric of Hamtramck.”

“There is no good war and bad war, all war is bad,” said Ghalib, stressing his support for a democratic Ukraine and opposition to a war that would create “a mess all around the world.”

Outside the banquet hall, Eugene Bondarenko, 33, of Ann Arbor, said he was happy about the difference he saw between the West’s reaction to the Ukraine crisis in 2014 and 2022.

“In 2014, the Ukrainian community was largely playing catch-up to a degree where sometimes we had to to explain … hey, we’re actually a different country (than Russia), with a different language,” said Bondarenko, who teaches Ukranian and Russian languages and cultures at the University of Michigan.

“I’m very heartened by the fact that the West has taken sort of a more active role in this,” he added.

Ukrainians in the country have been the calmest group about the prospect of a Russian invasion, Bondarenko said, with many doubting the possibility of a full-scale war. Still, he added, no one he spoke to ever said that they would leave the country because they were afraid of having to fight.

“I really hope that the Kremlin is aware of this,” he said.

For Maria Kohut’s parents, leaving the country was not a choice. Like Potapenko’s parents, they were forced into Nazi labor camps during World War II.

Kohut, 77, of West Bloomfield was born in Munich, and wasn’t able to visit her parents’ homeland and see the impact of the Soviet Union’s occupation until she was in her 40s.

She sees the impact of the Soviet Union and Russia on her family to this day, however, and said it reached her children as well. She blames Russia for having a small family, without a connection to her parents’ siblings and other relatives.

“Russians, what they did in war after war, is they took families apart,” said Kohut. “My family was separated; some are in Poland, in Germany, in Ukraine, all in different places.”

This meant Kohut grew up without an extended family, and raised her children without one as well.

“In the summer, your next door neighbors have barbecues. They have a big family, aunts, uncles, grandma, grandpa and they’re all happy,” said Kohut. “And you’re kind of alone.

“I never had any support group to help me raise my children. Always I had to fight my own battles.”


DNR ANNOUNCES FISHING REGULATIONS FOR MICHIGAN’S 2022 SEASON

BRIDGE MI — Expanded underwater spearfishing, catch limits and size restrictions are among Michigan’s new fishing laws.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources this week announced most of the changes will go into effect April 1. Fishing licenses go on sale online March 1 and are valid for a year.

Here is a direct look at some of the fishing changes for 2022. Walleye size limit increased in Lake St. Clair and St. Clair River

Anglers who are fishing in Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River have to catch longer walleye. The DNR increased the size limit minimum from 13 inches to 15 inches, which is the same as the statewide regulation.

The DNR changed the minimum size limit to make its walleye regulations uniform throughout the connected waters of the St. Clair-Detroit River system. The system includes Lake St. Clair, the St. Clair River, the Detroit River and Lake Erie.

Catch more round whitefish in Lake Superior

Anglers can try to catch more whitefish in Lake Superior. The DNR increased the daily round whitefish limit to allow anglers to keep 10 additional fish in Lake Superior.

Similar to the lake whitefish, but smaller, few round whitefish are caught by recreational anglers because it is primarily a commercial species. That’s because round whitefish are rarely seen unless they venture into shallow waters in April and May and again in October and November to breed.

Underwater spearfishing in southern Lake Michigan and Lake Huron

Anyone interested in trying to spear lake trout, northern pike, and walleye underwater can do so in southern Lake Michigan and Lake Huron starting April 1. Such areas include waters south of the southernmost pier at Grand Haven and waters south of the southernmost pier of Thunder Bay River, extending south to the mouth of the St. Clair River.

Underwater spearfishing involves gear and slingshot-like elastic-powered spearguns to catch fish.

The DNR does not expect many people to catch a lot of fish using this unique and demanding method. So, the agency is not concerned about the expansion causing biological concerns.

Underwater spearers will have to get a no-cost underwater license and report their effort and harvest monthly to the DNR.

This way the agency can track and collect information about the number of people taking part in the activity.

More fishing in Torch and Rapid rivers with special hooks

Anglers can fish on Torch River in Antrim County and Rapid River in Delta County from May 1 to July under the DNR’s new special hook regulations.

To fish legally on Torch River from the Crystal Beach Road Bridge downstream to Lake Skegemog including the Rapid River up to Aarwood Road Bridge, anglers have to use a single-pointed hook measuring one-half inch or less from point to shank from May 1 to July 1.

According to the DNR, the regulation replaces the fishing closure on these waters and allows anglers to fish while protecting resources.

Catch only one rainbow trout (steelhead) a day in some waters

Anglers may only catch one rainbow trout (steelhead) in some inland streams from March 15 to May 1.

The Michigan Natural Resource Commission, the government body that approves new wildlife and fish regulations, changed the bag limit in November 2021 amid declining steelhead populations in some tributaries.

The one fish bag limit applies to Bear Creek, Manistee River, Pere Marquette, Muskegon River, Manistique River and Carp River.

The steelhead population in Lake Michigan has steadily declined from 3.5 million in 2011 to just under 3 million in 2018, according to the state Steelhead populations at Little Manistee Weir dropped significantly from just over 6,000 in 2002 to just under 2,000 in 2020.


MASSIVE FIRE CAUSES ‘EXTENSIVE’ DAMAGE AT OAKLAND HILLS COUNTRY CLUB

DETROIT NEWS — A massive blaze Thursday caused “extensive” damage to the Oakland Hills Country Club, complicating the future of an ornate and historic facility that has been host to major national golf championships.

People in the clubhouse alerted firefighters to the smell of smoke at 9:17 a.m., Bloomfield Township Fire Chief John LeRoy said. Firefighters used thermal imaging cameras and drilled inspection holes in the ceiling to find flames in the attic. It was difficult to find the cause of the smell in such a large building, LeRoy said. The clubhouse is 110,000 square feet.

The stately clubhouse was engulfed by mid-morning in a blaze of spectacular size. The fire lost some strength by mid-afternoon, but by 6:20 p.m. had grown again on the south end of the building

Crews remained on the scene through 11 p.m. and were expected to stay throughout the night, the township fire department said.

“It’s a tough, tough day,” said Rick Palmer, Oakland Hills club president. “It’s really a devastating day for Oakland Hills, for the golf community, for our members, for our staff. There’s so much history. But the blessings are, nobody was injured and everybody got out of the building.”

He described the back of the building as “not recoverable.”

Oakland Hills is over a century old and highly ranked in the golf industry and was poised to host major championships in the next decade.

The clubhouse also is a museum of sorts, displaying photos, paintings, trophies and other artifacts from majors tournaments over the years. A trophy case near the front entrance displayed replica trophies of tournaments won by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan.

Palmer and LeRoy both praised firefighters for rescuing a significant number of artifacts in the clubhouse.

“We had some mutual aid crews that were instructed where the things were, since (the fire) was in the attic at the time,” LeRoy said. “They were able to get to locations they could get to quickly, pull that memorabilia out and hand it to the club members at the front door and go back in.”

It’s unclear how much was salvaged, and how much damage the clubhouse sustained. Firefighters were using aerial ladders to spray the clubhouse roof, and much of the afternoon smoke billowed south for miles.

The multi-story clubhouse featured a pro shop, dining halls, locker rooms, banquet facilities, meeting rooms and many more amenities for the membership of about 750. Many of the members socialize there even when not golfing, including throughout the winter, and it was a popular venue for weddings and receptions.

LeRoy said he expected firefighters would continue fighting the blaze into Friday morning.

“We’re still pouring a tremendous amount of water on this,” he said. “At this point, we’re just going to be providing copious amounts of water to put it out as best we can and as safe as we can.”

A fire official who gave an evening briefing said the building was likely going to need to be rebuilt.

More than a half dozen departments assisted, including firefighters from Farmington Hills, Rochester Hills, Southfield and Franklin.

It will take days to determine the cause of the fire, LeRoy said.

There had been recent construction ongoing on a patio, members said. It’s unclear if that was related to the fire.


WAYNE COUNTY DROPS SCHOOL MASK MANDATE ‘EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY’

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Wayne County’s chief medical officer rescinded a mask mandate for K-12 schools Thursday morning, effective immediately — following the lead of state health officials, who on Wednesday dropped a statewide mask advisory.

Starting at 8 a.m. Thursday, students and staff at all of the county’s schools were no longer required to wear masks under the county public health order. Local school districts, however, still have the authority to issue their own mask rules and may continue to mandate them.

Dr. Avani Sheth, chief medical officer for the health department said in a statement that even though masks won’t be required in K-12 schools, they remain an important tool to slow the spread of coronavirus.

“Children should continue to be supported to wear a mask, including, but not limited to for reasons such as individual and/or household risk factors and vaccination status,” Sheth said.

At Grosse Ile Township Schools, superintended Valerie Orr sent an email to parents Thursday morning announcing that the school district would follow the county health department’s guidance.

“Given the timing of their announcement, we are asking that our students continue to mask today until they have a chance to speak to their parents this evening about whether or not they should continue to mask,” Orr wrote. “However, we will not be enforcing any mask mandate today.”

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services updated its mask recommendations Wednesday for indoor, public settings, saying that rapidly falling coronavirus case rates and hospitalizations suggest the state has moved into a post-surge recovery phase. “During this phase, MDHHS recommends that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, continue to practice universal masking in high-risk congregate settings including long-term care facilities, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, jails and health care facilities,” a statement said.

“All individuals, regardless of vaccination status, should also wear a mask during isolation and quarantine periods to stop further community spread of COVID-19.”

State health officials said school districts should work with their local health departments to set mask policies.

School mask mandates are to expire at 11:59 p.m. Thursday in Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties, which are served by the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, and in Benzie and Leelanau counties, which fall under the jurisdiction of the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department.

Ingham County’s emergency public health order requiring masks in K-12 schools expires as of midnight Saturday.

Oakland and Washtenaw counties will no longer require masks in K-12 schools as of Feb. 28.

“With the continued decline in cases and hospitalizations, we are now entering a post-surge, recovery phase,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the state’s chief medical executive, in a statement issued Wednesday. “As we move through the phases of our COVID-19 response, our recommendations will be updated to reflect the current status of transmission, but we will continue to prioritize public health and promote health and wellness for all families and communities.”

The state health department still suggests those who are immunocompromised or otherwise especially vulnerable to COVID-19 to wear masks.

Although pandemic trends are rapidly improving, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends universal masking in K-12 schools and all indoor, public places when transmission is high.

As of Thursday morning, all but one county in Michigan — Presque Isle — still had high transmission rates. 

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said Wednesday that the agency is considering an update to its mask guidance, and is looking not only at transmission of the virus, but also hospital capacity.

“We are assessing the most important factors based on where we are in the pandemic, and we’ll soon put guidance in place that is relevant and encourages prevention measures when they are most needed to protect public health and our hospitals,” Walensky said. “We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing when these metrics are better, and then have the ability to reach for them again should things worsen.

“If and when we update our guidance, we will communicate that clearly, and it will be based on the data and the science. However, it’s also important to remember, regardless of the level of disease burden in your community, there are still very important times to continue to wear your mask.

“If you are symptomatic or feeling unwell, you should wear a mask. If you are in the 10 days after a COVID diagnosis, you should wear a mask. If you were exposed to someone with COVID-19 and are quarantining, you should wear a mask.”


UM PLANNING $190 MILLION DORMITORY PROJECT ON NORTH CAMPUS

DETROIT NEWS — For the first time in years, the University of Michigan will build new dormitories.

Three residence halls for undergraduates are part of a proposed $190 million plan on UM’s North Campus to be open by fall semester 2024.

On Thursday, the board of regents approved the project, which will include demolition of the apartment buildings in Northwood III, eight buildings that now are only used for COVID-19 quarantine and isolation housing.

The new residence halls, to be approved at a later date, will total 380,000 square feet and will include 1,200 beds. Future plans may include dining, student wellness spaces and a geothermal unit to heat and cool the spaces.

The regents authorized issuing bids and awarding contracts for demolition and site preparation at a cost not to exceed $5 million. They also approved Chicago-based architect Solomon Gordwell Buenz to design the project.

Funding for the project will come from Student Life Resources, university officials said in a request outlining the project.

UM Vice President for Student Life Martino Harmon said the first phase of the North Campus housing project will help address  the university’s housing shortage.

“Currently the demand for University of Michigan housing exceeds the supply,” said Harmon. “Although we are able to house all first-year, incoming students who need housing, second-, third-, fourth-year students and transfer students are not always able to obtain housing at the university. It is our position that we want all students who need and want housing to have a bed.”

The project will have a short-term impact on displacement of students, Harmon added.

“Yet it will make a long-term impact on student well-being,” Harmon said.


WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THURSDAY’S SNOWSTORM: HIGHEST SNOW NOW UP TO 9 INCHES

MLIVE — As the storm approaches Michigan, there are a few things I think you should be aware of. The latest data has slight changes, but significant changes in my mind.

First, it’s becoming really apparent it’s a two-part storm, with the second part being later and the most significant part. The accumulation of snow will almost stop in the middle of the day Thursday, and you may think the snowstorm isn’t happening. The snow will come back into the southeast populated part of Michigan late Thursday afternoon and drop most of the snow Thursday evening.

This also means there may be not-so-dangerous roads to drive on Thursday morning and early afternoon. The road conditions won’t be great, but they may also not be terrible. That situation will change quickly when the second wave of snow starts late Thursday afternoon.

This leads to the second slight tweaking. All of the data is consistent on shifting the heavy snow band about 20 miles southeast. Now this puts Ann Arbor, the entire Detroit area, the cities along Lake St. Clair, Monroe, Adrian and Hillsdale right in the middle of the heaviest snow swath. This also means the cities that are on the northern edge of the heaviest snow will have less snow. Grand Rapids, Saginaw and Bay City are definitely not in the heavy snow now. Of course, they weren’t projected to be in the heavy snow earlier either. Flint and Lansing are in the transition zone from heavy snow to not heavy snow.

The final tweak is the total snowfall forecast. The heaviest swath of snow has increased an inch or two for the most common amount of snow. Earlier, it looked like a 5 to 8-inch snow in the heavy swath. I would now call it a 6 to 9-inch snow in the heaviest swath. What that should tell you is the storm isn’t falling apart. It’s holding together to be a pretty solid snowstorm for southeast Lower Michigan.

Yesterday, it looked like some above-freezing air could hang in the Detroit Metro area, and cut the snow by a couple of inches. Now it appears the cold air will be in place before the second wave of heavier precipitation moves into the Detroit area.

We have to choose one model to go from. I like the North American Model (NAM) at this distance out from the start and end of the storm. The NAM is good at giving an accurate overall snowstorm placement and snow amount. It can also pinpoint some of the heavier streaks of snow.

I would still ignore the 10 inch amounts in the forecast, but keep it in the back of your head that it is possible.

So look for 6 to 9 inches, with 6 and 7 inches being common, from Kalamazoo to Coldwater to Jackson to Ann Arbor, Detroit, Oakland County, St. Clair County and the Monroe, Hillsdale and Adrian areas. Kalamazoo will be on the low end of that scale.

The Lansing area will be in the taper-off zone, probably going from around 6 inches southeast of Lansing to 4 inches northwest of Lansing. So you get a solid snow in Lansing, but probably not what most of us would call a “snowstorm” in February.

Genesee County and the Flint area will also be in the taper-off zone, getting 5 inches south to 3 inches north.

Grand Rapids, Saginaw, Bay City and Midland should get only one to 2 inches of snow.

The storm is still in the Southwest, so we still have to monitor for slight tweaks. Keep updated here.


GRETCHEN WHITMER DROPS MASK SUGGESTION, MICHIGAN GETTING ‘BACK TO NORMAL’

BRIDGE MI — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration on Wednesday dropped its recommendation that everyone wear masks in many indoor settings, including in schools, citing big drops in new COVID-19 infections.

The state released updated COVID-19 mask guidelines as case counts and COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to plummet, with the state’s hospitals on Wednesday treating fewer than 2,000 COVID-19 patients for the first time since Oct. 8.

In making the change, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said the state is in a “recovery” phase and does not anticipate a resurgence of infections. In a statement, Whitmer called the decision “good news,” noting Michigan had not changed its guidelines on mask policies since last June. Since then, the state endured a deadly surge spurred first by the delta variant, in which more than 6,000 deaths were linked to COVID-19, and then another surge of the omicron variant began in mid-December, with more than 630,000 infections tied to it.

“While Michigan hasn’t had statewide mask policies since last June, this updated guidance will underscore that we are getting back to normal,” Whitmer said in the statement. “Let’s keep working together to build on our momentum so we can keep our kids learning in person.”

Last week, public health leaders in the remaining counties with school mask mandates, including Wayne, Oakland, Washtenaw and Ingham, announced plans to rescind school mask mandates, some at the end of this month. Leaders in states across the country have made similar recommendations as the nation exits the omicron surge.

Critics of the governor have long attacked her for pandemic restrictions, particularly early in the pandemic. But Whitmer and MDHHS avoided imposing statewide mandates as the current school year began, leaving those decisions to local health departments and school districts. But the state’s continued mask recommendation was cited by many local officials as a factor in their decision to implement school mask mandates.

MDHHS defines new “phases”

The new state guidance may not cause sweeping changes in behavior in a state that has become increasingly divided into the masked and unmasked. Rather, its import is to reframe the pandemic going forward into three simplified phases, compared to the six intervals of a pandemic outlined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Dr. Juan Marquez, medical director of Washtenaw County Health Department.

The three phases allows Michigan residents and policy-makers to understand the extent to which they should employ the tools of COVID control — masking, social-distancing, and other measures — going forward, Marquez said.

The MDHHS said it will base future mask guidance on three factors:

  • Response phase: Should local or state public health implement rapid response policies to combat a future surge, the public may be advised to increase masking, testing and social distancing.
  • Recovery phase: When a surge has ended and no immediate resurgence is predicted, public health officials will monitor conditions that could lead to future surges.
  • Readiness phase: If a surge in cases is expected that carry serious risk of illness and hospitalizations, the state will communicate those risks to the public.

The new guidance “does speak to the different situation we’re in now, but the bigger piece is this shifting of the framework in how we feel about surges and how we manage them,” Marquez said. MDHHS continues to recommend “all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, continue to practice universal masking in high-risk congregate settings including long-term care facilities, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, jails and health care facilities.”

It also recommends that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask during isolation and quarantine periods. Though MDHHS mask guidelines from last June were only recommended, Whitmer strongly supported local mask mandates amid a surge in new COVID cases last September as the school year began.

Whitmer signed a budget bill in late September that included a Republican provision that counties could lose funding if they imposed mask mandates, but she said she was willing to do so because she considered the provision “unenforceable,” and continued to back county efforts to keep mandates.   “Local health departments should keep their mask policies in place,” Whitmer spokesperson Bobby Leddy said in a statement last September. At the time, cases of COVID-19 were rising quickly, particularly among school-age children.

Impact unclear on remaining mandates

Some of the last remaining county school mask orders were to remain in place until Feb. 28, and it was not immediately clear whether the updated state recommendations Wednesday would shift that date. Oakland County spokesperson Bill Mullan said the county’s position remains unchanged and the school mask order there remains in place until Feb. 28 to give school administrators time to adjust their policies.

Oakland County’s decision last week aligns with the new state recommendations Wednesday — that masks are recommended in high-risk areas, and that schools and local health departments should consider local case numbers and other factors in determining school mandates, he said.


DRUG OVERDOSE DEATHS CONTINUE TO CLIMB IN MICHIGAN, ACROSS NATION

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The number of people who died of drug overdoses in a single year has reached an all-time high, yet another grim milestone in the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis.

More than 104,000 people nationwide died of overdoses during the 12-month period ending in September 2021, according to newly released provisional data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That figure eclipses — by 15.9% — the 90,000 deaths that occurred during the 12 months ending in September 2020.

In Michigan, 2,933 people died during the 12 months ending in September 2021, compared with 2,741 during the 12 months ending in September 2020, the CDC data said. It is an increase of 7%.

No matter the location, most deaths involve some form of fentanyl, the ultrapowerful synthetic opioid that is mixed in street drugs of all varieties and often, but not always, ingested unknowingly by drug users.

Fentanyl is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and up to 50 times more potent than heroin. It is so powerful that people overdosing on it often require multiple doses of Narcan — which reverses opioid overdoses — before they can be revived. Because of that, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized an increase in the dosage of Narcan from 4 mg to 8 mg. The higher-dose treatments should be available later this year. But with more and more people dying every year, how long will this drug crisis continue?

The answer: No one knows.

Experts say the current opioid epidemic began with pain medication. When those opioid pain pills became too expensive or too difficult to find because doctors clamped down on prescriptions, drug users turned to the opioid heroin. It was cheap and available. But then, heroin became adulterated with fentanyl. And before long, fentanyl was in just about everything — including counterfeit pain pills, Xanax, cocaine and methamphetamine — which made drugs more potent than ever.

Then, things got worse: Drug use increased during the coronavirus pandemic as feelings of isolation and panic set in; rehabilitation centers closed or limited the number of patients in an effort to accommodate social-distancing safety measures; and support groups, which drug users find especially beneficial in in-person settings, went virtual.

Then, overdose deaths skyrocketed.

They increased exponentially in some states during the 12 months ending in September 2021. They  rose by 48.7% in Kansas, 59.1% in Vermont, 40.7% in Oregon and 60% in Alaska.

And some states had lesser increases: Florida 6%, Arizona 5.2%

Three states actually had decreases. Overdose deaths were down 8.8% in New Hampshire, 8.8% in Hawaii and 7.3% in Delaware.

It is not immediately clear why Michigan’s increase is half that of the national average. But Michigan officials have touted their Narcan distribution — a law passed in 2016 allows pharmacies to dispense it without a prescription — as a big part of their strategy in combatting the overdose death crisis. In addition, the state has expanded its syringe replacement services and those agencies generally offer Narcan. Michigan is also expanding a program that allows EMS drivers to leave behind Narcan at the scene of nonfatal overdoses.

Still, at least eight people a day died of drug overdoses in Michigan, according to the preliminary date from the CDC.

Michigan — along with addiction experts and the Biden administration — is embracing an approach to drug addiction called harm reduction. The strategy calls for minimizing the harms associated with drug use, which means providing clean needles to prevent HIV and hepatitis, Narcan and test strips so users can determine whether drugs contain fentanyl before ingesting them. The idea is to keep addicts alive — and relatively healthy — until they are ready for treatment, but not discarding them if they never pursue treatment.  It is a far cry from the old Just Say No approach.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration was hit hard by accusations it was providing crack pipes as part of a $30 million harm reduction grant. The administration said it is not providing crack pipes in its safe smoking kits.

“(Crack pipes) were never a part of the kit; it was inaccurate reporting,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “A safe smoking kit may contain alcohol swabs, lip balm, other materials to promote hygiene and reduce the transmission of diseases like HIV and hepatitis.”

But the strong reaction to the initiative illustrates just how far people need to come to understand the concept of harm reduction, said Susan Styf, CEO of CARE of Southeastern Michigan, which provides drug treatment, Narcan and fentanyl test strips.

“It was remarkable how that turned into people on social media (saying) free crack pipes yet I can’t get my insulin,” Styf said. “Right now, we’re in a place where (some people) will get angry if any initiatives are done toward (harm reduction).”

Meanwhile, the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking estimated that overdose deaths cost the country $1 trillion a year. It calls for increasing availability of treatment and overdose prevention, among other initiatives.

But even then, experts believe the number of overdose deaths are underreported.


MICHIGAN SENATE PASSES INCOME TAX CUT. ITS PATH FORWARD IS UNCLEAR.

BRIDGE MI — Michigan Senate Republicans on Tuesday approved a $2 billion dollar tax cut proposal that would lower both personal and corporate income tax rates and provide tax relief for senior citizens and children.

The vote was split 22-16 along party lines. The Republican proposal, Senate Bill 768, would lower the state income tax rates to 3.9 percent from 4.25 percent for individuals and 6 percent for corporations. The plan would also offer a $500 tax credit per child under the age of 19.

GOP lawmakers argued the plan would bring tax relief for all Michigan families as the state continues to recover from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

All Senate Democrats opposed the measure, arguing it would further shift tax burdens from corporations onto regular taxpayers. The income-tax savings for an individual making $70,000 would amount to $228 per year if the plan passes.

Tax cut fever is raging in Lansing as officials debate how to spend down a $7 billion state revenue surplus and another $7 billion in federal stimulus funds. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has pitched smaller and targeted tax cuts as part of a massive $74.1 billion budget proposal that Republicans have criticized. The Senate’s proposal could face hiccups in the House, which is also controlled by Republicans.

“The House is putting together its own proposal,” said Gideon D’Assandro, spokesperson for House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell. “Speaker Wentworth would like to focus more on helping families and seniors who are struggling with ridiculously high inflation and the cost of living.”

House Appropriations Chair Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, has said he does not want to use federal stimulus funds to pay for any cuts because “it’s expressly not allowed” under the law approved last year by Congress. Albert anticipates the state can cut roughly $800 million in annual tax collections and not run afoul of federal regulations, he said last week on WKAR-TV’s Off the Record. But the House will still consider cuts, including an income tax rate rollback, expansion of the personal exemption for individual tax deductions, property tax relief and commercial personal property tax relief, according to Albert.

“There’s really a lot of options on the table,” he said.

Whitmer, a Democrat who is up for re-election in November, could veto Republicans’ plans and has proposed her own cuts. She wants to phase out what’s known as the “pension tax” — a tiered system applying a 4.25-percent income tax on pensions depending on when the taxpayer is born — and to reverse a 2011 cut to the Earned Income Tax Credit for lower income workers.

“These are hardworking people who had the rug pulled out from under them when the previous administration raised taxes on Michiganders,” Whitmer spokesperson Bobby Leddy said in a Tuesday statement. “We can start with making things right again by eliminating the retirement tax to give seniors a much-needed break and cutting taxes for working families.”

Whitmer’s proposal

Whitmer said last week she is open to negotiating tax policy with Republicans but said her focus is on “making our tax code more fair.” The governor has proposed doing so by reversing a pair of tax changes made in 2011 under Snyder and the Republican-led Legislature.

The first-term Democrat wants to repeal the “pension tax,” which expanded taxation of retirement income. She also wants to reverse a cut to the Earned Income Tax Credit for lower income workers.

Phasing out the so-called pension tax over the next four years, as Whitmer has proposed, would cost the state $13 million in the current tax year and $495 million annually by 2025, according to the Whitmer administration.

The State Budget Office estimates that nearly 500,000 households would save an average of $1,000 if the state restores tax exemptions for retirement income. Restoring the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit to 20 percent of the federal level, up from the current 6 percent, would benefit an estimated 750,000 households but cost the state an $262 million in revenue.

Expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit for lower income workers to benefit an estimated 750,000 households, as Whitmer has also proposed, would cost an estimated $262 million in fiscal year 2023 and beyond. Michigan is flush with federal stimulus funds, but the money comes with conditions.

Congress specified that American Rescue Plan Act funding cannot be used to offset tax cuts. Some states have sued over the restriction, and a federal judge in Alabama has called it unconstitutional.

The Whitmer administration is wary of running afoul of the federal stimulus law and wants to make sure Michigan is not required to pay back any funds because of misuse, said Budget Director Chris Harkins. Whitmer’s proposed tax cuts would be phased in and paid for by projected state revenue gains, according to Harkins, which means Michigan would not need to use any federal stimulus funds to offset the changes. “We’re comfortable that (Whitmer’s) proposal doesn’t cause any troubles with requirements” of the federal stimulus law, Harkins said last week.

He contended that any larger Republican tax cut proposal that would require the state to cut spending would be an “area of concern” because of federal regulations.


WEATHER ROLLER COASTER: WIND, WARMTH TURN TO RAIN AND SNOW

DETROIT NEWS — A turbulent period of weather starts midday Wednesday, with windy and warm conditions eventually changing to rain and then snow through late Thursday.

There are wind advisories, flood watches and winter storm watches from the National Weather Service in effect for Wednesday and Thursday for central and southern Michigan. Uncertainty remains, according to the weather service, on when the rain will change to snow and how much freezing rain and sleet could factor into weather conditions.

What to expect

Wednesday

The forecast: Warming temperatures and increasing wind for much of the day.

The details: Southwest winds 15 to 25 mph with gusts up to 50 mph are expected. Temperatures are expected to rise into the upper 40s to near 50.

Advisories: Wind advisories have been declared through Wednesday night for Midland, Bay, Huron, Saginaw, Tuscola, Sanilac, Shiawassee, Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Livingston, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw, Wayne, Lenawee and Monroe counties. Also under a wind advisory: Gratiot, Ionia, Clinton, Allegan, Barry, Eaton, Ingham, Van Buren, Kalamazoo, Calhoun and Jackson counties.

Wednesday night

Forecast: Rain will begin overnight and fall through Thursday morning.

Details: More than an inch of rain is expected. Excessive runoff may result in flooding of rivers, creeks, streams and other low-lying and flood-prone locations.

Advisories: Flooding caused by rain and snowmelt is possible in southeast Michigan, including in Lenawee, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair, Washtenaw and Wayne counties.

Thursday

Forecast: As a cold front moves through, rain will change to snow, though periods of freezing rain and sleet also are expected.

Details: The forecast calls for 3 to 6 inches of snow for west, southwest and southeast Michigan. More freezing rain and sleet could keep totals down, though up to 7 inches of snow could fall in southwest Michigan.

Advisories: A winter storm watch is in effect for all of Thursday for Sanilac, Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Livingston, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw, Wayne, Lenawee, Monroe, Eaton, Ingham, Van Buren, Kalamazoo, Calhoun, Jackson, Berrien, St. Joseph, Branch and Hillsdale counties.


MOTORCITY CASINO TO END COVID-19 MASK MANDATE FOR VACCINATED GUESTS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Beginning Thursday, vaccinated guests  will no longer be required to wear masks at MotorCity Casino.

The casino-hotel announced Monday that its mask mandate is lifting for those who are vaccinated, effective as of 8 a.m. Thursday. Masks will still be required for players and guests who have not completed vaccination.

MotorCity Casino is the first Detroit casino to announce an end to its mask mandate.

The casino’s announcement comes as the state is experiencing a decline  in coronavirus cases.


CORONAVIRUS TRACKER | CASES FALL TO LOWEST LEVEL IN FIVE MONTHS, HOSPITALIZATIONS PLUMMET

BRIDGE MI — The daily average of confirmed COVID-19 infections in Michigan fell below 3,000 on Monday for the first time since late September.

The state reported 5,380 new infections since Friday, or 1,793 per day for Saturday, Sunday and Monday. That lowered the seven-day average to 2,660. It was last below 3,000 on Sept. 29, when it was 2,941.

By every metric the state provides, the news is positive: Fewer people are seeking coronavirus tests and far fewer are coming back positive. Case rates are down across the entire state and hospitals again saw the number of COVID-19 patients fall.

There are now 2,236 patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, down 207 from Friday and just 370 in intensive-care units. That number was 435 on Friday and during the height of the omicron surge it was above 800 in early January.

Overall, 11.5 percent of coronavirus tests in the past week came back positive, down from 14.6 percent on Friday and 18.5 percent a week ago. That’s coupled with a plummet in testing demand: Over the past week, 204,000 tests were reported, down from 500,000 per week four weeks ago.

The state also reported an additional 60 COVID-19 deaths on Monday. There have been 360 so far in February, or 26 a day. In January, the fourth deadliest month of the pandemic, there were 2,578 deaths, or 83 per day.


FREEDOM CONVOY BLOCKADE OF AMBASSADOR BRIDGE CAUSED NEARLY $300M LOSSES IN WAGES, PRODUCTION

DETROIT FREE PRESS — A week of protesting at the Ambassador Bridge has cost the auto industry more than a quarter of a billion dollars, according to an analysis Monday by an East Lansing-based economic research group.

Stemming from opposition to vaccine border mandates by the Canadian government, the Freedom Convoy gained international attention when it moved to the Windsor bridge from Ottawa, effectively interrupting traffic between the United States and Canada. The bridge reopened for travel late Sunday night and a few demonstrators remained at an intersection Monday, with a continued heavy police presence.

In just one week, automakers, including General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Honda, and Toyota suffered an estimated $155 million in losses, Anderson Economic Group said in the study released Monday analyzing the impact of the blockades thus far. Within hours, assembly plants were troubled with shortages and slowdowns.

“The border between Michigan and Canada that runs right along the city of Detroit is the site for probably the most important volume of trade between any two countries in the world,” said Patrick Anderson, Anderson Economic Group’s principal and CEO. “The auto industry for the last half-century has treated that border as a temporary obstacle, as an obstacle to be traversed quickly and to allow a tremendous set of assembly plant workers and suppliers on in both the United States and Canada to work efficiently together.” Workers, spanning from Ontario to Alabama, were hit by the protest right in their pockets. AEG estimates employees, the majority of whom are in Michigan and Ontario, lost $144.9 million in wages, with Michigan autoworkers alone losing an estimated $51.26 million.

Workers, spanning from Ontario to Alabama, were hit by the protest right in their pockets. AEG estimates employees, the majority of whom are in Michigan and Ontario, lost $144.9 million in wages, with Michigan autoworkers alone losing an estimated $51.26 million. “The losses we’ve estimated here are real losses that are unlikely to be recouped,” Anderson said. “We’re already assuming that 90% plus of these parts get used, get to their destination and get put into vehicles, but the opportunity to build these cars in many cases has been lost.”

And with the auto industry already strained because of supply chain issues and shortages, the protest has further squelched consumers’ ability to hop in and turn the key.

“There are competitors out there that are building vehicles in southern United States right now or building them in the United States and that haven’t shut down production, and you’ve got consumers out there that are discouraged because they can’t get cars,” he said.

Even with the bridge reopening, the protest could have a continued impact on auto production, Anderson said, much to the fear of automakers and international leaders.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a statement Monday calling the reopening a “win for Michigan families.”

“It’s time to get traffic and trade moving across North America’s busiest land border crossing again. I will always stand with every hardworking Michigander and do whatever it takes to ensure that our businesses can keep humming along,” Whitmer said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used the Emergencies Act for the first time in the nation’s history in response to the Freedom Convoy’s protests, he announced Monday. The act allows the federal government to override provinces and authorize temporary security measures. However, Trudeau said the military will not be called to action, and the act will not be used to supersede the charter.

While protests have remained largely peaceful, with demonstrators singing and dancing, some have criticized the leniency of law enforcement. Protesters were gradually pushed back from the site of the Ambassador Bridge and landed in a cleared intersection near the border.

According to Windsor Police, there have been 42 arrests and 37 seized vehicles since the protest began. The large majority of persons arrested have since been released with a future court date and are facing a charge of mischief, police said. Some are also facing a charge of disobeying a court order.

Answers to questions about penalties and arrests often focused on a need to reopen the bridge safely without threatening commerce or public safety. When the Ambassador Bridge reopened, streets intersecting with the road leading to the border, Huron Church Road, were blocked off by police cruisers to ensure traffic on the main road was limited to travelers.

“Local manufacturers and exporters who rely on the Ambassador Bridge know the dramatic and significant impact that the illegal occupation had on operations last week,” said Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens in a news release Monday afternoon. “To ensure that we can maintain a reliable border crossing for trade and commerce in the immediate near term, we need to ensure Huron Church Road remains cleared. We commit to working closely with businesses along the route who are adversely impacted by these short-term and time-limited measures.”

Police did not respond to Free Press inquiries regarding the timeline of when the main road is expected to open to the general public.


ONTARIO TO END COVID-19 VACCINE PASSPORT SYSTEM MARCH 1

DETROIT NEWS — Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Monday he is ending effective March 1 the province’s COVID-19 vaccine passport system that required people to offer proof of vaccination for a multitude of activities, from shopping to the gym to restaurants.

Ford made his announcement about a half-day after a blockade of the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor was ended, but insisted the decision was in the works “long before” the seven days of protests — spurred by COVID-19 restrictions and a trucker vaccine mandate — had threatened the economies of both nations.

Ford said the end of the vaccine passport system, whose federal version has inspired a weeks-long trucker convoy in Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, is coming “not because of what’s happening in Ottawa or Windsor, but despite it.”

Along with the end of vaccine passports, capacity limits for personal gatherings and public events will be removed.

“We’re moving in this direction because it is safe to do so,” Ford said. “Through the advice of (Dr. Kieran Moore, chief medical officer of health for Ontario), we accepted the passports. Through the advice of Dr. Moore, we’re going to get rid of the passports.

Added Moore: “All of the metrics are improving dramatically in terms of the number of people hospitalized, the number of people in intensive care units, the percentage of tests that are positive.”

Citing a 92% Ontario vaccination rate of people 12 and up, Moore said the mandate “served its purpose,” but that “as of March 1, it will no longer be necessary.”

The COVID-19 pandemic “polarized us in a way we could never imagine,” Ford said. “But for all of this, I can still take comfort in knowing that there remains so much that unites us.”

Ford said repeatedly that “Ontario is open for business.” He cited conversations with “Fortune 500 CEOs” worried about whether Ontario is stable enough to do or expand their businesses.

“We will guarantee you a stable environment and to make sure we get goods from one side of the border to the other,” Ford said.

At the same time, Windsor officials said Monday that public access to the area near the Ambassador Bridge will be limited  for an indefinite but “temporary” time to prevent an international incident.

The bridge reopened late Sunday night for business.

“The Michigan Chamber and our member businesses across the state are relieved to see commerce across this critical border crossing flowing again, helping reduce the strain on fragile and recovering supply chains and restoring the essential trade and travel our employers, workforces and communities rely on,” Michigan Chamber of Commerce CEO Jim Holcomb said in a statement.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday called the reopening “a win for Michigan’s working families.”

“I want to thank the unified coalition of business leaders and organizations representing working men and women on both sides of the border for coming together to get this resolved,” Whitmer said in a statement. “And I appreciate the U.S. and Canadian governments for hearing Michigan’s concerns loud and clear and stepping up to reopen the bridge.”

Others weren’t pleased with how long it took Canadian authorities to clear the blockade.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, a Bloomfield Township Democrat who chairs the Senate Homeland Security panel, said Monday it’s not a surprise that a disturbance at the Ambassador Bridge could disrupt the supply chain, and that the episode underscored the importance of a strong working relationship with Canadian counterparts.

“I was certainly aggressively pushing for the Canadian government to respond quicker than they did, and but I’m certainly pleased that it’s been finally has been resolved,” Peters said. “We need to continue to discuss how we make sure that our vital border crossings are able to stay open.”

On Monday afternoon, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, there was a 50 minute wait time at Blue Water Bridge, which is in line with its average wait time of 46 minutes. There was no wait at the Ambassador Bridge, which usually has an average wait of 34 minutes.

As of mid-afternoon Monday, a live camera feed of the Ambassador Bridge, from Windsor entering the United States, showed a light trickle of vehicles. Traffic on the American side, Detroit-to-Windsor, appeared much heavier.


AMBASSADOR BRIDGE REOPENS AFTER WEEKLONG ‘FREEDOM CONVOY’ PROTEST OVER COVID-19 VACCINE MANDATE

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The Ambassador Bridge is open again after a vaccine mandate protest prompted a blockade, pausing traffic on a key international land port and costing millions of dollars in lost production.

The Detroit International Bridge Company announced Sunday night that the Ambassador Bridge is fully open allowing free flow of commerce between Canada and the United States.

The weeklong protest was started by truckers in opposition to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other quarantine requirements, but early Sunday police said it ended after negotiations and multiple arrests. Despite the supposed peace talks, about a dozen protesters remained at an intersection close to the bridge into Sunday evening, waving flags and occasionally cheering.

Windsor Police Sgt. Steve Betteridge said Sunday afternoon that “about 15” people were arrested over the weekend and police towed “seven or eight” vehicles.  Most of those arrested face a charge of mischief.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said travellers and commercial carriers may still experience delays due to traffic volumes.

Border wait times can be checked here. As of 8:14 a.m. Monday, the Ambassador Bridge was showing no delay.

“The CBSA would like to thank travellers and commercial carriers for their patience and for helping to minimize the impact of this border service disruption,” the agency said in a news release.

The so-called Freedom Convoy originally began last month in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, but since then moved to the international border, gaining the attention of politicians internationally and the support of fellow vaccine and mask skeptics. Demonstrations at the border were largely nonviolent, with protesters singing, dancing and waving flags.

The closure of the bridge had an almost immediate impact, as an estimated 10,000 commercial vehicles cross the bridge each day with $325 million worth of goods, according to the Michigan Department of Treasury.


VEHICLE-PEDESTRIAN CRASH LED TO 1 OF 4 MULTI-CAR CRASHES ON METRO FREEWAYS

DETROIT NEWS — At least four multiple-vehicle crashes, including one involving more than 50 cars, injured at least 17 people and closed Metro Detroit freeways Sunday as heavy snow returned to the region, authorities said.

Most crash sites were cleared and lanes reopened by Sunday evening, even as the National Weather Service warned of continued heavy snowfall in parts of Metro Detroit between Interstate 96/696 and Interstate 94 corridors with near whiteout conditions.

Crashes roiled traffic from Wayne County to Macomb County due to “driver-error” events in falling snow and white-out conditions.

What appeared to be the largest pileup, with more than 50 cars, occurred on I-96 east of Grand River Road, according to David Fornell, deputy fire commissioner for the Detroit Fire Department, which had transported 17 motorists to hospitals.

One person was in critical condition, Fornell said; the others were in stable condition.

A driver on I-96 express lanes near Grand River was involved in an earlier crash, Michigan State Police said. The driver exited his vehicle to check the damage and another driver couldn’t stop and struck his vehicle, pushing it into the driver who had exited his car, according to MSP. The man was pushed into the retaining wall of the freeway and was taken to a hospital with critical head injuries.

Crashes, largely cleared up by nightfall, were reported here:

►East and westbound Interstate 696 closed from Interstate 275, Interstate 96 and M-5  to Orchard Lake Road in Oakland County, authorities said. MDOT announced shortly before 6 p.m. that all lanes had reopened.

►Westbound Interstate 696 at Hoover in Macomb County due to a multi-car pileup, said Diane Cross, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Transportation. The scene has been cleared, MDOT reported.

►I-696 reopened after closing at Van Dyke in Warren, according to MSP.

►Eastbound I-96 express lanes, east of M-39, closed due to a crash, and the ramps from M-39 to eastbound I-96 closed, according to MDOT. It reopened near 6 p.m.

►Eastbound I-96 closed at Grand River in the Farmington area, including the express lanes.

The westbound exit ramp from M-5 to I-696 was closed, as was the I-275 ramp to I-696 east, MDOT said.

►Westbound Interstate 94 after Outer Drive was cleared after a crash.

Shaw blamed the crashes on careless driving.

“I never worry about a 12- to 15-foot snow in Metro Detroit,” Shaw said. “I worry about 1 to 2 inches, because drivers continue driving just as fast as if there was no snow at all. They continue to tailgate each other, they continue to use their phones, and this is basically what happens.

“You have one car that may spin out or have to stop, the next car can’t, and the next car can’t, and next thing you know you have a multi-car crash. These are accidents, these are crashes. They’re driver-error events that should not happen with one to two inches of snow.”

Whiteout conditions may have led to some of the crashes and were reported in areas with heaviest snowfall, including the I-96/696 corridor, according to Ian Lee, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in White Lake Township.

Southbound M-10 at Wyoming in Detroit reopened after closing due to a crash, MDOT’s Southeast Michigan Transportation Operations Center reported at about 3:30.

Photos and videos posted on social media show vehicles sliding on the freeway and colliding with vehicles or spinning off the freeway.

Photos posted after the pileups show long lines of vehicles not moving or inching along.


OAKLAND, WASHTENAW, WAYNE SIGNAL LIFT OF COVID SCHOOL MASK MANDATES

BRIDGE MI — Oakland and Wayne counties announced Friday that students will no longer be under a county-wide school mask mandate as of March 1, marking the end of county-level mask orders in K-12 schools.

“We’re at the personal responsibility point of the pandemic,” said Oakland County spokesperson Bill Mullan.

Washtenaw County also announced Friday that it, too, will lift its mask order, effective the same day. “Since these orders were issued, pandemic conditions have changed considerably,” according to a statement issued by Washtenaw officials.

The counties stressed that they continue to recommend masking in public indoor settings.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, in a statement, said the decline in cases prompted the change but acknowledged that surges have followed previous drops in cases.

“This time I think we can feel hopeful that the light at the end of the tunnel is real,” he said.

The Oakland County mask order, in place since just before Thanksgiving, requires students, teachers and staff to wear a face covering, and applies to daycares as well. The county said it was holding off on ending the order until the end of the month to give schools and daycares time to alert board members and formulate their own policies.

“It actually isn’t a lot of time,” Mullan told Bridge Friday. “If any of the school districts — in the absence of a (county-wide) mask requirement — plan to formulate their own policies, it needs time to get info about best practices, time to put it before their own board, and time to prepare their students, staff and families.”

In its announcement Friday morning, the county cited a “a sharp decline in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and increasing vaccination rates in Oakland County.”

“It’s always been about what’s going to be the best practice,” Mullan said of the health department’s change.

“The county’s test positivity (rate) has dropped nearly 50 percent; cases of COVID-19 during the week ending Feb.6 declined 40 percent, and the seven-day case average for Feb. 8 declined 83 percent from its peak in early January,” according to the county’s announcement.

In Washtenaw, health officials noted that “(s)tudents who test positive or are exposed as close contacts will continue to be excluded from school” under state rules.

Vaccines for children 5 and older have been available since November, and a vaccine for the youngest children appears to be nearing federal authorization, too.

About a third of children 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated in Oakland County, well above the statewide rate of 21 percent and one of the highest child vaccination rates in the state. Nearly 58 percent of Oakland children ages 12 to 15 are fully vaccinated, compared to the statewide rate of  43.3 percent.

“Our vaccine coverage is in a good spot,” Mullan said.

The decisions Friday follows similar announcements by eight other counties —  Ingham and six northern Michigan counties — across Michigan that this week announced they were rescinding school mask mandates next week.

Oakland County is the second largest in the state and has nearly 180,000 schoolchildren in 52 districts, including charter schools, second only to Wayne County, which has 267,000 students.

Ingham County’s mandate ends Feb. 18. A mandate covering Benzie, Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, Leelanau, and Otsego in northwest Michigan lifts next week.

Though community transmission of the virus remains relatively high, new case numbers have fallen in recent weeks.

Michigan is averaging just under 4,000 new infections a day — considered high by standards established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — but that’s a quarter of the cases reported just three weeks ago.

After hitting a peak of 5,009 COVID-19 patients in Michigan hospitals with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 on Jan. 10, there were 2,595 patients as of Wednesday.

Despite the local decisions, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services continues to recommend (but not require) “universal masking” in K-12 education, with department spokesperson Lynn Sutfin noting  Thursday that there remains a “high plateau” of cases.

County-level school mask mandates were first enacted as the delta variant swept the state last summer and fall, just as the school year was beginning. The Whitmer administration declined to make those decisions at the state level, leaving the decision (and controversy) to local government and education officials.

As of Feb. 3, 682,356 students — 54 percent of all Michigan public school students — were covered by mandates in 173 districts, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.


POLICE, PROTESTERS STILL AT AMBASSADOR BRIDGE BLOCKADE AS NIGHT FALLS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — After four days of truck protests that shut down the Ambassador Bridge, one of North American’s biggest commercial gateways, an end may be in sight.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens signaled Thursday that he hoped for a peaceful resolution but was preparing to use police reinforcements to remove the protesters, who he said were trespassing, if they did not disperse on their own soon.

“A short time ago,” he said, “Windsor City Council met and had authorized that an injunction be sought from Superior Court to bring about an end to this illegal occupation.”

He was joined by business association representatives, and in clear terms said the protest “must come to an end.” Speaking directly to anyone thinking of joining the group to reinforce it, he said: “You are not welcome here.”

In addition, Matt Moroun, chairman of the Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns the privately held span, said the blockade “cannot continue any longer.”

“After the blockade is cleared,” Moroun added, “we need to shift our thinking and recognize that these crossings are too important to be subjected to politics and short-term thinking that compromises the ability of commerce to flow.”

Still, the Canadian Trucking Alliance added that the protests are not peaceful and many of the vehicles and people involved in the protest are not heavy trucks or people in the trucking industry.

As of 9 p.m. Thursday night, the police had not removed anyone from the bridge, but had set up a blockade of cop cars with flashing blue and red lights on all of the surrounding roads.

A group of about 100 protesters on foot at the base of the bridge were carrying Canadian flags and signs reading “don’t tread on me” to the thumping bass of loud electronic music.

The Ambassador Bridge is not closed heading into the U.S., Windsor Police said Thursday, but the demonstrators make it difficult to access the bridge at all and they recommended everyone avoid the area.

Late Thursday, Winsdor Police said “resources” from other jurisdictions are coming to the bridge to support a “peaceful resolution.”

On the Detroit side of the border, Michigan State Police said to “Avoid the area around the Ambassador Bridge if you can. There are going to be back ups in the area.”

The protest, however, is much more than a traffic issue, it is now a serious commerce and political concern that has forced automakers to cancel shifts and even close plants. It is inspiring similar protests as far away as Paris and, potentially, Washington.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called on Canada to take “all necessary and appropriate steps to immediately and safely reopen traffic so we can continue growing our economy, supporting good-paying jobs, and lowering costs for families.”

“Our communities and automotive, manufacturing and agriculture businesses are feeling the effects,” she added. “It’s hitting paychecks and production lines. That is unacceptable.”

The Anderson Economic Group in Lansing calculated an initial estimate for lost direct wages in the Michigan auto industry as a result of the protest beginning Monday at more than $51 million.

Blockades spreading globally

The Canadian truckers are calling themselves the Freedom Convoy, and in Paris, where trucks arrived from southern France on Wednesday mimicking the same tactics, the protesters are using the name Convoi de la Liberté, a French translation.

In France, the demonstrators reportedly include motorcyclists and car drivers, and represent how these types of protests are spreading via social media to other countries including Australia, Belgium and New Zealand.

In the United States, people are organizing on social media under the name Convoy to DC 2022, and some are rumored to be planning to disrupt the Super Bowl, which is being played in SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.

By Wednesday, in addition to truckers, a group of about 20 Canadian protesters with tractors blocked Highway 402 that leads to the Blue Water Bridge, effectively shutting down another international border crossing. Officials: Protest hurting trade

Ontario Premier Doug Ford urged an end to ongoing protests, releasing a statement that said “illegal occupation and blockade happening in Ontario must stop.”

“The Ambassador Bridge is one of the most vital trade corridors in our country,” Ford added. “The damage this is causing to our economy, to people’s jobs and their livelihoods is totally unacceptable. We cannot let this continue.”

General Motors has canceled two shifts at one Michigan factory and has been rerouting trucks to keep another plant running as truckers continued to restrict travel across the Ambassador Bridge.

And Stellantis has had to shorten at least one shift at Windsor Assembly Plant, which produces the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, because of a lack of parts.

“We must do everything to bring them to an end,” Trudeau said Wednesday to parliament in Ottawa. The protesters are “trying to blockade our economy, our democracy and our fellow citizens’ daily lives.”


MICHIGAN COUNTIES DROP MASK MANDATES AS COVID PLUMMETS. SCHOOLS MAY FOLLOW.

BRIDGE MI — Eight counties across Michigan are poised to rescind school mask mandates next week, removing one of the last and most divisive measures taken to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Ingham, Washtenaw and six northern Michigan counties are expected to end mandates that have covered dozens of districts and tens of thousands of students.

Ingham County will end its mandate on Feb. 18, said Linda Vail, the county’s public health officer. Her department will still recommend masking in schools but will no longer require it.

“Public health strategies are shifting to personal responsibility,” Vail told Bridge Michigan on Thursday.

She said falling cases and rising vaccinations, combined with a need to move away from an “emergency” phase prompted the decision.

Other counties could follow suit, including Oakland, but it wasn’t immediately clear Thursday when or if they might do so.  In counties where the mandates will be rescinded, the decision on masking will now fall to local school leaders.

One school official believes most will drop the mandates.

“If the counties move to change the recommendations, I think you’ll have a large number of those districts follow suit,” Robert McCann, executive director of the K-12 Alliance for Education, a Michigan school advocacy organization.

Despite the local decisions, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services continues to recommend “universal masking” in K-12 education.

Lynn Sutfin, an MDHHS spokesperson, said nearly 700 infections were tied to school outbreaks in the past week.

“Although case rates and percent positivity have begun to decline in Michigan, we are still at what we consider to be a high plateau and we continue to monitor these metrics closely as they pertain to the use of mitigation strategies such as masks,” she wrote in an email to Bridge.

“To help protect students, staff and communities, we continue to recommend universal masking in schools and wearing masks in indoor public settings to help slow the spread of COVID-19.”

The moves come as omicron cases plummet, and as leaders across the country have dropped mask mandates this week

Michigan is averaging just under 4,000 new infections a day — considered high by standards established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — but that’s a quarter of the cases that were reported just three weeks ago.

After hitting a peak of 5,009 COVID-19 patients in Michigan hospitals on Jan. 10, there were 2,595 patients as of Wednesday.

That’s caused public health leaders to reevaluate recommendations that for more than a year have ignited tensionsset off anger-filled school board meetingscreated confusion, and prompted some students to switch schools in many communities.

“We are seeing cases and positivity, falling rapidly. Our hospitals are showing early signs of stabilization, and parents have had ample, ample opportunity to get their children vaccinated,” said Lisa Peacock, health officer for six northwest Michigan counties — Benzie, Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, Leelanau, and Otsego.

Peacock told Bridge she told school districts in a morning call Thursday that she is lifting the mask order in those counties, effective Thursday at 11:59 p.m.

That gives school districts time to form their own policies, she said.

“Lifting of the order is appropriate, because it was only a temporary strategy in the first place,” she said.

But, she added: “It doesn’t mean that masking is no longer important.”

Health leaders in Oakland County have considered lifting the county’s mask order for weeks, driven “by what will keep the students in the classroom learning,” said spokesperson Bill Mullan, who added they had no decision to report Thursday.

As of Feb. 3, 682,356 students — 54 percent of all Michigan public school students — were covered by mandates in 173 districts, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

That was 22 districts and 37,000 students fewer than on Jan. 18, showing a growing trend of moving away from the mandates that accelerated this week as leaders in Connecticut, Delaware, California, New York and elsewhere announced the easing of school mask mandates and other requirements.

School mask mandates were first enacted as the delta variant swept the state, just as the school year was beginning. Case counts rose until early December before falling slightly. Then the omicron variant sent case counts to their highest levels of the pandemic.

With nearly 5.6 million state residents fully vaccinated and now hundreds of thousands more having some natural immunity following an omicron infection, there is renewed hope that the surge will lead to an extended reprieve from a virus that has been blamed on the deaths of more than  30,700 residents.

And more help is available for school-age children, with vaccines for children 5 and older available since November, and a vaccine for the youngest children appears to be nearing federal authorization, too.

Whatever health department recommendations, school districts must continue to decide what is best for their students and staff, said Pete Kelto, superintendent of Munising Public Schools in the Upper Peninsula.

The district began the school year with a mask mandate, even though the health department didn’t require one. It dropped it after the holidays, but then reinstated it nearly immediately after the district logged 74 cases within the first two weeks of school in January.

“Every school district is different,” said Kelto, ading that he expects a decision by Monday about whether to lift the mask mandate at the Munising district.

Susan Ringler Cerniglia, a spokesperson for the Washtenaw County Health Department, said the county’s recommendation will likely change on Friday.

“With declining cases and improved hospital capacity, we are reviewing and watching carefully,” she wrote in an email to Bridge Michigan. “We do expect to announce updates soon – likely tomorrow.”


FDA WARNS: STOP USING THIS ILLEGALLY IMPORTED COVID RAPID TEST

MLIVE — A South Korean diagnostics company is recalling its rapid COVID-19 test kits in the United States because they were illegally imported, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The Standard Q COVID-19 Ag Home Test kits were manufactured by SD Biosensor and distributed throughout the U.S., but the FDA said it has not approved, authorized or cleared these tests.

SD Biosensor, in addition to the recall, is taking steps to investigate how the tests were illegally imported.

The FDA also said the South Korean company has “announced publicly that if such illegal importations are discovered in the future, the responsible individuals/distributors will face strict legal action and liabilities for damages.”

The agency is urging anyone who has in their possession one of the illegally imported tests to not use it and throw it away.

For anyone who has already used the recalled test, the FDA is urging these people to retest with an FDA-approved method. You can find a full list of approved rapid kits here.

This is not the first time the FDA has had to recall COVID-19 tests in the past month.

The agency recalled two COVID-19 rapid test kits because they had the possibility of giving false results.


MICHIGAN REPORTS 7,527 NEW COVID-19 CASES, 330 DEATHS OVER 2 DAYS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The Michigan health department on Wednesday reported 7,527 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and 330 new deaths over a two-day period.

That’s an average of 3,763 new cases per day.

Of the 330 new deaths, 239 were identified in a vital records review.

Michigan now has a total of 2,026,646 confirmed cases and 30,747 confirmed deaths since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Michigan had a test positivity rate of 10.81% Tuesday, reporting that 4,475 of 41,365 diagnostic test results were positive.

The state has a fatality rate of 1.5% among known cases, according to data from the state health department.

Michigan also reports 290,225 probable COVID-19 cases and 2,539 probable deaths. The probable cases combined with confirmed cases make up a total of 2,316,871 cases and 33,286 deaths.


DELAYS AT BLUE WATER BRIDGE IN PORT HURON UP TO 4 HOURS

DETROIT NEWS — As the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge by Canadian truckers opposing COVID-19 mandates in their country continues, delays remained for the alternate entry point late Wednesday.

The Blue Water Bridge at Port Huron/Sarnia, Ontario, had no delay for travelers, but commercial traffic faced a delay of up to 4 hours 45 minutes, according to the Canadian government website.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection website reported no wait time at the span for non-commercial traffic at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

Canada listed both commercial and passenger traffic at the Ambassador Bridge as temporarily closed.

The Michigan Department of Transportation said on Twitter that non-commercial traffic should still head to Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and trucks should take the Blue Water Bridge to enter Canada.

The Ambassador reopened to some U.S.-bound traffic early Tuesday, then fully opened that afternoon with occasional restrictions on Wednesday.

The closures, which started Monday, have caused headaches for commercial drivers and backups on Michigan roadways.

Daily demonstrations are staged by the so-called Freedom Truck Convoy centered in Ottawa, where demonstrators have used hundreds of parked trucks to paralyze parts of the capital for more than 10 days.

Protesters have said they will not leave until all vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

The issue has resulted in manufacturing disruptions that experts say could worsen and result in layoffs if the traffic delays between Michigan and Ontario continue.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday said President Joe Biden “is focused on this and we are working very closely” with the Homeland Security Department and Canadian government to reroute commerce and alleviate the situation.

But the grassroots nature of the Freedom Convoy’s illegal blockade can make it difficult for authorities to negotiate a resolution, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said.


AMBASSADOR BRIDGE TRAFFIC RE-OPENS TO U.S.-BOUND TRAFFIC, BRIDGE OWNER SAYS

DETROIT NEWS — The Ambassador Bridge reopened to U.S.-bound traffic after a protest by Canadian truck drivers had closed it since Monday, Windsor police and the bridge’s owner said.

The news comes after the protest against COVID-19 mandates and restrictions in Canada spread Monday across the Canadian border with the U.S., sparking traffic delays. The traffic-blocking convoy was the first sign demonstrations could affect the United States.

“Thanks to exceptional Windsor Police Services and Freedom Convoy negotiations, inbound traffic from Windsor to Detroit is now fully open,” a representative from the Ambassador Bridge said at 7:30 p.m.

“Traffic into Canada from Detroit is still closed and is being rerouted to the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron. The Detroit International Bridge Company hopes for a swift resolution that will allow traffic to flow unimpeded.”

The bridge to Canada in Detroit shut down Monday night, the Michigan Department of Transportation tweeted at 8:50 p.m. Canada later also listed the bridge as “temporarily closed.”

While the Canadian side reopened before 6 a.m., the U.S. side remained closed at midday. Traffic cameras had trucks backed up for miles at the Blue Water Bridge. The Canadian government said the delay for commercial traffic to cross between Sarnia and Port Huron was more than three hours at 9 p.m..

The backups at the Ambassador Bridge, touted as the nation’s busiest international border crossing, sparked concern among transportation leaders about the impact amid COVID-led supply chain and staffing shortages on Michigan businesses relying on transported goods.

“Any delay or disruption in the supply chain creates problems, not just for agriculture but the state economy,” said Chuck Lippstreu, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, which represents businesses that support farmers, said early in the shutdown.

The Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, which represents the Detroit Three automakers, called for an end to the protest, citing its effect on the country’s economy.

“Auto production relies on efficient supply chain logistics for delivery of parts, components and vehicles,” the association said in a statement Tuesday. “Persistent delays at the Ambassador Bridge risk disrupting automotive production that employs tens of thousands of Canadians.”

The bridge’s owner echoed those claims.

“We encourage the appropriate officials to take prompt action to alleviate the situation as quickly as possible in a manner that reflects mutual respect,” Matt Moroun, chairman of the Detroit International Bridge Co., said Tuesday in a statement.

“International commerce needs to resume. The Ambassador Bridge and the Moroun family sympathize with truck drivers and those caught up in this blockade.”

The protest follows rallies over opposition to vaccine mandates and other restrictions in cities across Canada in a show of solidarity with a demonstration in Ottawa that has gone on for more than a week by the so-called Freedom Truck Convoy. The protests paralyzed the Canadian capital’s business district and led the mayor to call for 2,000 extra police officers to quell the nightly demonstrations.

Protesters have said they will not leave until all vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. They also called for the removal of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, though it is responsible for few of the restrictive measures, most of which were put in place by provincial governments.

Trudeau backed demonstrators’ right to protest, he tweeted Monday night, but not to disrupt daily activity.

“Canadians have the right to protest, to disagree with their government, and to make their voices heard,” he tweeted. “We’ll always protect that right. But let’s be clear: They don’t have the right to blockade our economy, or our democracy, or our fellow citizens’ daily lives. It has to stop.”

Last month, Canada started to turn away unvaccinated U.S. truckers at the border. The United States has imposed the same requirement on truckers entering that country.

The first trucks in a convoy organized to protest the vaccination measures arrived in Ottawa on Jan. 28.


COURT HEARING FOR ACCUSED OXFORD HIGH SCHOOL SHOOTER’S PARENTS CENTERS ON DEMONS, VOICES, GUNS, INFIDELITY

MLIVE — Testimony during the first day of the preliminary exam for the parents of accused Oxford High School shooter Ethan R. Crumbley delved into infidelity, possible mental illness, Jennifer Crumbley’s love of horses and her 15-year-old son’s fascination with guns.

The prosecution intends to prove parents James and Jennifer Crumbley knew or should have known their son was disturbed, that he needed help, but they were too busy with their own lives, including work, horses and extramarital affairs, to take the measures necessary to head off the shooting that resulted in the deaths of four high school students on Nov. 30.

Jennifer and James Crumbley are each charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection to the school shooting. Oakland County Sheriff’s Detective Edward Wagrowski reviewed photos, videos, call logs and messages extracted from the Crumbleys phones, in addition to analyzing social media posts, school surveillance videos and 911 calls connected to the shooting investigation during a Tuesday, Feb. 8 preliminary examination in Rochester Hills.

“Now it’s time to shoot up the school,” Ethan Crumbley sent in a text to an unidentified person on Aug. 20, according to Wagrowski. Crumbley then typed “j/k,” multiple times, which the detective said is shorthand for “just kidding.”

The messages were accompanied by a video of a hand holding a gun that was played in court.

“My dad left it out, so I thought, well, why not,” Crumbley texted. While the detective didn’t name the recipient of the texts, he said it was a juvenile. Previous testimony indicated Jennifer Crumbley told a coworker her son only had one friend.

In other text conversations, the pair talked about “kidnapping and killing another classmate,” Wagrowski testified. “There’s also videos of killing and mutilating baby birds.”

Within minutes of hearing about the shooting at Oxford High School, James Crumbley, who worked as a food delivery driver for Door Dash, drove home and shortly after called 911. “I’m at the house, there’s an active shooter at the high school, my son is at the high school, I have a missing gun at my house,” James Crumbley told the dispatcher. “My son took the gun. I don’t know what’s going on.”

A couple hours earlier, James and Jennifer Crumbley were called to the school to discuss with Ethan Crumbley’s counselor the disturbing words and drawings their son is believed to have scribbled on a workbook assignment, including a drawing of a gun and the phrases, “help me,” “My life is useless,” and “The thoughts won’t stop.”

The parents didn’t remove their son from school, but they were ordered to obtain professional psychiatric or psychological assistance for him within 48 hours.

After Jennifer Crumbley received a voicemail from the school the day prior, alerting her that Ethan Crumbley was caught looking up bullets on his phone in class, the mother searched for “clinical depression treatment options” on her phone, according to the Wagrowski.

As early as March, Ethan indicated he may have been experiencing paranoid thoughts, according to other text messages the prosecution revealed in court Tuesday.

“Can you get home now,” Ethan Crumbley asked in a string of messages sent to his mother on March 9, according to Wagrowski. “There is someone in the house. Someone walked into the bathroom and left the light on and I thought it was you but when I came out there was no one home.

“There is no one in the house though. Dude, my door just slammed. Maybe it’s just my paranoia.”

A week later, Ethan Crumbley sent a text message to his mother stating the house was “haunted” and referenced a “demon,” Wagrowski testified.

A month later, Ethan Crumbley texted in a message to an unidentified person that he intended to ask his parents to take him to a doctor.

I just “don’t want to tell them about the voices,” Wagrowski said, reading a text sent from Ethan Crumbley’s phone in court.

The first four witnesses of the day included three employees who worked with Jennifer Crumbley in the offices of a real estate company and a friend who owns a horse boarding farm in Lapeer County where Jennifer Crumbley took riding lessons.

Amanda Holland, an administrative assistant at the real estate company, testified that Jennifer Crumbley began speaking with her occasionally about “marital issues” that began in 2021 and led to a temporary separation.

Holland testified that Jennifer Crumbley told her she was having an extramarital affair and meeting with the person during work hours.

Defense attorneys for the Crumbleys, Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman, argued that the status of the Crumbleys’ marriage wasn’t relevant to the hearing. “What they did and didn’t do, what they spent their time doing, what they exposed their son to, is absolutely material and probative …” Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said.

The defense’s objection was overruled by Oakland County 52nd District, 3rd Division Court Judge Julie A. Nicholson.

Following the Nov. 30 meeting with Ethan Crumbley’s counselor about the disturbing drawings on his schoolwork, Jennifer Crumbley notified Kira Pennock, the 25-year-old owner of a 51-acre farm in Metamora where the Crumbleys boarded their horses, that she would be bringing her son to a scheduled riding lesson that same night, Pennock testified.

Soon after, Jennifer Crumbley heard there was an active shooter at her son’s high school. She became immediately “frantic” and left work, multiple coworkers testified.

In the meantime, James Crumbley was returning to the family home to look for the gun that prosecutors said the couple gave Ethan Crumbley as an early Christmas gift.

“The gun is gone and so are the bullets,” Jennifer Crumbley soon after told her boss, Andrew Smith, in a text message, Smith testified. “OMG, Andy, he’s going to kill himself. He must be the shooter … Ethan did it.”

Ethan Crumbley is accused of using the weapon to kill four classmates and injuring seven others, including a teacher, at the high school.

The four students killed in the shooting were: Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; Hana St. Juliana, 14; and Justin Shilling, 17.

He is charged with 24 felonies, including a count of terrorism causing death, four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder and 12 counts of felony use or possession of a firearm.

The preliminary hearing for his parents is scheduled to resume at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 24.

A preliminary hearing is held to determine if there is adequate evidence for a case to move forward toward trial in circuit court.


AS GRETCHEN WHITMER PITCHES MICHIGAN EDUCATION, A LAG IN COLLEGE ENROLLMENT

BRIDGE MI — College enrollment among Michigan high school graduates continues to lag compared to pre-pandemic rates, a challenge that could impact the state’s economy for years if not addressed.

A Bridge Michigan analysis of college enrollment data shows 54 percent of students from the high school class of 2021 enrolled in a two- or four-year college last fall, down from an average of 63 percent college enrollment in the three years preceding COVID-19. Declines were seen across much of the state, in wealthy and impoverished districts alike.

Michigan high schools sent about 9,000 fewer students to college last fall than would have been expected before COVID. In the past two pandemic years, that total rose to 17,500 fewer recent grads enrolling in college.

The drop was worse for two-year colleges, with 16 percent of Michigan high school graduates enrolling last fall, down from the pre-pandemic average of 24 percent. Enrollment in four-year colleges rebounded slightly last fall to 37 percent of high school graduates — up from fall 2020, but still below the 39 percent rate before COVID hit.

College access experts say sluggish enrollment numbers are discouraging for multiple reasons. Studies show people with college degrees generally receive higher wages, and a more highly-educated workforce would boost Michigan’s economy and allow the state to attract and fill more high-skilled jobs.

Boosting post-secondary attainment has been a signature goal of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who in her first State of the State speech in 2019 urged the state to raise its rate of working-age adults with a certificate or college degree from 44 percent to 60 percent by the year 2030.

Since the pandemic, Whitmer has rolled out a slew of ambitious initiatives to make college more accessible, including free-tuition programs.

Her proposed education budget, to be released Wednesday, is geared to better supporting K-12 students, including economically disadvantaged students, who already enroll post-secondary education at lower rates. In addition to boosting per-pupil funding, Whitmer’s budget seeks $222 million more for low-income students, $30.8 million for vocational education and career tech and $361 million more for student mental health.

Michigan College Access Network executive director Ryan Fewins-Bliss said he is worried about the latest enrollment numbers, saying they could  affect the workforce for years. Business owners are moving toward robotics and machinery and the way to avoid displaced workers in the process is to produce more highly skilled workers, he said. For example, they can be the person who design, service or install the robots.

“We’re going to need more talent who have certificates and degrees to fill these jobs,” Fewins-Bliss said. “But again, we’re pinching the pipeline because our students aren’t going to college right now. So there won’t be people to fill those jobs.”

The median wage for Michigan workers one year after they receive a high school diploma is $12,400, and rises to $19,800 after five years, according to MI School Data, a state data repository.

Paychecks improve dramatically for college grads. The median income for someone with a two-year associate’s degree is $33,700 after one year and $39,600 after five years. For someone with a four-year bachelor’s degree, it rises from $39,300 to $52,900

While low-income students and students of color enroll in post-secondary programs at lower rates than white students, Bridge’s analysis indicates college enrollment fell across much of Michigan, from the richest suburban districts to the poorest urban schools. Consider:

  • In the Bloomfield Hills district in Oakland County — one of the wealthiest in the state — 87.1 percent of graduating high school students enrolled in a two- or four-year college pre-pandemic. That rate fell to 73.9 percent last fall.
  • Other wealthy districts, like Forest Hills, Birmingham, Troy and Rochester all saw college enrollment fall.
  • In Saginaw, where 79 percent of students are considered economically disadvantaged, the city schools had been sending, on average, 46.2 percent of graduates to college before the pandemic, but just 31.9 percent in 2021.
  • Detroit schools saw a big drop in students attending two-year college, down from 18.5 percent before COVID to 8 percent in 2021. However, the student enrollment rate for four-year colleges rose, from 33.8 percent to 38.6 percent.

Erin Berndt is a school counselor at Norway High School in the Upper Peninsula, with about 175 students. She noted that the high school class of 2020 had most of its senior year to prepare for their future before COVID hit in March of that year. But the class of 2021 spent its entire senior year in pandemic mode, with a lot of unknowns and shifting routines.

Students at Norway, near Iron Mountain, don’t generally get a lot of exposure to visiting colleges because of the school’s geography, so getting college representatives to visit them makes a difference. But college reps weren’t allowed to enter the high school during the 2020-21 school year. And after spending their days in remote learning, the last thing students wanted to do was jump on another virtual meeting for a college tour.

“In many ways, Michigan’s…most pressing economic problem at the moment is demographic,” said Lou Glazer, president and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc. “So part of it is that we don’t have enough young people, but what we particularly don’t have is enough young people with college degrees…It’s not only important to their life outcome, but it’s also important to the Michigan economy.”


MICHIGAN ADDS 9,898 CASES, 38 DEATHS FROM COVID-19 OVER 3 DAYS

DETROIT NEWS — Michigan added 9,898 cases of COVID-19 and 38 deaths from the virus on Monday, including totals from Saturday and Sunday.

The state averaged 3,299 cases per day over the three days.

Monday’s additions bring the state’s overall total to 2,019,119 confirmed cases and 30,417 deaths since the virus was first detected here in March 2020.

The state on Monday reported 2,516 adults and 62 pediatric patients were hospitalized with confirmed infections and 78% of the state’s inpatient hospital beds are occupied.

Adult hospitalization rates are declining from records set on Jan. 10, when 4,580 adults were hospitalized with COVID-19.

About 15% of the hospital beds were filled with COVID-19 patients and there were an average of 1,366 emergency room visits related to COVID-19 per day in the state as of Monday compared to 24% full and 2,889 emergency room visits due to the virus in the first week of January.

About 85% of COVID-19 hospitalizations are unvaccinated persons, compared to 15% of breakthrough cases.

The case counts continue to drop from early January when the state set a new high mark with more than 20,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 per day.

The dip lines up with modeling predictions that suggest the COVID-19 surge would peak at the end of January or the beginning of February, Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services recently noted.

Henry Ford Health System officials also have expressed optimism over a slight decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations within the medical system and in its staff vacancies in recent weeks.

Federal medical teams were deployed to assist in the care of patients at Beaumont’s Dearborn location, Henry Ford Wyandotte, Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw, Mercy Health Muskegon and Lansing-based Sparrow Health System.

Omicron variant driving rise in cases

In Michigan, variants of the virus are moving at a high rate, proving more contagious and infecting both unvaccinated and vaccinated residents.

Medical officials have recommended surgical or KN-95 masks as the omicron variant has been shown to linger on cloth masks.

The state, as of Friday, confirmed 2,561 cases of omicron by genetic sequencing at the Michigan Bureau of Laboratories in Lansing. The majority are in southeast Michigan.

Roughly 95% of cases of COVID-19 in the country are caused by the omicron variant, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Michigan’s latest data

Michigan percentage of tests returning positive has plateaued after increasing for the last four weeks. Illinois and Ohio have the highest case rates in the Midwest; California and Texas have the highest case rates in U.S.

Between Jan. 28-Feb. 3, about 21% of Michigan’s COVID-19 tests returned positive.

About 65%, or 6.5 million, residents have received their first doses of a vaccine, as of Wednesday, and 58% are fully vaccinated.


SOME DETROIT HOMEOWNERS CAN APPLY FOR NEW PROGRAM TO PROTECT BASEMENTS FROM FLOODING

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Homeowners in some Detroit neighborhoods can apply for a new city program to help protect their basements from future flooding.

City officials announced the Basement Backup Protection Program on Monday. It’s an up to $15 million plan, with a pilot phase funded by $2.4 million in federal COVID-19 pandemic relief dollars.

Last summer’s severe rainfall — deemed a major disaster by President Joe Biden — left cars stranded on flooded freeways and damaged homes and businesses. The event led to the creation of the program to install backwater valves and sump pumps, and protect residential homeowners in 11 Detroit neighborhoods who have historically faced basement backups during large downpours.

Late last June when nearly 6 inches of rain fell, more than 32,000 basements saw backed-up rainwater or combined sewage.

“We had about a dozen neighborhoods in this city that are low-lying areas, vulnerable to flooding in times of torrential rains,” Mayor Mike Duggan said Monday during a news briefing.

The program will first begin in the Aviation Sub and Victoria Park neighborhoods, two communities that were hit hardest during the June floods, according to the city. That work will launch in spring and 530 homes are expected to be eligible across those two neighborhoods.

Then in the summer, the program will focus on the following areas: Barton-McFarland, Chadsey Condon, Cornerstone Village, East English Village, Garden View, Jefferson Chalmers, Morningside, Moross-Morang and Warrendale. The city identified these neighborhoods because of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) service requests for basement backups and claims. This second phase of the initiative is slated to run from July to December 2024.

The city says it can pay  up to $6,000 per household.

“If you’re in one of the 11 neighborhoods, apply now. Our plumbing contractors need to understand the capacity, how many people … they need to hire to be ready to get this job done,” said Gary Brown, DWSD director.

Owners of occupied single family homes, two-family flats and duplexes are eligible.

Once an application is approved, the city of Detroit Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environment Department (BSEED) will perform an inspection. A licensed plumber will then look at the home and suggest appropriate services.

Those may include: inspection of sewer lateral service line with a camera, disconnecting downspouts and installing extensions 3 feet from the foundation, installing a backwater valve only if sewer lateral is in “viable condition,” installing sump pumps where possible, and putting in place backwater valves and sump pumps with overflow.

Backwater valves can prevent sewage from traveling back into a home during a heavy rainfall. Sump pumps move water out of a home from a basement. The program does not cover private sewer line repairs and replacements, or fixing up other private plumbing.

If a private sewer pipe has collapsed, has a crack or other defect, the homeowner must first get that repaired themselves before they can move forward with the program.

Water and sewer rate dollars are not being used to fund this program, according to the city. Approved homeowners will have to pay a 10% deposit of the total cost to DWSD before the plumber can begin.

However, the deposit fee will be waived for homeowners whose income qualifies them for the city’s Water Residential Assistance Program (WRAP), which is a water affordability program for households at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. In other words, a family of four with an income of $53,000.

Landlords must pay a 20% deposit for each eligible house and don’t qualify for the waiver. The program is not open to commercial properties or nonprofits.

Eight contractors for the project, five of whom are Detroit-based, are slated to go to City Council for consideration.

The first phase of the plan is backed by $2.4 million in federal pandemic relief dollars. Remaining funding sources are yet to be determined, Brown said.

Last year, the city of Detroit received more than $826 million in American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, dollars — the fifth largest amount among American cities. Of that, $400 million was to address budget shortfalls and the remaining $426 million was for community investments.

The city has since announced a few efforts backed by these dollars —  a jobs and workforce training and home repair program. The historic Lee Plaza renovation project earlier this year also received $7M in pandemic relief dollars to build senior housing.

To apply for the Basement Backup Protection Program, go to www.detroitmi.gov/basementprotection. Renters should speak to their landlord because only the homeowner can apply. For help, call DWSD at 313-267-8000.

Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and Bridge Detroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support her work at bit.ly/freepRFA.


FEDS RELAX RULES FOR WORKERS ORDERED TO REPAY MICHIGAN UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

BRIDGE MI — A wave of Michigan residents who were told they had to repay their pandemic unemployment benefits may no longer need to do so.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced on Monday that the U.S. Department of Labor granted a request by the state to expand eligibility for waivers for workers who’d received Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and other temporary federal benefits from spring 2020 through Sept. 4, 2021.

About $5.7 billion in unemployment benefits were improperly given to people who said they were jobless during the pandemic, the state said in January.  The payments were made with federal funds to people who would not normally be eligible for benefits, including part-time, self-employed and gig workers.

However, many of them in the past few months received letters saying they’d been found to be ineligible for the payments — and would have to repay them. In some cases,  amounts sometimes exceeded $20,000.

But the federal ruling means the state can now waive repayments for those who applied for the benefits in good faith.

“Michiganders should not be penalized for doing what was right at the time they applied for federal pandemic benefits,” said Whitmer in a statement released about 6 p.m. Monday.


HOW TO GET FREE N95, KN95 MASKS AND COVID TESTS IN MICHIGAN

BRIDGE MI — Access to free masks and COVID-19 tests is expanding, enabling Michiganders to boost their protection against COVID as they pick up library books, a gallon of milk, or their next prescription.

“The demand has been tremendous,” said Mike Snyder, health officer for Delta and Menominee counties in the Upper Peninsula. His office last week received 20,000 KN95 masks from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which staff placed near the doors of the two health offices.

First come, first serve. No paperwork. No IDs. “We’ve probably handed out 15, 18,000 of them,” Snyder said. “People come in just to get them, even if they have no other business with us.”

Consider the shift. When COVID first slammed into Michigan in 2020, there was not nearly enough personal protective gear, including masks — so much so that even health workers were using home-made cloth masks.

But supply chains ramped up, and the especially virulent omicron variant prompted the CDC to recommend that members of the public upgrade to N95s and KN95s — both high filtering masks — for everyday use.

Last year, MDHHS sent out 3.5 million free KN95 masks to Michiganders, but it’s already sent out 10 million in just the first five weeks of this year, said Lynn Sutfin, the department spokesperson.

“There’s a lot of interest,” said Lisa Peacock, health officer at the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, which this week began distributing 23,000 free KN95 masks through its offices in Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties.

She said the department is also distributing masks to the public at fire stations, food pantries, some churches, through emergency crews and from its new mobile testing unit.

In southeast Michigan, the state is sending 1.5 million KN95 masks to Wayne County next week, said Tiffani Jackson, county spokesperson. Health officials will distribute them to 42 municipalities in Wayne County, excluding Detroit, which has its own health department, in the same way it already has distributed 30,000 at-home antigen tests, she said.

Oakland County spokesman Bill Mullan said health officials there are hammering out details to distribute 800,000 N95 masks next week.

Meanwhile, large chain pharmacies and grocery stores are offering free N95 masks, fulfilling a promise by the Biden administration last month to make 400 million of the highest-quality masks available to the general public.

At the same time, free at-home COVID-19 tests have begun to arrive in snow-covered Michigan mailboxes, part of a federal program announced in December. Consumers must order those tests via a U.S. Postal Service website.

The kits are tested to withstand cold temperatures, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises consumers to bring the tests inside at least two hours before opening them to use. Tests are to be used between 59 and 86 degrees.

Here are some places to find free masks and tests:

Masks

N95 masks offer the highest protection against COVID and are distributed for free through the same Federal Retail Pharmacy Program established to distribute vaccines. In Michigan, the federal program includes chains such as Costco Wholesale Corp., CVS, Meijer, Rite Aid Corp. and the Kroger Co., Walgreens, Walmart and Sam’s Club.

KN95 masks are available for free through MDHHS offices, local health departments, Area Agency on Aging offices,  Community Action Agencies and Federally Qualified Health Centers.

MDHHS also provides more information here about masks — how they work and how to properly wear them.

Free at-home tests

The Biden administration is shipping up to four rapid antigen tests per household. Consumers can order them at this website.

COVID tests also are available by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in select zip codes (listed here) in Berrien, Genesee, Kent, Macomb, Muskegon, Oakland, Saginaw and Wayne counties, in the City of Detroit and in select libraries (listed here) in Calhoun, Clare, Newaygo, Oceana, and Wayne counties.

The state also has offered free, at-home COVID antigen tests to students in Michigan’s schools through the MI Backpack Home program. However, a school must choose to enroll in the program, and testing supplies continue to be strained. While 946 school districts have expressed interest, the state has distributed tests to 334 of them as of Friday, Sutfin said in an email to Bridge Michigan.

But COVID tests also can be found at pharmacies now, and most commercial insurers are now required to pay for up to eight tests per month for every person they cover. Some insurers have made it as simple as showing an insurance card at the pharmacy to pick up tests; others require customers to submit paperwork to get reimbursed for the costs.  Consumers can learn more here.

Free clinic-based testing

Free testing by professionals remains available throughout the state at sites listed here — make sure you select “no-cost.” They include pop-up community sites listed here.


OXFORD SCHOOLS: WE DID NOTHING WRONG ON DAY OF SHOOTING. WE WERE ‘PROPER, LAWFUL’

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Two months after a deadly mass shooting devastated an entire community, Oxford school officials, through their lawyer, denied engaging in any wrongdoing that day, maintaining their actions were “lawful” and “proper,” and that they’re immune from liability.

“Defendants deny that they breached any duties and, further, deny that they were negligent in any manner,” Oxford schools attorney Timothy Mullins wrote in a Friday filing, adding that school officials “strictly observed all legal duties and obligations” imposed by law.

Mullins wrote that all actions of the school district  and its employees were “careful, prudent, proper and lawful.”

This is the Oxford school district’s first formal response to Southfield attorney Geoffrey Fieger’s nearly 2-month-old lawsuit, which claims school officials and staff engaged in many missteps before the shooting, and consequently put students in harm’s way.

Four students died. Six students and a teacher were injured.

At the heart of the lawsuit is a key question: Why didn’t the district remove the shooting suspect from school when he began to display troubling behavior?

Among Fieger’s claims:

The school failed to search the teenage shooting suspect’s backpack, which police say held the gun used in the massacre.

The school let him return to class with that backpack just hours after finding a violent drawing the suspect made that day. The drawing contained a gun and the words: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” The day before, the same student was found searching ammunition on the internet while in class.

The school district, meanwhile, argues that any injury or damage that happened that day was caused by others, and “not under the control of the (school) defendants,” Mullins wrote.

Moreover, the district’s lawyer argued, the teachers, counselors and other school officials named in the lawsuit were performing “governmental functions” that day, and, therefore, are immune from liability.

“Defendants are not liable to (the) plaintiffs for the criminal, assaultive acts of (others),” Mullins wrote, adding that Fieger will not be able to prove that school officials “acted with deliberate indifference” that day.

“As a matter of law, Oxford Community Schools cannot be held vicariously liable for its employees’ actions,” Mullins wrote.

He went on to say that the school will show that the plaintiffs in Fieger’s case “had preexisting medical conditions” that contributed to the injuries they allege in the lawsuit.

Fieger filed the lawsuit on behalf of two sisters who attend Oxford High School. One of them was shot in the neck while her younger sibling watched it happen. Their lawsuit claims that the school put them in harm’s way, and caused them — among other things — severe emotional stress and trauma. Also on Friday, Mullins reiterated his arguments for a stay — or postponement — of Fieger’s lawsuit, arguing the parallel criminal cases are more pressing and that the civil suit should be on hold until the criminal cases are over.

Mullins argued that the issues in the parallel criminal cases overlap with the issues in the civil litigation “because they arise out of the same incident” and the charges are based on the same factual circumstances alleged in the civil lawsuit.

The lawsuit names multiple defendants, including Oxford Community Schools, the superintendent, high school principal, two counselors, two teachers and a staff member.

Fieger has claimed that his request for information from the school will not interfere with the criminal prosecutions. He also has argued that none of the criminal defendants are named in his lawsuit, so there is no overlap.

The Oxford school lawyer disagreed.

Mullins argued that based on Fieger’s Freedom of Information Act requests so far, he intends to seek sensitive information that’s crucial to the prosecution.

Moreover, Mullins wrote, “there is a very real threat that the criminal defendants will attempt to obtain documents through civil discovery and use them in their criminal cases.” He is referring to Jennifer and James Crumbley, the shooting suspect’s parents, whose lawyers have filed a notice with the court, stating that they believe Fieger’s lawsuit should not be put on hold.

“This is the precise type of inference that courts find warrants a stay,” Mullins wrote.

Jennifer and James Crumbley are facing involuntary manslaughter charges for allegedly buying their son the gun that police say was used in the Nov. 30 massacre.

The couple are being held in the Oakland County Jail on $500,000 bond each. A preliminary hearing is set for Tuesday, at which time a judge will decide whether the prosecution has enough evidence to take the case to trial.

Their son, Ethan Crumbley, 15, who was a sophomore at Oxford High School, is facing terrorism and first-degree murder charges in connection with the shooting. He also is being held at the Oakland County Jail, but with no bond. All three Crumbleys have pleaded not guilty.


CYBER THIEVES TARGET LOCAL, COUNTY GOVERNMENTS AS LAUNCH PAD FOR BIGGER ATTACKS

DETROIT NEWS — When Webster Township in Washtenaw County was attacked by ransomware, officials had to create a new website, new emails and new anti-virus and ransomware software to resolve the problem.

It was one of 77 ransomware attacks in the United States last year that were confirmed by the cybersecurity company, Emsisoft.

To lessen such attacks, the federal government has included a new $1 billion cybersecurity grant program in the bipartisan infrastructure law passed last year. It allocates the bulk of the funding that states receive for their local governments, with 25% of the money earmarked for rural governments.

Sgt. Matt McLalin, who investigates cyberattacks in the State Police’s cyber command center, said local and county governments make up a lot of the center’s victims.

“Every single week we are getting multiple reports of local governments who have been affected,” McLalin said.

Brett Callow, a threat analyst from Emsisoft, said the discrepancy in data stems from not all attacks being reported to his New Zealand-based company or being labeled as “cyberattacks” rather than ransomware.

“Tracking incidents is far more challenging than it should be,” Callow said.

The most common type of attacks on rural governments are ransomware attacks and phishing emails, said Michigan Tech University professor Yu Cai, a cybersecurity expert.

“The ransomware is getting explosive in the past 10 years, so we see a lot of cyberattacks based off ransomware,” he said.

When ransomware infiltrates a computer system, those impacted can’t access their information systems until they pay ransom to the hackers, usually in the form of bitcoin, according to Cai.

Rural governments often become targets of such attacks because of their lack of expertise or resources to defend themselves, he said.

“Small towns, rural areas, they can’t even afford an IT person, let alone a security person, so they are an easy target,” Cai said.

A less obvious reason why rural and other small governments are often targeted is because they can be used as gateways to larger attacks, he said.

“A lot of small towns think, ‘Well, we don’t have a lot of valuable information in our computer system, so we don’t care.’ No, that’s wrong,” Cai said. “They want to use your machine, your systems, as a steppingstone to launch a further attack.”

He said attacks from foreign countries are easy to detect, while those from other sources are not.

“If it’s an attack from a small town in Michigan, that will be a lot harder,” Cai said.

McLalin echoed Cai’s concern about using smaller governments as avenues for larger attacks through phishing emails.

“It just spreads like wildfire,” McLalin said. “Unfortunately, down that road will lead to ransomware.”

Cai said he hopes rural officials use the new federal money to boost their IT infrastructures and software, as well as to hire staff.

“Maybe hire a cybersecurity person, or to ask for third-party consultants, or some help from experts to help them test their systems to see how they can improve them,” Cai said.

Andy Brush, a program manager at the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget, also recommended having good backups and doing regular assessments of an organization’s current cybersecurity posture.

“You might be buying the wrong stuff. You might start implementing things and not know where you stand,” he said. “You would not be spending money effectively.”

Funds from the grant could help governments with a budget to ensure they’re spending money on necessary protections, according to Brush.

He said another challenge facing small governments is a lack of the ability and resources to apply for a grant themselves.

“We know that there’s 2,500 or so local public entities, so there are a lot of people we aren’t talking to,” he said.

Brush said the department plans to reach out to smaller local entities that might need additional resources to complete grant applications.

While the state hasn’t received the federal funding yet, Brush said, “You can go to our Cyber Partners website and join there and let us know you’re interested.”

“As these things roll out, we want to make sure we are doing as much outreach as possible so that we are hearing concerns from local entities,” he said.


MICHIGAN SUPREME COURT DISMISSES VOTING RIGHTS ACT CHALLENGE OF REDISTRICTING MAPS

DETROIT NEWS — The Michigan Supreme Court on Thursday denied a request by the Detroit legislative caucus to redraw Michigan’s new voting maps, finding the caucus didn’t prove the decrease in majority-minority districts violated federal protections for minority voters.

The 4-3 decision noted that expert analysis showed White crossover voting made it possible to elect a preferred minority candidate even without a majority-minority district.

“This evidence of White crossover voting — unrebutted by plaintiffs’ expert — reinforces our conclusion that plaintiffs have not made the threshold showing of White bloc voting,” that would trigger the need for majority-minority districts, according to the court’s majority that included Justices Bridget McCormack, Beth Clement, Megan Cavanagh and Elizabeth Welch.

In other redistricting challenges, which historically questioned the work of mapmaking done behind closed doors, further analysis and research might be necessary for the Detroit Caucus to make a proper argument for their case, the order said.

But the high court noted the Detroit Caucus stated several times at oral argument that it had no plans to provide further evidence of its belief that the decrease in majority-minority districts was contrary to the Voting Rights Act.

And, the order said, “the commission’s work has been an open and public process as required” by the Michigan Constitution.

The decision stemmed from a Detroit Caucus challenge of redistricting maps approved by the commission in late December that break up long-held Black majority districts in Detroit to merge them with White Democratic-leaning suburbs.

The commission drew the districts as such to give the Detroit area more Democratic-leaning districts — a reflection of the political makeup in parts of the region. The effort sought to reverse alleged “packing” of Black voters that occurred under past Republican-led map drawing.

The commission’s work resulted in no majority-Black districts in the congressional map, zero in the state Senate map and seven in the state House map. But the new maps did make gains in providing more partisan fairness toward Democrats, who had been subject to maps drawn by the Republican majority in the Legislature for at least two decades.

Some Detroit leaders have argued that the commission went too far and in effect diluted the vote of Black Detroiters, making it difficult if not impossible to get a candidate of color through Democratic primaries.

Justices Brian Zahra, David Viviano and Richard Bernstein argued in their dissent that the dismissal was “premature” and merited further analysis. The case came to the high court as an “original action,” meaning it didn’t have the benefit of analysis or discovery in the lower courts.

“We would appoint an independent expert to assist the court in assessing the evidence and factual assertions presented thus far and any additional evidence the parties would develop and submit for review,” the justices wrote.

The Detroit Caucus’ arguments should proceed in court and merit further expert analysis to examine the claims, especially considering delays in the final approval of the maps because of lags in census data at the front end of map development, the dissent said.

But the court rule governing the case, they noted, doesn’t have a defined process to develop facts and instead faults “plaintiffs for their failure to present evidence that we never requested or required them to present.”

“Procedure matters,” according to the dissent. “People care about how their cases are handled and whether they had a fair opportunity to be heard.”

Instead, the court’s procedure in the Detroit Caucus case, the dissent said, “does not accord with any notion of fair play. The majority’s decision today will do much to undermine the public’s confidence that this court will take seriously original complaints filed in our court.”


COVID-19 TESTS COMING TO DETROIT-WINDSOR TUNNEL — BUT YOU HAVE TO PLAN AHEAD

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Crossing the Detroit-Windsor border is about to get a little bit easier.

A new partnership between Assure Covid Travel Clinics and the Detroit-Windsor tunnel will provide cross-border commuters with on-site access to fast, Health Canada-approved PCR test kits, Assure CEO Dr. Phillip Olla announced in a press release on Wednesday.

The kits are designed to accommodate travelers who, due to immigration restrictions, must submit a negative test result from within 72 hours of their border crossing.

“We’ve had dozens of calls from stranded travelers who were not able to get their results within the 72-hour time limit,” Olla said in the press release. “Having access to this pick-up location at the tunnel will help them get home within about an hour from taking the test.”

The test kits must be ordered on Assure’s website in advance of travel plans. They will then be available for pick-up at the clinic’s operation office on the Detroit side of the tunnel. Travelers can then take their tests with them and perform them as needed prior to their departure.

The tests are self-administered and aided by a virtual telehealth visit, during which an Assure specialist will supervise sample collection and ensure proper processing.

For outbound travelers, Olla recommends booking test kits online several days before their scheduled trip.

For more information or to reserve a test, visit Assure’s website here.


VIRTUAL LEARNING AND THE END OF MICHIGAN SNOW DAYS

BRIDGE MI — Will school snow days soon be a thing of the past?

As a winter storm swept through Michigan Wednesday, many schools closed for winter weather, but Detroit Public Schools Community District and Ann Arbor Public Schools pivoted to online learning.

Both districts had already used up the number of days the state allotted to cancel school for things like bad weather and illness. The pandemic made school districts prioritize technology and internet needs of their students. With teachers and families more familiar with virtual learning, it’s possible that more schools will choose to switch to virtual days rather than completely canceling school.

It’s a dilemma faced by schools this week from Illinois to New York, as a huge winter storm buried parts of the Midwest and East under a thick blanket of snow. Technology is now in the hands of students and teachers in many districts to learn remotely during inclement weather. The question is, do schools — and families — want to replace traditional out-of-school snow days with at-home learning.

Educators say it’s too early to tell if virtual learning will become the new norm for would-be snow days.

The head of the state superintendents’ association also cited potential obstacles.

Tina Kerr, executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators, told Bridge Michigan virtual days require planning. And in a pandemic, with schools dealing with staff shortages and outbreaks, she does not know of a lot of districts pivoting to a virtual day if they still have days allotted for a snow day.

“I’ve heard of a few that may have utilized” virtual days, Kerr said. “But for the most part, the conversation’s been, ‘What do we do post-pandemic? And how are we going to work with students that may need that additional support?’ But the way things are right now, I think people just look at the snow days as an opportunity to get a break because it’s been so chaotic.”

She said it’s likely school leaders will consider the benefits and drawbacks of virtual learning as an option when snow prevents traveling to school as they figure out what to do for the next school year.

“I think that there would be some interest in the future about using e-learning days versus calling them ‘snow days,’ but it’s going to obviously be dependent on district to district needs. Some of our smaller districts have been able to be in-person all along. Some of our larger districts, obviously due to transmission, haven’t had that opportunity.”

While there is no official state count on the number of districts that closed for snow this week, it appears that of the schools that closed their buildings, the majority fully closed rather than pivoted to online learning, said Peter Spadafore, executive director at Middle Cities Education Association, which represents a consortium of Michigan urban school districts.

Spadafore said he is skeptical the snow days of yore will disappear completely in the near future, both because of the “allure” of unexpected days off to play in the snow, and because internet access is spotty in northern Michigan and in the homes of some lower-income families.

“It’s fair to say that some schools are in the position to think differently (than in the past) about whether to call a snow day or a virtual day,” Spadafore said. “But not all schools or all families could participate in that equitably across the state.”

Detroit Public Schools Community District announced Tuesday it would shift to virtual learning for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. District superintendent Nikolai Vitti said in a statement to Bridge the district will continue to use online learning instead of canceling school if there is bad weather.

“The district is out of emergency days so we do not have a choice,” he said. “Assuming student attendance normalizes from the impact of COVID (i.e. no individual school closings, high rates of quarantining that impacts staff and student attendance) next year and then we would go back to canceling school instead of online learning.”

School districts in a number of states have test driven similar programs, with some  dating back to before the COVID pandemic.

Superintendent Jason Mellema of the Ingham Intermediate School District said he sees the potential for virtual days instead of snow days as a conversation of “haves versus the have nots” depending on whether areas have access to high-speed internet.

He said while the pandemic forced districts to invest in technology for students, the pandemic also demonstrated there are geographic areas that still need more support in building internet infrastructure.

“You know, I look at internet access at this point in time as being standard just like electricity, just like water, you know, clean fresh water, I look at it as being one of the basics because regardless of what industry that you’re in, so much of our lives are connected via the internet and so making sure that all of our families have those opportunities is important.”

Michigan districts are allowed six “forgiven” days to close during the school year for events outside their control such as bad weather, outages, or disease outbreaks. Districts can request up to three additional days if needed. If districts cancel more school days than allowed by the state, they have to make up those days. Some do so by adding a few days in June, or shortening spring break.

As Bridge has reported, several districts are already running out of “forgiven” days.

State lawmakers are getting pressure to provide more flexibility for forgiven days or lower the level of student attendance required for schools to receive their full portion of state aid on a given school day.

Thomas Morgan, spokesperson for the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said districts deserve some flexibility because “when these laws were written, no one was thinking of a global pandemic and virtual learning and all this.”


CORONAVIRUS TRACKER | STEEP DROP IN CASES; MICHIGAN PASSES 30K VIRUS DEATHS

BRIDGE MI — Michigan officials reported 327 new COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, pushing the total to 30,170 since the pandemic began in March 2020.

It took 278 days to reach 10,000 deaths, another 251 days to reach 20,000 but just 175 days to reach 30,000 deaths as the delta and omicron variants swept the state.

The toll comes as the current surge fueled by omicron appears to be falling fast. For the first time since Dec. 23, fewer than 20 percent of coronavirus tests came back positive on Monday (17.5 percent) and the overall rate continues to fall.

The state reported an additional 18,803 infections on Wednesday, or 9,402 for the past two days. That lowered the seven-day daily average of new infections to 9,479 cases, the first time under 10,000 since it was 9,210 on Dec. 30.

Prior to the omicron surge, the daily average had never been above 7,654, which it hit on Nov. 19, 2022, during the worst of the delta surge.

All but five of the state’s 83 counties are reporting a drop in average daily infections as the surge continues to wane across most of the state.

The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 fell to 3,202 from 3,423 on Monday, continuing a steady decline since a peak of 5,009 on the Jan. 10.


PROSECUTOR IN OXFORD CASE: JENNIFER, JAMES CRUMBLEY NEED TO STOP ROMANTIC COURTROOM TALK

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Enough with the mushiness.

The prosecution in the Oxford High School shooting case has asked a judge to put an end to what it describes as “inappropriate” and “disrespectful” communication in court between James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of the teenage shooting suspect.

In a court filing Wednesday, the prosecution expressed frustration with the Crumbleys’ behavior, including the two allegedly mouthing “I love you” to each other during hearings.

“These communications … not only disparage the integrity of the judicial proceedings as a serious distraction, but are also traumatic for the families of the deceased victims,” Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor Markeisha Washington wrote in her filing. “Their communication is far more distracting and offensive than a cell phone going off, which the court would not condone.”

The Crumbleys are facing involuntary manslaughter charges for allegedly buying their son the gun that police say was used in the shooting, and failing to secure it. Ethan Crumbley, 15, is facing terrorism and first-degree murder charges for allegedly shooting up his school — killing four students and injuring six other students and a teacher.

The prosecution said it has been contacted by family members of the victims, asking why the parents are allowed to communicate in court.

“Mr. & Mrs. Crumbley’s conduct in court makes a mockery of the crimes they are accused of committing. The courtroom is not a place for blowing kisses and sending secret signals. This is a time for families to pursue justice,” Chief Assistant Prosecutor David Williams said in a statement Wednesday.

According to court records, the following incidents are what the victims’ families are upset about:

  • During one hearing in December, James Crumbley “with his mask partially pulled down, mouthed what appeared to be “I love you” to his wife.
  • When that same hearing ended, McDonald said, Jennifer Crumbley left the courtroom, which led to “additional nonverbal communication” between the couple.
  • During a Jan. 7 court hearing by Zoom, when a breakout session with the attorneys and the judge was held, the Crumbleys “remained on screen during this breakout session and … Jennifer Crumbley signaled and mouthed to (her husband) what appeared to be ‘I love you,’ waved at him, and continued to signal and mouth words to him.”

The prosecutor argues in her court filing that judges can restrict defendants from having contact with others by imposing conditions, so long as the judge determines the conditions “are reasonably necessary to maintain the integrity of the judicial proceedings.” She wants the judge to prohibit the Crumbleys from having any physical, verbal or nonverbal contact with each other while in court.

Attorneys for James and Jennifer Crumbley were not readily available, though the prosecution stated in court documents that the defense has “expressed a willingness” to instruct their clients to refrain from “this type of communication.”

The Crumbleys are being held on a $500,000 bond each. Prosecutors have alleged that the Crumbleys knew that their son was depressed and heading down a dangerous and violent path, but they ignored his “troubling” texts and other red flags, paid attention to their own lives instead and bought him a gun when he needed help.

The Crumbleys have denied the allegations, saying they properly stored the gun in their home, had no way of knowing that their son would use it in a school shooting, and that they are not responsible for the shooting.

All three Crumbleys have pleaded not guilty and are being held at the Oakland County Jail.


MICHIGAN BILL WOULD LET COLLEGE STUDENTS LEAD CLASSES TO CURB TEACHER SHORTAGE

BRIDGE MI — Uncertified college students soon could find themselves leading Michigan classrooms and in charge of students’ academic progress for a full year.

The state House Education Committee is considering a bill allowing districts to hire not-yet-certified education majors as paid teachers with their own classrooms for up to one year. The bill aims to alleviate a severe teaching shortage that has hit schools in Michigan and across the country.

Rep. Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield Township, who leads the committee, said her legislation provides one more tool in a toolbox that now also includes legislative authority for bus drivers, library aides, and other support staff to substitute teach if they have a high-school diploma.

She acknowledged that hiring education majors may not work for every district, and it would be optional.

“We’re at the point where we’re voting to put anyone with a pulse and breathing in a classroom to sub,” the Chester Township Republican said during a committee hearing Tuesday. “We need to do something.”

The Michigan Department of Education opposes the bill. Department spokesperson Martin Ackley would not elaborate.

Critics say the measure could do more harm than good.

“This is not a reasonable solution,” said Gail Richmond, director of teacher preparation programs at Michigan State University. “As a parent, I want to know that the teacher of my children has been through a program that has a particular set of expectations, offers a certain set of learning opportunities, and has a set of standards that they’ve met,” she said.

Education majors need that kind of structure too, Richmond said, calling the legislation a “lose-lose situation.”

The bill does not specify how far along students must be in teacher preparation programs to participate, but during testimony Tuesday, Hornberger suggested that they would have had at least some teaching experience during their college coursework.

Former teacher Rep. Lori Stone, D-Warren, said she feels “some hesitancy” about college students leading a classroom without real-time support and feedback from a certified teacher.

Still, she said, the legislation could alleviate financial hardships for education majors, whose student teaching assignments are usually unpaid.

Hornberger said teacher preparation programs could restructure their programs to ensure education majors are prepared sooner to lead their own classrooms, and districts could establish mentorship programs to guide them.

None of that is specified in the bill, and that’s a problem, Richmond said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.

“I can imagine some version of this might work if it were carefully crafted, carefully designed, carefully assessed, and carefully overseen, but not if it doesn’t identify the kinds of necessary and powerful supports that developing educators need,” she said. That should include regular real-time feedback, co-teaching experiences, and day-to-day support of an experienced mentor, Richmond said, describing the support students typically receive during unpaid student teaching assignments.

Hornberger said during the hearing that she’s open to amending the legislation. If districts and universities work together, they can craft a model that provides good experience to student teachers while solving local teacher shortages for districts in crisis, she said. Universities might have to restructure their model for how student teaching is delivered, she said.

From South Carolina to Colorado, school systems are increasingly relying on uncertified instructors.

Petoskey Superintendent Chris Parker said he wouldn’t choose to have education majors act as teachers in his district, but said it could be an option for districts with a more severe teacher shortage.

“It’s nice to see the Legislature trying to help solve the current crisis,” he said, but “would you want a surgeon taking out your appendix who’s on a temporary certification but has binge watched the ‘ER’ television series and took a couple biology classes?’

The legislation could add administrative costs for the Michigan Department of Education, according to a House fiscal analysis. Those costs would likely be absorbed using existing staff, analysts said.

Education advocate Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future, said it isn’t ideal to have uncertified instructors in charge o classrooms, but it’s a reasonable option during a severe shortage. Michigan Future is a nonpartisan think tank focused on education’s role in bolstering the economy.

“There’s more demand for teachers than there is supply. There’s a real problem, and given this environment, we’re going to have to find alternatives,” Glazer said. He said a student in an education school program “sure seems a hell of a lot better” than a bus driver without any college credits.

State Superintendent Michael Rice has proposed a menu of other options to alleviate the teacher shortage. So far, the Legislature hasn’t considered them. They could cost between $300 million and $500 million over five years, he told lawmakers in a November letter.

Rice’s proposals include offering scholarships to education majors, extending loan forgiveness to current teachers, and better mentoring of new educators. He also wants support to ease restrictions on accepting teacher licenses from other states, to create grow-your-own programs that train support staff to become teachers, and to revive teacher preparation programs in the Upper Peninsula and lower Northern Peninsula.


MEIJER TO OFFER FREE, AT-HOME PCR COVID-19 TESTS AT STORES IN MIDWEST

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Meijer plans to offer free, at-home COVID-19 PCR tests to customers at its stores throughout the Midwest.

The Grand Rapids-based company is partnering with eTrueNorth and said in a release Monday that it will be the first retailer to offer at-home PCR COVID-19 tests for free. Meijer has 254 pharmacies throughout the Midwest.

Here’s how the process will work:

  • Register at www.ineedacovid19test.com.
  • Complete an online assessment and select a Meijer location. You will be provided a voucher that will be used to pick up the test kit. The voucher can be printed or shown on a smartphone.
  • Perform the self-collection nasal swab.
  • Return the specimen in the specimen bag to the same Meijer pharmacy where you received the test kit. Deposit it into a designated drop box at the pharmacy.
  • Specimens must be returned the same day they are collected. The specimen will be shipped to a certified lab for analysis. Test results are expected within 48 to 72 hours. The service is available Monday through Friday.
  • Receive an email when the test results are available. Results and a printable report will be available in your account at www.ineedacovid19test.com.

A few additional details from the website to keep in mind:

  • Every individual, including children, must be registered for their own account, in their own name. Otherwise, the test may not be processed.
  • A person must log on to enter the activation code located on the tube before taking the test.
  • Shipping, weather or other unforeseen events may impact turnaround time for results.
  • If you have symptoms, tests may be picked up and specimens may be dropped off by a family member or friend with proof of the voucher.
  • Meijer is encouraging customers who use the service to wear a face mask when picking up a test or dropping off a specimen.
  • The testing is performed under contract with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
  • “We are very pleased to be the first retail pharmacy location to offer this service,” said Jackie Morse, Meijer’s vice president of pharmacy. “Our pharmacies have provided many important services throughout the pandemic, and this new COVID-19 testing option is another key example of how we continue to look for ways to help our customers, team members and communities.”
  • Coral May, eTrueNorth CEO, said this option should “dramatically increase Americans’ access to COVID-19 testing.”

eTrueNorth began its participation in the drive-through COVID-19 testing program in partnership with the federal health and human services department. It tests in more than 800 sites across the U.S. and is recruiting independent and small chain pharmacies to join its network of specimen collection sites to offer COVID-19 testing, according to the release.

Meijer’s partnership to offer the free, at-home PCR tests comes at a time when other types of free, at-home antigen COVID-19 tests are being offered by the state and federal government, as well as other partners. Free, limited quantities of COVID-19 tests were being handed out Tuesday at the Detroit Public Library’s main location and its permanent branches.

The state health department announced last month it would be making 5,500 at-home COVID-19 test kits available at 18 libraries across Michigan in a pilot project. The initial test kits went to libraries in Calhoun, Clare, Newaygo, Oceana and Saginaw counties and the cities of Detroit and Taylor in Wayne County.

It has not sent additional tests to participating libraries or expanded the project to more locations because of a national shortage in over-the-counter COVID-19 tests, spokesperson Lynn Sutfin said. The state health department plans to talk with the Michigan Library Association about expanding to more sites as testing supplies allow.

The Rockefeller Foundation also announced Friday that Michigan will be one of six states to receive free COVID-19 tests for vulnerable communities.

Project Access COVID Tests (Project ACT) will provide free at-home COVID-19 tests at www.AccessCovidTests.org. It initially plans to deliver 1.1 million tests to at-risk residents in Arkansas, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico and Ohio before expanding across the country.

The federal government also is mailing four, free at-home rapid antigen COVID-19 tests to households via COVIDtests.gov. Orders are supposed to ship within seven to 12 days.

If you have trouble accessing the internet or need additional help placing an order for the federal government tests, call 800-232-0233 to get assistance in more than 150 languages from 8 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week.

Those with disabilities can place orders by calling 888-677-1199 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, or by emailing DIAL@usaginganddisability.org.

The federal government also is giving out 400 million adult N95 masks from the National Strategic Stockpile — masks that are to be available at retailers such as Meijer, CVS, Walgreens, Kroger, Costco, Rite Aid, Walmart and Sam’s Club.

The state health department is handing out 10 million free KN95 masks to residents through community organizations, including state and local health department offices, Area Agency on Aging offices, Community Action Agencies, Federally Qualified Health Centers and Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE).


WINTER STORM WARNINGS: WHERE THE HIGHEST SNOW TOTALS ARE LIKELY

DETROIT NEWS — A winter storm warning has been declared for all of southern lower Michigan for Wednesday and Thursday.

Counties under a National Weather Service winter storm warning, duration and expected snowfall:

►Washtenaw, Wayne, Lenawee and Monroe, 6 a.m. Wednesday to 10 p.m. Thursday: 11-15 inches.

►Sanilac, Shiawassee, Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Livingston, Oakland and Macomb, 4 a.m. Wednesday to 7 a.m. Thursday: 9-13 inches.

►Eaton, Ingham, Van Buren, Kalamazoo, Calhoun and Jackson, 2 a.m. Wednesday to 11 p.m. Thursday: 6-10 inches.

► Barry, 2 a.m. Wednesday to 11 p.m. Thursday: 7-10 inches.

►Cass, Berrien, Branch and Hillsdale, 1 a.m. Wednesday to 7 p.m. Thursday: 10-20 inches

In preparation, residents in southeast Michigan were flocking to stores like Aldi in Highland Park on a sunny and unusually warm Tuesday morning to stock up on non-perishables and other food items ahead of the storm.

Ruth Lloyd-Harlin of Highland Park added two cartons of water from her shopping cart to the one she already had in her car as she finished unloading the heaping stack of groceries she came out of the store with.

“I got some food to cook for dinner, and some goodies. But my refrigerator at home is already kind of full,” said Lloyd-Harlin. “I just came and got some necessities.”

She recently retired from her position in the mayor of Highland Park’s office and was looking forward to continue organizing her drawers and donating things she did not need, a head start on her spring cleaning.

Still, the coming storm made her nervous about getting locked in and shoveling snow, though her next door neighbor usually helps and her son was planning on coming over before work Wednesday.

Lloyd-Harlin also forgot to buy salt to help melt the snow, and said she would have to go back to the hardware store to get some before it got too crowded when people left work in the afternoon.

Earlier in the morning, residents stopped by Lowe’s and the Home Depot in Madison Heights to stock up on last-minute snow supplies, including salt, snowblowers, window insulation kits and small space heaters.

Northwest Ohio areas that include Toledo are under a winter storm warning for 10-16 inches.

“Travel could be very difficult to impossible,” the NWS says. “Patchy, blowing snow could significantly reduce visibility.”

The heaviest snow is expected late Wednesday into Thursday, “with the highest amounts edged from the I-94/Ann Arbor to Detroit corridor southward,” the weather service says.

Risks with this storm include brisk winds with low visibility, impassable roads due to high snow and dropping temperatures.

“Plummeting wind chills accompanied by blowing and drifting snow could bring a potentially lethal travel situation with wind chills falling below zero if you become stuck in your vehicle Thursday night,” the weather service says.


MICHIGAN REPORTS 21,242 NEW COVID-19 CASES, 65 DEATHS OVER 3 DAYS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Michigan saw 21,242 new COVID-19 confirmed cases over the past three days, with an average of 7,081 new cases a day, the state health department reported Monday.

That brings Michigan’s total to 1,980,613 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.

In addition, there were 65 new COVID-19 deaths over the three days, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services data showed.

The state has seen 29,843 deaths in total from COVID-19.


BEAUMONT, SPECTRUM HEALTH ANNOUNCE START OF MERGED HEALTH CARE SYSTEM

DETROIT NEWS — Beaumont Health and Spectrum Health officials said Monday they are planning to start their merged health care system as planned on Tuesday after federal regulators didn’t contest the proposed tie-up.

The Federal Trade Commission had the option to object to the Beaumont-Spectrum combination or launch a full investigation within a specified time frame. The FTC doesn’t comment on proposed mergers unless it files a complaint, and “the agency has not filed a complaint in this matter,” FTC spokeswoman Betsy Lordan said Monday.

John Fox will serve his last day as Beaumont Health president and CEO on Friday.  A national search is underway for his replacement. Officials wouldn’t provide details of Fox’s severance agreement, but said it had been reviewed by an outside consultant who found it to be competitive within the industry

The temporarily named BHSH System is expected to have a combined 22 hospitals, 305 outpatient locations and 64,000 employees, according to the health systems. Beaumont has eight hospitals and 33,000 employees in Metro Detroit, while Spectrum dominates the west Michigan market with 14 hospitals and 31,000 workers.

Beaumont Health Board Chair Julie Fream, who is the incoming BHSH System board chair, said at a Monday afternoon press conference that federal law prohibits disclosing information about the FTC review process, including information about the time line or when the merger passed any final hurdles with the federal agency.

“The Beaumont board and the Spectrum Health boards each voted to reaffirm our position to join the organizations together last week,” Fream said.

Contracts with employee unions will remain in force under the merged system, officials said.

Patient portals, which allow patients to log into their health system to check medical records, test results and other information, will remain the same, officials added.

A Monday morning press release said both systems have “provided the applicable regulatory agencies with all requested information and may now proceed to launch their new health system.”

Industry experts have said the merger could lead to higher prices for health consumers.

Asked if there are any plans to use the health systems’ increased market strength to seek increased reimbursements from health insurers or raise prices for consumers, incoming BHSH Systems President and CEO Tina Freese Decker was noncommittal.

“Our focus for health care is to be affordable, but we also need to make sure we’re competitive, and that’s how we look at our pricing,” Freese Decker said. “We’re also very focused on transparency, and ensuring that information is on our website.

Most research finds that such mergers, even if the health systems don’t overlap geographically, give the new larger health system “more market power that they use to raise prices — which mostly falls on employers and their group plans,” said Allan Baumgarten, an independent health care analyst based in Minnesota who follows the Michigan health care market.

But the Beaumont-Spectrum tie-up would help strengthen the new firm in a pandemic-changed health care landscape, experts said, and provide some advantages to customers.

In Monday’s press release, Beaumont Health and Spectrum Health also announced the board of directors and system leadership team for the new combined health system. The BHSH System board of directors includes seven members appointed from Beaumont Health and seven members appointed from Spectrum Health.

Freese Decker, incoming president & CEO of BHSH System, will also serve on the board, as well as an additional board member who will be named later this year.

“As we launch our new health system, we have a bold goal to transform health and are thrilled to unite our two great organizations,” Freese Decker said in a statement. “Together, we will leverage our complementary strengths to innovate and make a positive impact for our communities and their health.

Beaumont in May 2020 ended partnership talks with Akron, Ohio-based Summa Health. Beaumont later entered talks with an Illinois- and Wisconsin-based system, Advocate Aurora Health, but those talks ended in October 2020 after the potential deal was widely contested by a broad coalition of physicians, nurses, hospital staff, community members and lawmakers.

A tie-up with Advocate Aurora Health, based in Milwaukee and Downers Grove, Illinois, would have made the nonprofit Beaumont Health part of a 28-hospital health system across Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan. Critics argued the merger would result in a loss of local control over the health system.


MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL NOW INVOLVED IN LEE CHATFIELD SEX ASSAULT PROBE

BRIDGE MI –The Michigan Attorney General’s Office is getting involved in the investigation into allegations that former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield sexually assaulted an underage student at the Christian school where he taught before taking office.

A spokesperson for Attorney General Dana Nessel confirmed the office’s involvement in a statement to Bridge Michigan on Monday afternoon.

“The Department is assisting the Michigan State Police as it continues its investigation,” said Lynsey Mukomel. Mukomel declined to comment further, citing an open investigation. The investigation stems from allegations by Chatfield’s sister-in-law, Rebekah Chatfield, who told Bridge and police in December that the former House speaker groomed and then repeatedly sexually assaulted her beginning when he was a teacher and she was a 15 or 16-year-old student at the Northern Michigan Christian Academy, a Burt Lake school founded by Lee Chatfield’s father, Rusty Chatfield.

Lee Chatfield, through his attorney, has denied the assault allegations, instead saying he and Rebekah Chatfield, now 26, had a yearslong consensual affair when they were both adults.

Rebekah Chatfield’s lawyer, Jamie White, welcomed the news of Nessel’s involvement as a “relief,” noting that it would provide a central hub for possible prosecution stemming from allegations of assault over multiple years in multiple jurisdictions.

Rebekah Chatfield told Bridge the assaults began when she was a teen at the school, and continued for more than a decade, after she married Lee’s youngest brother, Aaron, and moved to college out-of-state, and after the pair returned to Michigan when Lee secured Aaron a job in Lansing. She told Bridge it was only in December that she was able to disclose the encounters to others, including her husband, and contact police.

White said Nessel’s involvement also will guard against “potential conflicts of interest” by local officials in northern Michigan, noting that the Emmet County Prosecutor chose not to pursue criminal charges after Lee Chatfield brought a loaded handgun through security at the Pellston Airport in 2018.

“I’ve heard multiple reports and concerns that there could be some lack of fair, objective decision making,” White said. “If I get on a plane with a loaded gun, I’m going to prison for two years, no questions asked.”

Lee Chatfield’s lawyer, in a statement, told Bridge on Monday “it doesn’t matter what prosecutor’s office reviews the case because the facts don’t change.”

“Rebekah Chatfield’s stated goals for 2022 include to become a millionaire, write a book, and host a podcast. She has visions of herself on a stage, and she has even created a hashtag to promote herself and her self-described ‘brand,’” said lawyer Mary Chartier. “We’re confident that any prosecutor who reviews the false allegations will see through them and reach the right result.”

In response, White called Chartier’s statement “inappropriate,” meant to imply that Rebekah Chatfield fabricated her allegations to gain fame or money.

“The idea that someone can’t participate in the capitalist society because they have an ongoing child-abuse allegation is an affront on the entire atmosphere that created this situation to begin with,” he said, adding that Chatfield’s goal in coming forward was partly to inspire other young women in similar situations.

“The idea that we’re going to shame her because she’s trying to move forward with her life is really very troubling,” he said.

White said police investigators’ probe isn’t limited to the assault allegations. Police are also scrutinizing Chatfield’s finances while in office, he said, searching for possible financial misdeeds after reporting by Bridge and other media raised fresh questions about Chatfield’s voracious fundraising and spending.

In an interview with Bridge in December, Aaron Chatfield described his brother as living a lavish lifestyle while in office, including frequent travel and heavy patronage of strip clubs, bars and hotels in and out of state.

Acting as an unofficial driver for Lee while working for the Republican consulting firm Grand River Strategies, Aaron said he personally witnessed his brother in moments of indiscretion and excess.

“He went on more trips than anybody. He was gone all the time,”  Aaron Chatfield told Bridge.

Aaron Chatfield is now represented by his own lawyer, Mike Nichols, who told Bridge he sees the most recent legal developments as “a bunch of mud-slinging.”

“I don’t think it does my client any good for me to spend any time on anything else other than client care right now,” Nichols said.


CORONAVIRUS TRACKER | HOSPITALIZATIONS DECLINING FAST; OMICRON WAVE MAY BE SUBSIDING

BRIDGE MI — Michigan’s hospitals continue to discharge far more COVID-19 patients than admit them, with 3,685 now being treated as of Friday, down 342 since Wednesday and nearly 800 in the past week.

It’s one of the continued signs that the surge in cases spurred by the more transmissible omicron variant is subsiding.

The state also reported 26,309 new infections on Friday, or 13,155 for Thursday and Friday. That pushed the seven-day average down over 1,000 daily cases, to 13,301 from 14,335 on Wednesday.

That’s still nearly twice as high as the peak of previous surges but it’s well below the recent high of 17,589 on Jan. 19.

In the past 45 days, during which omicron has emerged and surged, the state has reported over 557,000 confirmed infections — nearly 30 percent of the 1.9 million confirmed cases since March 2020.

Case counts are falling in 64 of the state’s 83 counties, a steep reversal from just two weeks ago, when case counts were rising in 69 counties.

The state also reported 173 additional COVID-19 deaths, including 121 determined after a review of medical and health records.

Testing data shows that 24 percent of the nearly 100,000 most recent tests came back positive, a decline from 28 percent on Wednesday. The positive rate over the past week is 27.1 percent, down from 32.4 percent a week ago.


OAKLAND UNIVERSITY MISTAKENLY TELLS 5,500 STUDENTS THEY WON HIGHEST SCHOLARSHIP

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Oakland University accidentally sent emails to 5,500 of its admitted students Jan. 4 notifying them they were to receive the school’s highest scholarship, the Platinum Presidential Scholar Award.

The award is worth $12,000 a year for four years of undergraduate school.

The mistake was due to “human error,” university spokesman Brian Bierley said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, the students who received the message do not meet the eligibility requirements for this award, but have qualified for varying levels of OU scholarship awards,” Bierley said. “While the emails were sent in error, OU notifies students of scholarship awards through official scholarship award letters sent to students via United States mail.”

Bierley said an “immediate correction update” was sent to all 5,500 admitted students within two hours of the initial mistake.

This is the second time this month a Michigan university has accidentally informed prospective students they won a scholarship when they did not — Central Michigan University mistakenly told 58 prospective students that they had won a full scholarship that includes room and board.

However, CMU officials apologized for the error Wednesday night, and offered the equivalent of a full-tuition scholarship to each of the 58 prospective students affected.

Carnell Poindexter, a senior at West Bloomfield High School, did not get the same offer from Oakland University. On Jan. 4, he received an email indicating he had been awarded the Platinum Presidential Scholar Award.

“I was kind of set on (going to Oakland University),” he said. “I was really excited when I got that first email, I was telling all my friends and stuff that I got a full ride, and then I got other email and it was really embarrassing. I was like, ‘Oh man that was not for me,’ and I had to go tell people I told that it was not true.”

His mom, Gwen Poindexter, said she was so excited and proud when they got the first email, and it would have taken away the stress of paying college tuition.

“It felt like someone pulled the rug from under us,” she said. “We were really excited and thinking, ‘OK, great. We’re all set.’ We didn’t have to worry about college tuition and he could just focus on getting his education.”

It would have been a game-changer and meant “everything” to him and his family if he had actually received the scholarship, Carnell Poindexter said.

Carnell and Gwen Poindexter said they understand that mistakes happen and they realize that the school can’t give 5,500 people a full tuition scholarship, but they wish they had received something to “offset the heartbreak” — even just an email with other scholarships for which Carnell might be eligible.

On Jan. 5, Shane Lewis, director of undergraduate admissions, and Dawn Aubry, vice president for enrollment management, sent an email to apologize for the “unfortunate” mistake and to say school administrators  hope recipients will still consider attending Oakland University.

“We know the college application process is an extremely stressful time and we are sorry for the added confusion and disappointment this email has caused,” the email reads. “While we know that this message will not make up for our mistake, we wanted to share our deep regret that this error occurred, and our deep compassion toward all those affected.”


WINTER STORM WATCH: 8-14 INCHES FORECAST FOR SOUTHEAST MICHIGAN THIS WEEK

DETROIT NEWS — Winter storm forecasts that started late last week are becoming clearer, with the National Weather Service putting southeast, central and southwest Michigan under a winter storm watch for significant snow.

“A long duration of light to moderate intensity snowfall (is) expected between Wednesday morning and Thursday evening,” according to the NWS for southeast Michigan. “Snow may become briefly heavy at times. Total snow accumulations of 8 to 14 inches possible.”

The watch includes Sanilac, Shiawassee, Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Livingston, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw, Wayne, Lenawee and Monroe counties in southeast Michigan; Berrien, Cass, Branch and Hillsdale counties in southwest Michigan, with predictions of 6-12 inches of snow, and Clinton, Allegan, Barry, Eaton, Ingham, Van Buren, Kalamazoo, Calhoun and Jackson counties in central Michigan, with predictions of 8-12 inches.

Temperatures early in the week will be relatively mild and the precipitation Tuesday night likely will start as rain. That will change quickly to snow, according to the NWS, and persist for all of Wednesday and for much of Thursday.

“The overall setup really sets the stage for a potentially significant amount of snowfall over roughly a 48 hour period,” the NWS says, adding “at least moderate potential to exceed 8 inches as far north as the I-69 corridor/Sanilac county, with a foot+ certainly in play across southern sections of the watch area.”

After the snow, bitterly cold temperatures are expected.

While all snow is expected in Michigan and in northern Indiana and Ohio, some areas will see a higher potential for freezing rain.

Meteorologists say the exact track of the storm has yet to be determined, but southeast Michigan could see blizzard conditions.


MICHIGAN HEALTH DEPARTMENT TO GIVE OUT FREE KN95 MASKS TO RESIDENTS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The Michigan health department will be giving out 10 million free KN95 masks to residents to help them protect themselves from the coronavirus and the highly transmissible omicron variant.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made the announcement Thursday, with masks being distributed by community organizations, including state and local health department offices, Area Agency on Aging offices, Community Action Agencies, Federally Qualified Health Centers and Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE).

For more information, go to Michigan.gov/MaskUpMichigan.

Some agencies will further distribute masks to local partners, such as homeless shelters, according to the website. Residents are asked to refer to the organizations’ websites or social media sites to find out about mask availability instead of calling.

“We have the tools and we know what works as we face down the omicron variant of COVID-19,” Whitmer said in a news release. “By distributing 10 million highly-effective KN95 masks, we can keep families and communities safe. … Together, we can keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.”

Michigan reported about 13,712 new confirmed coronavirus  cases each day Tuesday and Wednesday, according to state data released Wednesday. Hospitalizations are trending down, but there still were 3,859 people — adults and children — hospitalized with confirmed cases of the virus, according to the data. State Health Department Director Elizabeth Hertel said officials are urging residents to protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities.

“Wearing masks are important in helping limit the spread of coronavirus, particularly the easily spread omicron and delta variants. Today’s distribution of KN95 masks will help more Michiganders limit the spread of COVID to save lives and get back to normal sooner,” she said.

The masks are in addition to the 400 million N95 masks that are being given free to adults by the federal government from the National Strategic Stockpile — masks that are or will be available at retailers, such as Meijer, CVS, Walgreens and Kroger. The state said Costco, Rite Aid, Walmart and Sam’s Club also are among the retailers that are to begin free distribution of the N95 masks.

Meijer stores received about 3 million masks, but a store in Roseville had none left Wednesday morning. A CVS store and a Walgreens store, both in Detroit, did not have the free N95 masks yet Thursday.

The federal government also is shipping four free, at-home antigen COVID-19 tests to households that signed up at COVIDtests.gov.

Some of those test kits have already started arriving in mailboxes in Michigan. But a few hiccups have been reported, including people living in apartment buildings having difficulty getting them.

Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said in a briefing Jan. 21  that “almost every resident in an apartment is able to order a test.” He said the U.S. Postal Service is seeing a “very limited” number of cases where addresses are not registered as multi-unit buildings within its database and it is working to fix that issue or are helping people through the process.

Zients said “we will make sure that those people get tests for free” and said people can fill out a service request on the website or call the hotline on the Postal Service website to get the issue resolved.

For those with questions about eligibility, the online ordering form, shipping, delivery or to file a service request, call the Postal Service help desk at 800-275-8777.

The COVIDtests.gov website has a phone number, 800-232-0233, for those who can’t access the internet to get help from 8 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week, and in more than150 languages.

People with disabilities can place orders by calling 888-677-1199 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday or emailing DIAL@usaginganddisability.org.

Dr. Asha Shajahan, a family medicine doctor with Beaumont Health, said to bring the tests in from the bitter cold and let them sit at room temperature for at least two hours before using them to ensure accuracy.

Dr. Dennis Cunningham, system medical director of infection control and prevention for Henry Ford Health System, said Thursday that at-home tests will work past the expiration date, adding that  “it’s safe to say a few months would not make a difference.” He recommends keeping the tests away from direct sunlight or heat. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on masks Jan. 14, saying loosely woven cloth masks provide the least protection; well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer more protection, and well-fitting NIOSH-approved respirators, including N95 masks, offer the highest level of protection.

Masks need to fit closely on the face without any gaps along the edges or around the nose; they need to cover your nose and mouth and be comfortable to wear.


HOUSE FLOATS $185M SPENDING BILL FOR ENTERTAINMENT VENUES, FITNESS CENTERS

DETROIT NEWS — The Michigan House on Thursday voted 96-6 to push through a $184.6 million supplemental spending bill that would benefit convention and visitors bureaus, restaurants and fitness centers forced to shut down during the pandemic.

The supplemental uses federal COVID relief funds to finance a variety of businesses lawmakers argue were hit hardest and stayed closed longest during the pandemic.

“These businesses were prohibited by the government from operating and generating revenue during the pandemic,” said Rep. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, the bill’s sponsor and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

While the funds largely support businesses, a large chunk of the money would go toward bills passed by the House that would forgive certain licensing fees for occupations stressed or shut down by the pandemic. The bills were passed by the House in June but have yet to pass the Senate.

“This package, and the funding that Rep. Albert’s bill would provide for it, is a chance to right that wrong of asking businesses to pay for the right to operate without actually being given the chance to operate during the 2020 and 2021 shutdown orders,” Rep. Andrew Fink, R-Hillsdale, told the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday.

Several industry groups testified in support of the bill Wednesday, arguing entertainment venues, fitness centers, and convention and visitors bureaus were hardest hit by the pandemic.

Among those testifying was Alyssa Tushman, vice chair for the Michigan Fitness Club Association, who had to close two of her three facilities during the pandemic. The association estimated more than 30% of Michigan gyms and fitness centers closed since the beginning of the pandemic.

“Not only did I lose two (facilities), but I’m being sued by my landlords,” Tushman said Wednesday. “There were no protections in place for commercial tenants while there were for residential tenants. This industry is a mess.”

The bill approved Wednesday would allocate about $30 million to the Michigan Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus to give to individual convention groups, whose budgets largely depend on bed taxes or assessments on hotels — which struggled during the pandemic.

Another $53 million would be distributed to health and fitness industry businesses through the Department of Treasury. The grants would be capped at $250,000 per physical location and equal to the demonstrated financial hardship related to the pandemic.

Another $25 million would benefit “community development financial institutions” to support community revitalization and development. Grants would range from $1 million to $8 million depending on the group’s assets and commitments.

Another $18 million would be given to movie theaters that can show “significant hardship” as a result of COVID-19. Grants would be capped at $15,000 per screen and would need to be used for payroll, rent, mortgage or utilities.

Another $10 million would be awarded to restaurants to aid in the training of servers. The grant would be distributed through the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association.

The bill also allocated $6.5 million to “stages survival grants” for live music, entertainment venues and promoters that experienced “significant financial hardship” because of the pandemic. The grants are capped at $100,000 and must be used to support payroll, rent, mortgages or utility. The fund excludes larger entertainment venues in Detroit.

The supplemental also deposits $42.1 million into the Department of Treasury to pay for fee cuts for certain licensees and businesses under separate House bills that have yet to pass through the Senate. Those proposed cuts include health occupations licensing fees, skilled trades fees, occupational code fees and liquor control commission fees.


WARNING OF POSSIBLE MENINGITIS EXPOSURE ISSUED AFTER ‘POSITIVE’ PERSON ATTENDS FRAT EVENTS AT MICHIGAN, MSU

MLIVE — Health officials have issued an exposure advisory after a person was diagnosed with meningitis days after attending two fraternity-sponsored events at the University of Michigan and Michigan State Universiity.

Washtenaw County Health Department leaders issued the advisory Thursday, Jan. 27 after a confirmed case of meningococcal meningitis was reported to them a day earlier.

Health officials said the person attended an event at the Delta Kappa Epsilon residence at 800 Oxford Road, Ann Arbor, from 10:30 p.m. to midnight on Thursday, Jan. 20.

The person also was in East Lansing on Saturday, Jan. 22 and attended an off-campus ticketed event, hosted by Sigma Beta Rho, at Club Rush, 131 Albert Ave. Health officials did not state an exact time the event occurred.

Any person who attended those events, and during the time the diagnosed person was there, should receive antibiotic treatment to prevent possible disease, according to the health department.

“This is not an outbreak and risk to the larger community remains low, but meningococcal meningitis is a very serious illness,” said Juan Luis Marquez, MD, MPH, medical director with the Washtenaw County Health Department, in a written statement.

“We are working as quickly and collaboratively as possible to provide information and treatment options to anyone with potential and direct exposure to the known case,” he said.

Symptoms of meningococcal meningitis include sudden onset of fever, headache, stiff neck, vomiting, rash or confusion.

Anyone with those symptoms should seek medical help immediately. Health officials say meningitis can be diagnosed and then treated with several antibiotics.

According to the health department, meningitis is spread through contact with an infected person’s oral or nasal secretions, meaning saliva or mucus. Close contacts are those who have been coughed or sneezed on, kissed, shared the same food, eating or drinking utensils or been in a crowded space with poor ventilation with an infected individual.

For University of Michigan students who think they may have been exposed, health officials ask they notify the University Health Service by completing the following online form.


WHITMER: CUT TAXES, BOOST SCHOOLS. MICHIGAN GOP AGREES, BUT DEVIL’S IN DETAILS

BRIDGE MI  — Could there be common ground after all between Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republicans who control the Legislature?

On Wednesday, the Democratic governor used the last State of the State address of her first term to propose tax cuts, investments in mental health initiatives and the biggest school-aid budget in decades.

Despite being at odds with Whitmer over the past three years, Republicans have similar goals for this year. But details may vary significantly — and this is an election-year, which could make progress harder, experts say.

“Thematically, I think there are things that Republicans and Democrats will hear and find common ground,” said David Guenthner, the senior strategist for state affairs of the free market Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland.

However, “the details are going to be a bit thorny or a lot thornier to work out,” he said. Hours before Whitmer’s speech, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, outlined priorities for this year that shared similarities to ones by Whitmer, including heavy investment into the state’s mental health system.

But he devoted much of his discussion with reporters to blasting Whitmer as “ineffective” and “tone-deaf” and saying her COVID-19 policies caused “economic turmoil.”

Over the years, though, Whitmer and Republicans have come together to pass major policies, including a 2019 overhaul of the state’s no-fault insurance system that led to $400 per car rebates, as well as $1 billion in state incentives that led to Tuesday’s announcement by General Motors Corp. of $7 billion in electric car investment in Michigan.

“I know at times our nation’s capital feels hopelessly gridlocked, but at our state capitol, Republicans and Democrats have shown we can come together to put Michiganders first,” said Whitmer, who spoke from a Detroit Diesel plant in Redford Township.

For the second straight year, Whitmer’s speech was virtual, a safety precaution due to COVID-19.

Whitmer also used the speech to push for a cap in insulin prices and a $2,500 rebate for electric vehicle sales.

Here are other highlights, including areas where she could find agreement with Republicans:

Agreement No. 1: Cut taxes

Whitmer wants to repeal the “pension tax” — a promise she made while running for governor in 2018. The proposal would do away with former Gov. Rick Snyder’s so-called “retirement tax” that applies a 4.25-percent income tax on pensions depending on when the taxpayer is born.

“If we phase it out over the next few years, we can save half a million households in Michigan an average of $1,000 bucks a year,” Whitmer said Wednesday.

Shirkey, who voted for the pension tax in 2011, told reporters he would only consider the repeal if it affects “all citizens.”

“If what she is proposing will affect all pensioners and all citizens, then I think that’s something that we would be interested (in) looking at,” he said.

Whitmer and Shirkey also agree in principle on plans to increase the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit for low- and moderate-income families. They did not offer details.

More than 738,000 Michiganders received a total of $110.6 million in earned income tax credit during the 2019 tax year, averaging $150 per capita, according to the state Department of Treasury.

Senate Republicans want taxes cut in a different way.

Legislation lowering individual and corporate income tax rates to 3.9 percent advanced Wednesday out of the Senate Finance Committee. The rate is now 4.25 percent for individuals and 6 percent for corporations. The bill — Senate Bill 768 — would also offer a $500 tax credit per child under the age of 19.

legislative analysis estimates the measure would cost Michigan $1.6 billion in fiscal year 2022 and $2.3 billion per year for the next two fiscal years.

The proposal comes when the state is flush with cash, but much of the revenue is one-time federal stimulus money.

Shirkey said there needs to be more conversations about the bill.

“The worst possible thing to do is to implement a tax cut and then, three years later, we reverse that,” Shirkey said.

Agreement No. 2: Record funding for education

Whitmer and Shirkey both want to see record-high funding in education.

“Soon, I’ll introduce a school aid budget that will mark the biggest state education funding increase in more than 20 years — without raising taxes,” Whitmer pledged Wednesday night.

Michigan ranked 25th in K-12 school spending last year, according to an August 2021 report by the Education Data Initiative. Elementary and secondary schools spent ​​$11,783 per pupil annually.

Both Whitmer and Shirkey said they are committed to policies that keep students in classrooms. Earlier in the pandemic, Whitmer’s administration shut down in-person instruction, but those decisions are now left to school districts.

“In-person learning is critical to social development and mental health,” Whitmer said in her speech. “That’s why we will do everything we can to keep kids in the classroom.”

Educational policies could be crucial in this year’s election, as Republicans nationwide have criticized school closures and mask requirements imposed by Democratic governors.

Agreement No. 3: Invest in mental health

After a Nov. 30 shooting in Oxford High School that killed four students, many lawmakers have talked about the importance of spending on mental health initiatives.

Whitmer proposed a “bold investment” next year to help schools hire over 560 nurses, social workers and counselors. She did not offer specifics.

According to news reports, there are 6,300 licensed school counselors in the state, but only about 2,100 are practicing.

Whitmer also hopes to be able to retain and recruit mental health workers in the state.

Republican lawmakers have expressed intentions to address mental health, but in their own way.

Last year, Shirkey and state Rep. Mary Whiteford, R-Casco Township, introduced legislation that would eliminate the state’s process of contracting with community mental health agencies to provide treatment.

Shirkey suggested the state could tap into the over $7 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief money to invest in mental health services and provider retention and recruitment.

“If this pandemic has not done anything else, it has exacerbated … the need for us upgrading our mental health services,” he said.


CORONAVIRUS TRACKER | OMICRON CASES DOWN IN METRO DETROIT, UP IN MUCH OF MICHIGAN

BRIDGE MI — The omicron variant of COVID-19 is shifting its grip on Michigan, as cases fall in metro Detroit and rise in the southwest, central and northern portions of the state.

Michigan reported 27,423 new infections Wednesday, or 13,712 for each of the last two days. That lowered the average daily count to 14,335 over the past week. Monday’s average was 15,332 daily cases, while it was 17,589 a week ago.

Detroit’s rate is now 99 cases per 100,000 residents over the past week, a drop from 149 per 100,000 a week ago. Counts also are falling in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

But they are rising in 36 other counties, including Ingham and Saginaw counties and much of the northern Lower Peninsula.

The state also reported 379 additional COVID-19 deaths, 268 of which were determined after a review of medical and health records. Of the total, 327 were in January.

There have now been 1,627 COVID-19 deaths this year, or an average of 62 per day. In December, the state averaged nearly 106 COVID-19 deaths a day.

Hospitals in the state are treating 4,027 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients, down 225 from Monday and down nearly 1,000 from the Jan. 10 peak of 5,009.

Over the most recent two days of testing data, 28 percent of coronavirus tests came back positive. That’s extremely high, but below Monday’s rate of 29 percent.


CMU TO OFFER FULL-TUITION SCHOLARSHIPS TO STUDENTS WHO WERE MISTAKENLY TOLD THEY WON THEM

DETROIT NEWS — Central Michigan University is upping scholarships for nearly five dozen prospective students after news spread that the school had mistakenly notified them over the weekend that they’d won full-ride scholarships that included room and board, officials confirmed Wednesday.

CMU said 58 prospective students received messages while accessing the university portal informing them that they had won the Centralis Scholars Award, which gives students full tuition, room and board, money toward books and supplies, and a $5,000 “study away award.” Students who receive the scholarship also are able to participate in special honors classes.

But those contacted hadn’t won the prestigious award, the university said in a Wednesday statement. The message, officials said, went out “inadvertently” when university staffers were “testing a new messaging technology over the weekend.”

“CMU sincerely regrets this mistake and understands the disappointment and anger these students and their families must be feeling,” Aaron Mills, university spokesperson, said in the statement. “CMU’s executive director of admissions personally contacted the families of students who were identified as being in the portal during testing on Sunday to apologize for this miscommunication.”

Mills added late Wednesday that the university “will be reaching out to each of the 58 students who saw the congratulatory message regarding the Centralis Scholarship and offering to increase their award amount to the equivalent of a full-tuition scholarship.”

It is not clear how much more money that means for the affected prospective students, but tuition for U.S. residents at CMU is estimated to be about $12,750 a year.

Mills said the university was unable to answer further questions. On the university’s website for the scholarship, the school notes that recipients would be notified on Jan. 21.

The Centralis Scholars Award is considered the premier merit scholarship CMU offers, according to its website. It is only open to students who have a minimum 3.7 GPA and who have already been admitted to the university.


MICHIGAN HOUSE APPROVES HANDS-FREE DRIVING BILLS, BANS SOCIAL MEDIA POSTING AND DRIVING

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The Michigan House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved bills to ban speaking on a cellphone, posting to social media or otherwise using electronic devices that are not hands-free while driving.

All three measures passed with 75-26 margins and come after years of advocacy by those seeking to reduce the potentially deadly consequences of distracted driving.

“These bills together create a law that is enforceable by our police and highway patrol and set the stage for us to change the culture of distracted driving in our state. We’re looking to encourage folks to use hands-free options available to them; for their safety and for the safety of others,” said state Rep, Mari Manoogian, D-Birmingham and a sponsor of one of the bills.

The three-bill package goes beyond cellphones. Currently, texting is banned while driving but there’s no limit on driving and fiddling with your phone for some other purpose. So it can be difficult for law enforcement to discern whether a driver is texting or doing something else.

“It means a driver can still stream Netflix, shop on Amazon, record a TikTok, or take a Zoom call on camera while driving and be compliant with Michigan law. Which, if we’re being honest, makes absolutely no sense to me,” Manoogian said.

For new drivers who haven’t obtained their full driving privileges, the bills ban any use of a cellphone. There also are exceptions for law enforcement, firefighters and others to use their phones, or for any driver to use a phone in the event of an emergency.

A first-time violation could result in a $100 fine or 16 hours of community service. Penalties go up for subsequent infractions, including a possible 90-day license suspension for three violations in a three-year period.

Police would be allowed to pull someone over for the offense, but an alleged violation would not give police the authority to search a vehicle.

Manoogian noted she brought the bill, in part, after advocacy from Steve Kiefer. In 2016, Kiefer’s son Mitchell was killed by a distracted driver.

“I think of it as sort of analogous to drunk driving laws in the 1980s, when stiff penalties and tough enforcement resulted in people not drinking and driving. Today, most young people wouldn’t even think about getting behind the wheel drunk. So we’re hoping that’s the path,” Kiefer told the Free Press on Wednesday before the vote.

The high-ranking executive at GM said since his son’s death, he has dedicated his life to ending distracted driving. Similar laws already are on the books in 24 other states. Kiefer says crashes, deaths and insurance rates all went down once these laws were enforced.

The bills do not prevent most drivers from using their phones in the car. In addition to allowing the use of Bluetooth or some other in-car phone system, the bills do not ban using a phone while a vehicle is parked.

But state Rep. John Reilly, R-Oakland Township, suggested taking away someone’s ability to hold a phone in one hand and drive with the other is akin to removing personal liberty.

“Unfortunately, in our country we have a love affair with safety. Liberty has an element of risk. You can’t have both. So are we conditioning society to think government can fix this by removing liberty? My question would be where does this end?” Reilly said.

That didn’t set well with at least one colleague.

“I get so sick and tired about people talking about liberty,” said Roger Hauck, R-Union Township, noting his mother-in-law was killed by a distracted driver.

“Driving is a privilege…We need to start treating it as a privilege.”

The bills now go to the Senate. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has previously indicadted support, but Kiefer isn’t celebrating yet.

“It’s a small victory. I’m also a bit frustrated, frankly, that something so obvious has taken so long to get this far,” Kiefer said.

“I sit here and think, ‘we’ve been at this for three years. I mean, how many lives could we have saved?’ ”


ACCUSED WHITMER KIDNAP PLOTTERS LOSE BID TO DISMISS CRIMINAL CASE

DETROIT NEWS — A federal judge Tuesday refused to dismiss the indictment against five members of an alleged plot to kidnap and kill Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, calling defense claims of entrapment and government overreaching a “heavy burden to carry.”

U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker filed his order less than two months before the five men are scheduled to stand trial on kidnapping conspiracy and weapons of mass destruction charges that could send them to federal prison for up to life.

Accused ringleader Adam Fox, 38, of Potterville and four others needed to show that evidence demonstrates FBI agents and informants induced them to commit crimes. The defendants also needed to show “a patently clear absence” of evidence that they were predisposed to commit the crimes, the judge wrote.

“Defendants fail to carry their burden because the evidence on both issues is decidedly disputed as it almost inevitably is at this stage of the case,” Jonker wrote.

Lawyers for Fox and another accused ringleader, Delaware trucker Barry Croft, 46, could not be reached for comment immediately Tuesday.

A sixth man, Ty Garbin, 26, of Hartland Township, pleaded guilty and is serving a six-year, federal prison sentence.

The judge’s order, six weeks before trial, could prompt additional guilty plea negotiations among prosecutors and lawyers for the five defendants.

“If the defendants were looking for an off ramp, this gives them a green light,” Detroit defense lawyer Bill Swor said. “But this doesn’t mean they can’t raise the same issues in front of a jury. This well could influence the jury.”

According to defense lawyers, FBI agents and federal prosecutors capitalized on discontent with Whitmer’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, invented a conspiracy and entrapped the five charged in a case that has alleged violent extremism in Michigan.

The original 20-page defense motion, filed Christmas night by all five defense lawyers, asked Jonker to dismiss the conspiracy charge. Doing so would effectively dismantle the government’s case and remaining charges, which are intertwined and based on the conspiracy charge, the lawyers wrote.

The request follows a stream of allegations and developments about the government’s team involved in the case. That included the convictions of former FBI Special Agent Richard Trask, the government’s public face of the investigation who was arrested on a domestic violence charge and later fired and convicted of a misdemeanor; and informant Stephen Robeson, who was dropped by the FBI after being caught illegally possessing a sniper rifle.

Jonker wrote that it is “neither ‘undisputed’ nor ‘patently clear’ that defendants were not predisposed to commit the crimes charged.”

Defendants also need to illustrate government agents induced them to commit crimes in order to win an entrapment defense, the judge wrote.

“… simply setting up a ruse — even an extended one — or running a confidential source, or even proposing a criminal act is not enough,” the judge wrote.  “At this pretrial stage, the court concludes the defense has not demonstrated as a matter of law that defendants’ wills were overcome by the actions of the government.”

Defense lawyers have argued government agents initiated the case, knew there was no kidnapping conspiracy and that informants were the “driving force.”

“… informants, of course, not only contacted the defendants face to face but also coaxed, persuaded, cajoled, played on sympathies, cultivated friendships, took advantage of the defendants’ financial conditions, and suggested that the offense they proposed ‘would further a greater good,'” the lawyers wrote in an earlier court filing.

“These defendants had no desire whatsoever to kidnap anyone,” they added.


‘THIS IS THE BIG ONE.’ MICHIGAN CELEBRATES LANDMARK $7B GM INVESTMENT

BRIDGE MI — For once in Lansing, everyone was smiling: Democrats and Republicans, big labor and big business.

They had seven billion reasons to smile.

Michigan spent the last four months accelerating its efforts to land one of the massive automotive manufacturing projects seeking a site in the U.S. By Tuesday, the deal became official: General Motors Company chose Michigan for its largest single investment ever, $7 billion that will be spent in two communities to generate the framework for the company’s future.

The move “will help us make our home state the epicenter of the electric vehicle industry,” GM Chair and CEO Mary Barra said during an announcement in the Senate Hearing Room at the Boji Tower in front of legislators, state officials and GM workers.

It’s accomplishing that goal by building battery production infrastructure just outside of Lansing and adding more EV truck-assembly capacity at its Lake Orion factory, at a scale that forecasts the need between the two sites for up to 4,000 new workers.

And it’s getting help from the state, which approved $666 million in new incentives on Tuesday ahead of the announcement, along with property tax breaks of $158 million.

The battery factory — GM’s third of four planned for Ultium Cells LLS, its alliance with South Korean partner LG Energy Solution — will be built on GM property in Delta Township, west of Lansing, next to its assembly plant there. Costing up to $2.5 billion, the 2.5 million-square-foot battery factory will employ up to 1,700 workers when it opens in 2025.

In Orion Township, about 40 miles north of Detroit, the existing Lake Orion plant will expand by 3 million square feet. The $4 billion effort will allow production of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra EV pickups by the time it opens in 2024, employing about 2,350 new workers.

Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett compared the GM investment to planning efforts in the township that once seemed like it could transform the suburban north Oakland County community.

GM’s plans dwarf what township officials considered in dollars, scale and the potential for hiring.

“This is the big one,” said Barnett. “There will be ripple effects in our community for decades and decades to come.”

Michigan was not GM’s first or second choice for battery plants when Ultium chose Lordstown, Ohio, and Spring Hill, Tennessee. And the state wasn’t Ford’s choice when it turned to Tennessee for its new Blue Oval City, and when it picked Kentucky for battery production earlier this year.

With the GM deal, “we showed everyone that we can compete for transformational projects,” Whitmer said.

Officials at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation told the Michigan Strategic Fund — the public funding arm of the public-private agency — that the financial requests address “the cost disadvantage of locating the project in Michigan when compared to competing sites” located outside of the state, that included “competitive incentive offers.”

The incentive request also was critical for the state to retain jobs as the auto industry shifts to all-electric production. GM, for example, expects to have 30 EVs in its global product lineup by 2025. Establishing the battery plants along with production capacity expansion positions the automaker for more control over the supply chain, which suppressed profits and production as critical components were not available over the last two years.

Labor leaders also cheered the move, with employees “totally elated,” said James Harris, director of United Auto Workers Region 1, representing Lake Orion.

New workers there can expect to earn an average hourly wage of $27, according to the MEDC. New workers in Delta Township will earn an average hourly wage of $22.50.

The MEDC called all of them “pathway jobs,” due to the wages, training capability and benefits.

President Joe Biden noted in a statement that GM’s decision is the latest in over $100 billion of investment this past year in American auto manufacturing to build electric vehicles and batteries. Among the changes are the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which will set up more than 500,000 EV charging stations and create a national charging network as automakers race toward the overall federal goal of 50 percent EV sales by 2030.

GM’s move is a business decision with its battery partner, but the company also seemed to cheer that it has the potential to solidify its future in its home state where its existing workforce has labored through a pandemic while still facing the uncertainties of electrification.

“It’s emotional for me as a Michigander,” said Mark Reuss, GM president. “It’s emotional to see the plants rewarded for all of (their) hard work.”


CORONAVIRUS TRACKER | COVID HOSPITALIZATIONS, CASES DECLINE, INDICATING OMICRON RETREAT

BRIDGE MI — Michigan reported 39,372 new COVID-19 infections Monday, or 13,124 for each of the past three days, pushing the seven-day average to 15,332.

That’s more than 1,800 cases fewer than it was last Friday, while COVID-19 hospitalizations fell as well to 4,252 patients down 225 from Friday and 757 fewer than the Jan. 10 peak of 5,009. The biggest drop was in the six counties of metro Detroit.

Likewise, the percent of coronavirus tests coming back positive fell to 29 percent over the past three days, the first time below 30 percent since it was also 29 percent on Dec. 30.

Metro Detroit continues to see a drop in the infection rate, with Detroit, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties all experiencing high numbers of cases but far fewer than a week ago. Detroit is now at 105 cases per day per 100,000, down from 149 a week ago and from 223 on Jan. 5.

Cases are still surging, however, in northern Michigan, particularly in Marquette County, which is experiencing 215 cases per day per 100,000, up from 205 last week.

The state reported 36 additional deaths on Monday, 30 of which occurred in January and the rest in December. It’s the fewest reported since 36 were reported Oct. 11.

So far in January, there have been 1,300 COVID-19 deaths; there were 3,245 in December, the third-deadliest month of the pandemic.


FREE N95 MASKS AVAILABLE AT MEIJER STORES

DETROIT FREE PRESS — To help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Meijer stores now have free N95 masks on hand for customers made available through the Biden administration.

Metro Detroit Meijer stores as well as those across the Midwest are participating in the federal free N95 mask program from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Grand Rapids-based chain announced Monday that it is providing free N95 masks to customers who need them. Meijer received about 3 million masks from the program, according to a news release.

The N95 masks will be on a table near the grocery entrance and greeter stand. A Meijer greeter, who will be wearing gloves, will arrange the masks in piles of three for customers to take.

Last week, the Biden administration announced plans to distribute 400 million N95 masks from the National Strategic Stockpile to tens of thousands of local pharmacies and health centers across the country.

Distributing the masks is based on public health officials’ recommendations to upgrade face masks to N95 amid the highly transmissible omicron coronavirus variant.  Wearing a mask is a “critical tool to preventing spread of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.


OAKLAND CO. DIRECTS $3.2M TOWARD OXFORD SHOOTING PROSECUTION, COUNSELING SERVICES

DETROIT NEWS — The Oakland County Board of Commissioners announced Monday it has appropriated more than $3.2 million to aid in the prosecution of the accused Oxford High School shooter and to supply mental health services for those impacted by the Nov. 30 tragedy.

The funding builds on an initial $5 million reserved by the board immediately following the shooting to support the county’s response. The board resolution approved Thursday provides additional general fund resources, officials noted in a Monday news release.

The board authorized $500,000 to the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office toward the prosecution of the case against the accused shooter and his parents. Another $500,000, county officials said, will be directed toward mental health support for students, families, educators and other community members impacted by the tragedy.

“The way we respond to this horrible incident is very important to help not only the residents of Oxford heal, but for all citizens of the county, state and country,” Oakland County Commissioner Michael Spisz, R-Oxford, said in a Monday statement. “We must do our best to make sure we prosecute these evil acts to the fullest extent of the law. This is the time we need more, not less, when it comes to resources.”

The board’s resolution creates positions for two office support clerks, two prosecutor investigators, two paralegals as well as a community liaison, a victim advocate and an assistant prosecutor, all of which will sunset Jan. 31, 2024.

“The urgency for action is now,” added Board Chairman David T. Woodward, D-Royal Oak. “We acted swiftly and proved we are prepared to secure all resources necessary to help the Oxford community, and our entire county, get through this tragedy. Justice will not be delayed, and victims and their families will get the resources they need.”

Ethan Crumbley, a 15-year-old Oxford High School sophomore, is charged with 24 counts, including first-degree murder and terrorism, in connection with the rampage.

Four students were killed and six others and a teacher were wounded.

Crumbley’s parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, are charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in the incident. Prosecutors said that the Crumbley’s bought their son a handgun for Christmas, and in a meeting with school officials over Ethan’s allegedly disturbing drawings and behavior prior to the shooting, refused to take the teen home, nor did they alert anyone, prosecutors said, to the possibility that he had the weapon in his backpack.

Other funding carved out in Thursday’s resolution include $100,000 to support Oxford organizations and businesses that have provided aid following the shooting and $20,000 for counseling services for members of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.

“We’re very appreciative to the board for recognizing the counseling needs of deputies who went to the high school that day and later on with related incidents,” said Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard. “We are going to continue to assess our mental health needs and other matters going forward. I plan to make sure all first responders — police, fire, whomever — get the counseling or whatever other services they need and deserve.”

Like the prosecutor’s staffing needs, Bouchard said his office is evaluating key positions — from school liaison officers to internet specialists — that are needed to help prevent similar incidents in the future.”

The Board also approved the formation of the Oxford Response Ad Hoc Committee which will continue to monitor the need and release of funds over the coming months.

Woodward will appoint Spisz to lead the committee, the Monday release notes.

“The citizens of Oxford continue to need support with this tragedy, especially when it comes to mental health,” Spisz said. “We at the county want to do our very best to support those in need and these monies can and will help do just that.”


COVID IS HERE TO STAY. BUT COULD OMICRON SHIFT THE PANDEMIC INTO AN ENDEMIC?

MLIVE — There is a sense of cautious optimism within the scientific and medical communities that the more infectious, yet less pathogenic, omicron variant of coronavirus could be what’s needed to move the world out of the pandemic status it’s held for the better part of two years.

Health officials have warned that coronavirus is here to stay at this point. However, there’s hope for a not-too-distant future in which COVID doesn’t flood our hospitals and disrupt our society due to a significant level of immunity.

“I would hope that’s the case, but that would only be the case if we don’t get another variant that eludes the immune response to the prior variant,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, during a Tuesday, Jan. 18, interview on NBC News.

“The answer is we do not know that and I think we have to be openly honest about that,” Fauci said. “I really do think it is an open question as to whether or not omicron will be the live virus vaccination everyone is hoping for because you have such a great deal of variability with new variants emerging.”

Viruses like influenza or those that cause the common cold are endemic, meaning they’re found regularly among the population at a level that’s manageable for the community’s health care system.

At some point, health officials expect coronavirus to join those viruses, but we’re not there yet due to insufficient vaccine uptake and the rapid evolution of the virus into new strains.

“To get to endemic, it has to be fairly mild or that it doesn’t spread as much,” said Dr. Matthew Sims, an infectious disease specialist for Beaumont Health. “The common cold is endemic, everybody gets a cold a year or something like that.”

Each new variant needs a level of competitive advantage over the last in order to spread and take over as the dominant strain.

Doctors say omicron, which has as many as 32 mutations in its genes for the spike protein, spreads more easily than the already-infectious delta strain and has a greater ability to evade prior immunity.

That explains why Michigan is averaging nearly 17,600 new cases per day, more than double the height of the previous surges. The latest variant of concern has been reported in 59 of Michigan’s 83 counties, though sequencing limitations could mean omicron has spread even further than that.

Omicron is also believed to cause less severe illness than the previous variants, though it is still sending patients to the hospital, especially if they have no prior immunity from vaccination or previous infection. Michigan hospitals were treating more than 4,750 COVID patients as of Tuesday, Jan. 18.

“Most experts think this is the beginning of the development of this virus becoming endemic within the population; that the pandemic is getting ready to make a shift from being a worldwide pandemic … to being an endemic virus,” said Dr. Liam Sullivan, an infectious disease specialist at Spectrum Health.

“We’re starting to see a shift to that stage of this infection.”

Sullivan said the conversation around what level of coronavirus we’re willing to live with is beginning to take place locally and nationally. At some point, society will move away from regular case reporting and instead focus solely on hospitalizations and deaths.

“We’re not there quite yet as there’s still value in keeping people aware,” he said. “I think over the next 5-6 months, that will probably become a bigger issue and it’ll become much clearer how we’ll manage this.”

Doctors continue to encourage vaccination, including getting a booster five months after the primary series, as the best means to protect yourself from serious COVID illness. More than 6 million residents have gotten vaccinated, and nearly 2.6 million have gotten a booster.

The state doesn’t have a clear estimate of how many residents have some level of immunity between vaccines and natural immunity. However, officials warn that it’s still not safe to seek out infection as a means of pushing society toward the idea of “herd immunity.”

“We are not going to reach herd immunity during this surge,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s acting chief medical executive. “The degree of herd immunity we have, it improves the more people who are immune. So that means, the more people who are vaccinated the safer it is for society, the safer it is for children under the age of five who aren’t eligible for vaccines, the safer it is for those who are immunocompromised.

“This journey to herd immunity, this journey to endemic COVID, it’s much safer if we rely on vaccine-mediated immunity rather than everyone coming down with COVID in January and February of 2022 and putting our healthcare systems at risk.”

Asked if omicron might be the variant that gets us from pandemic to endemic status, Sullivan and Sims agreed it could be a step in that direction. But like Dr. Fauci, they weren’t ready to make any bold predictions.

“COVID has taken people’s predictions and shredded them time and time again, but I think the likelihood that this variant is the one that gets us to being an endemic virus, that sort of gets us out of this emergency state, is probably the case,” Sullivan said.

“Ask me again in March and I might feel a little better about saying that. Who knows how many more curveballs this damn thing is going to throw at us, and it wouldn’t shock me if it does it again.”

To find a vaccine near you, eligible residents can visit Michigan’s COVID-19 vaccine website or go to VaccineFinder.org. Shots are available for individuals 5 years and older through health systems, pharmacies, health departments, physicians offices and other enrolled providers.


OXFORD HIGH STUDENTS TO RETURN TO SCHOOL MONDAY AFTER DEADLY SHOOTING

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Nearly two months after a deadly school shooting left four students dead and seven others wounded, Oxford High School students will return Monday for their first school day at the high school’s campus since the tragedy.

Many students will likely return to campus changed, mentally and some physically, as a result of the Nov. 30 shooting, when a student opened fire in a hallway during the school day. About 1,500 students attend Oxford High, according to state enrollment data.

And they’ll come back to a changed school building. Since December, the campus has undergone multiple renovations to improve the campus after it sustained damage from the shooting.

They will also return to new district-implemented support measures aimed at helping students burdened with the mental toll a shooting takes.

“As a community, we will get through this with love and grace for one another,” Superintendent Tim Throne wrote in a public statement on Jan. 18.

What’s changed?

One of the first changes students are likely to notice: each other’s bags. The Oxford district adopted a clear backpack policy in the wake of the shooting. The backpacks have also been required at the middle school, where high school students have had some in-person classes.

Photos provided by the district of the renovation show large wildcat graphics, the wildcat is the school’s mascot.

Other renovations include adding new paint, wall graphics, ceiling tiles, according to spokesperson Dani Stublensky. Lockers will be adorned with encouraging notes from elementary and middle school students, she wrote.

The school will also have added security.

Law enforcement and personnel from a security firm will be on district campuses as students return.

What are students facing?

The school district is adding therapy dogs to campuses to comfort students as they navigate life after the shooting. Staff members are also now trained in trauma response.

Students also have the opportunity to see mental health providers and multiple professionally trained trauma specialists will remain on campuses, according to Oxford’s website.

The mental supports are all in place to help students cope after the shooting.

According to the National Center for PTSD, 28% of people who have witnessed a mass shooting develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Experts say students need consistency and support after such a tragedy.

The district asked members of the news media to refrain from being on the high school campus Monday as students return. Upon the advice of a trauma specialist, the district is also removing a temporary memorial before students return Monday.

According to Throne, Oxford is planning a permanent memorial to honor the lives of the students who died.


MSU POLICE: BRENDAN SANTO’S BODY ID’D AFTER INVESTIGATOR’S TIP LED TO RECOVERY

DETROIT NEWS — An online petition has been started for more safety measures on Michigan State University’s campus after missing Brendan Santo’s body was found Friday in the Red Cedar River.

A Change.org petition, which has more than 10,200 signatures Sunday night, said there is no fencing along the Red Cedar River and it is “not explorable or walkable by humans or animals” given that it “drops quickly to a steep ravine/river” that is “very dangerous with no danger/warning signs near the opening.”

“MSU needs to put barriers, lighting and signage in place to prevent any further tragedies along the Red Cedar River and the ravine,” the petition said. “Let’s make MSU a safer place in memory of our beloved Brendan Santo.”

Santo’s body was identified by the medical examiner Saturday night, MSU police said, after a private investigator working with Santo’s family alerted them to the body found in the river.

The identification was made based on dental records, said Chris Rozman, an MSU police spokesman, in an email.

The petition went up Saturday on Change.org, the day his body was formally identified.

Police said they had planned to search that area of the river the following week but the tip from private investigator Ryan Robison at about midnight Friday led them to close off the area and begin assembling dive resources within an hour of notification.

The search, which began at first light, resulted in the recovery of a body believed to be that of 18-year-old Santo of Rochester Hills at about 12:30 p.m. Friday in an area of the river near the intersections of Kalamazoo and Clippert streets in Lansing.

Robison has been working with the Santo family and was reviewing underwater video of the area when “he saw something completely submerged in the water at the logjam,” according to the statement from MSU police. Robison told the Santo family, then contacted 911 centers in Ingham and Oakland counties, police said.

social media post Friday night highlighting Robison’s involvement went viral.

In a statement Saturday, MSU police said it wasn’t their intention to hide Robison’s role in the investigation. The department said it hadn’t named Robison publicly because they weren’t sure if he or the Santo family wanted the information public.

Instead, the department’s press release Friday had said police “worked collaboratively with the Santo family and their supporters” and that their help was “essential” to finding Santo.

“Not only is that statement true, we cannot thank Ryan enough for his relentless efforts,” the department said in a statement. “Ryan shared with responders that morning that he was in awe of the totality of the response on January 21 from divers and rescue teams from multiple departments. We are grateful for the tireless dedication of the Santo family and all of their supporters throughout this investigation.”

Law enforcement had planned to search the area of the river where the body was found the week of Jan. 24, but that timeline was moved up by Robison’s call, MSU police said.

On Friday, Inspector Chris Rozman said the location had been an “area of interest” because there was a “significant log jam.” But authorities needed the proper resources to search the area because of “entanglement hazards and debris.”

MSU arborists on Friday cut a path to the river, where they deployed a boat to search for and eventually retrieve the body. Friday’s search included help from the Michigan State Police Marine Services, Capital Area Dive Team and Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.

The Facebook post noting Robison’s involvement in the search said he had been working on the case for about 15 days and had worked to chop ice and place cameras in the area of the logjam for several days.

The investigation into Santo’s disappearance remains active, but police do not believe Santo intended to harm himself or that there was foul play involved.

Santo was among thousands who went to East Lansing on Oct. 29 ahead of a rivalry football game between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.

The Grand Valley State University student vanished shortly before the game, and family, friends, volunteers and law enforcement have been searching for him in the 80 days since.

Searches started within a day after Santo left Yakeley Hall, on the northern edge of campus near Michigan Avenue, where police say the teen was last spotted walking away shortly before midnight.

He had driven his truck to campus and planned to stay with friends in the complex of residence halls known as the Brody neighborhood, a nearly 15-minute walk west, his family has said.

Wearing a black baseball cap, black T-shirt, gray sweatpants and white Converse high-tops, Santo wore a gold cross necklace and had an iPhone in hand.

Investigators learned the device had zero power, relatives have said, and was last pinpointed on Beal Street, south of Yakeley Hall.

MSU President Samuel Stanley previously confirmed the security camera at the entrance of Yakeley Hall was not operational on the night Santo was last seen.

In an email Friday to the Spartan community, Stanley and Marlon Lynch, vice president for public safety and chief of police, said they were saddened to share that the body believed to be that of Santo was recovered from the river.

The discovery, they noted, comes after more than two months of “extensive searching” using countless resources and support from nearly every corner of the state and country.

“We continue to believe there was no foul play involved and that Brendan did not intend to harm himself. There also is no threat to the safety and security of our campus,” the email reads.


MICHIGAN CONTACT TRACING SLOWS DOWN: ‘FOLKS NEED TO JUST ASSUME THEY’VE BEEN EXPOSED’

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Coronavirus contact tracing has all but stopped for the vast majority of Michigan residents amid the worst yet pandemic surge.

That means no one is likely to tell you if you were exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus, unless the person who’s infected picks up the phone to let you know.

“We really wish we could contact everybody, but there always has been a plan that there’s going to come a point where we’re really going to need folks to take on personal responsibility as this shifts from a pandemic to something that’s endemic, something that we’re going to have to live with,” said Nick Derusha, health officer of the Luce, Mackinac, Alger and Schoolcraft District Health Department and president of the Michigan Association for Local Public Health.

“Local public health is not going to be calling every case or calling every contact and folks are going to have to really understand the things that they’re going to need to do in order to protect themselves, protect their families and their communities.”

Instead, local health departments are prioritizing COVID-19 outbreak investigations and contact tracing for people who live in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities, shelters, group homes, prisons and jails and those who attend schools or live in dormitories.

“This redirection of public health resources to a focus on outbreak venues and clusters position limited resources to have the greatest impact,” said Lynn Sutfin, a spokesperson for the state health department.

It’s part of a shift in the strategy for handling the pandemic as thousands of new cases are reported daily, and the capacity to conduct contact tracing shrinks along with the people’s willingness to cooperate.

On Wednesday, the seven-day average of new daily cases broke a pandemic high of 17,589 in Michigan. There simply are not enough local health department workers to conduct contact tracing for each person who’s newly infected.

“In times of high community spread, … in indoor places where there will be people for any extended period of time without masks on — restaurants, bars, really in any crowded public settings — folks need to just assume they’ve been exposed,” Derusha said.

A new report from the state health department shows that of more than 362,000 cases of the virus reported since December, just 4.4% — or about 15,900 infected people — provided the names of close contacts to health officials.

And of those who did, only 26.7% — or roughly 4,250 people — were successfully reached and told that they had been exposed to the virus.

“We continue to experience high numbers of individuals who do not respond when attempts are made by public health to contact them,” Sutfin said.

Those who have been reached haven’t always been kind or helpful, Derusha said. Often, contact tracers are met with anger and frustration. That was especially true during the fall delta variant surge.

“A lot of people that would yell or scream at us simply don’t answer the phone,” anymore, Derusha said. “They don’t pick up. They don’t talk to us. They don’t tell us their contacts. They just ignore us.”

To avoid that but still get the message out, Derusha said, “a lot of local public health departments … have moved to automated systems, where we can send out text messages. Folks can reply to surveys via text, and they can respond that way. So it’s not a phone call every time.”

Now that local health departments have such limited capacity to contact people who’ve been exposed, Derusha said it’s important that Michiganders follow the guidelines to slow the spread of the virus, such as:

  • Wearing a high-quality mask when indoor, public places
  • Avoiding large gatherings
  • Getting vaccinated and boosted when eligible
  • Getting tested if symptoms appear
  • Following isolation and quarantine recommendations
  • Calling close contacts if you test positive to tell them they’ve been exposed.

close contact exposure is defined as anyone who’s been within 6 feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more from two days prior to symptom onset or a positive test, according to the state health department.

“It is important that persons that test positive for COVID-19 isolate and let their close contacts know they may have been exposed,” Sutfin said. “If persons have been exposed, they should quarantine or watch for symptoms (depending on vaccination and recent COVID-positive status) and take other recommended steps, even if they don’t receive a call from the health department.”

People can call the state’s COVID-19 hotline at 888-535-6136 to discuss a coronavirus test result or get information on isolation/quarantine or go online to https://www.michigan.gov/coronavirus and click on “CONTAIN COVID” at the top of the page.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked the state health department Thursday to ship out every coronavirus test kit the state has available to schools and other priority groups such as nursing homes, correctional facilities, first responders and local health departments to try to slow the spread of the virus.

That means 200,000 tests could be distributed immediately, with another 100,000 shipped out later this week.

More than a million free tests will be distributed to Michiganders this month, the state health department reported — the largest monthly allocation to date, and comes as the federal government a