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GOP BILL TO OVERHAUL VOTER ID, IMPOSE RESTRICTIONS ON CLERKS TO HEAD TO WHITMER’S DESK

DETROIT FREE PRESS — A bill that would impose strict ID requirements on Michigan voters, as well as restrict election funding and ban election officials from mailing absentee ballot applications unless a voter specifically requests one, will soon land on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk.

GOP lawmakers in the House approved the bill Thursday on a 56-51 party-line vote. They also voted on a bill that would lay out the steps voters must follow to ensure their ballot counts if they do not comply with the new ID requirements, as well as a third bill that would eliminate the fee to obtain a state ID. Both bills also passed without the support of any Democratic lawmakers.

The free ID bill was sent to Whitmer by the House, but the two other bills must undergo a final procedural step in the state Senate before they’re presented to the governor.

Whitmer is expected to veto the legislation. Whitmer spokesperson Bobby Leddy wrote in an email to the Free Press that legislation “that seeks to make it harder to vote, attempts to undermine trust in our government, or attacks voting rights will see a swift veto from the governor.”

Democratic lawmakers decried the bills as based on disinformation about the 2020 presidential election and said it would disenfranchise voters.

“They’re hideous, regressive, suppressive and discriminatory,” said state Rep. Amos O’Neal, D-Saginaw.  “Audit after audit, lawsuit after lawsuit show the same thing … we did have a secure election in 2020.”

Republicans defended the measures, saying they would boost confidence in elections.

“These measures are not discriminatory practices, they are not politically motivated and they are not intended to suppress anyone’s vote,” said state Rep. Ann Bollin, R-Brighton, who chairs the House Elections and Ethics Committee. “They are intended to protect our elections and ensure that every eligible voter can vote secretly, independently, safely and securely.”

The bill — SB 303 — would eliminate the option for those voting in person who do not have a photo ID to sign an affidavit affirming their identity and vote normally.

Voters requesting an absentee ballot would have to include their driver’s license or state ID number, last four digits of their Social Security number or a copy of a photo ID with their absentee ballot application.

Voters who do not comply with the new ID rules would be issued a provisional ballot that would not count unless a voter took additional steps to verify their identity. SB 304 — which is tied to the voter ID bill — lays out the process: Within six days of the election, those issued provisional ballots would have to present an ID, along with a documentation verifying their address. If voters do not have a photo ID, they would have to provide a copy of their birth certificate or Social Security card as well as documentation verifying their address.

House Republicans also passed HB 5007, a bill that would eliminate the fee to obtain a state ID card. The bill would also require the Secretary of State’s Office to provide same-day service for those applying for a state ID card for the purpose of voting in an election, as well as those applying for an ID three days before Election Day, on Election Day or six days after an election. It is tied to the strict voter ID bill.

That bill would also prohibit election officials from accepting donations to fund election activities and equipment such as advertisements about an upcoming election, efforts to recruit poll workers or drop boxes to return ballots. The bill appears to be written in a way that Michigan election officials could not accept federal funding for elections unless the Legislature or local governments appropriated it.

The legislation would also bar the secretary of state, clerks and government employees from mailing absentee ballot applications unless a voter specifically requests one.

The bills mirror proposed changes in the Secure MI Vote petition initiative that would bypass Whitmer’s expected veto of the GOP election bills. Last week, the sponsors of the initiative began collecting the 340,047 signatures needed to introduce it to the Legislature, which can enact it without Whitmer’s signature.


LAWMAKER: ‘WE’RE GOING TO FIX’ MICHIGAN’S BROKEN PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST LAW

BRIDGE MI — Michigan transparency advocates, journalists and citizen activists on Thursday shared horror stories of trying to navigate the state’s public records request law that they say is broken.

Loopholes, exceptions and vague language in Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act allow the state and local governments to avoid accountability by denying, delaying or rejecting requests for public documents, they said.

“It creates for us a chilling effect where we have to decide what information is worth paying for and what information we simply can’t afford,”  Michigan Radio News Director Vincent Duffy told state lawmakers considering reforms.

The University of Michigan’s NPR affiliate has used public records to review the results of lead testing in water systems, teacher certifications in schools and, most recently, to confirm that former Detroit Police Chief James Craig was not a licensed officer, Duffy said.

“Sometimes this public information is provided easily, but more often than not, the information is difficult to get because of delays or denials and dollars,” he said.

Thursday’s legislative hearing on Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act was the first step in what will be a concentrated effort to try and “fix” the law, according to House Oversight Chair Steve Johnson, R-Wayland.

There’s no new legislation yet, but lawmakers are listening, and “we’re going to do an overhaul,” Johnson promised.

The goal is not just to help journalists or entities with “big pockets” to access government documents that are produced with taxpayer funds and meant to be public, Johnson added.

It’s to “make it easier for everyday citizens,” he said.

Michigan is one of only two states that fully exempts lawmakers and the governor from public records requests, a dubious distinction that in 2015 helped Michigan earn a failing grade on a transparency and ethics report card from the Center for Public Integrity.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer campaigned in 2018 on a promise to expand FOIA and supported the 2019 legislation, but she has not done so voluntarily within her own office.

The state House has repeatedly voted to subject the governor and lawmakers to public records requests, but the legislation has stalled in the Michigan Senate, and critics say it still has too many loopholes to be taken seriously.

As lawmakers begin crafting potential reforms, state Rep. David LaGrand urged colleagues to consider the practical implications of any legislation they propose.

Some smaller governments may not be able to afford dedicated staff to process public records requests, he said, and there may be legitimate reasons for a response to take time.

“There is a fairly low threshold for making a FOIA request, and it does take up governmental time,” said LaGrand, a Grand Rapids Democrat who has championed various transparency reforms in Lansing, including personal financial disclosures for lawmakers.

“We want to be a little careful about imposing burdens on government that could have a trigger from any random citizen to make the government go do a whole lot of careful work on the front end for what may be a frivolous or not-critical issue,” he said.

Johnson, the committee chair, said he is optimistic lawmakers can find common ground on a reform package that makes the public records process “more citizen friendly” and navigable without a law degree.

“The purpose of FOIA is to make government accountable to all the people,” he said. “You shouldn’t need an attorney to know what your local unit government is doing.”


ECONOMIC AGENCY LEADER DEFENDS JOBLESS AID, WORKPLACE SAFETY RESPONSE

DETROIT NEWS — Michigan’s Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Susan Corbin defended Thursday the state’s handling of record unemployment claims and workplace safety violations during the pandemic in response to questions from lawmakers.

Corbin defended the actions of the agencies but also acknowledged there is room for change and improvement at both. She noted the state posted a job opening Friday for the next director of the Unemployment Insurance Agency, which has been led by Acting Director Liza Estlund Olson since the former director resigned in November 2020.

“They just were absolutely hit with an unprecedented volume of claims,” Corbin told senators during her Thursday appointment hearing.

Corbin, who was appointed acting director of LEO in October 2020, was before the Senate Advice and Consent Committee for consideration of her Aug. 20 appointment as permanent director.

Corbin noted that the jobless aid agency was tasked with implementing new federal COVID-19 programs, combating suspected fraudulent claims and moving employees out of the office into remote work arrangements — all while claims rose at historic rates.

The situation, she said, was similar to “building the plane while we were trying to fly it.”

Estlund Olson was brought in to try and “stabilize” the agency after former Director Steve Gray’s departure, Corbin said. Estlund Olson has worked to flatten the structure of the agency, brought in consultants to expand agency capacity and simplified the language used in communicating with the public, Corbin said. The jobless department also is working change software platform.

Still, the GOP-led Legislature’s criticism of Estlund Olson has been ramping up, with House Republicans last week approving a resolution calling for her resignation.

But Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, asked Corbin what lasting changes could be made at the agency, noting the problems exacerbated by the pandemic had been present for several administrations.

“This is an agency that’s been plagued for years with problems,” McBroom said.

The agency’s search for a new software platform and simpler language in public communication should help sidestep some issues, Corbin said. She also noted that leadership within the agency has been inconstant, with 10 directors over 10 years.

Employees and the public, she said, “deserve somebody who will take strong responsibility and will commit to spending some time with the agency. …That is something that, from my perspective, would be very helpful.”

Senators also questioned Corbin sharply about the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s harsh enforcement and publicization of COVID rules during the pandemic, highlighting the agency’s decision to send out press releases when companies were cited for a violation.

“Your department is risking its own reputation and its own working relationships” developed over the years in local business communities, McBroom said.

Corbin said the additional publicization of the citations was done after an influx in complaints from employees worried about some of the practices in their businesses.

“We started issuing press releases because we were getting so many inquiries,” said Corbin. The agency did try to work with and educate employers throughout the pandemic, she said.

Sen. Aric Nesbitt, the Lawton Republican who chairs the Senate Advice and Consent Committee, also criticized the agency’s “heavy hand” during the pandemic and questioned training the department held on how to form a union.

Corbin said the training was an effort to “tackle an issue we got a lot of calls about.”

“Does the administration tilt the playing field in favor of unions?” Nesbitt asked, noting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s recent announcement that she would reimpose the prevailing wage on some state work.

Corbin said she didn’t know how to respond to the question. She noted members of the administration have “strong experiences” with unions and her own mother and father were union members.

“This administration perhaps more than the previous administration has strong ties to unions in Michigan,” Corbin said. “We understand the values and appreciate what unions in Michigan have done for workers in this state.”


UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS FALL TO LOWEST LEVEL OF PANDEMIC

ASSOCIATED PRESS — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell to its lowest level since the pandemic began, a sign the job market is still improving even as hiring has slowed in the past two months.

Unemployment claims dropped 36,000 to 293,000 last week, the second straight drop, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s the smallest number of people to apply for benefits since March 2020, when the pandemic intensified. Applications for jobless aid, which generally track the pace of layoffs, have fallen steadily since last spring as many businesses, struggling to fill jobs, have held onto their workers.

Hiring has slowed in the past two months, even as companies and other employers have posted a near-record number of open jobs. Businesses are struggling to find workers as about three million people who lost jobs and stopped looking for work since the pandemic have yet to resume their job searches. Economists hoped more people would find work in September as schools reopened, easing child care constraints, and enhanced unemployment aid ended nationwide. But the pickup didn’t happen, with employers adding just 194,000 jobs last month. In a bright spot, the unemployment rate fell to 4.8% from 5.2%, though some of that decline occurred because many of those out of work stopped searching for jobs, and were no longer counted as unemployed.

At the same time, Americans are quitting their jobs in record numbers, with about 3% of workers doing so in August. Workers have been particularly likely to leave their jobs at restaurants, bars, and hotels, possibly spurred by fear of the delta variant of COVID-19, which was still spreading rapidly in August.

Other workers likely quit to take advantage of higher wages offered by businesses with open positions, or left jobs because child care for children too young to go to school has been harder to find.


CORONAVIRUS TRACKER | 1 IN 8 MICHIGAN HOSPITAL BEDS NOW FILLED WITH COVID PATIENTS

BRIDGE MI — Michigan health officials reported 110 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, and more than 12 percent of 71,000 recent coronavirus tests came back positive, the highest rate since May.

Over the past two days, the state has averaged 4,335 new cases per day, pushing the seven-day average to 3,797, the highest since it was 3,989 on April 29.

Michigan is averaging 38 new cases per day per 100,000 residents, the 12th highest rate in the country.

Northern Michigan, which has lower vaccination rates, is experiencing a surge: Osceola and Arenac counties are at 100 cases per 100,000 a day,  Clare is at 91, Ogemaw and Montcalm are at 87 and 80 respectively and Antrim and Mecosta are at 73 and 71 cases per day per 100,000.

Case rates are rising in 49 of the state’s 83 counties, though metro Detroit and most of west Michigan are below 40 cases per day per 100,000. Kent County is at 44 cases per day per 100,000.

COVID-19 hospitalizations also are increasing, up 50 from Monday to 2,195 patients. Statewide, 12 percent of hospital beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients, up from 9.2 percent on Oct. 1 and 2.6 percent on Sept. 1.

Of the most recent deaths, 58 came after a review of medical and death records: 109 were in October, four were in September, and five deaths previously attributed to COVID-19 have been reclassified.


OAKLAND COUNTY OUTPACES MICHIGAN IN COVID-19 VACCINE PERCENTAGES

THE OAKLAND PRESS — While the percentage of Oakland County residents who have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine is higher than the state, there’s concern as new cases of COVID-19 continue to grow especially among the unvaccinated.

Of the more than 4,800 new confirmed and probable cases in Oakland County from Sept. 27 to Oct. 10, residents 39 years old or younger accounted for 54.8 percent of the new cases.

About 283,000 eligible Oakland County residents remain unvaccinated, at least 46,000 of whom are ages 12-19 years old.

In Oakland County, 71 percent of residents 12 and older and 88.5 percent of seniors 65 and over have had at least one shot. In Michigan, 63.1 percent of the population 12 and up have received at least the first dose.

With flu season just getting started, the Oakland County Health Division is offering COVID-19 and flu vaccines at the same time at indoor community clinics.

“Getting both the flu and COVID vaccine is vital to reducing the risk of serious illness or death from either virus during this flu season, which is why we are offering both at our indoor community clinics,” Health Division Medical Director Dr. Russell Faust said. “A number of residents who attended our recent clinics were unaware that the CDC updated its guidance enabling people to get both vaccines at the same time.”

Upcoming indoor community clinics will include the Karl Richter Community Center in Holly, United Food & Commercial Workers Local 876 in Madison Heights, Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, Welcome Missionary Baptist Church and Trinity Missionary Baptist Church in Pontiac, and Southfield Pavilion in Southfield.

Appointments are strongly encouraged, but walk-ins are welcome. Click on OaklandCountyVaccine.com for addresses, times, and to schedule an appointment. Those who do not have access to the Internet may call the Nurse on Call at 800-848-5533 Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. for more information. Individuals who schedule their COVID-19 vaccine appointment at an indoor clinic will be asked to indicate whether they would like to receive the flu vaccine. Residents may also request it at the time they show up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at an Oakland County indoor clinic.

Upcoming drive-through vaccine clinics for COVID-19 will be in Novi, Pontiac, and West Bloomfield. The flu vaccine is unavailable at the drive-through clinics.

An update on progress vaccinating Oakland County residents, according to the state of Michigan COVID-19 vaccine dashboard as of Oct. 12:

Total eligible residents 12 and older: 1,091,389

Number of residents 12 and older who have received first dose: 808,353
Number of residents 12 years and older who have completed vaccination: 752,749
Vaccine coverage for residents 12 and older: 71 percent

Total eligible residents 16 and older: 1,029,737

Number of residents 16 and older who have received first dose: 773,318
Number of residents 16 and older who have completed vaccination: 720,720
Vaccine coverage for residents 16 and older: 75.1 percent

Total eligible senior residents 65 and older: 217,676

Number of senior residents who have received first dose: 192,557
Number of senior residents who have completed vaccination: 182,175
Vaccine coverage for senior residents: 88.5 percent

Total doses distributed within Oakland County: 1,664,985

Total primary doses administered within Oakland County: 1,502,506

Total third and booster doses administered in Region 2 North (Oakland, Macomb, and St. Clair counties): 82,850


DETROIT OFFICIALS, ACTIVISTS SAY PROPOSED POLITICAL MAPS DISENFRANCHISE BLACK VOTERS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Michigan’s new independent redistricting commission, and the draft political maps it has drawn, are headed into a storm next week at TCF Center in Detroit, to say the least.

A day after the commission approved 10 maps with barely a hint of conflict, elected officials, ministers and other interested politicos in Detroit on Tuesday raised virulent concerns that the nation’s largest Black majority city stands on the brink of having its preferred representation taken away in Lansing and in Washington. That, they say, is the effect of maps that would strip the state of all but a handful of state House districts where Blacks outnumber whites and represent a majority of the population.

And they plan to make themselves heard when the commission begins its public hearings next Wednesday in Detroit.

“It’s absolute insanity,” said the Rev. Horace Sheffield III, a longtime radio personality, civil rights activist and pastor. “It’s disenfranchisement of the African American community, where we have significantly less representation, at one fell swoop by a supposedly nonpartisan process. There is something wrong with that.”

In drafting the maps, the 13-member randomly selected commission largely followed what it had been instructed to do by staff and experts: unpack overwhelmingly Black districts in Detroit designed a decade ago by Republicans in Lansing and instead spread Black voters across more districts. That gives Democrats a better chance of controlling a number of seats representative of their total vote share.

But it also means that in 17 current congressional, state House and state Senate districts where Blacks are the clear majority of voters, they will no longer retain that numerical edge, causing worries that whites or others may win seats in those areas or that the commission’s plans could run afoul of the federal Voting Rights Act, which is intended to protect a cohesive minority’s political ability to elect candidates of its choice. The commission’s staff, however, says it has worked to ensure that the proposed maps meet the letter of the law.

The maps — four configurations of new congressional districts, three state House maps and three state Senate maps — are only proposals, and the commission is expected to make changes after a round of public hearings beginning next week before starting a final round of drafting.

Butthat’s not doing much to settle worries that opportunities to elect candidates of color could be hampered by whatever plan is settled on by the commission. Created by a statewide referendum in 2018, the Michigan Constitution now gives the commissioners — all novices in mapping political boundaries — final discretion in deciding what the plans will look like.

That said, compliance with the Voting Rights Act is mandatory, and it includes protections for minority populations.

What it does not include, however, is a guarantee of districts in which a minority group is given the majority of the vote. Instead, a cohesive minority group’s political will is supposed to be protected if it would be the victim of racially polarized voting — meaning another racial group tends to vote as a bloc against the minority’s preferred candidates.

Meanwhile, as experts explained to the commission, minority groups can actually see their political fortunes damaged by concentrating too many of their votes in one area, rather than spreading them out and, theoretically, the party they support gaining more power.

For instance, many of the current legislative districts in Detroit that are home to a Black voting population over the age of 18 are well above 50%, including at least four state House districts with a Black voting age population over 70%. Two —  current state House districts 7 and 8 — have Black voting age populations over 90%, a Free Press analysis of census records shows. A report from one of the commission’s experts said House District 3 also was over 90% — the Free Press had it at 89%.

Bruce Adelson, the commission’s voting rights attorney, has stressed that assigning additional minority voters to a district beyond what is needed to protect their opportunity to elect candidates of choice can create other legal problems. Where that line is, is hard to say, however. Some experts say a plurality of around 35% to 45% of a district’s population gives it enough strength to elect its candidates and ward off any legal challenge.

Some commissioners have expressed worry also that the maps could diminish the voting strength of minority voters by splitting them up across too many districts.

“Mr. Adelson, I appreciate all of the advice you give us, but I’ve got to be honest, I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with this direction that we are going under,” said Commissioner Anthony Eid during a commission meeting in early October. Eid pointed, to an early draft district in Detroit with a 35% Black voting age population and questioned whether a primary election would advance a Black candidate.

And that is a concern: It’s not at all unusual for Detroit political races to attract multiple candidates. If those candidates split the minority in a primary in the city, there is the possibility a suburban candidate, if he or she consolidates the vote there, could win the primary and, in a district with a decided partisan lean toward Democrats, win the seat.

Proposed political plans have districts with smaller percentages of Black voters

Michigan’s independent redistricting commission has proposed plans for state Senate, state House and congressional boundaries that would include smaller shares of Black voters while increasing partisan fairness statewide. Here is a look at the district with the highest share of Blacks of voting age in each type of plan compared to what it is under the current political boundaries.

Those figures are based on data put out by the commission as it drafted the maps, not with additional information released Monday as it voted on them that showed even somewhat lower figures for the Black voting age population in those districts.

Black elected officials and civil rights leaders in Detroit on Tuesday still argued that the resulting draft maps, however, would disenfranchise Black voters in the city. State Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit, said there will be too few Black voters to elect Black candidates if any of the proposed maps are approved.

“This was a conscious effort to try and meet what they thought was the criteria in drawing these maps,” he said. “We’re here to say collectively that not only is that not acceptable but that’s not what’s supposed to be done.”

“What we currently have right now… is much better than what these commissioners are doing,” said state Rep. Cynthia Johnson, D-Detroit.


U.S. WILL OPEN LAND BORDER WITH CANADA, MEXICO TO VACCINATED FOREIGN TRAVELERS IN EARLY NOVEMBER

DETROIT NEWS —  The United States will open its land borders with Canada and Mexico to fully vaccinated foreign travelers in early November, in conjunction with its planned change in rules for welcoming vaccinated international air travelers, federal officials said.

The policy change, expected to be announced Wednesday by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, will mean reopening the Michigan border with Canada for the first time since March 2020 to those people traveling to the U.S. for non-essential reasons, such as to see friends and family or as tourists.

The revised policy comes after months of pressure from lawmakers, local officials and separated families on both sides of the border left frustrated by the seemingly never-ending border closure. Canada reopened its border to vaccinated U.S. travelers over two months ago.

“Strong vaccination rates in Canada made the continued border shutdown absurd and unjustifiable,” said U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, a Democrat and co-chair of the Northern Border Caucus, in welcoming the news.

“For months now we’ve heard from businesses that are suffering and families distraught over the separation imposed by the continued border shutdown. The sigh of relief coming from Northern Border communities following this announcement is so loud it can practically be heard on either end of the Peace Bridge.”

The change will take effect at a date to be determined in early November, at the same time the Biden administration begins allowing vaccinated foreign air travelers back into the country.

Unlike air travel, there will be no COVID-19 testing requirement for foreign nationals at the land ports of entry, where Customs and Border Protection agents will oversee enforcement of the vaccination requirement, a senior administration official said.

That will include seeking attestations of vaccination status and spot-checking travelers for verification of vaccination status, either by paper documentation or digital means.

A CBP officer will question non-essential travelers about their vaccination status and, based on the officer’s discretion, some travelers will be sent to a second officer to have their documents checked, the administration official said.

The exact paperwork or digital proof of vaccination that will be required is still being worked out in conjunction with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is expected to issue guidance to that effect in the coming weeks, officials said.

The CDC let airlines know last week that all of the Food and Drug Administration- and World Health Organization-authorized and approved vaccines would be accepted to meet the vaccination requirement for air travel. The agency hasn’t weighed in on land-border travel yet, but federal officials anticipate that the same guidance will apply.

The CDC is also expected to weigh in on whether Canadians who received doses of two different vaccines will be considered fully vaccinated for the purposes of crossing the border.

“I’m pleased that President Biden has put forward a public plan that will safely reopen northern land ports of entry to vaccinated travelers,” said Sen. Gary Peters, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“There is no question travel restrictions at our Northern Border have caused significant disruptions and challenges for Michigan’s cross-border communities and binational families.”

In announcing the changes, senior Biden administration officials indicated a desire to have a consistent approach to land and air entry into the U.S.

They also stressed the growing number of vaccinated people — nearly 263 million across the U.S., Canada and Mexico — with vaccination coverage continuing to increase in all three countries.

Starting in January, the vaccine requirement will also apply to both essential and non-essential travelers entering the U.S., meaning truck drivers and others who currently may cross the border for business, trade and other essential purposes must also have proof of vaccination against COVID-19.

The administration officials noted that crossing the border illegally between ports of entry will still be subject to expulsion. Title 42 public health policy has been used to expel thousands of migrants without allowing them to apply for asylum in the U.S.

A different policy applies to people who have a lawful right to enter the U.S. and will be passing quickly through the port of entry, officials noted.

The U.S. land border with Canada has been restricted to all but essential travel since March 2020 — restrictions renewed just last month through Oct. 21.

Administration officials said those restrictions will be extended again beyond Oct. 21 through whatever November date is set for the new air and land travel rules for vaccinated foreign travelers to take effect.

Beyond that date, the prohibitions will only apply to unvaccinated foreign travelers traveling to the United States for non-essential reasons.

For some months, Canada has been ahead of the U.S. in vaccinations, with 76% of its population fully vaccinated and 87% of those ages 12 and older. That’s compared with 66% of the U.S. population that’s fully vaccinated and 77% of those 12 and older, according to the CDC.


MICHIGAN COLLEGE COVID OUTBREAKS PLUMMET AS STUDENTS VACCINATE AND MASK UP

BRIDGE MI — Central Michigan University student Maddie Clark said she was hesitant to get a COVID-19 vaccination last spring when she first became eligible.

Then this summer, she learned CMU was giving students a choice for the fall semester: get vaccinated, or get a cotton swab up your nose once a week for testing.

When the senior returned to the Mount Pleasant campus in August, she headed straight to Walgreens. “I got my first dose my first day I came back,” said Clark, of Ypsilanti. “Coming back to school, being around a bunch of people, I thought it was time.”

A year ago, CMU and many other Michigan colleges were scenes of large coronavirus outbreaks, 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 2021 and virtually all classes at many colleges and universities were held online.

This year, outbreaks have dropped precipitously and college campuses in Michigan are often safer from COVID than their surrounding communities.  Some have strict vaccine mandates, including at the state’s two largest university campuses: Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. Others, like CMU, give students a jab-or-test choice.

Almost all have enacted — with little signs of protest — mask requirements inside campus buildings (other than dorm rooms) that have proven so controversial in the state’s K-12 schools.

State data shows the pandemic safety measures appear to be working.

A year ago, in the first week of October, months before the first vaccines were approved in the U.S., there were 4,902 new or ongoing cases of COVID-19 connected to outbreaks at Michigan colleges and universities. Now, there are just 445 — an 11-fold plummet.

With a mix of incentives and mandates, many Michigan colleges now have high vaccination rates. At U-M, where vaccinations are mandated this school year for students, faculty and staff, 96 percent of students have had their shots.

At MSU, 90 percent of students are vaccinated.

The uncontrolled spread of the virus also is down dramatically. The rate of students who test positive for COVID-19 is just above 1 percent at U-M and MSU, and half that at CMU. All are in counties in which the test positivity rate is five to 10 times higher than on campus.

Statewide, the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests over the past week is 11.2 percent.

Those data points are “a very good sign of what’s happening on campus,” said Linda Vail, Ingham County health officer, whose jurisdiction includes MSU. “We’re in a completely different place than we were a year ago.”

COVID rates up in K-12 schools

While infections among college students nosedived this fall, reported COVID cases in Michigan’s K-12 schools have skyrocketed compared to this time last year, though they still represent a tiny sliver of the state’s 1.4 million public school students.

There were 343 new or ongoing COVID cases tied to outbreaks in pre-K and K-12 schools 12 months ago. As of Monday, there were 3,021 cases tied to outbreaks, according to state health data.

Part of that almost nine-fold increase can be attributed to the fact that far more K-12 students are physically in classrooms this fall. In September of last year, 36 percent to 57 percent of students were in classrooms, compared to nearly all Michigan students in classrooms this fall.

Still, the contrast between the rising numbers in K-12 schools and the declines at universities brings into stark relief the differences in mitigation efforts.

Mask and vaccine requirements are inconsistent for children and adolescents, for a host of reasons.

Masks are mandated for about 60 percent of students in the state’s K-12 schools, with decisions made (and increasingly, reversed) at the local level; And as Bridge Michigan has reported, among the 40 percent of students in districts where masks are optional, few wear them.

In addition, elementary-age children are not yet eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations and, statewide, just 37 percent of youths aged 12-15 are fully vaccinated, a rate far below college-age students.

In areas of the state where young teens have higher vaccination rates, case rates have been lower, a Bridge Michigan analysis of state vaccine and case data shows.

Conversely, the three regions with the lowest vaccine rates among eligible youth — the Upper Peninsula, south-central Michigan and the Thumb and Lake Huron shoreline — have the highest youth case rates.

The south-central region of Jackson, Lenawee and Hillsdale counties has seen just over 25 percent of eligible 12-15 year olds get vaccinated so far, the lowest of the eight regions of the state.

Vax exemptions the college exception

MSU, U-M, Grand Valley State University and Oakland University have firm vaccination mandates for students, staff and faculty.

All four campuses offer exemptions for those who cite and qualify for health or religious objections to getting vaccinated. For example, at Grand Valley, while 83 percent of students are vaccinated, 10 percent have exemptions and the remainder (about 1-in-14 current students) are out of compliance and could eventually face some form of discipline.

At Oakland, 79 percent of students who take at least one class on campus are vaccinated, 9 percent have exemptions, and 12 percent are not yet compliant.

What discipline could look like for students, staff and faculty at MSU who decline to get vaccinated or request an exemption will likely vary, said spokesperson Emily Guerrant, but could end in termination for employers or expulsion for students.

“Earlier this week, we started some of the termination processes for just a handful (of employees),” Guerrant said. “For students, that process takes longer. If they indicate they are absolutely not going to get it, they will be referred to the dean of students.”

At MSU, about 4,200 students and employees out of a total of 68,000 applied for exemptions, with “a couple hundred” requests rejected, Guerrant said.

Alma College, a private liberal arts school, is among the institutions that offers students a choice of vaccination or regular testing. There, 77 percent of the school’s 1,400 students are vaccinated, while the rest get tested twice a week.

“We’ve tried to make the testing not be a punishment, we want this to be a student choice,” Alan Gatlin, Alma’s chief operating officer, told Bridge Michigan.

One reason Alma students get vaccinated, according to Gatlin, boils down to a difference in quarantine policies set by the Central Michigan District Health Department, which covers Isabella County where CMU is located. Students who’ve had close contact with someone who tests positive don’t have to quarantine if they’ve been vaccinated, while the unvaccinated do.

“That’s a big incentive,” Gatlin said.

“Our students have been great,” Gatlin said. “They all want a real college experience, and most feel like, in the times we’re in, this is a fair trade-off.”

The results of these pandemic trade-offs are a more normal school year, with far fewer infections and quarantines. At U-M, for example, there were 53 new confirmed cases in the most recent week of data, compared to 221 in the same week a year ago when vaccines were not yet available, according to the university’s COVID data web page.

Western Michigan University, where 73 percent of students are at least partially vaccinated, is averaging fewer than three new positive cases per day on a campus with 16,000 undergraduates.

CMU has more than doubled its share of students who are vaccinated since mid-August, from 33 percent to 73 percent.

One of the roughly 3,000 CMU students who have opted for routine testing rather than vaccination is Erika Cheney, a CMU sophomore from Jackson.

“I like being given the option rather than being forced to do something against my will,” said Cheney, after getting her weekly test Monday.

“I am not anti-vax, I don’t want people to get the wrong impression. I just feel there should be more study on the vaccine, and so I’m more comfortable with just getting tested.”


MICHIGAN REPORTS 9,137 NEW COVID-19 CASES, 36 DEATHS OVER 3 DAYS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The Michigan health department reported 9,137 new COVID-19 cases and 36 deaths over the last three days, averaging 3045.7 cases a day.

Of the 36 deaths,18 were identified during a vital records review, which the department conducts three times a week.

Michigan now has a total of 1,064,557 confirmed cases and 21,349 deaths since last March.

Michigan had a positivity rate of 12.18% Sunday, reporting that 3,451 of 28,333 diagnostic test results were positive.

The state has a fatality rate of 2% among known cases, according to data from the state health department.

Michigan reports 134,293 probable COVID-19 cases and 1,389 probable deaths. The probable cases combined with confirmed cases make up a total of 1,198,850 cases and 22,738 deaths.

The state also reported a total of 945,175 recovered cases on Friday. Recovered cases are defined by the state as the number of people with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis who are alive 30 days post-onset.


MICHIGAN CONGRESSIONAL REDISTRICTING DRAFTS ARE DONE. FEW INCUMBENTS ARE SAFE

BRIDGE MI — Michigan’s redistricting panel agreed on Monday on four congressional maps that will be brought to the second round of public hearings scheduled to start next week.

Bridge Michigan analyzed the drafts and concluded that, combined with the loss of one seat in Congress because of stagnant population, Michigan’s congressional districts likely will become far more competitive regardless of which map is adopted.

Republicans and Democrats now have a 7-7 split, but most current districts are safe seats for both parties, resulting in few competitive races. The new drafts have several districts in which 8,000 or fewer votes separated Democrats and Republicans out of about 775,000 voters.

And perhaps most notably to voters: Few incumbents are safe, as at least eight representatives are now placed in districts with at least one other member.

In some maps, U.S. Reps. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, and Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield, are in the same district, as are Bill Huizenga, R-Holland, and Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph; Lisa McClain, R-Bruce Township, and Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly; and John Moolenaar, R-Midland, and Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township.

And one draft district centered in Macomb County would have no incumbent whatsoever.

Representatives don’t have to live in districts they represent, but the disregard for incumbency — which had been a hallmark of gerrymandered maps — shows how radically redistricting has changed in Michigan.

Voters approved the 13-member Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission in 2018 after decades in which the party in power in Lansing redrew districts largely in private after the decennial census.

That resulted in districts that a federal judge panel concluded made it easier for Republicans to maintain power, even in years they received fewer votes total than Democrats in Michigan.

The maps approved Monday are the result of two months of drawing, balancing both “communities of interests” — like-minded groups of individuals including minorities — with partisan fairness and federal law.

Detroit, for instance, would keep two congressional districts, even though its population has dropped to 637,000.

While Michigan now has two districts with a majority of Black voters, that would drop to one with all maps, and be centered in Detroit. Other drafts preserve another district composed of a majority of minority voters, including Hispanics and other races.

The maps will likely change before a final vote on Dec. 31. The commission is allowing the public to weigh in on the drafts during public hearings in), Detroit (Oct. 20), Lansing (Oct. 21), Grand Rapids (Oct. 22), Gaylord (Oct. 25), and Flint (Oct. 26).

The commission has decided to rename the maps using native Michigan trees for the sake of clarity. Bridge Michigan will refer to them as such.


LAKE SUPERIOR LIGHTHOUSE TO ALLOW VISITORS AGAIN FOR EDMUND FITZGERALD MEMORIAL

DETROIT FREE PRESS — A Lake Superior lighthouse plans to welcome visitors back for an annual memorial honoring the sailors who died when the Edmund Fitzgerald sank.

Every Nov. 10, the day the ship sank in a gale in 1975, the Split Rock Lighthouse just south of Beaver Bay holds a beacon lighting. Lighthouse officials announce the names of all 29 sailors who died as a bell tolls, Minnesota Public Radio reported Sunday.

The lighthouse didn’t allow visitors to attend last year’s ceremony due to COVID-19 concerns. People had to listen through an online livestream.

Lighthouse officials say this year’s ceremony will be a hybrid, with the lighthouse grounds open to the public and a livestream on the Minnesota Historical Society’s Facebook and YouTube pages for those who can’t attend. The ceremony will begin at 4:30 p.m.

“There’s something about being here on-site and hearing the bell ring, and the names being read off and then seeing the beacon turned on right after that. There’s just something very special about that,” said Hayes Scriven, the lighthouse site manager. “It’s just a way to connect with the past and remember that Lake Superior is a fickle animal and you’ve got to respect the power, and not take it for granted.”


INTERFAITH COMMUNITY LEADERS REACH OUT TO MOSQUE AFTER VANDALISM

THE OAKLAND PRESS — Interfaith communities across southeast Michigan expressed their sympathies following vandalism to a Rochester Hills mosque.

A window in the front doors of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s Mosque, located at 1730 West Auburn Road in Rochester Hills, was shattered after evening prayers around 9:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8.

Muhammad Ahmad, director of outreach at Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Michigan, said broken glass was found inside and outside the mosque.

The Oakland County Sheriff’s department is investigating. Deputies said surveillance video showed a male near the mosque around the time of the incident. A similar incident occurred that same evening at a nearby Walgreen’s. It is unknown whether the incidents are related.

“Our community is a very peaceful community,” Ahmad said Monday. “We have a relationship with all of our interfaith leaders, as well as our community leaders. We have not seen an incident like this in the past 20 years, since we’ve been here in this community.”

Ahmad said the evening prayer was the last of five that day. His 8-year-old son was among children and adults present when the window was broken. When the night concluded, everyone left through a side door.

It wasn’t until members showed up around 5:15 a.m. Saturday that the damage was realized.

“It’s kind of a bit rattling that we were still there when the incident happened,” he said.

On Monday, Oct. 11, the mosque’s members extended an open invitation for the suspect to meet with the community and its members. Ahmad said the group wants to talk, and that doors remain always open for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

“We believe in forgiveness,” he said. “We don’t want revenge or to harbor any negative feelings.”

Bryan Barnett, mayor of Rochester Hills, said the incident seemed isolated.

“We have a great relationship with the folks there and want to make sure they feel safe and secure and are an important part of our community,” he said.

Messages of resilience

Messages of support have poured in from neighboring communities.

Lynne Muth, Faith in Justice chair of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Royal Oak, said she read the news with sadness.

“You and your leadership and members work hard to build bridges in southeast Michigan,” Muth wrote to Ahmad. “I want to share my sadness and prayers of hope that love and goodness will conquer hate. May you feel the love and hope from others at this time.”

Patty Rehfus, board president of the Congregation Shir Tikvah in Troy, said she was grateful nobody was injured and that her congregation stands in solidarity.

Carol Cooper, of Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, said she is praying that the Muslim community will not live in fear and that they feel the prayers and support.

“I hope that whoever did this will not be able to rest until they come forward and confess and that the police may find clues so that justice can be served,” Cooper said.


AG NESSEL JOINS COALITION FILING COMPLAINT AGAINST USPS TO DEMAND REVIEW OF PLAN TO TRANSFORM POSTAL SERVICE

MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE — Attorney General Dana Nessel joined a coalition of 20 Attorneys General, led by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and New York Attorney General Letitia James, in submitting a formal complaint asking the Postal Regulatory Commission to order the U.S. Postal Service to request an advisory opinion on Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s ten-year plan to transform the Postal Service.

“We continue to watch Postmaster General DeJoy make reckless changes to the postal service that only further delay and disrupt operations,” Nessel said. “The Postal Regulatory Commission must reject these efforts by supporting additional scrutiny of the ten-year plan and a proper evaluation of its potential impact to the U.S. Postal Service.”

The attorneys general submitted the complaint and its relevant exhibits to the Postal Regulatory Commission, an independent federal agency that provides transparency and accountability to the Postal Service. The complaint asserts that Postmaster General DeJoy adopted a ten-year plan that will make significant changes to postal services without first obtaining an advisory opinion from the Commission. Federal law requires the Postal Service to go to the Commission whenever it makes a change to postal services that will affect the entire country. The group writes:

“The Plan will transform virtually every aspect of the Postal Service… rework how the Postal Service transports mail and other products; overhaul its processing and logistics network; enact slower service standards for First-Class Mail and Periodicals and First-Class Packages Services; reconfigure the location of places where customers can obtain postal products and services; and adjust rates… To date, the Postal Service has only submitted two requests for an advisory opinion to the Commission on important but  narrow changes that represent only a small portion of the Plan’s scope.”

Congress empowered the Commission to provide expert advice and oversight to the Postal Service-oversight that is sorely needed after Postmaster General DeJoy implemented operational changes in summer 2020 that caused nationwide mail delays. The group explains that avoiding review by the Commission will harm the States and the public and could lead to future problems with mail delivery:

“The Plan reflects multiple unprecedented changes in the Postal Service’s operations and service, at a time when reliance on the mail remains at historic levels, and states across the country are grappling with a resurgence of COVID-19 cases caused by the Delta variant. Implementing the full breadth of these changes without adhering to the process set forth in section 3661(b) deprives users of the mail of their statutory rights, and undermines public accountability. In addition, failing to seek the Commission’s expert review on such a transformational change upsets the statutory balance established by the [Postal Regulatory Act], deprives the Postal Service of the Commission’s expert recommendations, risks significant errors in the Postal Service’s decision-making, and ultimately harms all who rely on the Postal Service for timely and efficient mail.”

The complaint requests that the Commission order the Postal Service to request a review of the full extent of the ten-year plan, affording the States and the public an opportunity to provide comment.

Joining Nessel in this complaint are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Washington.

Earlier this year, Nessel joined a coalition of 21 attorneys general and two cities in calling on the Postal Regulatory Commission to oppose efforts to increase delivery times for First-Class Mail and other essential postal services.


WHITMER VETOES BILL TO EASE RESTRICTIONS ON FEEDING BIRDS

DETROIT NEWS — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed a bill that would have protected people from possible legal action if they fed birds in areas where deer and elk roam.

Whitmer said the bill conflicted with state efforts to keep the animals from congregating and spreading disease.

“Mary Poppins would be disappointed,” said the sponsor, Rep. Ken Borton, R-Gaylord, referring to the magical nanny in book and film who sings lovingly about feeding birds.

Feeding birds is not illegal in Michigan. But it’s illegal to put out food that can lure or attract deer. The Department of Natural Resources recommends people in rural areas use tube feeders or suet cages at least six feet off the ground, perhaps surrounded by a wire fence.

Borton’s bill would have explicitly allowed people to place or spread feed within 300 feet of their house. There would have been a cap on the amount of feed.

But Whitmer said Thursday that House Bill 4088 “would cast aside sound disease management principles” and threaten agriculture and hunting.

The DNR and the Michigan Farm Bureau opposed the bill in April.

“Unfortunately, overly broad government rules punish individuals who simply place food in their yards, even to keep animals from starving,” Borton said in response to the veto.

More than a decade before becoming a lawmaker, Borton was accused of not doing enough to keep deer from his feeders in Otsego County. He said the case was dismissed.


MCDONALD’S OFFERS TEACHERS, SCHOOL STAFF FREE BREAKFAST EVERY DAY NEXT WEEK

MLIVE — McDonald’s restaurants will give teachers, administrators and school staff a free breakfast every day next week.

The “Thank You Meal” will be served in a Happy Meal box and is free with a valid work ID.

“Together with our owner/operators, we’re proud to serve the people who make our communities a better place, and this is an important time to say thank you to some of our everyday heroes,” said Joe Erlinger, president, McDonald’s USA.

“We were honored to give away 12 million free Thank You Meals to first responders and healthcare workers last year and now, with educators going above and beyond, we’re excited to recognize them in a way only McDonald’s can.”

During breakfast hours Oct. 11-15, educators can get a meal that includes an Egg McMuffin, a Bacon, Egg and Cheese Biscuit or a Sausage Biscuit, a hash brown and a medium hot or iced coffee or a medium soft drink.


375 KIDS UNDER 12 ARE CATCHING COVID-19 DAILY IN MICHIGAN, AND IT’S SHUTTING DOWN SCHOOLS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Each day in the last week, more than 375 children younger than 12 were infected with the coronavirus in Michigan, a new state analysis shows.

Coronavirus cases in K-12 schools accounted for 56% of all known new outbreaks statewide last week — more than in every other setting combined, according to state health department data.

In all, new and ongoing outbreaks and clusters affected at least 104 schools, causing children to lose instruction time because of illness or quarantine. Each outbreak was estimated to affect as many as 87 students and school staff members.

With coronavirus case rates highest among school-age children in Michigan, an informal survey of local health departments showed that as of Oct. 1, coronavirus outbreaks caused:

  • 3 districts to close entirely;
  • 12 schools to close and one in-school preschool to close;
  • 5 grades to shut down;
  • 34 classrooms to close.

Among the school districts affected was Evart Public Schools in Osceola County. COVID-19 outbreaks closed Evart High School and Middle School from Sept. 22-Oct. 4, along with Evart Elementary School from Sept. 23-Oct. 4.

“We are doing everything possible to keep our students safe, healthy and face to face,” wrote Superintendent Shirley Howard in a letter to parents, explaining that learning would be virtual in that time. “We believe that closing school now will help to break the cycle of our high absenteeism due to positive Covid cases as well as the quarantining of close contacts.” When students returned to schools on Monday, she urged them to come wearing masks.

“We strongly recommend that they wear a mask,” she wrote. “This is not a requirement to return to school. Wearing a mask prevents your child from having to quarantine if they are identified as a close contact to someone who has tested positive for COVID. If your child is not feeling well on Monday, please do not send him/her back to school. I cannot believe how quickly this virus spreads.”

Masks reduced transmission 

The state’s analysis of COVID-19 outbreaks in K-12 schools showed the rise in cases was steeper in the first few weeks of the school year in districts without consistent mask requirements.

Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state health department recommend wearing masks indoors in places where coronavirus transmission is high or substantial, there is no requirement that masks must be worn inside K-12 schools in Michigan.

Masks were required in schools last year, but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has repeatedly said this year it should be a local decision to be made at the school district or county health department level.

As of Monday, 222 school districts statewide had mask rules in place — either instituted by their local school boards or county health departments, the report showed. The mandates cover about 748,000 children.

But the share of children who are not covered by mask mandates is growing in Michigan. Now, more than half a million students in 311 school districts statewide have no mask requirements.

Thirty-five Michigan school districts recently dropped their mask rules, coinciding with the approval of a new statewide budget that included language that threatened to strip state funding from local health departments that imposed school mask mandates under the public health code.

When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the nearly $70 billion budget last week, she said the budget language, along with provisions banning vaccine passports and mandates, were unconstitutional and unenforceable.

But some local health department leaders were concerned that the budget language would trigger lawsuits over school mask mandates and quarantine rules, pushing them to drop their requirements.

Among them were the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department in the Upper Peninsula, the Allegan County Health Department in western Michigan and the Barry-Eaton District Health Department.

“The decision to rescind the K-6 Mask Requirement was not made lightly and has challenged us ethically, professionally, and personally,” said Allegan County Health Officer Angelique Joynes in a statement issued last week. “However, we cannot risk our essential local public health services funding, which is around $1 million of our total budget and provides the ability for us to continue to offer those services.” Last month, the Michigan Association for Local Public Health called on Whitmer and Elizabeth Hertel, the director of the state health department, to issue a statewide school mask mandate.

“Masking works,” said Norm Hess, executive director of the association. “There are now going to be kids that were protected that won’t be, and I don’t see how at this point we’re going to avoid a rise in cases.”

Cases continue to climb statewide

The state has seen three months of increases in cases and hospitalizations from the virus.

On Wednesday, the seven-day average of new daily cases reached 3,491, its highest point since early May, as Michigan was coming down from its spring surge. Michigan’s seven-day case rate was 288.8 per 100,000 people Thursday, according to the CDC — 15th highest nationally.

Every county in the state had a high rate of coronavirus transmission Thursday by the CDC’s standard, except for one — Ontongagon. That Upper Peninsula county had a substantial transmission rate.

Although the virus generally doesn’t cause severe illness in most children, state health officials have reported a growing number of COVID-19 hospitalizations among kids. On Wednesday, 34 children were hospitalized with the virus, more than double the number of pediatric hospitalizations one month earlier, when there were 16.

COVID-19 also can cause long-term, sometimes debilitating symptoms in some children and adults and also can rarely cause multi-system inflammatory syndrome, which can be life-threatening.

Only the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is approved for use in kids ages 12 and older under an emergency use authorization. The company asked federal regulators on Thursday to allow the vaccine to be given to 5-11-year-olds as well.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to consider the request later this month, which could mean shots for younger children could be available later this fall.

But in the meantime, younger children aren’t eligible for coronavirus vaccines. And the vaccination rate among school-age children who are eligible is lagging in the state.

About 40% of 12-19-year-olds in Michigan are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, state data show. That compares with an overall statewide average of 52.7%, according to the CDC.


WMU LOSES APPEAL OVER ATHLETES AND VIRUS VACCINE REQUIREMENT

DETROIT NEWS — A federal appeals court on Thursday ruled in favor of athletes at Western Michigan University who sued to be allowed to play sports without getting a COVID-19 vaccination.

The court declined to stop a decision by a federal judge who said the WMU vaccine requirement likely violates the athletes’ constitutional right to follow their Christian religion.

The athletes, who now number at least 16 and are mostly women, sought a vaccine exemption on religious grounds but were ignored or denied, the appeals court said.

“We do not doubt (WMU’s) good faith, nor do we fail to appreciate the burdens COVID-19 has placed on this nation’s universities. … But having announced a system under which student-athletes can seek individualized exemptions, the university must explain why it chose not to grant any to plaintiffs. And it did not fairly do so here,” the court said in a 3-0 opinion.

The court said the athletes are likely to prevail on their constitutional argument if WMU pursues a full-fledged appeal.

WMU argued that its vaccination policy is neutral toward religion. The school said athletes who seek a religious exemption are barred from competing but still are members of a team and can keep their scholarship.

“Yet playing on the team – and not just receiving a scholarship – is their goal, a point the university itself recognized,” the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said.

In their lawsuit, the athletes, who play soccer, basketball and four other sports, say they are “devoted Christian people” who believe that the Bible and their faith preclude them from getting a COVID-19 shot.

WMU athletes who aren’t vaccinated still can be required to wear a mask at practice or be regularly tested, under a September order from U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney.

Outside the athletic department, COVID-19 vaccinations are encouraged but not required for WMU students and staff. They, too, must be regularly tested if they decline to get a shot.


MICH. GOP LAWMAKERS PASS BILL TO PROVIDE FREE STATE IDS AS PART OF STRICT VOTER ID PUSH

DETROIT FREE PRESS — GOP lawmakers in Michigan’s Senate passed a bill Thursday that would eliminate the fee to obtain a state ID card as part of a broader effort to enact a strict voter ID requirement opposed by Democratic lawmakers and voting rights advocates.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers spent the morning sparring on the floor. Democrats accused their GOP colleagues of pursuing changes in response to disinformation about 2020 presidential election.

Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, vehemently denied the characterization, pointing to his own comprehensive report that confirmed the legitimacy of the outcome of Michigan’s 2020 presidential. He criticized Democrats for their opposition to what he sees as needed changes to ensure election integrity.

Sen. Erika Geiss, D-Taylor, said that Republicans’ agenda isn’t aimed at improving elections but at making it harder to vote.

“This is a bunch of malarkey,” she said.

In taking up the bill to provide free state IDs — HB 5007 — Republicans rejected a Democratic amendment that would have separated it from SB 303, a sweeping election bill passed by the Senate on Wednesday. That bill would enact a strict ID requirement for in-person voters and a brand new one for absentee voters, as well as prohibit election officials from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications and accepting private donations. Republicans also rejected a Democratic amendment to appropriate funding for the bill to provide free IDs that passed on a party-line vote, with every Republican backing the measure. It now heads to the House.

Those applying for a state ID card must currently pay a $10 fee. That fee is waived for some residents, including seniors, legally blind people, veterans, those experiencing homelessness and recipients of state aid.

In addition to eliminating the ID fee, HB 5007 would require the Secretary of State’s Office to provide same-day service for those applying for a state ID card for the purpose of voting in an election, as well as those applying for an ID three days before Election Day, on Election Day or six days after an election.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson blasted the bill while stating her support for free IDs. “To be clear, calling something a Free ID (which I’m all for) and then not allocating funding to enable the state to provide a Free ID (which we’d love to be able to do) is some of the most dishonest, cynical, fiscally irresponsible and just plain poor policymaking I’ve seen,” Benson wrote in a tweet. The legislation was passed as part of the sweeping GOP bill that would eliminate the option for voters who don’t have a photo ID to sign an affidavit affirming their identity at their polling location and vote normally. It would also add a brand new ID requirement for those applying for an absentee ballot.

Voters who don’t comply with the new ID requirements would be issued a provisional ballot that wouldn’t count unless a voter confirmed their identity at their local clerk’s office within six days of an election.

Senate Republicans voted on a second election bill — SB 304 — Thursday that is tie-barred to their strict voter ID bill. SB 304 passed on a party-line vote with all GOP senators backing the measure. It now heads back to the House for another vote.

The bill lays out the requirements voters issued provisional ballots must meet in order for their ballot to count. Voters would have to present a photo ID along with a document verifying their address such a utility bill or bank statement. For voters who do not provide an ID, they would have to provide a copy of their birth certificate or Social Security card along with a document verifying their name and address.


CORONAVIRUS TRACKER | SEVEN-DAY AVERAGE JUMPS TO 3,491, HOSPITALIZATIONS INCREASE AGAIN

BRIDGE MI — Hospitalizations for confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases jumped to 1,903 on Wednesday from 1,825 on Monday, while cases increased to  7,674, or 3,837 a per.

That pushed the seven-day average to 3,491 from 3,362 on Monday.

Statewide, 13 counties in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula reported rates that exceed 60 cases per day per 100,000. The state rate is 35 cases per day per 100,000.

Cases are increasing among young people, with those 20 and younger accounting for 27 percent of total cases or 2,646 cases. That’s far more than the 17 percent of all cases they represent since the pandemic began.

The state also reported 92 additional COVID-19 deaths, of which 43 occurred in September and 53 in October. Following a post-mortem review of health and death records, the state reported 47 deaths not previously reported.

Those reviews also led to the removal of six deaths previously considered COVID-19 deaths.

Testing data showed the percent of coronavirus tests coming back positive is rising after having stayed steady for over a month. Of nearly 65,600 tests reported, 11.8 percent were positive.

For the past week, the rate has been 10.6 percent, up from 9.3 percent the previous week.

Fourteen counties now have a weekly positive rate above 20 percent, up from seven counties a week ago.


EDUCATION LEVELS DRIVE MICHIGAN VACCINES. WHAT’S RATE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD?

BRIDGE MI — In July, volunteer advocates of the COVID-19 vaccine fanned out across Battle Creek, spending six weeks trying to persuade 1,900 unvaccinated residents to get the shot.

They got 16 takers.

Across the state near Saginaw Bay, after months of outreach, from a local raffle to door-knocking, hostility from residents caused Bay County to discontinue efforts to encourage vaccines in some rural areas. To go door-to-door and deal with some of the invective and abuse, it’s not worth it,” said Joel Strasz, health officer for the Bay County Health Department.

Vaccinations in Michigan and much of the nation have waned significantly since spring, despite carrot-and-stick approaches from state and federal officials, including Michigan’s $5 million vaccine lottery and President Joe Biden’s mandate for companies with 100 or more employees.

In the past month, 137,000 Michigan residents have gotten fully vaccinated, compared to 1.6 million in May. That’s stalled the state’s inoculation rate at 52 percent of those 16 and older, compared to 56 percent nationwide.

If there were a magic bullet, a single marketing pitch that would turn doubters into believers, health officials said they haven’t found it yet. Instead, what they’ve found is there are factors that can predict success but are hard to overcome: education, age and affluence.

“The secret is there is no secret.  Sorry, it’s all demographics,” Strasz said.

Simply put: Older and educated residents have lined up for the vaccines, which have been determined to be extremely effective in the fight against COVID-19.

A Bridge Michigan analysis of vaccine rates in the state’s nearly 3,000  census tracts shows a strong correlation between education levels and vaccination rates.

It’s a trend that holds true throughout the state, from predominantly white parts of the Thumb to predominantly Black areas of cities including Detroit, Flint and Muskegon.

Despite well-known political differences, areas of rural and urban poverty generally have far lower vaccination rates than more affluent, educated areas, regardless of their political leadings.

Take Bay County and Calhoun County, home to Bay City and Battle Creek.

In Bay County, Frankenlust Township has the county’s highest vaccination rate, with 69 percent of those 16 and older fully vaccinated. It’s also the most-educated part of the county too, with nearly 40 percent of adults having college degrees.

Just east of the township, in two census tracts of Bay City along the Saginaw River, fewer than 10 percent of adults have a college degree — and fewer than 45 percent are fully vaccinated.

Much has been made of the political divide on vaccinations, with Republicans telling pollsters they are far less likely to get vaccine than Democrats.

But the Bridge analysis suggests that education is also a strong driver of vaccines.

Frankenlust Township backed former President Donald Trump, while Bay City backed Democratic President Joe Biden.

The same pattern holds in Calhoun County: southwest Battle Creek has both the highest vaccination rate (79 percent) and the greatest percentage of college grads (36 percent) even though it backed Trump.

Areas of the central city have the lowest vaccination rates, some below 40 percent, and the fewest college grads. The neighborhoods went big for Biden.

Overall, 30 percent of Michigan adults have college degrees, ranking 34th among states in education and 27th in vaccination rate.

Nationally, the 10 states with the highest vaccination rates all have above-average rates of college grads, and most are the top 10.

The trends hold true in Michigan:

  • In Grosse Pointe Farms and Grosse Pointe Shores, where Trump bested Biden, over 60 percent have college degrees and over 90 percent of those 16 and older are fully vaccinated.
  • In most of nearby Detroit, where Biden won over 90 percent of the vote, less than half of residents are vaccinated. In many areas , the rate is less than a third, especially in neighborhoods where fewer than 10 percent of adults have a college degree.
  • In the Thumb, a farming area with lower education rates, fewer than half of residents in many communities are vaccinated.
  • In Grand Traverse County, where Traverse City backed Biden but much of the rest of the county backed Trump, the highest vaccination rates are in the areas with more college grads.

‘Fear and misinformation’

Every week, even as new COVID-19 cases rise in Michigan and millions remain unvaccinated, the number of people choosing to get the shots is dwindling.

Months after huge drive-through clinics have been staged at stadiums, pharmacies are offering the vaccines and some providers have taken the vaccines to individual doorsteps.

But the push to get the last holdouts has been grueling.

In Battle Creek, vaccine ambassadors spent six weeks talking with 1,900 people who had not been vaccinated, said Angela Stewart, community initiatives officer for the Battle Creek Community Foundation.

A recent family health night at a local elementary school, promoted over two days, led to five new vaccinations, she said.

Bay County and Battle Creek officials said that, despite local, state and national campaigns, many remain fearful of the vaccine or believe bad information they’ve heard on social media or from friends.

“There still is that fear and misinformation,” Stewart said.

“Economically, it makes no sense at all not to get vaccinated,” he said. “They’re willing to gamble with it and that’s distressing.”

But there are still many demographics that have set aside fear.

Over 72 percent of those 65 and older — by far the most likely to die if they contract COVID-19 — are fully vaccinated in Michigan, state records show.

‘Stay focused’

In Albion in southwestern Michigan, Rod Auton, administrator of the nonprofit Albion Health Care Alliance, said his team of 17 ambassadors is still going door-to-door, trying to make the sale.

It is slow going; a recent event generated fewer than 10 vaccinations, he said.

In Albion, between 32 percent and 48 percent of people are vaccinated, according to census tract data. All areas have a lower percentage of college grads. In 2020, the city supported Biden.

“We know we just have to stay focused and provide good information,” Auton said.

But aware that many of the hesitant are more likely to listen to family and friends or their employers than local health officials, they’ve come up with postcards with two local doctors — one white and one Black — pointing out the value of the vaccines.

They’re sending them across Albion and into neighboring townships, with the postcard of the Black doctor targeted to African-American communities and the white doctor to white communities.

The alliance is hoping the postcards will work, Auton said. But like Strasz, he’s looking for that perfect argument, that key piece of information that will unlock hesitancy. So far, he hasn’t found it.

“We’re still trying to figure out that magic,” Auton said.


VOLUNTEERS NEEDED TO CLEAN UP VETERANS GRAVES IN ROYAL OAK

THE OAKLAND PRESS — The Royal Oak Memorial Society is looking for volunteers as it gets ready to clean more than 2,000 military veteran gravesites next week.

Carol Hennessey, president of the memorial society, said the graves will be cleaned starting at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 16 at Oakview Cemetery.

“Everyone is welcome to help us,” she said. “We encourage Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, sports teams, or anyone that wants to lend a hand.”

Volunteers need to bring rakes, clippers, gloves, rags and water to Oakview Cemetery. Tools to clean around headstones are also helpful, such as weed whackers, and brooms or rags to clean off the headstones after removing the grass.

The cemetery is on Rochester Road, just south of 12 Mile Road, on the east side.

Though the Royal Oak Memorial Society started more than a century ago, Hennessey started the gravesite cleaning effort several years after she joined in 1997.

“We were placing flags on the gravesites and I stepped in a hole and twisted my foot,” she said. “There was a grave marker there covered by grass and I didn’t even see it. That’s when I thought we had to start cleaning the veterans gravesites so we could find them.” Things have changed since then.

There were only about 500 veterans buried at Oakview Cemetery when Hennessey first joined the memorial society. She estimates there are now at least 2,400 such sites at the cemetery.

“We are getting more and more veterans who are dying,” Hennessey said.

As time passes, many of the relatives of the veterans buried at Oakview have died, so there is no one tending a great number of the gravesites. There were about five or six people who volunteered when the annual cleanup project began. Now, from 50 to 60 people turn out to volunteer.

The Royal Oak Memorial Society in the spring also does a gravesite cleanup and places small U.S. flags on each one before Memorial Day.

Garbage bags are provided by the memorial society and the cleanup typically lasts for about two hours.

Volunteers foregather just inside the cemetery near the pond. If it rains Saturday, Oct.16, the cleanup will be rescheduled for the following Saturday, Oct. 23.


400 WORKERS OUT, 1,900 EXEMPT AFTER HENRY FORD COVID VACCINE MANDATE

BRIDGE MI — About 400 staff have walked off the job at Henry Ford Health System rather than receive a required COVID vaccine, the Detroit-based hospital system said Tuesday.

Another 1,900 workers, however, received exemptions from the health system’s vaccine requirement.

The workers leaving comprised about 1 percent of the workforce of 33,000 people, said Bob Riney, chief operating officer for the five-hospital chain.

“All things considered, we’re losing a very small segment of our workforce. I quite frankly wish that was zero, but it’s not,” Riney said at an afternoon news conference. “But it’s a very small percentage, and our new-hire process is already offsetting the folks who declined to be vaccinated and resigned.”

Roughly 6 percent of the remaining workforce of 33,000 employees were granted religious or medical exemptions, he said. About 1,900 requests for exemptions have been granted.

Nearly all the exemptions were granted for religious reasons with just a handful for medical reasons, according to Dr. Adnan Munkarah, Henry Ford’s executive vice president and chief clinical officer. About 250 requests for religious exemptions were denied, he said.

Riney said there were a few other workers whose vaccine-related issues remained unresolved as of Tuesday.

“At this moment, we’re still working through some cases and talking to some remaining noncompliant employees about their intentions,” he said.

Henry Ford, which this summer became the first Michigan health system to require employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of continued employment, released the data following a deadline it had set for last Friday for workers to get at least a first vaccine dose.

It is among more than a half-dozen large Michigan health systems to impose a vaccine mandate. The numbers Tuesday underscore yet another COVID-19 dilemma for health care providers who, while wishing to boost vaccine requirements among staff, face the possibility of losing workers who refuse vaccines as COVID hospitalizations continue to increase and hospitals are dangerously short-staffed.

On Sept. 9, President Joe Biden announced a sweeping mandate that would require health care workers at nearly every hospital and health system in the country get vaccinated, or receive weekly COVID tests.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is now drafting detailed rules implementing the orders. But when they will be posted and enforced is still unknown.

In the meantime, a survey of a dozen Michigan hospital systems finds wide differences in worker vaccine rates, deadlines for vaccination, and in rules dictating who qualifies for an exemption.

At least three health systems — Trinity, Spectrum, and Munson — allow exemptions for employees with previous, documented coronavirus infections, with the rationale that previous infections provide some natural immunity from COVID-19. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people receive vaccinations even if previously infected.)

Munson Healthcare, Henry Ford and Spectrum also provide exemptions for pregnant employees.

Some, like Henry Ford, where staff had until midnight Friday to be vaccinated or get an exemption, say the vast majority of workers are now vaccinated —  a level of protection they say benefits every patient who comes through their doors.

Staff vaccination rates are, perhaps unsurprisingly, far lower in hospitals that haven’t yet required staff to get vaccinated.

As many as 3 in 10 workers — clinicians peering into mouths and noses and staff making meals or cleaning rooms — in some health systems remain unvaccinated against COVID.

Notably, in the Detroit region first ravaged by the pandemic, Detroit Medical Center and McLaren Health Care declined to impose a vaccine mandate before the federal announcement. As of Friday, 70 percent of DMC’s and McLaren’s staff were vaccinated — among the lowest of hospitals surveyed by Bridge Michigan, the Detroit Free Press and Michigan Radio for this report.

“(W)e are working diligently every day to increase that rate and strongly encourage all of our employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19,” DMC spokesperson Jason Barczy said. “We don’t have any comment on the proposed (Biden) vaccine mandate.”

James Curtis, a spokesperson for McLaren, based in Grand Blanc in Genesee County, said it “intends to support and follow the recently announced federal vaccine policy guidelines and looks forward to receiving more information concerning these guidelines — including … mandatory weekly testing required for those exempted for religious and medical reasons.”

Lansing-based Sparrow Health System has a 72-percent vaccination rate, although it recently announced it will require weekly COVID testing for all of its 7,600 “caregivers” who are not fully vaccinated by Oct.18.

It’s a decision that “provides a path forward for patient and caregiver safety … while also showing compassion for those who do not wish, or are unable, to get the vaccine,” spokesperson John Foren said.

The UP Health System — with hospitals in Marquette, Ishpeming and Hancock — also has no coronavirus vaccine requirement in place for workers.

Janell Larson, spokesperson, did not say how many employees have been vaccinated, but wrote in an email that “UP Health System is aware of President Biden’s announcement about new federal COVID-19 vaccine requirements. Right now, we are working to understand the details of this development and the impact it will have for employees and providers at our facility.”

Many hospital systems that set early mandates achieved far higher vaccination rates, although it’s unclear in some cases whether the rates they released on vaccinated workers also include workers granted vaccine exemptions.

Livonia-based Trinity Health, which announced its mandate on July 8, reports that 94 percent of its staff “have documented their vaccination,” though its spokesman Bobby Maldonado declined to define whether that meant those workers are fully vaccinated or if it also included those with vaccine exemptions.

Others that announced mandates in July also said they had rates of 80 percent or higher, although they too would not say how many exemptions have been granted: Beaumont Health in Southfield (86 percent), Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids (96 percent), and Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor (90 percent).

Several hospital representatives said some exemptions and documentation are still being reviewed, and numbers aren’t yet final.

Kalamazoo-based Bronson Healthcare, which announced its policy less than a month ago, said 77 percent of its 8,400 workers have been fully vaccinated, and hundreds more employees have received a first dose. And Traverse City-based Munson announced a mandate Sept. 22; it’s vaccination rate stands at 72 percent.

When is a vaccine mandate an ‘undue hardship?’

Employees hoping to avoid a vaccination face an uphill battle in staying employed in health care, but experts on both sides of the debate say there are things that work in an employee’s favor.

Guidance by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission instructs employers that they must assume an employee’s stated religious belief is sincerely held — whatever the employer’s theological or scientific arguments.

“It’s irrelevant what they think … What is only relevant is what you believe and your belief and sincerely held belief,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the Florida-based Liberty Center, a Christian advocacy organization that works with employees to obtain religious exemptions.

Still, employees can avoid extending a religious exemption from vaccines if doing so would cause an “undue hardship” on the employer, said Michael Burns, executive vice president of the Troy-based American Society of Employers, which consults with businesses on human resources issues.

Especially in health care, employers are “on very strong footing” in requiring vaccines since unvaccinated staff may pass infections onto patients and others, he said.

Hospitals and other employees must try to work with staff requesting a religious exemption and — if possible, find reasonable accommodations before issuing an ultimate order to dismiss or fire them. Those could include, for example, routine testing from unvaccinated workers, Burns said.

It’s about “risk management,” he said.

“Risk management in my mind is not rolling the dice” to see if you’ll get sued by a fired employee, he said. “It’s making sure all the proper processes are in place to make that final decision.”

What qualifies as a religious exemption is murky.

Employers generally have to take an employee at their word that they have a “sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance.”

But there’s “no bright line standard” for what those are, said Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan.

The few small businesses applying a vaccine mandate “are simply not advertising the exemptions. If an employee claims an exemption or asks for one, the employer asks them to sign a form indicating that they qualify for the exemption,” he said.

Riney, the Henry Ford COO, declined to detail what qualified workers for religious exemptions, saying only that its team examined a person’s religious affiliation and “the history of that religious affiliation relative to vaccines” to decide.

The American Civil Liberties Union, known for its work protecting the rights of those in the minority, has backed vaccine mandates, reasoning in part, that they help “further” civil liberties.

“They protect the most vulnerable among us, including people with disabilities and fragile immune systems, children too young to be vaccinated, and communities of color hit hard by the disease,” according to its position on mandates first published in the New York Times Sept. 2.

Obtaining a medical exemption can be tricky as well.

Dr. Dennis Cunningham, medical director of infection prevention at Henry Ford, said in a late June news conference that medical exemptions would be limited to people who have had severe allergic reactions to the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or to ingredients in the vaccines.

“There’s very few reasons to not get the vaccine,” he said.

Munkarah at Henry Ford said Tuesday that  medical exemptions were granted to people with a true allergy to components of the vaccine, as well as those with “severe immune diseases” and people with long COVID who had symptoms that might be related to the immune response to the virus.

When it comes to religious exemptions, very few religions are opposed to COVID-19 vaccines as a matter of doctrine.

Christian Scientists have traditionally rejected the use of vaccines; most of its members rely on prayer for healing and have sought religious exemptions from vaccine mandates. Still, the church issued a statement on its website, saying that members “are free to make their own choices on all life-decisions, in obedience to the law, including whether or not to vaccinate. These aren’t decisions imposed by their church.”

Some members of the Dutch Reformed Church also oppose vaccines, believing they interfere with God’s will. But that isn’t an absolute, either. Some members also view the vaccines as gifts from God, according to a review of religious objections to vaccines from Vanderbilt University.

Catholics have had some limited objections, too.

In early March, Michigan’s seven Catholic bishops, including Archbishop Allen Vigneron of the Archdiocese of Detroit, called the Johnson & Johnson vaccine “more morally problematic” than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines because it used a fetal stem cell line in the testing of its vaccine. The bishops urged followers to only take the J&J vaccine “if there are no other alternatives.”

In August, Pope Francis appealed to the faithful to get vaccinated, calling vaccination “an act of love.” The Vatican previously extended permission for the faithful to get the J & J vaccine when “ethically irreproachable” vaccines are not available.


UM PRESIDENT MARK SCHLISSEL TO STEP DOWN IN 2023

DETROIT NEWS — University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel will step down as president in June 2023, a year before his contract is set to expire.

The 63-year-old university leader made the announcement Tuesday and said he came to the decision to exit his post early after discussion with the school’s Board of Regents.

“I decided that this timing is appropriate,” he said in a statement. “The new horizon gives the board time to consult with our community, think about the future and thoroughly plan and conduct a search for my successor, while allowing us to continue momentum on important and time-critical efforts that are underway.”

The last two years of Schlissel’s tenure have been marred by sexual abuse scandals and controversies over how the college has responded to the pandemic.

Regent Sarah Hubbard told The Detroit News on Tuesday that “I don’t think that he needed to leave early. I think he decided to leave early. He wanted to exit at the right time that is right for the university.” An agreement signed Sept. 23 gives Schlissel a raise from $900,000 to $927,000 as of Sept. 1 and stipulates that he will be paid his presidential salary for up to two years after June 2023. He’ll serve as university special advisor from July 1, 2023, to June 30, 2024, and get the title of president emeritus beginning in June 2023, among other perks.

Schlissel came to UM in 2014. His second five-year contract was set to expire in 2024. He revised his timeline for departing the university last month, officials said.

“This is the eighth year of my presidency and an important time to strategically consider the future of our university,” Schlissel wrote in an email message to the university community. “We are emerging from an historic global pandemic and adjusting to new and still evolving ways of working, learning and living, both as individuals and as a university.

Regent Ron Weiser praised Schlissel, saying: “As a Republican leader in the state, I have nothing but positive things to say about President Schlissel.”

Regent Jordan Acker added in a release Tuesday that “I appreciate the leadership of President Schlissel throughout his term and know that he is going to continue to work hard to advance our great institution.”

Acker noted the board would “come together to discuss how we will consult our community, think about the future and thoroughly plan a search for the next leader of the university.”

Some faculty members who have been outspoken critics of Schlissel were pleased to learn the UM president is leaving his position.

“I believe the University of Michigan has become a less humane workplace under President Schlissel’s scandal-plagued leadership,” said Silke-Maria Weineck, a UM professor in German studies and Comparative literature. “As his term progressed, he became less and less engaged with the community, less and less concerned with the well-being of the community and increasingly isolated from the very people he was meant to serve.”

Rebekah Modrak, a UM professor in the Stamps School of Art & Design, echoed similar sentiments.

“During his time at the University of Michigan, President Schlissel has perpetuated a climate of fear, top-down governance and has rooted a legal and corporate mindset into all areas of the university so that risk management and public image take precedence over integrity, intellectual honesty, compassion and fair treatment,” Modrak said. “We have 21 more months with him as president, and a long road ahead to remedy the toxic culture he has enabled.”

Schlissel left his post as provost of Brown University to lead UM in July 2014, becoming UM’s 14th president. He succeeded former UM President Mary Sue Coleman, who served for 12 years.

Early in his UM career, he was lauded for the Go Blue Guarantee, which rolled out in 2018 with the aim of providing access to the prestigious Ann Arbor campus to students from low-income families and adding economic diversity to the student body. The program provides free tuition to students from families with incomes of $65,000 and assets of $50,000 or less.

“He championed the Go Blue Guarantee that makes our university more affordable for Michigan families, and his commitment to carbon neutrality makes our university a leader in combating climate change,” said Regent Mark Bernstein of Schlissel’s leadership in a statement issued by the university on Tuesday. “Just one of these successes would justify recognition as one of the most successful presidents in our history, but there are many more accomplishments to celebrate.”

But the program came under fire in December 2018 by One University, a coalition of UM students, faculty and community members. They argued that UM students attending the Dearborn and Flint campuses take on more debt and come from families earning a much lower median income than students attending the UM campus in Ann Arbor. Two and a half years later, the Regents approved expanding the program to UM students attending the campuses in Dearborn and Flint.

What Schlissel gets

For his service as president emeritus, Schlissel will get an office on central campus, parking and $36,000 annually to be used at his discretion, according to the agreement.

Other perks include contributions of $300,000 each year to his retirement plan on June 30, 2022, June 30, 2023, and June 30, 2024; use of the presidential house on campus until he is no longer president; and a $5,000 monthly housing allowance during his year as a university special advisor.

Schlissel will also be entitled to up to 18 months administrative leave, with his presidential salary, if he serves as president through June 30, 2023. After that date or his administrative leave, he will be a tenured faculty member, get laboratory space, $2 million in start-up funding and receive no less than 50% of his presidential pay, or $463,500 annually.

Schlissel’s agreement with the board also calls for him to receive a vehicle for business and personal use, a driver for security and transportation, travel accommodations and business and entertainment expenses.

It also includes a retirement package “that includes participation in the university’s retirement plan, which currently provides that the university will match the president’s 5 percent contribution with a 10 percent university contribution on salary of up to $290,000.”

For his part, Schlissel said he was “very proud of all the university has accomplished thus far during my term as president and remain excited about what we are currently planning for the years ahead.”

“Thanks to you, UM is addressing major societal challenges such as poverty, firearm injury prevention, inequality, human health and the climate crisis with interdisciplinary strength,” he wrote Tuesday. “We’ve enhanced affordability on all of our campuses through the Go Blue Guarantee, expanded the reach of our world-class health care, and set a record for private support of a public university.”

Schlissel will outline his plans for the coming year at his annual Leadership Address on Thursday.


HOW SCAMMERS ARE TRAPPING THOSE WHO ARE HUNTING FOR JOBS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Job seekers, beware. Complaints have been climbing during the pandemic when it comes to phony job offers, missing paychecks and scams that involve paying upfront for equipment and supplies that are supposedly needed to do that new job.

About 32% of those complaining to the Better Business Bureau noted that they did the work but were never paid.

The BBB continues to warn those looking for work to verify employment offers to avoid getting caught up in illegal jobs where you might end up reshipping stolen merchandise, becoming a victim of identity theft and losing big money out of your pocket to fake check scams.

The BBB estimates that 14 million people are exposed to employment scams every year, with $2 billion in direct losses annually. The overall median loss was $1,000.

As more people wanted to work from home, the door opened to even more job scams, according to a BBB report titled “Job Scams.”

The report highlighted how scammers target those who want to work:

Demanding money on gift cards

A South Dakota women who ended up putting $500 on two gift cards — and losing that money — to cover a down payment for a phone that was to be reimbursed for her work in so-called data entry job that paid $20 an hour.

Impersonating real HR people

An Illinois woman noted that scammers actually used the real name of a head of a human resources at a health care company to convince her the job opportunity was real. She was asked, as part of the job, to send $400 via a Zelle payment app to pay for a necessary iPhone. The cost was to be reimbursed to her. Later scammers wanted her to buy a laptop and special monitor, which she did not do. She never got her money back.

Promising cash for reshipping goods

Some consumers looking for jobs are offered “distribution jobs” that involve reshipping goods purchased with stolen credit cards. “Many of the innocent people employed to do this work never get paid for their efforts, and may have their identities stolen or face law enforcement scrutiny,” according to the BBB report.

A Dallas man, according to the report, ended up giving his bank account information so that he could be paid. He reshipped about 40 packages, including cordless drills, jewelry, phones and laptop computers to a variety of addresses. After a month, he was never paid the $3,800 he would have been owed for his work.

Advertising for a nanny or caregiver

The nanny scam can involve requiring those who are “hired” to buy a wheelchair or baby equipment for the job. The person is sent a fake check, deposits the check to cover the purchase, and then wires money to a third party to buy the required equipment. And you’re out the cash.

Many times, people might look the other way on some of these offers because they are desperate and want to work.

According to the BBB’s latest report, 54% of victims were unemployed; 25% had full-time jobs; 50% were looking for full-time jobs; 28% flexible jobs; and 10% part time. The data is based on a survey of those who reported employment scams to BBB Scam Tracker between 2017 and March 2020.

Anyone who has been looking for a job lately can undoubtedly tell you about some pretty strange opportunities, including quick online interviews via Google Hangouts where you quickly get a job and then are asked for bank account information on the spot.

Students have even reported getting email that look like it’s from their college’s placement office.

You might feel like you’re doing your best to find work, posting a resume online, searching for work on Indeed.com or LinkedIn. But the con artists can advertise phony job openings online, too.

As many people lose unemployment benefits or see reduced benefits ahead, there’s more pressure to frantically find a job.

“People are scrambling a little bit,” said Melanie Duquesnel, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

Many times, she said, women with children would like to keep working from home, if possible, to avoid the high cost of day care. So a job opening that seems to offer a work-from-home option could prove attractive.

The BBB report indicated that women accounted for 66.7% of complaints relating to job scams but suggested that it is possible that women were more likely to reach out and file a complaint. BBB said it is aware of no evidence that scammers are targeting women.

Unfortunately, she said, job applicants need to do far more background searches on some offers that simply sound too ideal.

It’s not enough to go online and see if there is someone with that same name working in HR at a given company. Scammers could have found that name and simply tried to impersonate the professional.

Duquesnel said she would recommend calling the company itself and asking for the HR department, not the name of a given person. Then, mention that you’ve been contacted to see if there really is such an opening.

Many times, people will be asked to interview via Zoom or online chat services. But it’s key to do more due diligence.

She noted that a woman recently applying for a job at the BBB in metro Detroit was offered the opening via a Zoom interview. But the woman said she’d like to come in and see the building before accepting the offer.

While Duquesnel said she first found that a bit unusual, she realized that many people understand that job scams exist.

“For all she knows, she was going to be scammed,” Duquesnel said.


PRESIDENT BIDEN TO PITCH INFRASTRUCTURE BILL, ‘BUILD BACK BETTER’ PLAN DURING HOWELL TRIP

DETROIT FREE PRESS — President Joe Biden will head to the heart of historically conservative Livingston County this week in an effort to churn up support for a bipartisan infrastructure plan and other legislative priorities currently stalled in Congress.

The trip Tuesday afternoon to Howell is part of a broader national strategy to promote a $1 trillion infrastructure bill and a bigger “Build Back Better” plan. It’s a sweeping agenda aimed at spending potentially trillions of dollars over the next decade to expand child care tax credits, boost Medicare and Medicaid benefits, cut prescription costs and much more while increasing taxes on the wealthiest citizens.

“He wants to go out there and talk about the components and the pieces of these bills that will make people’s lives better, even as we’re having very important conversations about the legislative logistics here,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during her briefing on Monday.

Biden’s broader spending plan has so far faced opposition from the left and the right: Republicans aren’t needed necessarily to pass it, but are attempting to tie in fraught debt limit deals. Some progressives believe Democratic leaders may be too willing to restrict Biden’s broader spending proposal. And some centrists are worried about the plan’s overall costs.

Last week, progressives successfully delayed a vote on the infrastructure measure, which would bring billions in funding to Michigan, insisting that a deal be struck first on the larger plan among House Democrats and with enough support in the Senate to get it passed. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, both Democrats, have so far balked at the proposed $3.5-trillion price tag of that wider legislation. Both are needed to get any such measure passed.

Michigan’s Democratic delegation is also split. U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters are reliable Democratic votes, as are many of the seven Democratic members of the House. But U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, as well as Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, have said they won’t back the infrastructure bill unless the larger “Build Back Better” effort is successful.

“Let me be clear: bringing the so-called bipartisan infrastructure plan to a vote without the #BuildBackBetter Act at the same time is a betrayal. We will hold the line and vote it down,” Tlaib tweeted Sept. 28.

“This is not the time for half measures or to go back on our promises.”

Biden is set to visit’ Howell, located in the district of U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin. The Holly Democrat represents a politically split region and at times has an independent streak. In late August, she voted in support of considering the broader proposal, but did not commit her support. 

“If it’s transformative and important for my constituents … then I’ll consider it. I’m not going to give my vote away without a bill (to read first),” Slotkin told the Free Press in August.

Slotkin does support the infrastructure deal. In a news release after the vote, she said, “It’s critical to see the Speaker (of the House Nancy Pelosi) commit to holding the final vote on this bill no later than September 27.”

Last Friday, after the House missed that Sept. 27 deadline to vote and another on Sept. 30, Biden visited House Democrats, urging them to stick together on both the infrastructure bill and the “Build Back Better” agenda. But he also warned progressives that Sinema and Manchin are unlikely to accept any proposal that costs much more than $2 trillion.

Tuesday’s event in Howell is part of that continuing promise to get something passed, while also painting Republicans as obstructionists. Senate Republicans have already blocked two attempts to raise or suspend the debt ceiling; Treasury Secretary Janet Yellin has said that if the debt ceiling isn’t increased by Oct. 18, the government may no longer be able to pay its bills — which could throw global markets in turmoil.

Howell is the seat of typically conservative Livingston County. While Slotkin represents the area, the area’s state legislators are among the most conservative in the state. Some advocated for overturning the 2020 election results and are pushing legislation to ban teaching critical race theory in schools.

The Livingston County Republican Party and other conservative protests are planning a protest in Howell at roughly the same time as the president’s visit.

A recent national poll from the Pew Research Center found about half of those surveyed support versions of the infrastructure and broader spending plan. But a majority also disapproved of Biden’s job as president, as well as the performances of both Democratic and Republican congressional leaders.

A September poll from the Detroit Regional Chamber also found declining support for Biden in Michigan: 53% disapprove of the job Biden is doing, with 39% approving.

Biden has made multiple trips to Michigan since becoming president, including visits to a Pfizer facility in Portage, a Ford plant in Dearborn and a cherry farm in Traverse City.


J&J SEEKS US CLEARANCE FOR COVID-19 VACCINE BOOSTER DOSES

ASSOCIATED PRESS — Johnson & Johnson asked the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday to allow extra shots of its COVID-19 vaccine as the U.S. government moves toward expanding its booster campaign to millions more vaccinated Americans.

J&J said it filed a request with the FDA to authorize boosters for people who previously received the company’s one-shot vaccine. While company said it submitted data on several different booster intervals, ranging from two to six months, it did not formally recommend one to regulators.

Last month, the FDA authorized booster shots of Pfizer’s vaccine for older Americans and other groups with heightened vulnerability to COVID-19. It’s part of a sweeping effort by the Biden administration to shore up protection amid the delta variant and potential waning vaccine immunity.

Government advisers backed the extra Pfizer shots, but they also worried about creating confusion for tens of millions of other Americans who received the Moderna and J&J shots. U.S. officials don’t recommend mixing and matching different vaccine brands.

The FDA is convening its outside panel of advisers next week to review booster data from both J&J and Moderna. It’s the first step in a review process that also includes sign-off from the leadership of both the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If both agencies give the go-ahead, Americans could begin getting J&J and Moderna boosters later this month.

J&J previously released data suggesting its vaccine remains highly effective against COVID-19 at least five months after vaccination, demonstrating 81% effectiveness against hospitalizations in the U.S.

But company research shows a booster dose at either two or six months revved up immunity even further. FDA’s advisers will review that data next Friday and vote on whether to recommend boosters.

The timing of the J&J filing was unusual given that the FDA had already scheduled its meeting on the company’s data. Companies normally submit their requests well in advance of meeting announcements. A J&J executive said the company has been working with FDA on the review.

“Both J&J and FDA have a sense of urgency because it’s COVID and we want good data out there converted into action as soon as possible,” said Dr. Mathai Mammen, head of research for J&J’s Janssen unit.

The vaccine from the New Brunswick, New Jersey, company was considered an important tool in fighting the pandemic because it requires only one shot. But its rollout was hurt by a series of troubles, including manufacturing problems at a Baltimore factory that forced J&J to import millions of doses from overseas.

Additionally, regulators have added warnings of several rare side effects to the shot, including a blood clot disorder and a neurological reaction called Guillain-Barré syndrome. In both cases, regulators decided the benefits of the shot still outweighed those uncommon risks.

Rival drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna have provided the vast majority of U.S. COVID-19 vaccines. More than 170 million Americans have been fully vaccinated with the companies’ two-dose shots while less than 15 million Americans got the J&J shot.


COVID OUTBREAKS IN MICHIGAN SCHOOLS ALREADY 8 TIMES HIGHER THAN LAST YEAR

BRIDGE MI — One month into the new school year, there are more than eight times more COVID cases connected to outbreaks among students and staff in Michigan schools than at the same point last year.

And that’s a conservative estimate, given that the state recently narrowed the definition of what constitutes an outbreak. Experts attribute the rise to more students in classrooms this fall, a lack of mask mandates across many districts and counties, and the more transmissible delta variant of COVID-19.

According to data released Monday, as of Sept. 30, there are 2,491 confirmed coronavirus cases connected to new and ongoing outbreaks in Michigan K-12 schools and pre-K centers. By comparison, there were 296 new and ongoing cases connected to school outbreaks as of Oct. 1, 2020. Certainly, those infections represent a tiny share of Michigan students. Those 2,491 kids who’ve tested positive represent 0.17 percent of all students, or about one in every 577 public school students.

Still, the jump in school outbreak cases mirrors a troubling rise in COVID cases and hospitalizations among Michigan residents under the age of 20.

And school outbreaks, which typically involve fewer than 10 students and staff, can affect many others who are asked to quarantine because of close contact with someone who tested positive. One example: An Ann Arbor elementary school retreated to fully remote learning this week when eight COVID cases led to 50 additional students who were quarantined.

In a more remote, four-county area in the eastern Upper Peninsula, the total number of COVID cases jumped from 221 in August to 710 in September, driven in part by school outbreaks, said Kerry Ott, spokesperson for the LMAS Health Department, which covers Luce, Mackinac, Alger and Schoolcraft counties.

That’s higher than a two-month period last year, when the counties had 685 total cases between Sept. 25 and Nov. 25, making this September among the worst months of the entire pandemic, Ott said.

At least three schools in the four-county region have turned to virtual learning. Each had been “mask optional,” even as some other schools have required masks, she said.

With the more transmissible delta variant that spread quickly this summer, “we’re not surprised” at the increase, she said.

Cases have jumped this year for several reasons, experts say.

Virtually all of the state’s K-12 students are back in school with a room full of classmates this fall, compared to between 36 percent and 57 percent of students who were learning in-person at least part of the time in September 2020. More students in close proximity to each other means more spread, said Katharine Strunk, director of Education Policy Innovation Collaborative at Michigan State University, which tracked in-person, hybrid and remote learning in the 2020-21 school year.

And those who were in class last year all were wearing masks. This year, about 60 percent of students are mandated to wear face coverings; in the rest of the state’s schools, where masks are encouraged but optional, only a small minority are wearing masks, according to school leaders interviewed by Bridge Michigan. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published a study showing that school districts without mask mandates were about 3.5 percent more likely to have COVID-19 outbreaks.

Last week, mask mandates in place in some districts were dumped for thousands of Michigan students in the wake of anti-mandate language placed in a state budget bill.

No one should be surprised by the rising infections in schools, said Dr. Mark Hamed, an ER doctor in Michigan’s Thumb region, as well as a medical director for several of its counties.

“This time last year, we had mask mandates — that’s the game changer here,” he said.

Meanwhile, schools, businesses and other organizations have relaxed other safety protocols such as social distancing.

“Even quarantine seems optional now,” Hamed said. “We’re getting resistance from school boards in enforcing that. It’s like a perfect combination. You have a more contagious variant, more relaxed rules, and no masking. So (is the increase in school outbreaks) expected? Yes, you could say that.”

While some parents and lawmakers have protested requirements, recent studies show that mask mandates decrease the spread of the coronavirus in schools.

“I’m so frustrated,” said Owen Goslin, a parent in Cheboygan Area Schools, where his daughter’s school, East Elementary, announced Monday that it will close for the rest of the week because too many teachers are out ill. The district does not have a mask mandate, and Goslin estimated that 5 percent of students regularly wear masks.

“It was so predictable,” Goslin said of the closing. “People were acting like COVID was all over when clearly it’s not; when all the science and recommendations are, if we wear masks, we won’t be in this situation nearly as bad.”

State officials noted the worrisome uptick in school-related cases in the past  week as part of a routine data report. In one week, 105 new outbreaks were reported in K-12 settings, dwarfing the 20 new outbreaks in long-term care settings, such as nursing homes — the sites of wildfire-like, deadly COVID spread last year.

In all, the state was monitoring 289 new and ongoing outbreaks in K-12 settings, representing 45 percent of all outbreaks. Outbreaks last school year were defined as two or more linked cases; under a recent change by the national Council of State and Territorial epidemiologists and adopted by the state health department, outbreaks are now defined as three or more linked cases.

Compared to older residents, especially those in long-term care, most children will survive a COVID infection just fine, Hamed noted. On Monday, Michigan’s hospitals were treating 1,825 people for suspected or confirmed COVID infections; just 43 were pediatric patients, or 17 years old or younger.

But still unclear is how many children — even those with just moderate COVID symptoms to start — may face lingering symptoms for weeks or months longer. One early study published last month suggested that 1-in-7 children or more will have lingering COVID symptoms. However, the study, in England, was small and is not yet peer-reviewed.

“We just really don’t know,” Hamed said.

His more immediate concern is that even asymptomatic children with COVID are “vectors to the immunocompromised and to the elderly with underlying conditions.”

Infections are rising among Michigan’s youngest population, with those under 20 comprising 28 percent of the more than 103,000 cases statewide since Sept. 1.

But the biggest jump was among those under age 10, who are not yet eligible for any of three approved coronavirus vaccines. In September they made up 9.2 percent of all cases, double their percentage prior to September.

A year ago, when many schools opted for remote learning, those under 20 comprised 20 percent of September cases and those under 10 percent were just 3 percent of all cases.

Dr. Matthew Hornik, an Oakland County pediatrician, said his office sees at least one child a day now with COVID, adding to the increasing caseloads of children with RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and other respiratory diseases, which also are on the increase.

“Most of the practices in our area — we’re all filling up by 10 o’clock,” he said, referring to worried parents whose children become sick after-hours.

With COVID, “most of these kids will be just fine, but I can think of a couple of my patients right now that are still dealing with those long COVID symptoms — excessive fatigue, fevers, dizziness,” said Hornik, who also is president of the Michigan chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Without vaccines or universal masking, “these kids — that 5- to 11-year group — are the path of least resistance right now for the virus,” he said.

A vaccine for 5 to 11-year-olds moved closer to reality last month when Pfizer announced clinical trial results among 2,268 children that showed the vaccine is 95 percent effective among that age group. As it stands now, COVID vaccines are available only to U.S. children aged 12 and older.


AMBASSADOR BRIDGE REOPENS AFTER POTENTIAL EXPLOSIVES DISCOVERED MONDAY MORNING

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The Ambassador Bridge has reopened after potential explosives were discovered in a vehicle crossing the Ambassador Bridge Monday morning.

Around 2:30 p.m., Windsor police tweeted that the driver of the involved vehicle was being detained for investigation and was in custody of the Canada Border Service Agency.

At 4:42 p.m., Windsor police tweeted that traffic flow from the U.S. had reopened, but police remain on scene.

According to reports from the scene, Windsor police’s explosive unit deployed a robot to investigate and bridge employees were told to leave work earlier Monday.

The investigation is ongoing.


CORONAVIRUS TRACKER | CASES TOP 4,000 PER DAY FOR FIRST TIME SINCE APRIL

BRIDGE MI — Michigan reported 8,058 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, or an average of 4,029 for Thursday and Friday.

It’s the highest number of daily cases since 4,371 cases were reported on April 28.

The surge in cases, well above the 3,387 reported Wednesday, puts the seven-day daily average at 3,223, the first time over 3,000 since May 4 (3,204).

Those under 20 accounted for 27 percent of the cases in the past week, 7,300 or nearly 26,800 cases. For the entire pandemic, that age group has accounted for less than 18 percent of cases.

Case rates are rising in 59 of the state’s 83 counties, with the statewide rate at 32 cases per day per 100,000. But six counties are over 70 cases per day per 100,000, including Mackinac (83) and Ogemaw (82). All are in northern or west Michigan.

The state reported an additional 79 COVID-19 deaths, including 42 that came following a review of medical records.

Hospitalizations only rose slightly, with 1,708 patients being treated for confirmed or suspected COVID-19 statewide. That’s only five more than were reported Wednesday.

Testing data showed about 9 percent of tests were coming back positive. The weekly rate has risen to 9.4 percent from about 8.8 percent a week ago.

Coronavirus caseloads and deaths are increasing throughout Michigan as the delta variant spreads throughout the state.

Michigan reported 100 deaths on Wednesday, the highest single-day tally in four months, while new cases rose to 6,733 on Tuesday and Wednesday, increasing the seven-day average to 2,941 from 2,842 on Monday.

So far, September has had 635 deaths, up from 428 in August, bringing the total to 20,998 confirmed COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began.

Suburban Wayne County has had 71 deaths this month. That’s 2.6 percent of all 2,704 deaths in the county since March 2020. The wave of deaths has been more pronounced in other counties: Midland County had 12 deaths in September, nearly 11 percent of its pandemic total, while Hillsdale County reported 10 deaths, about 9 percent of its tally.

The state’s least-populated county, Keewenaw in the Upper Peninsula, had two COVID-19 deaths in September, up from one in all previous months.

The increase comes as cases are rising rapidly in many areas of the state.

Counties across northern and west Michigan are recording the biggest increases in cases and six counties are now reporting on average over 70 new cases per day per 100,000 people: Oceana, Schoolcraft, Mackinac, Newaygo, Ogemaw and Osceola counties.

The statewide rate, however, is far lower —  29 cases per day per 100,000 — in part because the most populous areas of metro Detroit are not reporting high numbers of new infections.

Hospitalizations for coronavirus treatment rose as well, with 1,703 patients now being treated with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, up from 1,637.

For the first time in a couple of weeks, the percent of positive coronavirus tests rose, to 11 percent for the most recent two days, up from 9 percent. The weekly rate, however, inched up to 9.1 percent from 8.9 percent


U-M POLICE, FBI INVESTIGATE SHOOTER THREAT AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The University of Michigan Division of Public Safety and Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated a post on Saturday on a Russian-operated confessions website where a user threatened to come to the U-M campus with a gun and shoot women.

The post has since been deleted, and DPSS and the FBI have identified the person responsible at an out-of-state residence and determined there is no imminent harm to the community, according to a news release.

“On October 4th, I’m going to the University of Michigan and blow away every single woman I see with an AR-15,” the original post reads. “There is a violent pro-male revolution coming and you people better get ready for it.”

Screenshots of the post circulated on social media and in student groups, inciting fear in the community.

DPSS said the safety and security of our community is its “highest priority” and urged all members of the campus community to contact the division  if something doesn’t seem quite right.

If you have any information regarding this incident, please contact DPSS at 734-763-1131 or at dpss-safety-security@umich.edu.


800 ACRES IN SW MICHIGAN COULD BECOME STATE RECREATION AREA

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The state has its eyes on 800 acres in southwestern Michigan as a possible recreation area.

The Department of Natural Resources is seeking a $4.7 million grant from the Natural Resources Trust Fund to buy the land from Andrews University, an official said. The property was donated to the school.

The land in Berrien County is bordered by U.S. 31 to the north and the St. Joseph River on the west, The Herald-Palladium reported. It’s already popular with hunters.

“It’s a gorgeous piece of land,” DNR biologist Valerie Frawley said. “I think it will be good for the people of the area. It would be a great state game area and provide the public with more access to the area.” Officials in Berrien and Buchanan townships have endorsed the effort.

“They said they plan to put in a few walking paths, but don’t have any major plans to change anything,” Berrien Township Supervisor Bryan Bixby said. “They told us that it would be one of the largest natural wildlife areas in the lower half of the state.”


MICHIGAN COUNTIES DUMP MASK RULES FOR THOUSANDS OF PUPILS AMID BUDGET MESS

BRIDGE MI — Michigan’s patchwork response to the COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly fraying, as a series of local health officials are rescinding school mask orders amid widespread confusion over state rules.

Health departments in BerrienAlleganDickinson-Iron and Barry-Eaton counties rescinded mask mandates in recent days, citing the threat of funding cuts because of Republican language in a budget bill that Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law.

Marquette, Ottawa, Washtenaw and Kent county health departments decided this week to keep their mask mandates, while three others are debating whether to continue student quarantine orders within the budget that Whitmer deemed unconstitutional and unenforceable.

The rescinded orders affect roughly 45,000 to 57,000 public school students, or 5-7 percent of all 787,000 students who were covered by mask mandates. Fifteen local health departments had issued mandates and about 30 other school districts enacted them.

Whitmer sought to control the fallout Thursday by dispatching attorneys from her office to speak with local health officials who have implemented mask mandates she supports.

“Local health departments should keep their mask policies in place,” said Whitmer spokesperson Bobby Leddy in a statement.

“As the governor has made clear, the budget provisions that attempt to prohibit these policies clearly violate the state constitution. The state of Michigan will continue to provide funding to local health departments that implement universal mask policies or quarantine protocols in schools to keep students safe so they can learn in person.”

But prior promises from Whitmer have done little to calm the nerves of health officials in areas like Allegan County, who cited the GOP threat to withhold funding as they rescinded an otherwise “effective” policy.

The decision was “not made lightly” and has “challenged us ethically, professionally and personally,” health officer Angelique Joynes said in a statement. “But we cannot risk our essential local public health service funding.”

Public health v. political pressure

The squabbling comes amid increased pressure on local public health officials who, in the absence of a statewide policy, have been thrust in the middle of an increasingly political and cultural fight.

In Kent County, a motorist attempted to run a health official off the road. And in Barry County, a health officer was subject to an attempted “citizen’s arrest.”

“It’s crazy. It’s unprofessional,” said Dr. Howard Markel, a former pediatrician and director of the University of Michigan’s Center for the History of Medicine. “I wish these people, if they pull this kind of nonsense — will just go home.”

“If I could give advice to the county official: Be brave, and please do the right thing by your constituents. And if they do try to lower your funding, rest assured, you’ll have many colleagues including myself behind you to fight tooth and nail because that’s ridiculous.”

But small departments may not be able to withstand such threats, said Marcia Mansaray, deputy health administrator at the Ottawa County Department of Public Health. Though Ottawa decided to keep its school mask mandate, neighboring Allegan did not — splitting at least one school district so that some students are masked and others don’t have to be, she said.

“I sympathize with them,” she said, referring both to local school districts and other county health departments who felt they had to rescind orders.

Smaller departments “are less likely to have in-house corporate counsel to guide them in these issues or defend them,” she said. “They have a lot more to think about.”

It was perhaps inevitable that the pressure ultimately would lead to funding threats, said Dr. Bobby Mukkamala, a Flint ear, nose, and throat doctor and chair of the American Medical Association.

“We got here because there are two competing forces. One is the force of public health to protect people from illness, and the other is the force of political pressure,” he said. “What was signed into law is tipping the scales in favor of political pressure and scaring the public health officials.”

“The precedent has been set. Every public health challenge in our lifetime will immediately default to this conversation about public health risk versus personal freedom,” Mukkumala said.

There is plenty of blame to go around for the “unnecessary” and “avoidable” fiasco, said Peter Spadafore, deputy executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators.

“Getting this language into the budget is where it went wrong,” he said. “There was an overwhelming (bipartisan) vote in the legislature to include this language knowing it would cause confusion.”

Christine Greig, a former Democratic leader in the Michigan House, told Bridge the language should have not made it in the budget in the first place.

She said that although she fully supports the governor’s decision to declare the bans unenforceable, she understands the concerns from health officials.

“If I were a local government official, I would like more direction from the state,” Greig said. “It’s a difficult situation.”

‘No one’s best interest’

With multiple counties reconsidering mask mandates on Thursday, Republicans offered little clarity and declined to provide additional advice to local officials left in the lurch.

“It’s our hope that the governor wouldn’t contemplate ignoring parts of a budget that passed with bipartisan support,” Senate GOP spokesperson Abby Mitch told Bridge. “That said, it is up to the individual locals to decide if they want to follow the governor’s legal advice before a court rules on it.”

Whitmer is far from the first governor to declare policy provisions in the state budget unconstitutional and unenforceable. It’s a routine practice that often goes unnoticed.

Former Gov. Rick Snyder, for instance, nixed provisions that would have cut funding for public universities that offered domestic benefits to same-sex partners and prohibited the state from contracting with Planned Parenthood for non-abortion services.

The Michigan Constitution requires governors to “faithfully execute” the constitution, which means they actually have a responsibility to declare unconstitutional provisions unenforceable, said Liedel, who was legal counsel to Granholm.

“The problem is the communication,” said Robert McCann, executive director of the K12 Alliance of Michigan, a school advocacy organization.

“Just because the governor puts out a signing statement saying it’s not enforceable doesn’t mean everyone sees that,” he said.

“I’m hearing from superintendents saying they are getting calls and having people show up at board meetings holding up (news) stories and saying there can’t be mask mandates.”

McCann said schools “have been told for months” to work with local health departments to create mask policies. The language in the budget gives at least the appearance that, now, a month into the school year, the state is stepping in to issue a statewide no-mandate policy.

“All we’ve asked for throughout this pandemic is clear and consistent guidance from health experts on how we can keep students safe in schools,” he said. “Instead, here we are with … health departments backing off of science because of political confusion.

“This is in no one’s best interest.”


AMERICA’S THANKSGIVING PARADE SET TO RETURN

THE OAKLAND PRESS — One of the biggest disappointments during the pandemic was not being able to watch America’s Thanksgiving Parade in person.

The good news is its back.

Thursday, The Parade Company announced that the parade will return to Woodward Avenue and Gardner-White has extended its presenting sponsorship through 2025.

“We are thrilled to extend our partnership with Gardner-White, they are such an important part of The Parade Company family,” said Tony Michaels, President and CEO of The Parade Company. “Their incredible support and commitment signals a strong future for America’s Thanksgiving Parade presented by Gardner-White.”

“Detroit is our home, Gardner-White has been here since 1912 and we are never leaving. It’s our city, our roots, where our friends and family live, and when we travel we say we are from Detroit, and we say it with pride,” Gardner-White President Rachel Stewart said in the news release.  “And that’s why we signed up through 2025 to be the presenting sponsor for Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day parade, the best parade in America.”

Watching the parade is a longstanding tradition for Michigan families, who come from all over the state to watch the excitement unfold along Woodward Avenue,  or on television at home in more than 185 markets across the country.

Themed “Love on Woodward,” America’s Thanksgiving Parade presented by Gardner-White and produced by The Parade Company, will be celebrating its 95th year. WDIV-TV (Channel 4) is the exclusive and longtime television partner.

And it’s not just Michiganders who love their parade.

America’s Thanksgiving Parade presented by Gardner-White has been recognized as the Best Holiday Parade by USA Today in both 2018 and 2019.

As in the past, the televised version of the parade for those who prefer to watch it from home features a one-hour syndicated national broadcast. The parade will also be featured broadcasts on Paul W. Smith’s morning show WJR-AM (760) and Audacy’s WOMC-FM (104.3)

Watch for more news about what will unfold along Woodward Avenue on Nov. 25 including the floats, bands, and special additions in the coming weeks.

For more information, visit theparade.org.


AFTER 19-MONTH SHUTDOWN, DETROIT FILM THEATRE TO REOPEN OCT. 15 WITH LIMITED CAPACITY

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The big screen at the Detroit Film Theatre is back.

The theater, located inside of the Detroit Institute of Arts, will reopen Oct. 15 after being shuttered for 19 months as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The film kicking off the 2021 fall season is a documentary about influential psych-rock band the Velvet Underground, directed by Todd Haynes (“Far From Heaven,” “I’m Not There,” “Carol”).

There will be four screenings over three days, starting with a 7 p.m. showing on Oct. 15

Tickets for the fall season are on sale now.

Other highlights this season include “On Broadway” (showing Oct. 22-24), a fast-paced documentary about live theater that was completed just before the pandemic shut down one of New York City’s greatest cultural institutions, and “The Macaluso Sisters” (screening Nov. 26-28), a drama about five orphaned sisters working to make a living in 1980s Sicily.

Starting in November, the Detroit Film Theatre will return its family series on Saturday afternoons with matinees of animated films from around the world.

“We try to show a cross section of what cinema looks like around the world at the moment,” says Elliot Wilhelm, longtime director of the theater and curator of film for the DIA.

“This was a really difficult season to put together. There was a year-and-a-half of movies that didn’t get seen on the screen, so it was much more difficult to whittle down to the films that are on this program.”

While the theater was closed to the public, it offered virtual screenings via its DFT @ Home program, screening about 100 films in 19 months.

Some of that virtual programming will remain in place, says Wilhelm.

As with many cultural institutions reopening to the public, there will be new COVID-19 protocols in place for Detroit Film Theatre patrons.

Guests will be required to show a current photo ID and proof of vaccination for each screening. A mask will be required to enter the theater and must worn throughout each screening.

The theater, built in 1927, can seat up to 1,050, but seating will be limited to 300 for each event.


IS IT COVID-19, ALLERGIES, THE FLU OR JUST A COLD? HOW YOU CAN TELL, BASED ON SYMPTOMS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Flu season is in full swing, which is quite confusing in the middle of a pandemic involving a deadly virus with nearly identical symptoms.

The only way to tell if it’s the flu or COVID-19, according to medical experts, is testing.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever and chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headaches, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, and a loss of taste or smell. Symptoms can be mild to severe, and can appear two to 14 days after exposure.

Not sure if you have allergies, a cold, the flu, COVID-19 or a breakthrough infection? Doctors across Michigan agree: Get tested, even if you’ve been fully vaccinated against the virus responsible for the global pandemic. You could be contagious.

“There’s no excuse. Go find out. It’s as easy as getting a coffee,” said Dr. Karen Kent VanGorder, chief medical and quality officer with the Sparrow Health System based in Lansing. “It’s important to take responsibility for knowing you have COVID.”

Doctors say flu symptoms can be very similar to COVID-19 symptoms.

Testing, said Dr. Liam Sullivan, an infectious disease specialist with Spectrum Health, a Grand Rapids-based hospital system, “is the only way to distinguish” between flu and COVID-19.

“Because some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, and testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis,” added Dr. Sorabh Dhar, medical director of infection prevention, hospital epidemiology, and antimicrobial stewardship at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Detroit. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than the flu, and causes more serious illnesses in some people. It can also take longer before people show symptoms, and people can be contagious for longer.

Add colds and breakthrough infections, which occur in patients who have had the coronavirus vaccination and still get sick with the virus, to the difficulty of making a diagnosis.

Symptoms of breakthrough infections can include significant sinus and nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat and low-grade fever, Sullivan said. Symptoms of the common cold include runny nose, sore throat, coughing and congestion.

Dr. Diane George, a family medicine physician and chief medical officer for primary care for the Henry Ford Medical Group, said patients may be tempted to think they have a cold when they actually have a mild case of COVID-19, and decide to blow off getting tested, something she does not recommend.

“It’s really about knowing, so you can protect other people, who might be at more severe risk for COVID. You don’t want to spread it to people who could get seriously sick,” George said. “For your own sake, it’s important to know what you’re dealing with in case your symptoms get worse.”

And, knowing is key “because there are treatments, such as monoclonal antibody infusions, that can help prevent you from getting worse and needing hospitalization,” George said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than the flu, and causes more serious illnesses in some people. It can also take longer before people show symptoms, and people can be contagious for longer.

Add colds and breakthrough infections, which occur in patients who have had the coronavirus vaccination and still get sick with the virus, to the difficulty of making a diagnosis.

Symptoms of breakthrough infections can include significant sinus and nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat and low-grade fever, Sullivan said. Symptoms of the common cold include runny nose, sore throat, coughing and congestion.

Dr. Diane George, a family medicine physician and chief medical officer for primary care for the Henry Ford Medical Group, said patients may be tempted to think they have a cold when they actually have a mild case of COVID-19, and decide to blow off getting tested, something she does not recommend.

“It’s really about knowing, so you can protect other people, who might be at more severe risk for COVID. You don’t want to spread it to people who could get seriously sick,” George said. “For your own sake, it’s important to know what you’re dealing with in case your symptoms get worse.”

And, knowing is key “because there are treatments, such as monoclonal antibody infusions, that can help prevent you from getting worse and needing hospitalization,” George said.

What should I do to protect myself and loved ones?

In the midst of flu season, doctors recommend getting a flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine, if you haven’t already. And, don’t let up on what you’ve learned during the pandemic: Wash your hands frequently, don’t touch your face with your hands, social distance, and wear a mask indoors, even if you are vaccinated, if you are in areas with high rates of transmission, if you or a family member has a weakened immune system, or if it just makes you feel more comfortable.

According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people might choose to mask regardless of the level of transmission, particularly if they or someone in their household is immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease, or if someone in their household is unvaccinated.

More: Stay home, even if you don’t know if it’s COVID-19

People who are at increased risk for severe disease include older adults and those who have certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart conditions, or if they are overweight or obese.

The CDC also recommends that people with compromised immune systems should wear a mask, social distance, avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status.


MICHIGAN REPORTS 6,733 NEW COVID-19 CASES, 100 ADDITIONAL DEATHS SINCE MONDAY

THE OAKLAND PRESS — Michigan public health officials reported Wednesday 6,733 new COVID-19 cases and 100 additional virus deaths over the past two days.

The three-day case total brought the state’s total confirmed cases and deaths to 1,022,575 and 20,998 since the onset of the pandemic.

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), those totals represent testing data collected Tuesday and Wednesday MDHHS publishes new case, death, and vaccination numbers every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with new outbreak-related data, including for schools, published every Monday.

On Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the state’s $55 billion general government fiscal year 2022 budget into law, but not without first striking language that would have prohibited local health departments from issuing K-12 school mask orders and would have withheld funding for those departments if they had such orders in effect as of this Friday, unless county commissioners voted to support it. She called the two provisions “unconstitutional” and “unenforceable.”

Currently, over 62 percent of Michigan’s public school students – 787,657 – in over 250 public school districts are required to wear face masks indoors under 14 health orders from the following local health departments: Kalamazoo, Allegan, Kent and Ottawa (K-6); Marquette (preK-6); Benzie-Leelanau, Health Department of Northwest Michigan, Oakland, Wayne (K-12); and Barry-Eaton, Berrien, Genesee, Ingham, Washtenaw (preK-12).

“The Public Health Code gives health officials the tools they need to protect people from epidemic diseases like COVID-19,” said Whitmer in her budget transmittal letter to the legislature. “The legislature cannot unwind the Public Health Code in a budget bill or un-appropriate funds because they take issue with the actions of local health departments. Budget boilerplate that purports to prohibit state or local health officials from issuing mask and quarantine orders or to penalize local health departments for using their powers under the Public Health Code violates the Michigan Constitution. Consistent with my duty to uphold the constitution, I will not allow unconstitutional budget language to take effect.”

The Michigan Parent Alliance for Safe Schools, a statewide coalition of Michigan parents across calling on MDHHS to require masks be worn in all schools, applauded Wednesday the governor’s actions.

Of the 100 deaths reported, 50 were identified during a vital records review. Over the past two days, the state has averaged 3,387 cases per day per 100,000 residents, up from 2,577 cases per day per 100,000 residents Sept. 25-27, a 31.4% increase.

Since Monday, Oakland County saw the largest increase in cases at 590 followed by Wayne County (excluding Detroit) at 589, Macomb County at 586, and Kent County at 480. Detroit saw an increase of 266 cases.

The state’s COVID-19 case and testing positivity rates continue to remain high due to the spread of the Delta variant.

Michigan’s 7-day average case rate is 235.6 cases per day per 100,000 residents, a 34.1% increase over Monday’s  7-day case rate of 175.6 cases per day per 100,000 residents. Michigan remains still in the high community transmission category, which is defined by the CDC as averaging at least 100 new cases per day per 100,000 population over a 7-day period.

The state’s 7-day average testing posivity rate continues to average between 8-10%. The CDC is also reporting that over 90% of U.S. counties have high community transmission levels, including in all 83 Michigan counties.

Over the past 7 days, Oakland County is averaging 175.1 cases per day per 100,000 residents, an increase of 11.27% over the previous 7 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Wayne County’s 7-day average case rate is 142 cases per day per 100,000 residents, a 2.77% increase over the previous 7 days while Macomb County’s 7-day case rate has increased 17.31% to 203.21 cases per day per 100,000 residents.

Hospitalizations

Statewide, there are over 1,600 Michiganders hospitalized with confirmed positive COVID-19, the majority being in southeast Michigan, with nearly 80% of the state’s hospital beds occupied. Michigan hospital leaders are urging residents to get vaccinated as emergency rooms reach capacity with majority unvaccinated patients admitted with COVID-19 while also dealing with widespread staffing shortages.

Last week, MDHHS reported that the percentage of inpatient hospital beds occupied by individuals with COVID-19 was 7%, up from 6.8% the previous week. This percentage has been increasing for nine weeks.

MDHHS officials also reported that current CDC models project a statewide plateau or decline in the number of new cases as well as a statewide plateau in the number of new hospitalizations with slower daily increases in deaths.

In Oakland County, hospitals have seen a 6.6% increase over the past 7 days in the number of new COVID-19 admissions, 210 patients, compared to the previous 7 days, according to the CDC. In Wayne County, hospitals have seen a 4.94% increase in new COVID-19 admissions over the previous 7 days totaling 170 patients while Macomb County hospitals have seen a 18.75% decrease in the number of new COVID-19 admissions over the past 7 days at 52 patients.

Schools

On Monday, MDHHS reported 106 new K-12 school outbreaks involving 614 cases. On Tuesday, MDHHS announced it would be revising its definition of a school outbreak “to promote consistent reporting amongst states.”

A K-12 school outbreak is now defined as: three or more cases who may have shared exposure on school grounds and are from different households or schools that have been found to have multiple cases comprising at least 10% of students, teachers, or staff, within a specified core group.

New data from MDHHS shows that new cases among children are higher in counties where school districts are not mandating masks indoors. Between Aug. 18-Sept. 8, there was a 96% increase in the 7-day average COVID-19 case rate for children ages 12-18.

As of last week, MDHHS was reporting that the proportion of children getting sick with COVID-19 was increasing with over 50% of children hospitalized with COVID-19 having no reported underlying conditions.

MDHHS recently announced new quarantine guidance for asymptomatic students, both those unvaccinated and vaccinated, in an effort to allow more kids to stay in school. The guidance outlines how even if exposed to the virus, some students would be allowed to stay in school when evidence-based prevention measures, including universal masking, are in place.

As of Sept. 20, an informal survey of local health departments identified 71 schools where learning time is directly impacted by COVID-19 including 12 schools closing entirely, 8 grades closing entirely, and 38 classrooms closing entirely, according to MDHHS.

Booster/third dose shots

Last week, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky gave final approval to Pfizer third doses for all Americans age 65 and older, individuals 18 and older living in long-term care facilities, individuals 18-64 years of age at high-risk for severe COVID-19 with underlying medical conditions, and individuals 18 through 64 years of age whose jobs put them at increased risk of virus exposure and transmission, including health care workers, first responders, education staff, food and agricultural workers, manufacturing workers, correctional workers, postal service workers, public transit workers, and grocery store workers.

Everyone included in these groups must be at least six months out from their Pfizer second dose to receive the third shot. The list of eligible third dose recipients could be updated in the future.

Walensky’s approval came days after the third doses were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, the FDA, and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).

Over 100,000 booster and third doses have been administered statewide with the majority administered to Michiganders age 50 and older. According to MDHHS, around 853,000 Michiganders age 20 and older are at least six months out from their second Pfizer dose.

“We do not know if all of these individuals meet eligibility criteria for a booster, so this is likely an overestimate of the total eligible,” said Chelsea Wuth, MDHHS spokesperson. “As we move forward, the number of people eligible for Pfizer boosters will change because more and more of them will be six months out from their second dose.”

In August, Pfizer and Moderna booster doses were granted emergency-use authorization for immunocompromised Americans such as organ transplant, active cancer, and HIV patients at least four weeks out from their two-dose series as well as those 65 years of age and older or those at high-risk of severe illness.

On Tuesday, Pfizer and BioNTech submitted initial data to the FDA for its initial review seeking emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine in children 5-11 citing the vaccine’s safety and “robust” antibody response in children. The company also announced that it plans to submit initial data for children aged 6 months to four years to the FDA for initial review as early as the fourth quarter of this year.


MICHIGAN WILL DISCLOSE FEWER SCHOOL COVID OUTBREAKS UNDER NEW RULES

BRIDGE MI — School-related COVID outbreaks are increasing in Michigan, but you might not know that by looking at the data.

That’s because the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Monday changed how it defines a school outbreak.

The change will decrease the number of outbreaks reported and make it more difficult to track Michigan outbreaks over time.

Until now, two COVID cases associated with a school constituted an outbreak, but this week the agency increased the threshold to three. In addition, the state has begun counting as outbreaks instances where at least 10 percent of teachers and students in a specified group contract COVID through transmission linked to the school.

That’s in accordance with the definition of outbreak used by the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, which recommended in an August report that states standardize outbreak reporting.

Health Department spokesperson Lynn Sutfin acknowledged that “the new outbreak definition threshold may exclude some circumstances, which previously met the definition.”

For example, an outbreak reported last week at Berrien Springs Middle School in southwest Michigan would not have been reported this week because it involved only two students.

The department began using the new definition on Monday. It will not adjust historical data to conform to the new definition, Sutfin said.

The trouble with the change, says Katharine Strunk, director of the Education Policy Innovation Collaborative at Michigan State University, is that it makes comparisons over the span of the pandemic difficult.

“It makes sense to think about how to have consistency across states so we can make comparisons about COVID spread and outbreaks across states, however it will make it much more difficult for people to track the trajectory across time in Michigan,” said Strunk.

EPIC has been studying how in-person learning contributes to the spread of COVID.

“The danger in doing this midstream is that people who are not aware of the change will assume outbreaks have been reduced when they have not,” Strunk said. “It may lead people to make false assumptions about safety inside the school building.”

That’s a problem because people are using outbreak data to decide on mitigation strategies such as whether to send their children to school with masks, she said.

For example, of 297 Michigan school outbreaks reported in the last 30 days, 40 would not have been reported under the new definition.

Leaders of the epidemiologists’ council did not respond to questions Tuesday but their August report explained that consistent data is necessary “to characterize the epidemiology of the disease in the school setting, to measure the burden of disease in the school setting, and to inform public health action, including monitoring the impact of vaccination.”


OAKLAND COUNTY SCHEDULES PFIZER COVID-19 BOOSTER CLINICS THIS WEEK

THE OAKLAND PRESS — Oakland County Health Division will hold its first clinic to administer the booster dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, Sept. 29, in Southfield.

More clinics are scheduled this week in Pontiac, Holly, Rochester and Novi.

“It remains essential for unvaccinated individuals to begin their series of COVID-19 vaccines to help prevent the transmission of the disease even as the Pfizer booster becomes available to those who have received two Pfizer doses,” Oakland County Health Division Medical Director Dr. Russell Faust said. “Those who are unsure about whether to get a vaccine or booster or have questions should consult a healthcare provider.”

Those who qualify should receive the booster at least six months after their second dose. CDC recommendations for booster shots come in two categories — those who should receive them and those who may. People aged 65 years and older; residents aged 18 years and older in long-term care settings and people aged 50–64 years with underlying medical conditions should get the booster. Those who may get the booster are ages 18–49 years with underlying medical conditions and people aged 18–64 years at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional settings such as healthcare workers or teachers.

For the county clinics, an appointment is strongly recommended, but not required. For information, go to OaklandCountyVaccine.com. Those who do not have access to the internet may call the Nurse on Call at 800-848-5533 Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. for more information. Times and locations for this week’s clinics for the Pfizer booster dose:

Wednesday, Sept. 29 

Indoor clinic from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. at the Southfield Pavilion, 26000 Evergreen Rd., Southfield

Thursday, Sept. 30 

Drive-through clinic from 9 am – 4 p.m. on the Oakland County government campus, 1200 N. Telegraph Rd., Pontiac in the parking lot between the North Office Building (26 East) and the Medical Examiner’s Office (28 East)

Indoor clinic from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. at the Karl Richter Community Center, 300 East St., Holly

Friday, October 1

Drive-through clinic from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the Rochester Fire Dept., 277 E. 2nd St., Rochester

Saturday, October 2

Drive-through clinic from 9 a.m. – noon at Novi Fire Station No. 4, 49375 W. 10 Mile Rd., Novi

Additional clinics will be available at OaklandCountyVaccine.com.


WHITMER TO DEEM ‘A NUMBER’ OF COVID BUDGET PROVISIONS UNCONSTITUTIONAL

DETROIT NEWS — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer plans to declare multiple provisions inserted in the state’s next budget aimed at limiting the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic unenforceable.

“These dangerous, anti-public health boilerplate provisions that seek to tie the hands of local health departments, municipalities and universities will not be enforced as part of the final budget because they violated various aspects of the Michigan Constitution,” a statement from the governor’s office said Tuesday night.

The Democratic governor is expected to sign two bills completing the state’s next budget into law on Wednesday, a day before the deadline. But she will strike down language baked into the funding plan that sought to block local health departments from requiring masks to be worn by students in K-12 schools.

The governor’s office also believes that language included to require colleges and universities to allow certain exemptions for campus COVID-19 vaccination mandates can’t be enforced because the universities are autonomous bodies.

Under the GOP-backed budget language, universities would have to allow exemptions for any student with “religious convictions or other consistently held objection to immunization.”

Michigan’s COVID-19 infection rates have generally been trending upward for longer than two months. On Monday, the state reported 1,529 adults hospitalized with the virus, the largest daily tally since May.

“With the delta variant circulating, it is important for Michiganders to have every available tool in their toolbox to protect themselves and others from this deadly virus,” the governor’s office said Tuesday night. “Gov. Whitmer will always protect public health measures that save lives and oppose any attempts to undermine or restrict basic lifesaving actions throughout this pandemic.”

Another provision backed by Republican lawmakers addressing vaccine requirements for local and state government employees will remain in the budget, but Whitmer’s office believes it will have little impact.

The language bars government agencies from requiring as a condition of employment that an employee must provide proof that he or she has received a COVID-19 vaccine. However, most employee-focused vaccine requirements allow workers to either get vaccinated or go through regular testing, which appears to still be allowed under the budget language.

The provision also acknowledges that a federal vaccine mandate for larger employers, which is being pursued by President Joe Biden’s administration, would overrule the state budget policy.

Biden’s administration is pursuing rules to force employers with more than 100 workers to require them to be vaccinated or be tested for the virus weekly. But it’s unclear what the specifics of that plan will be.

Republican lawmakers have argued that Michigan residents should decide for themselves whether to get vaccinated.

“I don’t think it’s the place of government to mandate something that’s such a personal decision,” House Appropriations Chairman Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, said last week.

Next year’s proposed $70 billion state budget, which the governor negotiated with the leaders of the GOP-controlled Legislature, includes large spending increases across the board thanks to a combination of federal COVID-19 relief funds and better than expected state tax revenue.

“This year’s budget makes historic investments to fix nearly 100 bridges, expand no- or low-cost child care to 105,000 children, fully funds a tuition-free pathway to higher education, replaces lead service lines and cleans up PFAS, and makes a record $500 million deposit in the rainy day fund as proof of the state’s strong financial standing,” the governor’s office said Tuesday.


DETROIT GRAND PRIX RETURNING TO DOWNTOWN STREETS? OFFICIAL PRESENTS IDEA TO CITY COUNCIL

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Once upon a time, the roar of IndyCar in southeast Michigan wasn’t confined to Belle Isle. When the race first started in 1982, cars zoomed around a road course set up in downtown Detroit.

On Tuesday, the first steps were made to perhaps return the race to its roots.

Bud Denker, president of the Penske Corp. and chairman of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, presented a proposal to Detroit City Council to bring the race back to the streets of downtown.

In a statement released Wednesday morning, the Grand Prix is “exploring the option of returning the event to the downtown street circuit beginning in 2023.”

When the race began on the Formula One series 39 years ago, cars raced around the area near the Renaissance Center. When CART replaced Formula One on the calendar in 1989, the race stayed downtown until 1992, when it was moved to Belle Isle until the race ended in 2001.

Roger Penske helped revitalize the race in 2007, though only for two years when the Great Recession hit. The race returned in 2012 on Belle Isle.

“An annual summertime racing festival on the streets of Detroit would represent a connection to the rich heritage of the Grand Prix, the opportunity to engage with broad audiences and provide an even greater boost to the local economy while adding to the energy and momentum that is building downtown along with our beautiful waterfront,” the Grand Prix said in the statement.

In the photo presented to City Council on Tuesday, the proposed course would include running Jefferson, from Rivard down to Hart Plaza, doubling back toward Bates and then taking Atwater, back past the Renaissance Center.

According to the statement, race officials still have the option of extending their agreement with Belle Isle through 2024.

The race, which IndyCar has pared down from a weekend doubleheader to a single race next year, will be on Belle Isle in the first weekend of June.


MICHIGAN REPORTS 106 NEW K-12 SCHOOL COVID-19 OUTBREAKS, 7,733 NEW CASES SINCE FRIDAY

THE OAKLAND PRESS — Michigan public health officials reported Monday 7,733 new COVID-19 cases and 35 additional virus deaths over the past three days.

The three-day case total brought the state’s total confirmed cases and deaths to 1,015,802 and 20,898 since the onset of the pandemic.

According Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), those totals represent testing data collected Saturday through Monday. MDHHS publishes new case, death, and vaccination numbers every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with new outbreak-related data, including for schools, published every Monday.

In addition to new cases and deaths, MDHHS also reported 106 new K-12 COVID-19 outbreaks involving 614 cases. An outbreak is defined as two or more cases who may have shared exposure on school grounds and are from different households.

Of the 35 deaths reported, 13 were identified during a vital records review. Over the past three days, the state has averaged 2,577 cases per day per 100,000 residents, down from 3,040 cases per day per 100,000 residents Sept. 23-24.

Since Friday, Oakland County saw the largest increase in cases at 818 followed by Macomb County at 708, Wayne County (excluding Detroit) at 640, and Kent County at 621. Detroit saw an increase of 299 cases.

The state’s COVID-19 case and testing positivity rates continue to remain high due to the spread of the Delta variant.

Michigan’s 7-day average case rate is 175.6 cases per day per 100,000 residents, a 23% decrease over Friday’s 7-day case rate of 228.5 cases per day per 100,000 residents. Michigan remains still in the high community transmission category, which is defined by the CDC as averaging at least 100 new cases per day per 100,000 population over a 7-day period.

The state’s 7-day average testing posivity rate continues to average between 8-10%. The CDC is also reporting that over 90% of U.S. counties have high community transmission levels, including in all 833 Michigan counties.

Over the past 7 days, Oakland County is averaging 175.1 cases per day per 100,000 residents, an increase of 11.27% over the previous 7 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Wayne County’s 7-day average case rate is 142 cases per day per 100,000 residents, a 2.77% increase over the previous 7 days while Macomb County’s 7-day case rate has increased 17.31% to 203.21 cases per day per 100,000 residents.

Hospitalizations

Statewide, there are over 1,550 Michiganders hospitalized with confirmed positive COVID-19, the majority being in southeast Michigan, with nearly 80% of the state’s hospital beds occupied. Michigan hospital leaders are urging residents to get vaccinated as emergency rooms reach capacity with unvaccinated are seeing a surge in patients admitted with COVID-19 while also dealing with widespread staffing shortages.

Last week, MDHHS reported that the percentage of inpatient hospital beds occupied by individuals with COVID-19 was 7%, up from 6.8% the previous week. This percentage has been increasing for nine weeks.

MDHHS officials also reported that current CDC models project a statewide plateau or decline in the number of new cases as well as a statewide plateau in the number of new hospitalizations with slower daily increases in deaths.

In Oakland County, hospitals have seen a 8.95% increase over the past 7 days in the number of new COVID-19 admissions, 207 patients, compared to the previous 7 days, according to the CDC. In Wayne County, hospitals have seen a 15.34% decrease in new COVID-19 admissions over the previous 7 days totaling 149 patients while Macomb County hospitals have seen a 15.3% decrease in the number of new COVID-19 admissions over the past 7 days at 54 patients.

Vaccine coverage

As of Sept. 27, the state’s vaccination coverage rate for residents 16 and older was 67.6% with 5,476,631 residents receiving at least one dose. The vaccination coverage rate for residents 12 and older is 62%.

As of Sept. 24, vaccine coverage rates included 39.7% for those aged 12-15, 47.5% for those aged 16-19, 45.3% for those aged 20-29, and 55.5%  for those aged 30-39.

Among the older groups, vaccination rates are 59.3% for those aged 40-49, 70.1 % for those aged 50-64, 84% for residents aged 65-74, and 80.5% for Michiganders aged 75 and older.

Breakthough cases

Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 14, MDHHS reported 28,974 breakthrough cases, which accounts for 0.6% of people who were fully vaccinated. These are people confirmed to have COVID-19 at least 14 days after being fully vaccinated.

Of those breakthrough cases, 1,145 cases were hospitalized and 336 individuals died (336 were age 65 and older).

New MDHHS data shows that between Jan. 15 and Sept. 14, 94% of all new cases statewide were among people not fully vaccinated (450,900 out of 479,874). Of the 13,786 Michiganders hospitalized with COVID-19 during this time period, 12,641 or 91.7% were not fully vaccinated.

In addition, 93.1% of all COVID-19 deaths during this time were among people not fully vaccinated.

Between Aug. 16 and Sept. 14, only 23% of all new cases statewide were among fully vaccinated Michiganders (13,772 out of 59,222). 24% of all new hospitalizations (297 out of 1,251) and 20% of all deaths (50 out of 254) were among the fully vaccinated during this time period.

Booster/third dose shots

On Monday, President Joe Biden joined many other Americans in getting their third dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

Just before receiving his third dose, Biden reiterated the need for more people to get vaccinated, and noted 77% of  Americans  have received at least one shot, while just 23% have not received a shot.

“That distinct minority is causing an awful lot of us, an awful lot of damage for the rest of the country,” Biden said, adding later: “Please do the right thing. Please get the shot.”

On Friday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky gave final approval to Pfizer third doses for all Americans age 65 and older, individuals 18 and older living in long-term care facilities, individuals 18-64 years of age at high-risk for severe COVID-19 with underlying medical conditons, and individuals 18 through 64 years of age whose jobs put them at increased risk of virus exposure and transmission, including health care workers, first responders, education staff, food and agricultural workers, manufacturing workers, correctional workers, postal service workers, public transit workes, and grocery store workers.

Everyone included in these groups must be at least six months out from their Pfizer second dose to receive the third shot. The list of eligible third dose recipients could be updated in the future.

Walensky’s approval came days after the third doses were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, the FDA, and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).

Although FDA approvals are required for vaccine usage, the CDC sets final policy on who qualifies for the booster dose.

In August, Pfizer and Moderna booster doses were granted emergency-use authorization for for immunocompromised Americans such as organ transplant, active cancer, and HIV patients at least four weeks out from their two-dose series as well as those 65 years of age and older or those at high-risk of severe illness.

Over 70,000 booster and third doses have been administered statewide with the majority administered to Michiganders age 50 and older. According to MDHHS, over 840,000 Michiganders are at least six months out from their second Pfizer dose.

Last week, Pfizer and BioNTech announced it would be submitting data to the FDA by the end of the month seeking emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine in children 5-11 citing the vaccine’s safety and “robust” antibody response in children.


MICHIGAN HOSPITALS EYE NURSES IN OTHER COUNTRIES TO FILL COVID SHORTAGE

BRIDGE MI — About 1,000 openings for registered nurses and a severe shortage of applicants is changing how Henry Ford Health System recruits for these essential positions in an ongoing pandemic.

Job listings already tout flexible hours and some come with $10,000 signing bonuses.  And Henry Ford is trying to attract newly graduated RNs from universities across the state, including through a new alliance with Michigan State University.

But the extreme shortage means Detroit-based Henry Ford still operates with 12.5 percent fewer registered nurses than it says it needs, at a time when COVID-19 is once again filling hospital beds and the outlook for hiring dims among reports of pandemic burnout in the nursing ranks. One solution underway for 2022: Hiring nurses from overseas. And other Michigan health systems may follow suit.

Bob Riney, COO and president of health care operations at Henry Ford,  said the medical system has hired a recruiter to help it hire 500 nurses from the Philippines over the next few years.

The first group of about 150 should arrive by the middle of 2022, Riney told Bridge Michigan, “but we’re hoping for (sooner).”

Henry Ford’s global search stems from a years-long shortage of workers across all areas of health care, but one made more extreme by the pandemic.

“The current health-care workforce shortage is more significant and pervasive than I’ve seen in decades,” Riney said. “It requires us to look at broader solutions.”

The situation is acute for nurses.

“The exhaustion and burnout that’s come from 20 months of a worldwide pandemic has been incredible,” he said.

Some other hospitals in Michigan also are looking to the international workforce to fill registered nursing positions, but it’s unclear how many or whether they’ll proceed. Among those considering it is Beaumont Health, based in southeast Michigan, said spokesperson Mark Geary, who declined to provide details on its shortage.

Questions from member hospitals about international hiring are increasing as staffing shortages grow, John Karasinski, spokesperson for the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, told Bridge Michigan. That’s led the industry group to look at immigration policy as it considers overseas hiring.

12,000 RN openings

Henry Ford’s move to international recruiting comes as the number of openings for registered nurses in Michigan is expected to increase 9.8 percent through 2028, according to projections from the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives. That would mean openings for about 6,620 registered nurses, adding to the state’s base of about 137,000.

MHA does not yet have details on current RN vacancies, Karasinski said, but it is in the process of collecting data. “The shortage is equally impacting hospitals throughout the state, regardless of size or location,” he said.

The job site Indeed.com lists more than 12,000 openings for RNs in Michigan, ranging from hospital settings to part-time staff coordinators, specialty clinic nurses as well as RNs to staff COVID-19 vaccinations in retail stores, such as pharmacies. About 1,600 of those openings are for nurses with mid-level experience or higher.

The state has identified the nursing field as among the highest-growth high-wage fields for people with bachelor’s degrees or higher, with an estimated pay range of $30 to $40 per hour, or up to about $83,200 per year.

However, many nurses are making more than that as health systems seek to hold onto workers. Nurses at Henry Ford are seeing pay increases and increased job flexibility, including extended leaves of absence in the hopes they will return to Henry Ford when they’re ready to work again.

As it prepares to hire outside the U.S., Henry Ford is working through contract and immigration

Long-term implications

International hiring isn’t new to Henry Ford. About 950 nurses already travel from Canada to work in its facilities, which include six hospitals and multiple clinics and service centers across southeast Michigan. Crossing the border from Canada happens on a smaller basis in Sault Ste. Marie, where War Memorial Hospital has counted on international nurses to staff during COVID surges.

Staffing shortages also prompted Henry Ford to recruit internationally in the mid-1980s and early 2000s, Riney said. At those times, the total number hired was about 200.

A few industries in Michigan have long turned to overseas labor to fill hiring gaps, including for seasonal jobs in agriculture and hospitality, particularly in northern Michigan.


USPS MAIL DELIVERY IS ABOUT TO GET PERMANENTLY SLOWER AND TEMPORARILY MORE EXPENSIVE

USA TODAY — Americans who have been frustrated with the slow service of the U.S. Postal Service since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic probably won’t be thrilled to hear this:

The service is about to get even slower.

Starting Friday, USPS will “implement new service standards for First Class Mail and Periodicals,” Kim Frum, a spokeswoman for USPS, said in an email to USA TODAY.

The changes mean an increased time-in-transit for mail traveling long distances, such as from New York to California. Frum said that “most first class mail (61%) and periodicals (93%) will be unaffected” by the changes. Single-piece first-class  mail traveling within the same region will still have a delivery time of two days.

USPS defines first-class mail as “standard sized letters and flats,” Frum said. That’s different from first-class packages, which are typically used for shipping smaller, lightweight packages. Currently, first-class mail and first-class packages have the same delivery standards, but that will change beginning Friday.

The changes to service standard times are part of USPS’s 10-year strategic plan, announced by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy in March. The plan has drawn heavy criticism from elected officials.

DeJoy took his position in June 2020 despite no previous experience in the USPS. The position of Postmaster General is not appointed or nominated by a president, but rather appointed by the independent Postal Service Board of Governors.

The USPS has been riddled by financial problems for years and the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has only worsened the situation.

By making this change, Frum said, “The Postal Service can entrust its ground network to deliver more First-Class Mail, which will lead to great consistency, reliability and efficiency that benefits its customers … whether it’s 300 miles or 3,000 miles, the current standard for [First Class Packages] require 3-day service for any destination within the contiguous U.S. with a drive time greater than six hours. This is unattainable and forces us to rely on air transportation, yielding unreliable service. With this change, we will improve service reliability and predictability for customers while also driving efficiencies across the Postal Service network.”

Additionally, starting Oct. 3 through Dec. 26, the USPS will temporarily increase prices on all commercial and retail domestic packages due to the holiday season and anticipated uptick in mail volume. Those price increases will not affect international products, Frum said.


MICHIGAN TOP DOC KHALDUN LEAVES STATE COVID ROLE FOR PRIVATE SECTOR

BRIDGE MI — Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive and one of the most visible faces of the state’s emergency pandemic response, will leave state government next week to take a job in the private sector.

“I will be moving on to a new opportunity in the private sector (details forthcoming soon)-and will continue to do my life’s work of driving bold action to improve the health of all communities,” Khaldun said in a post on Twitter Friday afternoon.

Details of Khaldun’s new job “will be announced in the coming weeks,” according to a statement on Khaldun’s departure from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office.

Khaldun, who led Michigan’s COVID-19 response while continuing to pull occasional shifts as an emergency room doctor in Detroit at Henry Ford Health System, will depart next Thursday, Sept. 30. She will continue to work at Henry Ford, she said.

Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian will replace Khaldun, Whitmer said in an effusively praiseful press release announcing Khaldun’s departure.

“Thanks to Dr. J’s around-the-clock leadership, our state acted quickly with the best available data and science to slow the spread of COVID-19 and save countless lives during the pandemic,” Whitmer said in the announcement, adding that “we wish we could keep Dr. J at the helm.”

Whether there were other reasons for her departure remain unclear.

Linda Vail, Ingham County health officer, said Khaldun had briefly alerted her that she was leaving, but they didn’t discuss the specific reason.

But she noted that Khaldun has faced the same public “angst, threats and bullying” that local health officers have experienced during what has become an “all-consuming” job during the pandemic.

Vail said she had a home alarm installed during the pandemic because of threats. Other county health officers also have been threatened. Kent County health officer Adam London told county commissioners in an Aug. 22 email “I need help” after a woman tried to run him off the road soon after he passed a mask mandate for pre-school and school children sixth-grade and younger in Kent County.

“My team and I are broken. I’m about done,” he wrote, according to news reports.

A specialist in internal medicine and infectious disease, Bagdasarian leads Michigan’s COVID-19 testing strategy as a senior public health physician at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, though she is on sabbatical working on COVID-19 planning at the World Health Organization, according to the state release.

“We are thrilled that an infectious diseases expert with her global experience will be able to step into the chief medical executive role quickly and seamlessly,” the MDHHS director said.

The state disclosed few details about Khaldun’s new job, noting only that it will be outside the state government. Khaldun called the job change “bittersweet,” but said in a statement that she’s excited “to continue doing my life’s work of advancing bold programs and policies that promote the health of all communities.”

Michigan will conduct a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.

A graduate of Wayne State University’s medical school with a master’s degree from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, Bagdasarian said she’s “honored” to accept the role.

“I know we have a committed, resolute, and untiring team that cares deeply about public health and moving past this current crisis,” she said. “I look forward to collaborating with MDHHS and the Governor’s office and other state departments to address this challenge and any others that may present in the future.”

Khaldun came to the state after leading the Detroit Health Department as director and health officer. News of her departure was met with regret within the local public health community, said Hess, of the Michigan Association of Local Public Health.

“I was just sending her a note to thank her for everything that she’s done,” Hess told Bridge.

Hess called Khaldun a “steady, consistent voice of reason” during a pandemic that has fueled political divides over masks, vaccines, and how best to treat a virus that has killed more than 20,800 Michiganders.

In a statement to Bridge Michigan Friday afternoon, Sen. Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington, wished Khaldun well. VanderWall chairs the Senate Health Policy and Human Services Committee, and has at times butted heads with the Whitmer administration over pandemic policies.

“Dr. Khaldun had a difficult role to play during the COVID-19 pandemic,” VanderWall said. “Although I didn’t always agree with her options and strategies, I have respected her credentials and genuine concern for those she serves through her profession.”


STUDY: MICHIGAN RANKS IN THE MIDDLE OF SAFEST STATES TO LIVE IN DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC

THE OAKLAND PRESS — The state of Michigan ranked No. 24 in a wallethub.com study of the safest states to live in during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to find out the safest states during the COVID-19 pandemic, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across five key metrics. The data set includes the rates of COVID-19 transmission, positive testing, hospitalizations, and death, as well as the share of the eligible population getting vaccinated. According to the study, around 55% of the population fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Michigan ranks just below Nebraska (No. 23), and just above Oregon (No. 25). The Mitten State ranked in the top five in only two categories. It was fifth-best in the lowest death rate, but Michigan was tied for fifth worst (at No. 35) for the highest transmission rate. Michigan was considered low for both the COVID-19 death rate and low vaccination rate (No. 36).

Overall, the top five safest states to live in during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to wallethub.com are Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, California, and Rhode Island. The five worst states to live in Wyoming, Georgia, West Virginia, Idaho, and Alabama.

Another key data point indicated Blue states (voted Democratic in the 2020 presidential election) were safer than Red states in the analysis. Blue states held an average rank of 15.30 for the safest states to live in during the COVID-19 pandemic than the Red states, which carried an average rank of 37.12.

Wallet Hub analyst was asked what impact unvaccinated people have on the economy.

“Our economic recovery will not reach its full potential until the vast majority of people who are medically able to get vaccinated do so,” WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez said. “The more people who decline to get vaccinated, the more risk there is to public health, especially as the new delta COVID-19 variant spreads.

“The safety level of the country impacts the economy because it is tied to the lifting of restrictions and it determines how confident people are to go out and spend money,” Gonzalez added. “While we have made a lot of progress with vaccination, recent polls have found that most people who are still unvaccinated do not plan to ever get the vaccine. Investing in campaigns to convince more people to get vaccinated may lead to bigger economic returns down the line.”


GETTING COVID TESTED IN MICHIGAN WAS SUPPOSED TO BE EASIER BY NOW. IT ISN’T.

BRIDGE MI — Rapid tests may help control the spread of COVID-19, but getting access to one is becoming increasingly difficult in Michigan.

That, in turn, threatens some Michiganders’ ability to return to work, play sports, visit vulnerable relatives or simply get reassurance that those sniffles, in fact, are just a harmless cold.

Rapid tests used in health care are in short supply, and home tests have disappeared off the shelves.

“We get a lot of phone calls and people stopping in looking for them,” said pharmacist technician Amy Weidinger, of Bedford Wellness Pharmacy in Lambertville in southeast Michigan. The small pharmacy has been able to get six of the popular Abbot BinaxNOW kits — which each contain 2 tests,  she said. The pharmacy sold the last kit last week.

“I just keep checking the website,” she said of the distributor. An alert there, she said, indicates that new shipments won’t be ready until at least February.

Spokespeople at CVS and Rite Aid told Bridge the large chains, too, are struggling to find at-home testing supplies.

CVS has implemented limits on over-the-counter sales — to four of the Abbott BinaxNOW, Ellume and Quidel tests when purchased in the store, and six if purchased online at cvs.com, according to an email sent to Bridge.

Rite Aid said in an email that “like most retail chains, our at-home testing kits are currently out of stock, but we expect supply to begin catching up with demand in the coming weeks.”

Meanwhile, mass testing sites in parking lots and gymnasiums that were heavily promoted across the state last year, before vaccines were approved, are long gone. So, too, are countless smaller, pop-up sites in churches and schools.

The crisis-driven large tents and long lines of cars may have been just over a year ago, but “it all feels very antiquated already,” said Norm Hess.

Hess was helping lead vaccine efforts for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services last year, and now is executive director of the Michigan Association for Local Public Health, which represents the 45 county health departments across the state.

He and others said the volatility of COVID testing supply-and-demand — along with the shift of testing into doctor’s offices, schools, worksites and even homes — means supplies are stretched so thin they’ve dried up in some areas.

“It depends where you are in the state,” he said.

As for testing at urgent care centers, it’s “not a (testing) supply problem; it’s an appointment capacity problem,” said Lou Ellen Horwitz, CEO of the national Urgent Care Association, which estimates Michigan has 390 urgent care centers.

Even with appointments, Horwitz said, customers need different kinds of tests. That could depend on what their insurer will cover, or what is accepted by their employer, or school, or even a particular airline if the test is needed for travel. For consumers, it can be a challenge finding an urgent care center that has an “acceptable” test to each person’s needs, she said.

“What would be helpful is some consistency on what test is required for what” circumstance, she said.

The shortage in testing capacity comes from a “convergence” of many factors, said Denise Crawford, president and CEO of the Kalamazoo-based Family Health Center.

A growing number of employers demand tests, especially among unvaccinated workers. That pressure undoubtedly will grow in the coming month after the Biden administration announced earlier in September that  vaccinations will soon be required of millions of workers, including employees at large companies. Manufacturers say it will likely take several weeks for test production to ramp back up.

Adding to the supply strain is the beginning of fall classes, with plenty of universities and K-12 schools routinely testing. Nursing homes have been doing so for more than a year. And with the highly transmissible delta variant, even the vaccinated have begun testing more regularly again, Crawford said.

While shortages of the rapid antigen test vary among communities and even day-by-day, the availability of polymerase chain reaction or PCR tests appears to be more stable. PCR tests aren’t available as home tests. Unlike the rapid antigen tests, PCR tests must be processed at a lab, so instead of taking 15 minutes for results they may take 24 hours or more. PCR tests are most often used in healthcare settings and are considered the “gold standard” of COVID tests.

For now, it appears that Michigan’s family doctors have adequate supplies of tests because they rely on PCR versions, said Dr. Srikar Reddy, president of the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians.

Lynn Sutfin, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said she has not heard of wide-spread shortages in testing supplies.

The state health department continuously operates 22 neighborhood testing sites as well as pop-up community testing sites, and testing at Welcome Centers and airports, she noted. (A list of sites can be found here.)

But others say they are struggling, hampered by supply or staff shortages.

In Kalamazoo at the height of testing demand last year, the Family Health Center, a federally-funded clinic focused on low-income and underserved patients, performed 500 or more tests on some days, assisted by temporary staff. By this summer, as vaccines were available and cases fell, staff shifted its focus toward vaccines and ultimately to getting back to the routine work of health care. They would go days without a single request for a COVID test, she said.

In Kent County, public health staff similarly pivoted from testing to vaccines over the early summer, and then — as COVID slowed — back to regular duties such as nutritional services and women, infants and children clinics and restaurant inspections, said Brian Hartl, who directs community health strategy for the Kent County Health Department.

Health organizations, he said, must “put resources where they’re most needed.”

Similar assumptions were made in other states before the delta variant arrived.

“For all of us, there was a combination of optimism and hubris in the June timeframe that led us to believe this was over,” Mara Aspinall, a health industry researcher at Arizona State University and leading authority on COVID-19 testing supplies, told the Associated Press.

Then came September.

“We’re scrambling to get staff focused back to COVID,” Hartl said.

Statewide testing

In the earliest days of the pandemic, few tests were available, making it difficult to accurately identify where outbreaks were occurring and it took months to hit target goals of roughly 15,000 tests a day. Labs backed up, and test results sometimes took days.

By the fall of 2020, however, labs were able to beef up supplies and staff, routinely getting results from 50,000 to 80,000 tests a day.

But then vaccinations rose this year. Cases fell. And the state’s testing fell to an average of 12,000 tests in July before rising again to about 32,000 daily tests so far this month.

In Kalamazoo, COVID spread through the community and the rate of tests that came back as positive at the Family Health Center shot up from 2 to 4 percent to about 25 percent in less than a month, Crawford said.

So, too, did demand for tests — up to 50 a day after summer days when there was no demand at all. That’s nowhere near the peak of testing last year, but temporary staffing that had helped with testing last year are long gone, she said.

“The shocker is how strong and how fast this happened,” Crawford said.

Facing similar staffing shortages, hospitals also have scaled back testing, said Brian Brasser, chief operating officer at Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health.

The system now runs eight drive-through clinics across its 16 west Michigan counties. But their hours and capacity are limited.

“We might not be able to scale up to the level that we might want to do or what we were able to do earlier in the pandemic,” he said.

Testing at home

Those scrambling for FDA-approved home tests may also find bare shelves.

With the surge in demand, the Washtenaw County Health Department plans to resurrect its pop-up testing from last year, said spokesperson Susan Ringler-Cerniglia.

The department had distributed 20,000 home testing kits this summer with 25 tests in each.

But even those, added to the several doctor’s offices and health clinics in the county offering tests, aren’t enough, she said.

“There are a lot of health providers and others, but with this surge now, and with the schools testing, and if the federal mandate goes forward — they’re not necessarily equipped to provide all that’s needed,” she said.


RISK OF COVID-19 DEATH DOUBLES WHEN FLU IS PRESENT; BOTH VACCINES URGED

THE OAKLAND PRESS — With the start of flu season just weeks away the Oakland County Health Division advises residents to protect themselves by getting both the COVID-19 and flu vaccines.

The risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19 is higher if one has the flu at the same time.

Precautions taken to limit the transmission of COVID-19, such as wearing masks and social distancing, also substantially lower the likelihood of spreading influenza.

“The risk of death from COVID-19 is more than triple that of seasonal flu. In fact, your risk of death from COVID-19 more than doubles in people who have the flu,” Oakland County Health Division Medical Director Dr. Russell Faust said. “So, get vaccinated for both this flu season and take the common-sense measures that limited the number of flu cases last season.”

Oakland County Health Division expects to begin offering the flu vaccine in October. An announcement will be made when there is supply to administer. Meanwhile, the flu vaccine may be available at pharmacies and healthcare providers.

In Oakland County new cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, especially among school age and college age residents. More than two out of five new cases from Sept. 6-19 were ages 29 years and younger. One in four new cases were 18 years and younger, up from one in five last week. The seven-day case average in Oakland County was 225 new COVID-19 cases per day, or more than 1,500 new cases per week. Currently, nearly 48,000 Oakland County residents ages 12-18 remain unvaccinated.

The Oakland County Health Division continues to hold daily COVID-19 vaccine clinics from 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. at both its North Oakland Health Center in Pontiac and South Oakland Health Center in Southfield. In addition pop-up clinics in the community are available. Go to OaklandCountyVaccine.com to locate the nearest Health Division vaccine clinic. Those who do not have access to the Internet may call the Nurse on Call at 800-848-5533 Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. for more information.

Oakland County vaccine update information from the state of Michigan vaccine dashboard is through Sept. 21.


U-M PUTS IN PLACE NEW SEXUAL MISCONDUCT POLICY FOR EMPLOYEES, STUDENTS AT ALL CAMPUSES

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The University of Michigan will put in place a new sexual misconduct code that includes common definitions for prohibited conduct, separate procedures for addressing allegations against students and those against employees and third parties, and also clarifies who should report allegations of misconduct and how it should be reported.

U-M President Mark Schlissel will announce the changes during Thursday’s board meeting, the school said.

“The Board of Regents, the university’s leadership team and I remain sharply focused on continually improving the ways in which we prevent prohibited conduct, support survivors in our community and promptly investigate reports of misconduct,” Schlissel said in a statement. “This policy reflects important feedback from our entire community, including students, faculty, staff and alumni.”

U-M has been under fire for its response to sexual misconduct claims, including those against former Provost Martin Philbert and former football team doctor Robert Anderson.

An outside law firm found numerous times when U-M officials were aware of complaints against both men but failed to act. The board has hired an outside firm, Guidepost Solutions, to help implement changes.

“This new policy and accompanying procedures will help us prevent sexual misconduct, but also protect survivors from unnecessary trauma,” Board of Regents Chairman Jordan Acker said in a statement. “Although we have more work to do, this is a significant step forward and I want to commend all in the community who have worked to make this change happen.”

Among the changes being made, according to a story published in the university’s official newspaper:

  • Designating two categories of “individuals with reporting obligations” who are required to report information regarding prohibited conduct they receive. Each category has slightly different reporting obligations.
  • The addition of an appeals process for employees who are found to have violated university policy regarding sexual and gender-based misconduct as defined by the policy. All appeals will be decided by an external reviewer.
  • Adding a pilot program for the use of adaptable resolution under some circumstances for employees who wish to do so.
  • Giving students the option to use a university-provided adviser (typically attorneys at outside law firms) earlier in the investigative resolution process instead of just in the hearing stage.

The two categories of people who must report are: 1. Those who have authority to put into place corrective actions — regents, executive officers, chancellors, deans, head coach, etc. — have to report all information about prohibited conduct they receive, regardless of how or when they learn of the information.

According to the school, “other ‘individuals with reporting obligations,’ including assistant and associate deans, other administrators and supervisors, and faculty members who accompany students on university-related travel abroad, are required to report information about prohibited conduct that they learn in the scope of their university employment, but there are specific scenarios in which a disclosure is exempt from reporting obligations (such as sexual misconduct awareness events).”

For students, the process will continue to have live hearings, with cross-examination by advisers. However, those advisers — typically attorneys from outside the university — will be allowed to be involved earlier on in the process once an allegation has been made.


TENS OF THOUSANDS LOSE POWER IN METRO DETROIT

THE OAKLAND PRESS — Many students are getting a day off from school as widespread power outages are scattered across the region.

More than 77,000 DTE Energy customers are without power Thursday morning after windy weather the prior day.

Power went out throughout the afternoon and evening on Wednesday, as heavy rains proved to not be the only weather-related problem. Winds picked up throughout the day, damaging power lines., along with the continuous rains prompted some flood warnings.

In Rochester Hills, Hugger Elementary and Rochester High School were closed Thursday morning, along with Royal Oak Middle School.

In Bloomfield Township, Maple Road at Westwood was closed in both directions due to a broken electrical pole and low hanging wires, police said at 5 a.m. Thursday.

WDIV reports that more than 50 schools were closed. Including Pontiac High School and Hillside Elementary in the Farmington area.

In St. Clair County, the health department building was closed due to power being out.

The power outages were scattered throughout southeastern Michigan, according to the DTE Energy Outage Map.

 

The Farmington Hills area was particularly hard hit — again — with nearly 7,000 outages in four clusters. More than 1,500 outages are just to the east, north of M-10 near the Franklin Hills Country Club.

More than 7,000 homes and businesses were in the dark along M-53 in Macomb County north of M-59, impacting neighborhoods from Armada to Washington Township to Utica and Shelby Township.

More than 2,500 were without power in the Allen Park and Taylor area in just two outages.

More than 2,000 outages were reported in the areas around South Lyon.

More than 2,700 were in the dark around Lake Orion in four outages.

More than 2,600 were waiting for restoration in the areas just north of Rochester Hills along Rochester and Adams roads.

About a 1,000 outages were reported near the campus of Oakland University along Walton Boulevard in Rochester Hills.

Widespread scattered outages were impacting neighborhoods in Mount Clemens and the Grosse Pointe communities.

About 5,000 outages were on the Algonac area.

To the north, nearly 5,000 customers were without power in the Lexington area.

DTE Energy reported it had 579 work crews in the field at 8 a.m. Thursday.

Most of the outages did not yet have an estimated restoration time.

Unlike the many summer storms, when head gripped the area, on Thursday morning, the temperatures were in the lower 50s with highs not expected to reach past the mid-59s.


MICHIGAN $70B BUDGET DEAL HAILED FOR ‘HISTORIC INVESTMENT’ IN CHILD CARE

BRIDGE MI — Republican leaders in the Legislature and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a budget deal Tuesday that will modestly boost spending on infrastructure and the state’s fledgling free community college program.

The deal’s biggest winners, though, are working families and their employers struggling with a growing child care crisis.

The budget allocates $1.4 billion in federal COVID relief funds to help support child care providers, bring down costs and expand subsidies to another 105,000 Michigan families. The budget also includes $30 million for a one-time $1,000 bonus for child care staffers.

“On a scale of one to 10, this is a 100,” said Dawne Bell, chief executive of the Early Childhood Investment Corp., a Michigan-based nonprofit that advocates on early childhood issues. “This is a truly historic investment in child care.”

The pending deal, which still requires approval this week from the House and Senate, likely ends the possibility of a state government shutdown that was looming Oct. 1.

The general fund budget of about $27 billion includes across-the-board increases, including another 5.4 percent increase for universities and colleges and $150 million to stabilize the unemployment system, whose coffers are sagging from a record number of claims.

All told, along with federal funding and other sources, the budget is closer to $70 billion. And upwards of $10 billion in federal COVID relief money still remains and has yet to be budgeted.

“I am thrilled that the Legislature and I were able to come together to agree on a bipartisan budget,” Whitmer said in a statement.

House Appropriations Chair Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, said the budget “provides much-needed stability and peace of mind — desperately needed in this time of instability.”

The budget increases come largely because of federal COVID funding, but also because state tax revenues exceeded dire projections earlier in the pandemic.

But Republicans and Whitmer haven’t agreed on all provisions, including a section added by the Senatethat would prohibit local health officials from enacting school mask mandates to thwart the spread of the coronavirus. Whitmer no doubt would veto such a requirement.

Here’s a look at some highlights of the budget:

Long-overdue child care help

The staggering cost of child care is one of the biggest economic burdens facing Michigan families.

The cost can delay home ownership and keep some parents out of the workforce, according to a 2016 report for the Michigan Department of Education on child care access and affordability.

Child care for an infant or toddler can cost upward of $300 a week at many centers. Four years of child care can cost Michigan families as much as tuition at the University of Michigan.

Those costs also hobble businesses looking to attract or retain workers who must calculate whether their paychecks justify the cost of child care.

That may help explain why the state’s overall workforce is down by 136,000 women compared to early 2020, before COVID-19 hit, with many saying child care is a factor.

Currently, Michigan helps families with child care costs less than almost any state. Business leaders from across Michigan are increasingly framing child care as an economic issue and have coalesced to push state leaders into action.

The budget will provide a series of investments, including:

  • $108.1 million to increase income eligibility to 185 percent of the federal poverty level ($49,025 for a family of four) through fiscal year 2023, then 160 percent ongoing in the following fiscal years. The current eligibility level is 130 percent of the federal poverty line, which equates to $34,450 a year for a family of four.
  • $13 million to waive parent copays for child care through fiscal year 2022.
  • $158 million for an ongoing 30 percent rate increase for child care providers for subsidized care, with another $222 million for a temporary rate increase.
  • $117.4 million for enrollment in child care through fiscal year 2023.
  • $36.5 million over three years to expand the number of child care spaces for infants and toddlers.
  • $800 million in direct funds for child care providers, many of which are on the edge of going out of business because of low profits and the inability to find workers. The money can be used to increase worker pay.

Other winners include:

Police: The Michigan State Police’s budget would increase 12 percent to $829 million, including $3.8 million for expanded use of body cameras, $12.5 million for $12.5 million for professional development and training and a trooper recruiting school, $2.5 million to help replace blood-alcohol testing devices and $2 million to increase the number of patrols on secondary roads.

The increase comes as some city officials nationwide say they want to cut police budgets in response to brutality allegations, but both Whitmer and Republicans have found common ground in supporting more money for training.

Roads and bridges: The plan also includes $129 million more for the state’s crumbling infrastructure. The proposal increases the budget of the Michigan Department of Transportation by 2.5 percent to $5.2 billion.

Of that, $196 million is expected to go for the fixing of local bridges.

Free community college. The fledgling Michigan Reconnect program, which offers free community college or job training for Michigan residents age 25 or older, would increase $25 million to $55 million.

Environmental cleanup and protection. The Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy’s budget would increase 35 percent to $690 million. That includes $45 million for lead service line replacement and other projects in Flint and another $92.7 million for work on PFAS contamination, drinking water assistance, high-water-level projects, dam safety and contaminated cleanups.


AMAZON HIRING AT RECENTLY LAUNCHED ROBOTICS FACILITY IN PONTIAC

THE OAKLAND PRESS — Amazon’s newest facility physically fills the gap left by the former Pontiac Silverdome, a site known well by Torre Brown.

Brown, an operations manager at the new facility and Pontiac native who has lived in the city for over 35 years, is in charge of making sure millions of books, laptops, beauty products and more reach their destinations.

A graduate of Pontiac Central High School and Oakland University, he had his first date with his wife in 2000 at a Detroit Lions game at the Silverdome. Before that, he worked there selling popcorn.

He recently moved back from a regional manager position in Pennsylvania.

“That was hugely important to me (to come home) because I’ve seen the good times in Pontiac and the down times,” Brown said.

Originally announced in 2019, the 823,000-square-foot Pontiac Robotics Fulfillment Center near M-59 and Opdyke Road opened Sept. 8. Orders are picked and packed at the location before being shipped to customers.

Jessica Pawl, spokesperson for the company, said construction on the facility began in late 2019. She said Amazon received no tax breaks, adding that the company does not share developmental costs.

Since 2010 Amazon says it has invested more than $6 billion statewide and created more than 21,000 jobs.

“We saw a growing demand within southeast Michigan so it made sense to bring about a second Amazon robotics fulfillment center in Michigan,” said Fred McPherson, general manager at the location.

The first such center is located in Romulus.

The Pontiac facility is one of three new Michigan sites that were recently opened. The other two include a fulfillment center in Huron Charter Township designed to receive, store and package heavy or bulky items; and a warehouse in Walker, a Grand Rapids suburb, which delivers to southwest Michigan customers.

Future expansion includes facilities in Delta Township in 2022; Canton in 2022, and Grand Rapids in 2022 or 2023.

The Pontiac facility will  employ over 1,200 people. As of Sept. 15, McPherson said 1,000 employees have been hired, adding that the company is planning to add more for the upcoming holiday season.

Health and safety remains Amazon’s No. 1 priority, McPherson said. The company offers health and well-being programs, he said, along with wellness centers and stretching and hydration stations.

“It’s talked about every day,” Brown said. “It’s the first thing we talk about every meeting with any employees.”

McPherson added that due to the Delta variant, Amazon has a  mandatory mask order in its facilities accompanied by social distancing and other protocols. Previously, those who proved their vaccination status could work without masks.


AS ROBOCALLS GET BLOCKED, TEXT MESSAGES COULD BE NEXT BIG THING FOR SCAMMERS: WHAT TO KNOW

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The on-going pandemic-related stress surely must be worth a free-gift, bonus or some sort of discount somewhere.

Unfortunately, we’re seeing an onslaught of texts promoting fake COVID-19 themed discounts and deals.

The Better Business Bureau mentions two specific scams that are hitting consumers in September.

There’s the text pretending to be from Hulu. “Due to the pandemic, Hulu is giving everyone a free one-year subscription to help you stay at home.” All you have to do is click on a link, which of course, will lead to all sorts of trouble.

And there’s the text pretending to be from Verizon. “COVID-19 REFUND. VERIZON COMPANY is giving out $950 to all users of our Verizon service.” Again, let’s think about this a bit. Why would Verizon or any company be giving out hundreds of dollars in refund cash? Yep, it’s a scam.

The texts are scammers sending

Texting is a turning into a hot way for scammers to entice harried consumers and catch them off guard.

Across the country, there have been media reports about fake texts that promise $500 for low income home energy assistance, an extra $1,400 in government stimulus money, more scammers pretending to be from Amazon, and phony text messages from the Department of Motor Vehicles in some states promising refund cash of $600 or more.

As the holiday shopping season heats up, consumers would be wise to once again watch out for fake texts from UPS, FedEx and the United Postal Service, too. Some phony texts might alert you to an “overdue” package or request money for delivery of a package.

Texts could be the new thing, as phone services block more illegal robocalls. Caller ID authentication — which was to be in place for big carriers by June 30 — is designed to make it easier for phone companies to block illegal robocalls in the first place or label them as likely spam.

Why we’re vulnerable

Scammers could be tracking our habits, too, knowing that we’re texting more and very often extremely distracted when we’re doing so.

AT&T noted in an alert online: “These days you may be using your cell phone more for texting than for making calls. So, you’re probably accustomed to getting short, brief texts that sometimes don’t make sense or come from companies or organizations.”

The AT&T alert highlighted winning a prize in an Earpods raffle.

In some cases, the scammers even will text you with a so-called warning about potential fraud on your account.

Here’s a key tip: “If you are busy,” AT&T warns, “don’t do anything with the message until you can really evaluate the authenticity.”

The Federal Trade Commission, which has been tracking virus-related scams, noted that texting has turned out to be the third most popular way for scammers to connect with consumers.

The FTC noted that 16,237 fraud reports relating to COVID-19 and stimulus money involved consumers who received an offer, alert or other message via text.

The No. 1 method of contact was email with 18,466 fraud reports from Jan. 1, 2020 through Sept. 16, followed by scam-driven websites or apps with 16,888 fraud reports.

Texts can look much more authentic if they appear to be sent from big, well-known names — such as Netflix, Hulu, Verizon and AT&T.

Consumers told me that they’ve received texts pretending to be from AT&T that state:  “We accidentally overcharged your phone bill last month.”

Texts might prove useful to scammers because, well, they might look harmless. But experts say you just want to delete those text messages immediately.

The BBB notes: “Scammers often send shortened links that don’t let you see where they really lead in the body of their text message. If you click the link, you could be directed to a dangerous website, or you could download malware onto your device.”

Anyone who remains hopeful of a deal should go directly to the company itself. Look up the company’s official website or a statement you have from the company and make a call or send an email.

The FTC notes that scammers send fake text messages to trick you into giving them your personal information — things like your password, account number, or Social Security number.

Once they get that information, the FTC says, they could gain access to your email, bank, or other accounts. Or they could sell your information to other scammers. You can report any suspicious text message to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

You definitely do not want to mindlessly respond to a text that appears to be from your bank, as fraudsters are increasingly savvy with these types of texts.

While the pandemic-related discounts are popular now, consumer watchdogs warn that there are a variety of pitches used by scammers sending a text.

Maybe, it’s the promise of free gift cards or coupons, low-rate credit cards or even some promise to pay off your college debt.

Or a scammer pretending to be your bank could text saying that they’ve noticed some suspicious activity on your account.

Remember, the FTC warns that clicking on some of these messages might lead to installing harmful malware on your phone that steals your personal information without you realizing it.

Again, the scammers will try any story to convince consumers that this text could be the real deal that they so much deserve during stressful times.


J&J: BOOSTER DOSE OF ITS COVID SHOT PROMPTS STRONG RESPONSE

ASSOCIATED PRESS — Johnson & Johnson said Tuesday that a booster of its one-shot coronavirus vaccine provides a stronger immune response months after people receive a first dose.

J&J said in statement that an extra dose — given either two months or six months after the initial shot — revved up protection. The results haven’t yet been published or vetted by other scientists.

The J&J vaccine was considered an important tool in fighting the pandemic because it requires only one shot. But even as rollout began in the U.S. and elsewhere, the company already was running a global test of whether a two-dose course might be more effective — the second dose given 56 days after the first.

That two-dose approach was 75% effective globally at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19, and 95% effective in the U.S. alone, the company reported — a difference likely due to which variants were circulating in different countries during the monthslong study.

Examined a different way, the company said when people got a second J&J shot two months after the first, levels of virus-fighting antibodies rose four to six times higher. But giving a booster dose six months after the first J&J shot yielded a 12-fold increase.

While the single-dose vaccine remains strongly effective, “a booster shot further increases protection against COVID-19 and is expected to extend the duration of protection significantly,” Dr. Paul Stoffels, J&J’s chief scientific officer, said in a statement.

The company previously published data showing its one-shot dose provided protection for up to eight months after immunization. It also pointed to recent real-world data showing 79% protection against coronavirus infection and 81% protection against COVID-19 hospitalization in the U.S. even as the extra-contagious delta variant began spreading.

J&J said it has provided the data to regulators including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the European Medicines Agency and others to inform decisions about boosters.

J&J’s one-dose vaccine is approved for use in the U.S. and across Europe, and there are plans for at least 200 million doses to be shared with the U.N.-backed COVAX effort aimed at distributing vaccines to poor countries. But the company has been plagued by production problems and millions of doses made at a troubled factory in Baltimore had to be thrown out.

As the delta variant spread worldwide, numerous governments have considered the use of booster shots for many of the COVID-19 vaccine options.

Last week, advisers to the FDA recommended people 65 and older get a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech. A final decision is pending.

Britain previously authorized booster shots for people 50 and over and to priority groups like health workers and those with other health conditions. Countries including Israel, France and Germany have also begun offering third vaccine doses to some people.

The World Health Organization has urged rich countries to stop giving booster doses until at least the end of the year, saying vaccines should immediately be redirected to Africa, where fewer than 4% of the population is fully vaccinated.

Last week in the journal Lancet, top scientists from the WHO and FDA argued that the average person doesn’t need a booster shot and that the authorized vaccines to date provide strong protection against severe COVID-19, hospitalization and death.


2 NEW COVID OUTBREAKS REPORTED IN OAKLAND COUNTY SCHOOLS; 5 CASES CONFIRMED

THE OAKLAND PRESS — Oakland County is bucking the trend in Michigan with a decrease in COVID-19 school outbreaks.

For the week of Sept. 13-18, Oakland County schools had just two outbreaks with five cases, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services which releases school outbreak data each Monday. That compares to three outbreaks and 12 cases the previous week.

Cases statewide increased to 412 from 342 the prior week. The 98 new outbreaks were up from 71 outbreaks a week ago.

Schools in Oakland County with new outbreaks were Lake Orion’s Blanche Sims Elementary (three cases among students and staff)  and Avondale GATE Magnet School (two among students). Avondale GATE made the new outbreak list for the second straight week.

An outbreak, as defined by the state, is two or more cases that have shared exposure on school grounds and are from different households.

Seven Oakland County schools continue with ongoing outbreaks: Avondale High School (four cases), Bloomfield Hills Marian High School (three cases), Troy High School (two cases), Cranbrook (two cases), Avondale GATE Magnet (eight cases), Walled Lake Western (two cases) and Troy Athens (two cases).

Ongoing outbreaks are those that had already been identified in previous weeks but have had at least one new associated case reported to the local health department in the last 28 days. Outbreaks will be removed from the list when there are no new confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases identified after 28 days have passed since the last known school exposure from a case.

Case counts for school-related outbreaks include those associated with before- and after-school programs (including school-sponsored sports). When applicable, outbreak reporting also includes cases originating from on-campus and off-campus student housing.

In other outbreak news, in region 2N which includes Oakland, Macomb and St. Clair counties, this week there were 16 new outbreaks which is up from nine last week. In K-12 before/after school programs there were 10 outbreaks; four from outdoor community exposure; and one each from child care and social gatherings.


DETROIT TO ANN ARBOR BUS READY TO RESUME AFTER COVID-19 HIATUS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — An express bus service that briefly connected Detroit and Ann Arbor before the coronavirus pandemic prompted it to shut down is slated to resume service next month.

The Detroit to Ann Arbor Express Bus Service, or D2A2, will return beginning Oct. 18 with hourly trips from 5:45 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Friday, according to an announcement from the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan.

The bus has stops at Grand Circus Park in Detroit and the Blake Transit Center in Ann Arbor.

One-way fares run $8, with a discounted price of $6 for advanced booking. A book of 10 fares can be purchased for $50. Fares for eligible senior citizens and people with disabilities are available for $4, the announcement said.

Ben Stupka, interim general manager of the RTA, said the time is right to relaunch the bus route.

“Now that our workforce is returning to in person and entertainment venues are welcoming fans back, we are extremely excited to announce the restart of the service. Our board, staff, and transit partners worked hard to make this return possible,” Stupka said in the news release.

The Detroit to Ann Arbor bus, which is operated by Michigan Flyer, had only a brief run in the spring of 2020, launching for about two weeks in March before shutting down. Other area transit systems that also shut down last year are making their own plans.

The QLINE is preparing to resume streetcar operations in Detroit the week of Sept. 27. The Detroit People Mover had planned to restart earlier this month, but that’s been delayed indefinitely following heavy rainfall that prompted a need for more inspections.


NESSEL HOLDS NOVI TOWN HALL ON POWER OUTAGES

DETROIT NEWS — Residents expressed their frustrations with repeated power outages this summer at a town hall organized by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, but not before there was a debate about the format.

At the forum held at the Novi Civic Center, Erin Pineda said her small business, 27th Letter Books in Detroit, had suffered losses amounting to thousands of dollars following a thunderstorm in August, part of which she said was simply lost revenue due to the ensuing power outage.

In August, nearly one million customers lost power after one of several thunderstorms this summer hammered parts of the state’s electric grid. Some residents had their lights off for over a week while DTE and Consumers Energy employees and out-of-state contractors worked to restore power.

Others criticized the power companies — mainly DTE Energy and Consumers Energy — and urged more regulation to trim their influence in setting policy.

Greg Woodring, an organizer with Ann Arbor For Public Power, blamed the utilities for the outages and said the weather events would continue to escalate unless decisive action was taken by lawmakers to limit their influence.

“We are allowing them to drive drunk into Armageddon,” Woodring said. “We need to immediately take the keys away from them.”

Nessel shared their frustrations.

“(We are hearing) horrible stories from people involving seniors who are having issues with their oxygen, who have respiratory issues that are just absolutely awful,” the Democratic attorney general said.

The forum got off to a rocky start when Nessel and Novi officials couldn’t agree on how best to listen to residents on the “Power Outage Listening Tour.” Nessel’s office in August created an online initiative designed to receive feedback from residents about the state’s electricity companies.

Novi Mayor Bob Gatt recounted his own experience with lost electricity, saying it had happened in his home six times this year.

Gatt said the city hoped to advocate for stricter legislation to hold power companies’ “feet to the fire,” requiring DTE Energy and others to make it easier for customers to get reimbursed for losses incurred during outages, including damaged foods and medication.

“We do know that Michigan residents deserve better electricity, reliability and resiliency,” said Katherine Peretick, a commissioner at the Michigan Public Service Commission, which regulates utility providers and will eventually decide whether to impose new rules on the companies.

Gatt and City Manager Pete Augur then got into a heated back and forth with Nessel, saying they expected a moderated conversation with the attorney general and Peretick. Nessel said she wanted to listen instead to residents’ experiences with power outages.

“I want to hear from you, I don’t want to talk at you,” said Nessel, whose prepared statement declared that utility services for state residents have become worse as their rates have risen.

Nessel commended DTE’s request to spend $70 million on tree trimming over the next three years to mitigate the effect of extreme weather, but said she would like to see the company also dedicate money for consumers’ immediate needs.

The first-term attorney general referred to the power companies’ “regulated monopoly” in the market, criticizing the system in which residents do not get to choose from which company to receive power as well as the companies’ ability to make financial contributions to political campaigns.

State Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, said he would “absolutely” work to pass laws in the state Senate to dismantle what was described as a monopoly and ban campaign donations.


PFIZER SAYS COVID-19 VACCINE WORKS IN KIDS AGES 5 TO 11

ASSOCIATED PRESS — Pfizer said Monday its COVID-19 vaccine works for children ages 5 to 11 and that it will seek U.S. authorization for this age group soon — a key step toward beginning vaccinations for youngsters.

The vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech already is available for anyone 12 and older. But with kids now back in school and the extra-contagious delta variant causing a huge jump in pediatric infections, many parents are anxiously awaiting vaccinations for their younger children.

For elementary school-aged kids, Pfizer tested a much lower dose — a third of the amount that’s in each shot given now. Yet after their second dose, children ages 5 to 11 developed coronavirus-fighting antibody levels just as strong as teenagers and young adults, Dr. Bill Gruber, a Pfizer senior vice president, told The Associated Press.

The kid dosage also proved safe, with similar or fewer temporary side effects — such as sore arms, fever or achiness — that teens experience, he said.

“I think we really hit the sweet spot,” said Gruber, who’s also a pediatrician.

Gruber said the companies aim to apply to the Food and Drug Administration by the end of the month for emergency use in this age group, followed shortly afterward with applications to European and British regulators.

Earlier this month, FDA chief Dr. Peter Marks told the AP that once Pfizer turns over its study results, his agency would evaluate the data “hopefully in a matter of weeks” to decide if the shots are safe and effective enough for younger kids.

Many Western countries so far have vaccinated no younger than age 12, awaiting evidence of what’s the right dose and that it works safely in smaller tots. But Cuba last week began immunizing children as young as 2 with its homegrown vaccines and Chinese regulators have cleared two of its brands down to age 3.

While kids are at lower risk of severe illness or death than older people, more than 5 million children in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began and at least 460 have died, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Cases in children have risen dramatically as the delta variant swept through the country.

“I feel a great sense of urgency” in making the vaccine available to children under 12, Gruber said. “There’s pent-up demand for parents to be able to have their children returned to a normal life.”

In New Jersey, 10-year-old Maya Huber asked why she couldn’t get vaccinated like her parents and both teen brothers have. Her mother, Dr. Nisha Gandhi, a critical care physician at Englewood Hospital, enrolled Maya in the Pfizer study at Rutgers University. But the family hasn’t eased up on their masking and other virus precautions until they learn if Maya received the real vaccine or a dummy shot.

Once she knows she’s protected, Maya’s first goal: “a huge sleepover with all my friends.”

Maya said it was exciting to be part of the study even though she was “super scared” about getting jabbed. But “after you get it, at least you feel like happy that you did it and relieved that it didn’t hurt,” she told the AP.

Pfizer said it studied the lower dose in 2,268 kindergartners and elementary school-aged kids. The FDA required what is called an immune “bridging” study: evidence that the younger children developed antibody levels already proven to be protective in teens and adults. That’s what Pfizer reported Monday in a press release, not a scientific publication. The study still is ongoing, and there haven’t yet been enough COVID-19 cases to compare rates between the vaccinated and those given a placebo — something that might offer additional evidence.

The study isn’t large enough to detect any extremely rare side effects, such as the heart inflammation that sometimes occurs after the second dose, mostly in young men. The FDA’s Marks said the pediatric studies should be large enough to rule out any higher risk to young children. Pfizer’s Gruber said once the vaccine is authorized for younger children, they’ll be carefully monitored for rare risks just like everyone else.

A second U.S. vaccine maker, Moderna, also is studying its shots in elementary school-aged children. Pfizer and Moderna are studying even younger tots as well, down to 6-month-olds. Results are expected later in the year.


FDA PANEL BACKS PFIZER COVID BOOSTER FOR PEOPLE 65+ AND WITH WEAK IMMUNITY

BRIDGE MI — A federal advisory panel Friday recommended approval of a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine for people aged 65 and older and for those whose immune systems may be compromised, once six months have passed since they were fully vaccinated.

The same panel rejected a far broader request from the Biden Administration that would have permitted the general population over age 16 to be eligible for boosters this fall.

Following a nearly all-day hearing Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s advisory committee first voted against approving a booster of the Pfizer vaccine for the general population. It then voted late in the day to give emergency authorization for the Pfizer booster for those who are immunocompromised and those who are 65 and older, since these groups are considered more vulnerable to the most severe symptoms of the disease and least able to mount a full vaccine-triggered immunity. In August, the Biden administration announced it would make Pfizer and Moderna boosters available for anyone 16 and older beginning Sept. 20. Those who were immunocompromised were immediately eligible for a booster.

In Michigan, more than 88,000 people already have received boosters, primarily those 65 and older, according to the state’s vaccine dashboard.

Overall, nearly 1.4 million Michigan residents (representing 78.4 percent of the nearly 1.8 million Michigan residents 65 or older) are fully vaccinated, receiving a mix of the three vaccines now available in the country.

The Biden administration had been criticized for making the booster announcement ahead of FDA approval. The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee — chaired by University of Michigan epidemiologist Dr. Arnold Monto — focused only on the requested approval for a booster of the Pfizer vaccine, which now is marketed as Comirnaty and was given full FDA approval in August.

Moderna has also asked for approval of its vaccine as a booster.

But the Biden administration aggressive push for boosters has met stiff resistance among government scientists and some health experts. The FDA panel said it worried there was not yet enough data to show boosters were broadly necessary, and some asked for more safety data on its impact on teenagers.

Already, some have questioned the push for boosters when COVID vaccines are broadly available in the U.S. while so much of the globe’s population still awaits initial doses.

The vote on the recommendation for older and immunocompromised people now goes before the FDA. A hearing has been scheduled next week in front of the Centers for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which has scheduled a two-day meeting starting Wednesday.

The CDC must approve any booster dose before they can be given to the general population.


MICHIGAN SMALL BUSINESSES TRYING TO FIND RIGHT BALANCE AS PANDEMIC PERSISTS

THE OAKLAND PRESS — Sharon Juergens said being a small business owner during the COVID-19 pandemic is about resilience and adaptation.

The chef and managing partner at Diamond Jim Brady’s in Novi is like many other small independent business owners in Michigan finding new and creative ways to adapt to unknown and unpredictable circumstances, especially as the Delta variant takes hold, cases rise, and people begin to worry again  for their health and safety.

Juergens said small businesses continue to deal with multiple challenges that are different from earlier in the pandemic including hiring and worker retention challenges. She also mentioned issues with the supply chain and higher wholesale food prices, which are out of businesses’ control.

“The unknown is the biggest problem for me,” she said. “I mean, there’s just a level of stress. We don’t know if the pandemic is going to roll back around and if there are going to be any more shutdowns. Staffing is an issue for the industry as a whole. I see it as a long-term problem. It’s still super challenging. It’s just not that normal. I don’t know if we will ever go back to normal.”

The state’s leisure and hospitality sector has been very slow to bounce back with 391,200 workers employed statewide in July, still down from July 2019 when the number totaled 460,900 workers.

To attract more workers, she increased wages like many other small businesses, but was fortunate enough to only lose one employee in the kitchen who left for another job opportunity with advancement. She has used most of the $100,000 in federal assistance she received to pay salaries and overhead costs.

Compared to March 2020, wages averaged 6.5% higher in March 2021 for Michigan businesses with fewer than 100 employees, according to BLS data. Employment for businesses with 10-99 employees decreased 5.4%.

For a kitchen staff the size of her’s, losing one employee was “detrimental.” Along with higher wages, she also closed on Sundays and Mondays, and certain holidays, to help enhance the quality of life for her employees and allow them to spend more time with their families.

For some restaurants, decreasing the hours that they’re open has been another way to help cut costs and make money amid the rising prices of food, especially for meat.

“We have also learned that quality of life counts a lot,” she said. “ People always talk about wages as being the only problem, but I think that the restaurant business is tough on your quality of life. During the pandemic, I think a lot of people learned that they didn’t want to give up those things and I think they realized the value of that wage.”

In Oakland County, the challenge for small businesses continues to be improving talent retention and attraction.

Jennifer Llewellyn, the county’s manager of workforce development, said the county’s rate of economic recovery will sound different depending on which business owner you talk to.

“We’ve talked with so many businesses small and large and the range is just absolutely extraordinary,” she said. “Some small businesses have said they’ve never had a better year. On the flipside, a restaurant owner said if they don’t start getting some additional staff they’re going to have to close their doors. It depends on the industry.

Between January and March, the county’s total employment increased from 668,279 to 679,595, a 1.6% increase. The number is still lower than 732,300 in March 2019 and 733,300 in March 2020.

Businesses that have received state and federal assistance while creating innovative and creative business models have prospered, said Llewellyn, whose staffing, available talent, health and safety concerns, and costs are hitting businesses hard..

“These were pain points before the pandemic, but they were only painful for certain occupations and certain industries,” she said. “Now, these are pain points for everyone and because it hurts everyone, it’s much more of a topic of conversation.”

In October, the county will host a forum in Pontiac on the restaurant industry and how employers can get creative to find and retain talent to avoid costly employee turnover.

Statewide, hiring and retaining workers, and higher increasing product costs, are the biggest challenges small business owners are facing right now as state-mandated pandemic restrictions have expired. It’s now being left up to individual business owners to decide how to best navigate this pandemic for themselves, their employees, and their customers.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, employment is increasing across all Michigan industries, but still below pre-pandemic levels. As of July 2021, statewide employment totaled 4,487,565 while the labor force totaled 4,715,003. Both numbers are down from 2019 around 5.4% and 4.8% respectively.

Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan, said lack of available employees statewide, rising costs, and supply chain disruptions continue to be the biggest challenges facing the state’s small businesses community.

He believes it’s important for businesses to prioritize and balance staffing levels and hours to ensure they can continue to provide a high-level of service when they are open. He added that businesses should not try to do too much with the employees they do have, which could lead to burnout.

“There’s only so much you can ask of the workers,” he said. “Tensions are higher and customer service is more challenging than it has been in the past. There’s an apprehension to trying to stretch your staff too thin, even if they are willing, in order to make sure businesses are not creating an environment where there is a big incentive to go find something easier to do.”

The state’s labor force participation rate, the percentage of Michigan’s population that is employed or actively seeking work, was 59% in July, down from 62% in July 2019. The issue remains not the number of jobs available, which stood at 1.1 million nationwide in July, an increase from 713,700 available jobs in July 2019, but the slow trickle of people entering the workforce and the number of people leaving.

In July, 397,700 American workers quit their jobs, the highest of any month since at least December 2000, according to the BLS. The number of hires made totaled 666,700 nationwide.

For someone who oversees an organization with 28,000 small business members, Calley describes the economic recovery as uneven with some industries bouncing back better than others. He said it will be that way for a while.

Professional and business services, and construction industries have recovered nicely, said Calley, but small retail, leisure and hospitality industries haven’t been as lucky in the number of jobs recovered.

From July 2019 to July 2020, the state’s professional and business services lost 64,600 workers from 643,400 to 578,800. As of July 2021, there were 621,800 workers.

Michigan’s construction workforce totaled 188,000 in July 2021, more than 2,000 over July 2019 levels.

Although statewide pandemic restrictions around capacity, hours, and masks have been lifted, giving business owners freedom to respond how they want to to the pandemic, it’s those external challenges outside the realm of their control that have been very frustrating for many business owners across all industries.

Industries that rely on direct in person contact for their success are struggling more than others and surrounded with more uncertainty. This includes retail, restaurants, lodging, and entertainment who were the last to reopen and the last to bring back employees in person.

Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association (MRLA), said businesses are trying to meet pre-pandemic customer demand with 100,000 fewer workers as labor and product prices skyrocket. He added that these persisting challenges are just as or more severe than during the early stages of the pandemic.

In August, the MRLA released results of a statewide hospitality industry survey nearly two months after statewide COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

“Just shy of 90% of full-service restaurant operators reported closing early during the day as a direct result of inadequate staffing to meet demand,” said Winslow. “Restaurants just cannot find workers no matter how much they are paying and what other incentives they are offering to meet that demand. I think burnout is very real and it’s why you are seeing diminished hours.”

Although restaurants are doing what they can to survive in the immediate term, including increasing wages to attract workers, decreasing hours, and cutting menu items, those aren’t “long-term strategies for success.”

“When restrictions went away, (restaurants) needed to capitalize on that demand that was there so they paid people in absurd amounts to make sure that they were staffed in a non-sustainable fashion. Now that we’re past that peak summer surge, your overhead costs are now exceeding your ability to generate revenue and you are in a dangerous place.”

The report also revealed that 9 in 10 Michigan restaurants and nearly every hotel is operating with inadequate staffing to meet consumer demand.

“Even for restaurants that are doing great on sales, how are they doing on profit margin?,” he said. “Because profitability has been a real challenge. Even the most successful restaurants in terms of guests have been struggling on the profitability side.”


MICHIGANDERS TO FACE TICKETS NEXT SPRING FOR SWIMMING IN DANGEROUS WAVES

BRIDGE MI — Starting next spring, swimmers who venture into the water on state beaches despite dangerous waves, debris or water contamination could be cruising for a fine.

Dan Eichinger, director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, signaled this week that he will approve a new policy giving DNR officials the power to ban swimming when beach conditions pose a “human health and safety risk,” and ticket those who enter the water during a ban, though an exception will be added for surfers.

Last summer, for example, beachgoers in Grand Haven had to be rescued after waves swept them off a Lake Michigan pier. The next day, a 14-year-old boy drowned in the same area during rough conditions.

There have been 78 drownings so far this year in the Great Lakes, compared to 82 by this time last year, according to statistics from the nonprofit Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. Nearly half of this year’s drownings have been in Lake Michigan, which is known as the most dangerous Great Lake because of its combination of frequently-perilous water conditions and heavy visitation.

Despite the danger, DNR staff wrote in a memo discussing the proposed policy, swimmers sometimes remain in the water even while crews are attempting to rescue a drowning swimmer nearby.

At present, the best state beach managers can do to prevent those tragedies is issue warnings. Many beaches across Michigan use a flag system to signal water conditions: A red flag means it’s not safe to swim.

“We’ve added loudspeakers, we’ve added bigger message signs when you come into the park, and we’ve tried to create more visibility for the red flags,” DNR Parks and Recreation Chief Ron Olson said Friday. But for the small minority of beachgoers who still insist upon swimming, “this will be a helpful tool.”

The new policy, which takes effect in May, applies only to state-owned beaches. It would not apply to local parks, national lakeshores, privately owned coastal land or other non-state beaches.

State officials have not yet spelled out how big the fines may be, nor whether repeat offenders will face harsher penalties.

It represents a compromise between DNR and Great Lakes surfers, who complained that an earlier proposal would have deprived them of the opportunity to catch the most exciting waves.

The new rules won’t apply to surfers, kiteboarder and boogie boarders, so long as they follow “commonly accepted safety rules and procedures.”

That’s welcome news to the state’s surfing community, said Mark Cox, an avid Holland surfer who is on the board of a nonprofit that promotes surfing as a healing activity for military veterans. Cox said the new policy adds needed restrictions to protect novice swimmers, while acknowledging that many surfers are skilled enough to stay safe in rough waters.

“Red flag days are the best days to go surfing, because that’s when the waves are there,” Cox said. “It’s therapeutic, and I’m glad the DNR made the exemption for it.”

Beyond high waves, the order gives DNR officials the power to ban swimming during other times of “human health and safety risk,” including when debris in the water poses a danger to swimmers, and when bacteria or other contaminants pose a health risk.

At a Michigan Natural Resources Commission meeting Thursday, Natural Resources Commission Chair Carol Rose lauded the policy as an example of compromise.

“Kudos should go out to the department and the surfing community to be able to find some middle ground on this,” Rose said.

Dave Benjamin, a co-executive director of the Rescue Project, called DNR’s new policy a good step, but no substitute for taking additional steps to make sure popular beaches are closely monitored by trained lifeguards.

As Bridge has documented, many Great Lakes beaches lack lifeguards, including the beaches at Michigan’s state parks. Benjamin said hiring lifeguards would be a more effective water safety tool than adding new rules that may be difficult to enforce.

“This is a tool for lifeguards to use,” Benjamin said, “not a replacement for lifeguards.”

The policy, a revised version of a proposal first floated earlier this summer, aims to remedy a problem that has vexed state officials: Swimmers frequently ignore beach dangers, sometimes with deadly consequences.


COVID-19 CASES JUMP AMONG MICHIGAN KIDS WITH SCHOOLS IN SESSION

DETROIT NEWS — COVID-19 infection rates among Michigan K-12 students are climbing as their schools reopen for the new year, raising concerns about what could lie ahead in a state where cases and hospitalizations have been trending upward for weeks.

New infections among individuals ages 10 to 19 are now increasing at a faster rate than any other age group, according to data this week from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The numbers showed a 38% jump in new infections among individuals ages 10-19 and a 10% jump among those ages 0 to 9 over the previous seven days. No other age group had a seven-day increase in new cases of more than 5%, according to the data. The tallies were based on the date of a person’s onset of symptoms.

The 10-19 age group also had the highest seven-day daily average for new cases at 330.7, according to the state’s data. The second-highest average was 283.1 for the 20-29 age group.

However, the number of pediatric hospitalizations tied to COVID-19 remains low — 19 with confirmed virus cases on Wednesday. And the state has reported only 16 deaths linked to the virus among individuals 10 to 19 for the entirety of the pandemic compared with nearly 20,600 deaths overall.

While the vast majority of children who get COVID-19 will have only mild symptoms, a small percentage will face severe illness, said Dr. Matthew Hornik, a pediatrician in West Bloomfield and the president of the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“With the number of kids (with the virus) going up, you’re going to see the number with moderate and severe symptoms go up as well,” Hornik said.

The threat to kids is greater at the beginning of this school year than it was last year because of the highly contagious delta variant, the fact that many more schools are in person and people being less cautious about the virus, Hornik said.

During the last month, the portion of Michigan’s overall new cases that were in children ages 0 to 9 was 8%, double the 4% share of cases the age group held for the entirety of the pandemic as of Aug. 13, according to a Detroit News analysis. Children younger than age 12 are currently not eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

Emily Hall, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Beaumont Health’s Troy campus, knows firsthand how the virus can spread among young people and then to adults who are more vulnerable.

Last fall, Hall’s daughter, who was 13 at the time, went to a sleepover where she got COVID-19. Then Hall, her husband and her three other children all became infected. Hall said she herself was admitted to the hospital for a week and had a fever that lasted 33 days.

Her daughter, Izzy, whom Hall described as active and healthy, was in bed for 14 days.

“She couldn’t walk,” Hall said. “She felt like her legs were breaking.”

The inconvenience of wearing a mask is minimal compared with the hardships some face when they get COVID-19 and the financial pain it can cause, Hall said. She said she was off work for four months.

“It changed the course of our year,” said Hall of Washington Township, who now gets to distribute COVID-19 vaccinations as part of her job, which she described as her story coming full circle.

Masks in schools debate

The rising infection numbers among young people in Michigan could boost pressure on public health officials to impose mask requirements for schools across the state, a tense subject that is dividing parents and politicians. Supporters see the mandates as the best way to protect students, while opponents argue they infringe on parents’ rights.

Currently, 43% of the state’s school districts have mask mandates for students in all K-12 grades, according to the health department. In a letter sent Tuesday to Pamela Pugh, vice president of the State Board of Education, state Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel said at least 60% of Michigan’s 1.4 million students are covered by mask mandates implemented by their school district or local health department.

So far, Hertel has declined to issue a statewide mandate through an epidemic order that would require all students in Michigan to wear masks. In her letter to Pugh on Tuesday, she continued to defend the stance.

“Districts and local public health leaders should work together to implement mask mandates. When they collaborate, we can create buy-in at the community level, leading to better outcomes and better adherence to policies that keep people safe,” Hertel wrote. “MDHHS recommends every district adopt a mask mandate so they can keep their students, staff, and parents safe while allowing students to continue to learn and grow in the classroom.”

Pugh, a former public health official in Saginaw County, has urged Hertel to issue a statewide mask requirement. The Democratic officeholder said it was “quite troubling” that the health department has not exercised its authority on the matter.

“Please know that I understand that these are difficult decisions to make in the political climate that we live in,” Pugh wrote. “However, I am truly having a hard time settling with the thought that our children, teachers and parents must experience illness instead of public health stepping up to do what we are called to do, exercise the art of prevention to protect the health of people and community.”

‘A very simple tool’

Since the beginning of August, an impassioned debate has been playing out across Michigan at local government meetings over whether masks should be required in schools.

On Wednesday, an organization called Michigan Parents Alliance for Safe Schools launched a petition asking for a statewide mask mandate. One of the group’s members, Emily Mellits of Macomb County, said as of Thursday, about 4,000 people had signed the petition.

Mellits said she has two children in a school district that doesn’t require masks. The new group wants to protect children’s safety but also ensure that in-person classes can continue.

The trend of new cases among students is “concerning,” she said.

“That’s preventable,” Mellits said. “That’s preventable with a very simple tool that we could all do tomorrow … a mask.”

As the new numbers came this week, Republicans in the GOP-controlled state Legislature have continued to argue the decision on whether to wear a face-covering to school should be left up to students’ parents.

On Tuesday, the Michigan Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee approved a set of four bills that would limit the ability of schools and local health departments to impose mask requirements in K-12 buildings.

About a dozen parents spoke at the meeting against mask requirements. Kristena Liles of Oxford, a mother of three, said her daughter in kindergarten is speech-delayed.


FACING TIGHT TIMELINE, VOTER-LED MICHIGAN REDISTRICTING COMMISSION ON STEEP LEARNING CURVE

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Michigan’s first-ever citizen redistricting commission is finding itself on a steep learning curve as members race against the clock to draw new maps ahead of the 2022 election, crunching a months-long process into a matter of weeks following an unprecedented delay in census data.

As expected, the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission blew past the Friday deadline in the Michigan Constitution for proposing the new districts. But with four weeks of mapping under its belt, public commenters and commissioners — who have never drawn political districts before —   have raised concerns that the group might not get the job done in the time it’s allotted for itself. The commission has already fallen behind on its own extended timeline. The commission agreed Thursday to add more mapping time to its schedule to stay on track.

Concerns that their process is inefficient have been a constant theme since the group first began mapping. Just hours after kicking off its first mapping session last month,  members jettisoned their original idea of reviewing individual maps submitted by the public, finding the process tedious. The commission has since opted to consider the input while drawing the lines.

Edward Woods III, communications and outreach director for the group, attempted to raise the group’s spirits, telling members “growing pains” were inevitable. “But guess what? Rome was never built in one day.” Following Woods’ instructions, the commissioners raised their right hands and said in unison, “Success is on the way.”

Since then, the commission has been trying to streamline its process.

But metro Detroit voters, in recent meetings, remain concerned the process could be marked by inequity if the group doesn’t give itself more time to draw districts in the most densely populated and diverse part of the state. Meanwhile, it has proven challenging to examine the maps already drawn by the commission, which hasn’t provided an easy way to view and comment on them.

The mapping process

Since the census data arrived in mid-August, the commission has made major changes to its mapping process.

It ditched its initial plan to review each individual community of interest – places united by shared public policy concerns that wish to stay together in the new district lines. The commission instead has spent the last few weeks drawing districts based on equal population while weighing public input as it goes.

The commission also overhauled its plan to draw districts within the 10 regions it created across the state. Commissioners expressed concerns that by devoting certain days to mapping in individual regions, the approach resulted in overlapping plans as commissioners had to pull population from outside the region to create draft districts.

The commission later decided to stop mapping based on region and began reconciling crisscrossing lines to create a single draft plan.

Evaluating partisan fairness

The commission also decided to put off looking at the partisan fairness of its maps until it has a complete statewide plan. The group is not required to draw competitive districts but the maps overall can’t disproportionately advantage any political party. The commission hasn’t settled yet on which measures of partisan fairness it will use, Woods said. Wang said the commission should make a decision soon and leave enough time to make needed adjustments if the maps are skewed to benefit one party.

An analysis of the state Senate districts drafted by the commission indicates they would favor Republicans, suggesting substantial revisions ahead. The commission is expected to conduct its own evaluation of the maps at the end of the month.

Metro Detroit voters seek more time

Voters from metro Detroit have consistently told the commission that the density and diversity of the region will consume more time and attention from the commission than the rest of the state.

Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties are home to about 40% of Michigan’s population. The three counties are home to about 70% of the state’s Black population as well as large Arab, Hispanic, East and South Asian communities. There are LGBTQ and immigrant communities as well as neighborhoods that share environmental concerns that the commission has been urged to consider in how the lines are drawn.

Aead of mapping state Senate districts in metro Detroit, Rebecca Szetela, an independent commissioner, said that the mapping process in metro Detroit could actually go swiftly given the group’s familiarity with the region. But when the group began mapping its first legislative districts in the area, Szetela asked the commission to consider adding additional mapping days.

“I feel like we’re kind of running out of time, and as we move into the Detroit area, it’s more difficult here,” she said.

The commission had originally budgeted a single day to draw state Senate and congressional districts in metro Detroit and two days for drafting state House districts.

The commission heeded the flood of public comments it has received in its recent decision to devote more time to mapping in the weeks ahead.

Republican backlash

Pitched partisan battles over the maps are expected, but some have already seized upon allegations independent commissioners Anthony Eid and Szetela are actually Democrats to question the validity of the process. Michigan GOP Chair Ron Weiser has called for their resignation, claiming they falsified their applications.

Eid and Szetela deny the allegations.

In 2016, Eid tweeted that he was was “proud’ that Michigan backed progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont,  in that year’s presidential primary election. He also tweeted his support for Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison during a Democratic National Committee forum for candidates to chair the committee in 2017.

Eid told the Free Press he has backed Democratic, Republican and third-party candidates in the past. Since he first voted in 2010, he has split his ticket in every election, he said.

Szetela, meanwhile, has drawn ire for small donations she appeared to make to EMILY’s List, a pro-abortion organization that has endorsed Democratic candidates, and the Southwestern Wayne Democratic Club several years ago.

While serving as a commissioner, Szetela appeared at a Progressive Democratic Women’s Caucus of Muskegon County meeting. In an email, Woods wrote that Szetela “had nothing to do with scheduling herself or volunteering herself” for the speaking engagement and that requests for presentations come through him and commissioners are scheduled based on their availability.

Szetela said the information she provided on her application is accurate. “As stated on my application, I am not affiliated with any particular political party nor will I favor or disfavor any particular partisan interests in the redistricting process,” she said in a statement to the Free Press.

Republican distrust has been a constant challenge facing the commission, and the allegations seem to have compounded the problem.

Bipartisanship is baked into the mapping process. Commissioners collaboratively draw lines and no plan can become final without the support of at least two Democratic, two Republican and two independent commissioners.

Tension with constitutional criteria

In drawing the new maps, the commission is required to focus on communities of interest, the state’s diversity and partisan fairness, a departure from past redistricting criteria that prioritized keeping counties, cities and townships intact in compact districts.

But the group has been told over and over again to keep counties together.

In making the case, some voters have claimed that their county is a community of interest. Woods said that they have to explain how to spell out why county boundaries encompass a community of interest united by shared cultural, historical or economic interests, for instance. “To simply declare you’re a community of interest because you’re a county or city or township would be inappropriate,” he said.

That’s not the only public input the commission has received that seems to be in tension with the constitutional criteria. The commission has been urged over and over again to draw “purple” or swing districts that are politically competitive. While some states include competitiveness in their redistricting criteria, the commission isn’t required to draw districts that ensure that candidates from each political party have an equal chance of winning. But the maps overall can’t give  any party a leg up.

The result is that Democratic and Republican voters will be treated fairly, said Ruth Greenwood, the director of the Election Law Clinic at Harvard Law School, said during a recent event held by Voters Not Politicians.

While those who make up a political minority in their district might not feel represented by the legislator from their district, Greenwood noted that individual voters are also represented by the entire legislative body. “When they make a decision, it doesn’t matter what your rep has said, it matters what the whole body does,” she said.

How to provide input to Michigan’s redistricting commission

The commission reviews written public comment and draft maps submitted via www.michgan-mapping.org. You can also sign up to give in-person or remote public comment. Instructions are provided in meeting notices available at www.michigan.gov/micrc.


TWINDEMIC A FEAR AS FLU SEASON APPROACHES IN MICHIGAN

THE OAKLAND PRESS — After the mild flu season a year ago, there are now concerns about a possible twindemic.

“The medical community really wants to avoid the twindemic where we get a surge in both COVID and flu cases. Usually on average for flu it’s about 30,000-60,000 deaths (per season), then you put this with COVID and our health system will become strained. We obviously want to avoid that,’’ said Dr. Rena Daiza, a family physician at Henry Ford Medical Center in Bloomfield Township.

Flu season starts in October and runs through May.

The influenza virus spreads through respiratory droplets just like the transmission of COVID. So all the precautions taken last year — masking, social distancing, hand washing — kept the flu numbers low.

With so many people vaccinated against COVID-19, not as many precautions are being taken this year.

For the 2020-2021 flu season hospitalizations were the lowest recorded since data collection of that type began in 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC has not released death totals from last season’s flu for adults. But there was a stark difference in pediatric deaths from the flu. In 2020-21 one pediatric death was reported, while the previous year (2019-20) there had been 199, which was a record-high.

“Definitely there are a lot of deaths in children every year from the flu. Luckily it was down last year because children were learning remotely, but now kids are back in school. We want to keep them back in school, of course,’’ Daiza said. “People are congregating and we expect the cases to go up for kids and adults.’’

The best defense against the flu is the flu vaccine.

“Immunity usually lasts a good six months. We’re recommending maybe later this month and definitely by next month you want to have your flu shot,’’ Daiza said.

She explained that this year’s influenza vaccine has four components which will protect against four different flu viruses.

It’s OK to get the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine at the same time, although, if possible, she recommends a week or two in-between shots.

It’s been 18 months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and for some people COVID fatigue has set in, but keeping guard against the flu is as important as always.

“”Now that things are a little bit lax in terms of precautions, we may see a surge in flu cases and, unfortunately, in COVID cases,’’ Daiza said. “Not only will we see more cases and potentially more deaths, it will be a huge strain on the health system which could be detrimental to people who need to be seen for strokes, heart attacks and other emergencies. They may be denied a hospital bed because the hospital is overloaded with COVID and also now the flu.’’

Appointments can be made to receive flu shots from doctors. Flu shot clinics will be popping up in the next few weeks. Also, local pharmacies like CVS, Rite-Aid and Walgreens are an option.


MICHIGAN STUDENTS STEAL FROM BATHROOMS FOR TIKTOK CHALLENGE — AND SCHOOLS HAVE HAD ENOUGH

DETROIT FREE PRESS — TikTok trends are wide-ranging and ever-changing, but generally harmless — “good soup” never hurt anyone. Others are not as harmless.

The “devious licks” challenge taking over TikTok is running rampant through Michigan schools, encouraging students to steal and angering administrators.

Students in middle and high schools across the nation are stealing everything from soap dispensers to bathroom stall doors to shelves of COVID-19 tests to entire toilets, and documenting the entire thing on TikTok.

While the logistics of stealing a toilet and sneaking it out of a school unseen remains a mystery to most of us, schools seem to have had enough. Videos circulating show school administrators threatening disciplinary action over the loudspeakers during school hours, and others have sent letters home to families.

At Swartz Creek Middle School, principal Michele Corbat released a statement on Facebook addressing the theft at her school.

“We have experienced vandalism in our boys’ bathrooms that very closely follows this terrible challenge,” she wrote. “Soap dispensers have been removed from walls, soap has been spread on walls, and urinals and sinks are being damaged. We are actively investigating these incidents and any students involved will face disciplinary action.”

Corbat said any student participating will pay for any damages and face suspension and potential criminal charges.

The Grand Blanc high school principal Michael Fray sent out a similar message to families, saying he was “disappointed” to have to send a note home, but they have had eight soap dispensers removed from walls, toilets intentionally clogged, and “various other acts of malicious destruction.”

Fray also warned of disciplinary and legal action to those caught participating and asked those with knowledge about any thefts to come forward and help end the “childish behavior.”

Schools aren’t the only ones taking action, TikTok itself has put out a statement condemning the trend, deleting videos and removing the hashtag #deviouslicks, as well as similar ones that just change a letter, including #deviouslic. “We expect our community to stay safe and create responsibly, and we do not allow content that promotes or enables criminal activities,” TikTok said in a statement to USA Today. 

Users are commenting that their schools hired security guards and placed new cameras outside the bathrooms. Kids are creative, though, and where there’s a will, there’s a way.


MICHIGAN CONFIRMS 6,604 NEW COVID CASES, 62 DEATHS OVER PAST TWO DAYS

THE OAKLAND PRESS — Michigan public health officials reported Wednesday 6,604 new COVID-19 cases and 62 additional virus deaths over the past two days.

According Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), those totals represent testing data collected Tuesday and Wednesday. MDHHS publishes new case, death, and vaccination numbers every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with new outbreak-related data published every Monday.

Of the 62 deaths reported, 41 were identified during a vital records review. Over the past two days, the state has averaged 3,302 cases per day, up from 2,031 cases per day Sept. 11-13, a 62.5% decrease. The two-day case total brought the state’s total confirmed cases and deaths to 976,505 and 20,535 since the onset of the pandemic.

As of Monday, most of the state’s 144 new virus outbreaks were concentrated in K-12 schools (77 new outbreaks) and long-term care facilities (21 new outbreaks). At this time, there are over 300 ongoing virus outbreaks statewide.

Over the past 7 days, Oakland County is averaging 142,57 cases per day per 100,000 residents, a decrease of 5.33% from 145.12 cases per day over the previous 7 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Wayne County’s 7-day average case rate is 126.96 cases per day per 100,000 residents, a 1% increase over the previvous 7 days while Macomb County’s 7-day case rate has decreased 10.38% to 150.12 cases per day per 100,000 residents.

The state’s COVID-19 case and testing positivity rates continue to remain high due to the spread of the Delta variant.

Statewide, there are over 1,500 Michiganders hospitalized with COVID-19, the majority being in southeast Michigan, with nearly 80% of the state’s hospital beds occupied. Michigan hospital leaders are once again urging residents to get vaccinated as they are seeing a surge in patients admitted with COVID-19 while also dealing with widespread staffing shortages.

In Oakland County, hospitals have seen a 32.56% increase over the past 7 days in the number of new COVID-19 admissions, 228 patients, compared to the previous 7 days, according to the CDC. In Wayne County, hospitals have seen a 32.28% increase in new COVID-19 admissions over the previous 7 days totaling 168 patients.

Michigan’s 7-day average case rate is 206.8 cases per day per 100,000 residents, a 19.8% increase over Monday’s case rate of 172.6 cases per day per 100,000 residents. Michigan remains still in the high community transmission category, which is defined by the CDC as averaging at least 100 new cases per day per 100,000 population over a 7-day period.

The state’s 7-day average testing posivity rate continues to average between 8-10%. The CDC is also reporting that roughly 93% of U.S. counties have high community transmission levels, including in 78 of Michigan’s 83 counties.

As of Sept. 13, the state’s vaccination coverage rate for residents 16 and older was 66.6% with 5,391,344 residents receiving at least one dose. As of Sept. 14, vaccine coverage rates included 38.5% for those aged 12-15, 46.5% for those aged 16-19, 44.3% for those aged 20-29, and 54.5%  for those aged 30-39.

Among the older groups, vaccination rates are 58.5%  for those aged 40-49, 69.4 % for those aged 50-64, 83.4% for residents aged 65-74, and 80.1% for Michiganders aged 75 and older.

Last week, President Biden announced a six-pronged plan to slow the spread of COVID-19. In his most forceful pandemic actions and words, the president ordered sweeping new federal vaccine requirements for as many as 100 million Americans — private-sector employees as well as health care workers and federal contractors — in an all-out effort to curb the surging COVID-19 delta variant.

Biden also reaffirmed the federal government’s plan to start administering third vaccine shots beginning the week of Sept. 20 for most Americans who received the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, pending CDC and FDA approval, which include the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is meeting Friday to consider approving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for general populaiton third doses in time to meet Biden’s Sept. 20 deadline.

The FDA and CDC are still awaiting critical data before signing off on the third doses, with Moderna’s vaccine increasingly seen as unlikely to make the Sept. 20 milestone.

Over 50,200 booster doses have been administered statewide with the majority administered to Michiganders age 50 and older. Right now, the only groups eligible for a third dose include immunocompromised Americans such as organ transplant, active cancer, and HIV patients at least six months out from their two-dose series.

Vaccinating children age 12-15 with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and booster doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for immunocompromised individuals remain under Emergency Use Authorization.


BEAUMONT ERS NEARLY FULL; 180 BEDS SHUT DOWN DUE TO STAFFING SHORTAGES

THE OAKLAND PRESS — A staffing shortage 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic has created a perfect storm at Beaumont Health and other health systems in Michigan.

All 10 of Beamont’s emergency departments are experiencing extremely high volume. Patients are asked to consider all options for treatment, such as urgent care or their primary care physician, when appropriate.

Beaumont has also temporarily shut down 180 of its 3,375 beds across the eight hospitals in the system. Henry Ford Health System announced on Monday it had closed down 120 beds.

This is not due to a large number of COVID patients — there are just 241 spread across eight Beaumont hospitals.

“Similar to the way you may see in a restaurant when they have sections closed and you may have to wait to get seated. The same thing unfortunately is happening in the hospitals. It’s really become more of a staffing issue than a space issue. Staffing is (an issue) throughout the entire Beaumont system as well as across the nation. These are problems everyone is having,’’ Dr.  David Donaldson, Beaumont Hospital, Troy, Emergency Center chief and medical director of the Beaumont Hospital, Troy vaccine clinic, said during a media briefing on Wednesday.

“It’s a trickle down. The staffing issue is not just in emergency centers but throughout the hospitals. So if there’s decreased nursing upstairs those patients will sit in the emergency center for a period of time until they get an inpatient bed,’’ he added.

Staffing shortages include nurses, respiratory therapists, nursing techs, nursing assistants, phlebotomists and environmental services, among others.

Physicians, physician assistants and practitioners are not in short supply.

“Obviously within health care fatigue is a good part of it. There are other options that people are looking at either from a nursing perspective or another healthcare provider perspective that may be, at the time, more attractive to them,’’ said Dr. Christopher Carpenter, infectious diseases specialist and chair of Internal Medicine at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak.

About 69-70% of the COVID patients at Beaumont are unvaccinated. That number is higher for the severe cases.

“I think overall the frustration is because we have vaccines that could limit and prevent illness and people are hesitant to get the vaccine. We need more education out there in regard to getting vaccinated,’’ Carpenter added.

Beaumont’s employee vaccine mandate deadline is Oct. 18. Neither doctor thinks that is playing into the staffing shortage.

The doctors could not give exact numbers of the crowded emergency centers because it’s a fluid situation depending on the time of day. Donaldson said at the Beaumont Troy location about 10% of patients that arrive at the emergency centers are COVID related.

He wants to assure patients that the emergency centers are open and ready to serve, but if it’s a minor situation it would be better to find care elsewhere. He estimates the wait time is double what it usually is.

Obviously those with chest pains, shortness of breath or stroke symptoms should go to the emergency centers. Others might seek guidance from their primary care physicians.

“(If uncertain) I would err on the side of caution and come into the ER,’’ Donaldson said.”It’s better to be evaluated and not have an emergency than to have an emergency and not be evaluated.’’

Along with the staffing shortage, COVID and people getting care that was delayed during the pandemic, there is also a blood shortage in Southeast Michigan.

Carpenter asked for blood donations.

They both implored for the unvaccinated to get the vaccine.


MICHIGAN LEADERS SAY THEY’VE REACHED DEAL ON NEW STATE BUDGET

DETROIT NEWS — The GOP-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration have reached a deal to finalize the state’s next budget, officials said  Wednesday, 15 days before the deadline for a new funding plan.

While the details of the new budget won’t be revealed until the proposal is voted on in the coming days, the agreement among Senate Appropriations Chairman Jim Stamas, R-Midland; House Appropriations Chairman Thomas Albert, R-Lowell; and Budget Director David Massaron marked a significant milestone in the process.

“By working together our divided Michigan government has shown what can be accomplished when Michigan families are put first,” Stamas said in a statement. “Michigan families are counting on us to invest in them. This budget does that by laying the groundwork for a healthy economy for Michigan’s future.”

Over the summer, Whitmer and the Legislature approved a $17.1 billion budget for K-12 schools, leaving the funding for state departments and universities unresolved. For weeks, they’ve been negotiating, attempting to determine how to spend an estimated $8 billion more than expected from federal stimulus money and a state surplus.

The budget process is expected to proceed normally with conference committees and a floor vote in the upcoming week, said the statement from legislative leaders on Wednesday.

“This is a significant step forward,” Albert said of the agreement. “A historic investment in schools already has been finalized, and now we are close to finishing work on other parts of the state budget that will help meet the needs of Michigan residents and continue the state’s recovery from the COVID pandemic.”

Whitmer signed the current year’s budget into law on Sept. 30, 2020. At that time, it amounted to $62.8 billion.

The governor and Republican lawmakers have often clashed this year over how to respond to COVID-19. But Massaron, who works for Whitmer, said the upcoming budget plan is “good for Michigan.”

“It reflects shared priorities that will move Michigan forward as we continue to emerge from the pandemic as an even stronger state,” Massaron said.

The new budget year begins Oct. 1.


24,000 IN THE DARK AFTER STORMS CAUSE POWER OUTAGES FOR DTE, CONSUMERS ENERGY CUSTOMERS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Storms knocked out power in Michigan — again.

Thundershowers, along with strong winds, knocked out power Tuesday, leaving tens of thousands of residents in the dark.

By Wednesday morning, the count was about 24,000 Michiganders — 20,000 DTE and 4,000 Consumers Energy customers — who had no power, with crews frantically working to reconnect lines.

The outages were scattered across metro Detroit, including Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Farmington Hills, the Grosse Pointes, and Detroit’s Jefferson-Chalmer’s area.

“Restoration estimates will be available as soon as our teams can safely assess damage,” DTE posted on its website, as it blamed the outages on the weather. “Please remember to stay at least 20 feet away from all downed wires and consider them live and dangerous.”

DTE was also focused Wednesday on announcing that Detroit Thermal, a clean steam energy supplier, had enrolled in its MIGreenPower program, and how that would “ultimately offset the carbon dioxide equivalent of greenhouse gas emissions from over 1,000 passenger vehicles driven for a year.”

Michigan residents have grown weary of warnings and outages, as officials and regulators investigate power reliability, asking why it is not higher and whether the utilities are doing enough to fix it and to credit customers when it is out.

Just a week ago, utility crews worked through the night to restore power to customers whose electricity was knocked out by severe weather across Michigan. That time, about 100,000 homes and businesses were affected.

Before 9 p.m. Tuesday, the National Weather Service in White Lake warned people to seek shelter who might be at various Detroit venues. Initially, a nearly 40,000 customers reportedly lost power, but close to half of them had been restored by morning.

Last month, the power companies came under intense fire from customers, the news media and the state attorney general, who called on them to credit customers who continue to deal with power outages after severe weather.

The criticism from the Michigan League of Conservation Voters was especially sharp.

“For years now, our residential rates have been skyrocketing, eating up more of family budgets, and yet all we get is more blackouts, longer outage times, and less reliability,” Bob Allison, deputy director for the league said. “DTE and Consumers seem content to rake in massive, windfall profits while families and businesses across Michigan suffer without power.”


FEDS: PRISONER, 3 METRO DETROIT RESIDENTS STOLE $725K IN UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE BENEFITS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Three metro Detroit residents, as well as a current federal prisoner, have been charged with stealing more than $725,000 in unemployment insurance benefits in Michigan as a part of a nationwide scheme to steal benefits, the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan said Tuesday.

Daeshawn Posey, 25, and Chaz Shields, 33, both from Detroit, along with Brittany Witherspoon, 25, of Warren and Cortney Shields, 30, a current federal prisoner at FCI Allenwood in Pennsylvania, are charged with mail fraud, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

They’re charged with filing more than 240 claims for fraudulent unemployment insurance benefits in at least 20 states, resulting in more than $725,000 in losses in Michigan and $1.5 million in California.

A call seeking comment from Posey wasn’t immediately returned. An email seeking comment from Witherspoon wasn’t immediately returned. Neither Chaz Shields nor Cortney Shields could be reached.

“Taxpayer money diverted into the pockets of criminals means less money going to Michiganders who need help getting through this difficult time,” said Saima Mohsin, acting U.S. attorney, in an emailed statement. “These arrests reflect our ongoing commitment to investigating these schemes and bringing the people who commit these crimes to justice.”

As of August, 37 defendants had been charged in southeastern Michigan with submitting more than $20 million in fraudulent unemployment claims in multiple states, including Michigan, since last summer.

In this case, the complaint said Posey, Chaz Shields and Witherspoon all filed several claims in both their own names and the names of other individuals. They filed those claims using other peoples’ Social Security numbers without their authorization, the complaint said.

Claims were also filed in the name of Cortney Shields, who was incarcerated at the time and thus ineligible for jobless benefits. The complaint said that the other three people charged would deposit benefits into Shields’ commissary account, and while in prison, he would exchange messages with other prisoners to get their personal information in order to submit more fraudulent claims. The complaint also said Posey and Chaz Shields bought multiple luxury vehicles using a combination of cash and fraudulently obtained unemployment insurance benefits.

At a Michigan House Oversight Committee meeting last week, Liza Estlund Olson, the acting director of the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency, said the agency is continuing to work through fraud cases like these: “There are many more in the pipeline that are going through that process right now.”

A Deloitte report released in November said “hundreds of millions” may have been distributed to criminals, but there’s been no update on that figure since then.


$10 MILLION IN FEDERAL GRANTS NOW AVAILABLE TO OAKLAND COUNTY NON-PROFITS

THE OAKLAND PRESS — $10 million in federal relief funding is now availble to Oakland County non-profits continuing to experience the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this year, the county was allocated $244.2 million in federal Local Fiscal Recovery Funds from the American Rescue Plan and has received the first of two expected disbursements in the amount of $122,135,474. The remaining funds will be distributed by May 2022.

The Oakland Together Mental Health and Wellbeing Non-profit Grant Program, being administered by the United Way for Southeastern Michigan and funded through the county’s American Rescue Plan allocation, aims to help increase capacity to meet the growing demand for mental health services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Noprofits can apply for up to 500,000 in grant funding by visiting https://unitedwaysem.org/get-help/community-resources/oakland-together-mental-health-and-wellbeing-non-profit-grant-program/.

There will be three types of grants awarded including:

  • Operational grants: $50,000 to $99,999 to maintain or enhance mental and/or behavioral health services because of increased demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Expansion grants: $100,000 to $249,999 to expand or implement new mental and/or behavioral health services because of increased demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Community grants: $250,000 to $500,000 may be awarded to non-profit organizations with an annual operating budget of at least $4 million which need funds to maintain or expand mental and/or behavioral health services because of increased demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For organizations with questions about the grant program and the application process, a webinar will be held from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 17. Nonprofits can register for the webinar here: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJwtduCgqzwsE9fY3wo985ptyZo0E6WpVKKK.

 

 

To be eligible for any of the grants, an applicant must:

  • Be based in Oakland County or providing services to Oakland County residents.
  • Be a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in good standing with both the State of Michigan and Internal Revenue Service.
  • Be a provider of evidence-based mental and/or behavioral health services and those services must be delivered by professionals licensed by and in good standing with the State of Michigan.

Oakland County is planning to appropriate millions from its American Rescue Plan allocation to address acute, short-term and chronic, long-term community needs involving healthcare, housing and food insecurity, workforce development, economic innnovation, environmental sustainability, and placemaking and infrastructure.


MICHIGAN ADDS 6,093 CASES, 29 DEATHS FROM COVID-19 OVER 3 DAYS

DETROIT NEWS — Michigan added 6,093 COVID-19 cases and 29 deaths from the virus on Monday, including cases from Saturday and Sunday.

Amid concerns over the more contagious delta variant, the latest tallies from the state Department of Health and Human Services push the overall totals to 976,505 cases and 20,535 deaths since the virus was first detected in the state in March 2020.

The state averaged 2,031 cases over the three days. Of the deaths announced Monday, nine were identified during a vital records review, the state health department said.

Michigan’s COVID-19 infection numbers have been trending upward for 10 weeks.

Last week, the state added 14,772 cases and 139 deaths from the virus, a slight increase from the week prior, when the state added 13,962 cases and 136 deaths from the virus.

The weekly record of 50,892 cases was set Nov. 15-21. The second-highest weekly total was 47,316 Nov. 22-28.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer lifted the state’s remaining COVID-19 restrictions on June 22 after earlier rolling back many others, including indoor and outdoor capacity limitations.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, which health experts hope will bolster confidence in vaccinations. About 66.5% of Michigan’s population age 16 and older had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Friday.

In the last 30 days, people who are not fully vaccinated developed COVID-19 at a rate seven times higher than those who are fully vaccinated, “and experienced COVID deaths at a rate 30 times that of fully vaccinated people. Vaccine protection against hospitalization remains strong across different studies and settings,” the department said.

The state health department estimates less than 1% of vaccinated people in Michigan are contracting the virus.

Michigan has the 14th-lowest case rate and seventh-lowest death rate over the last week in the U.S., according to the CDC’s COVID data tracker.

Statewide positivity has increased to 9.2%, up from 9.1% last week.

About 99% of positive tests available for sequencing in Michigan were identified as the delta variant over the last four weeks.

Those ages 30-39 have the highest case rates in the state, followed by 20-29, then 10-19.

The first case of the Alpha variantwas identified in January in a University of Michigan student who had traveled from the United Kingdom. There are 533 cases of the variant within the Michigan Department of Corrections after an outbreak of 90 cases at the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia County.

The first case of the South African variant B.1.351 was confirmed by the state Bureau of Laboratories in a boy living in Jackson County. There are a total of 85 cases of the variant.

The first case of the P.1. variant from Brazil was identified in a Bay County resident. There are now 330 confirmed cases of P.1.

There are also 307 confirmed cases of B.1.427 and B.1.429, two variants formed in California.

The first case of B.1.617 was identified in Clinton County in May. The “delta variant” was initially detected in India in October. There are now 824 cases in the state.

The virus is blamed for more than 660,000 deaths and 41 million confirmed infections in the United States.

The state considered 887,790 people recovered from the virus as of Sept.3.


COVID-19 CASES IN MICHIGAN SCHOOLS DOUBLED IN A WEEK: WHERE THERE ARE OUTBREAKS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The number of new COVID-19 outbreaks at Michigan schools has more than doubled since last week as the school year is back in full swing.

Last week, the state reported 180 COVID-19 cases related to new outbreaks that were first identified during the current reporting week, and 227 cases related to ongoing outbreaks, meaning the first case had been identified in previous weeks but there has been at least one new associated case. Now, there are 344 new outbreaks and 548 ongoing outbreaks.

This data, released every Monday, includes outbreaks for both students and staff at Michigan’s pre-schools, K-12 schools and universities, as reported by local health departments. The state acknowledged that the “lack of ability to conduct effective contact tracing” may lead to the underreporting of outbreaks.

South Christian High School in Kent County leads the charge in the new outbreaks category in K-12 schools with 21 new cases consisting of both students and staff. Northwood University has 25 new cases among undergraduate students.  The University of Michigan is battling an ever-growing number of COVID-19 cases as the school year and game days in a sold-out stadium continue. It tops the list of ongoing outbreaks with 283 reported cases.

Also notable, Adams Elementary in Midland County has 30 cases in ongoing outbreaks.

The increase in outbreaks and cases comes as local and state policymakers continue to grapple with whether to implement mask mandates and other mitigation efforts. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her administration have resisted calls to institute a statewide mask rule for schools, instead saying that should be left to local leaders. Wayne, Oakland, Kent, Genesee and other large counties have instituted at least partial mask rules.

While the governor’s office argues more than half of all Michigan students are now covered by a policy, that means hundreds of thousands are not.

In districts that are enforcing mask-wearing, some students are refusing to abide by the mandates and are organizing mass walkouts.

Last week, President Joe Biden called on all governors to mandate vaccinations for school staff. Whitmer has yet to specifically respond to whether she’ll heed the president’s request. A spokesman has said they are reviewing the details of Biden’s broader COVID-19 plan.

Students are glad to be back to their friends and in-person learning, but Michigan is facing another uptick in COVID-19 cases as the more contagious delta variant sweeps through the nation, ravaging unvaccinated communities and leading to breakthrough cases in vaccinated individuals.

Guidelines for quarantining and isolation when outbreaks do arise vary by school district, but the state health department released optional guidance:

  • If a student is vaccinated and came in contact with a coronavirus-positive individual: The student can remain in school after exposure if they don’t experience any symptoms and wear a mask.
  • If a student is not vaccinated and is exposed to a coronavirus-positive student while both are wearing masks and at least 3  feet apart: The student can remain in school, but should continue masking and monitoring symptoms.
  • If a student is not vaccinated and is exposed to a coronavirus-positive student while both are wearing masks but are less than 3  feet apart: In this case, the exposed student can remain in school, but should test daily for seven days. If they can’t test daily, they should quarantine.

If a student is exposed and one or both of the students is not wearing a mask: The student should quarantine, and can return after 10 days if they were symptom-free through those 10 days.


ADAPT OR ELSE: DOWNTOWN BUSINESSES COPE WITH NEW REALITY

ASSOCIATED PRESS — Downtown businesses in the U.S. and abroad once took for granted that nearby offices would provide a steady clientele looking for breakfast, lunch, everyday goods and services and last-minute gifts. As the resilient coronavirus keeps offices closed and workers at home, some are adapting while others are trying to hang on.

Some businesses are already gone. The survivors have taken steps such as boosting online sales or changing their hours, staffing levels and what they offer customers. Others are relying more on residential traffic.

Many business owners had looked forward to a return toward normalcy this month as offices reopened. But now that many companies have postponed plans to bring workers back, due to surging COVID-19 cases, downtown businesses are reckoning with the fact that adjustments made on the fly may become permanent.

In downtown Detroit, Mike Frank’s cleaning business was running out of money and, it seemed, out of time. Frank started Clifford Street Cleaners eight years ago. Pre-pandemic, monthly revenue was about $11,000, but by last December, when many downtown offices had to close, revenue had dropped to $1,800, Frank said.

Frank had to borrow money from his wife to pay the bills. “It got down to, I was almost ready to go out of business.”

Instead of shutting down, Frank adapted. He converted part of his store into a small market with toothpaste, laundry detergent, shampoo, bottled water, soft drinks and other essentials. He also delivered clean laundry and goods from the store.

Eventually, some foot traffic returned. With the combination of retail sales and dry cleaning, revenue is back up to about $4,100 per month, he said. That’s enough to keep him afloat, and the figure is improving each month.

In Lower Manhattan, 224 businesses closed their doors in 2020 and 2021, according to the Alliance for Downtown New York. About 100 have opened.

“There’s no question, it’s hard for business districts like ours, we miss our workers,” said Jessica Lappin, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York. “Nobody misses them more than local businesses.”

Lappin predicts office workers will come back, but it might be two or three days a week, on different days or in shifts.

“Just in the way we had to adjust so dramatically to being at home all the time, there is an adjustment to coming back,” she said.

A block from Wall Street, Blue Park Kitchen used to have lines out the door each weekday as office workers waited to buy one of the grain bowls Kelly Fitzpatrick served as a healthy lunch option.

“Things are completely different,” she said.

Online orders now account for 65% of the business — although they are less profitable because the online apps take a cut. Higher-margin catering orders remain non-existent and Blue Park has reduced its staff by nine workers.

“At our peak in July 2021 (before the delta variant surge), we had about 65% of peak pre-COVID business,” Fitzpatrick said.

Across the Atlantic in London, office workers have been slowly trickling back to their desks since the government lifted COVID-19 lockdown restrictions on July 19. The U.K. saw a peak of delta cases in July, but the numbers fell sharply in about two weeks. Recently, however, cases have been climbing again.

The number of commuters is nowhere near pre-pandemic levels, making it tough for small businesses in Central London’s financial district to survive.

“It was amazing, it was good, it was busy before the pandemic,” said Rado Asatrian, who has worked as a barber at the Man-oj hair salon in the financial district for six years. Before COVID-19 , he usually had 10 to 15 customers a day, but now it’s down to three or four.

“Now, it’s just so empty,” said Asatrian. He said he is considering moving to a busier location, switching careers, or moving abroad.

In some downtowns, while the workers are still remote, the tourists are back and providing a boost to businesses.

Back in Detroit, business at Cannelle by Matt Knio, a downtown bakery and sandwich shop, has rebounded above 2019 levels after a precipitous drop-off early in the pandemic. Baseball and football crowds are back, and outdoor dining and takeout remain popular.

If businesses are subject to more restrictions when the weather gets colder, Knio believes he can rely on the lessons learned so far in the pandemic to get by.

“I think we know our way around now, and how to deal with it,” he said. “We’ll be able to do takeout and curbside pickup.”


LIVINGSTON PARENTS, OTHERS PROTEST MASK, VACCINE MANDATES AND COVID FUNDS

DETROIT NEWS — A crowd of protesters lined both sides of busy Grand River Road on Sunday to rally against mask and vaccine mandates.

Parents, children and other residents, organized by Moms for Liberty Livingston County and Guardians of Freedom Michigan, held up signs reading “Unmask our children” and “Government: protect our freedom, not our health” outside the Livingston County Health Department.

Livingston County has not imposed mask or vaccine mandates in schools. The county health department recommends masks to limit the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Protesters also demanded that the county’s General Government and Health and Human Services Committee retract its Sept. 7 acceptance of $1.5 million in federal aid for its COVID response through 2022, including testing and contact tracing.

“Without the COVID money, we’ll have freedom of choice for our children. We’re not here for forced masks. We’re not here for restricted education. We want our kids in school without restrictions,” said Nicole Cullers, who has three children in county schools.

“The pandemic is done,” said Cullers, who described the aid package as a “COVID bribe.”

Cullers’ comments come as Michigan’s COVID-19 infection numbers continue to trend upwards, as they have been doing for 10 weeks, with the more infectious delta variant raising concerns about the ongoing wave of infections. More than 20,000 people have died of the virus in the state since the pandemic began, and over 970,000 people have tested positive, according to data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Friday, the latest numbers to be released.

All Michigan residents should be wearing masks while in public under federal guidelines, the Centers for Disease Control has recommended, based on high or substantial levels of community spread in every county in the state.

“Michigan cases are growing at similar rates to states with delta surges,” said the state health department said in its data update last week. “(The) delta wave in Michigan could lead to even more pediatric COVID hospitalizations this fall than we experienced last spring.”

At the rally Sunday afternoon, Lee Ann Blazejewski, a nurse and City Council candidate, said that she had received every vaccine for which she was eligible before the pandemic, but had “serious questions” about the vaccines against COVID-19.

“I don’t feel confident, comfortable receiving it,” said Blazejewski. “And I shouldn’t be forced into receiving something that I don’t feel comfortable with as a condition of employment.”

One of the vaccines, from Pfizer, received full approval from United States regulators, which Blazejewski described as a “big, huge lie.”

Blazejewski said she did not believe kids needed to be masked because she believed their immune systems would be sufficient to fight the virus if they become infected.

For older relatives the children might see who could be more vulnerable if infected, she said: “Don’t take them to grandma and grandpa. Like, just don’t take them over there.”

Some parents, like Kristine Lindsey, whose 12-year-old son has been attending school in-person this year, said they would pull their kids out of school if masks or vaccines were mandated, hoping instead to gather pods of students together “so that we all can help each other instead of trying to do it on our own.”

Others, like Shelly Shpakoff, already started homeschooling. Shpakoff said she pulled her children out because she was upset that students were missing out on sporting events and other school activities.

The rally comes as others challenge the enforcement of mask mandates. A Lansing Catholic school’s request to stop a mask mandate was denied again Sept. 3, the same day Resurrection School filed a motion for a temporary restraining order with U.S. Western District Judge Paul Maloney, who denied the request.

On Aug. 25, demonstrators gathered outside of the Macomb County Health Department in Mount Clemens to criticize the county’s lack of a mask mandate for students ahead of the upcoming school year.

The day before, Oakland County health officials ordered that masks must be worn by children and staff in all schools and daycare centers. On Sep. 2, more than 300 anti-mask protesters tried to get into a packed Oakland County Board of Commission meeting to object to an Oakland County Health Division order, and Republicans on the board attempted, unsuccessfully, to overturn the county-wide mask mandate for K-12 students

Washtenaw and Ingham counties in early September joined other counties, including Wayne, Kalamazoo, Allegan, Kent and Ottawa, in mandating masks in schools.


MICHIGAN LABS FEAR COVID TEST SHORTAGES. WILL NEW MANDATES ADD TO STRAIN?

BRIDGE MI — Some Michigan laboratories could soon face shortages in COVID-19 testing supplies again, as delta-variant-fueled cases rise in the state and schools and businesses step up testing demands.

President Biden’s announcement of broad vaccine mandates — which will force millions of workers to choose between a vaccine or regular testing — could further stretch coronavirus testing supplies.

“I don’t think there’s enough (chemical) reagent in the country to do what he wants to — to test our personnel,” Dr. James Richard, medical director at Sparrow Laboratories in Lansing, told Bridge Michigan Friday.

Just what that means for people needing a COVID test is not yet clear — and it doesn’t appear testing turnaround times have yet been affected.

Still, some worry that a continued climb in demand will mean a rush on at-home test kits, more pressure on test sites and the labs that support them, and longer waits for results — for workers, travelers and, in worst case scenarios, for those who are sick.

Dr. Richard lauded Biden’s Thursday announcement that will force millions of workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing, calling it a “bold move” to curb a resurgence of the virus.

But, he added, “it’s theory versus practice.”

Even when supplies are available, finding enough drivers or other personnel to distribute testing supplies can be a problem, he and others said.

“When you get to boots-on-the-ground, how do you get (supplies) from California to Vermont” and so on, Richard said.

To be clear, he said, supply chain issues haven’t yet affected COVID testing turnaround times at Sparrow as they did last year when global supply shortages meant Michiganders were waiting seven days or more for results. Most PCR test results are still available within 24 hours, he said.

He and others told Bridge this week that demand for testing supplies is climbing as COVID cases and hospitalizations remain elevated — “The volume (of testing) is beating us up,” he said — and they worry that new testing mandates will stretch supplies even thinner.

At Henry Ford Health System, there’s plenty of capacity for now, said Linoj Samuel, head of clinical microbiology.

But it requires a day-to-day effort, he said: “Almost on a daily basis, we’ll see what’s in stock, see what’s coming in, try to predict the demand.”

The Henry Ford lab, he noted, runs the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, considered the “gold standard” for diagnosing COVID-19. But he and his lab staff have seen problems in supply chains elsewhere, particularly in rapid antigen testing supplies — which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned about last week. A shortage of rapid tests is likely to put more pressure on laboratories.

For now, shortages appear somewhat local as manufacturers scramble to boost supplies once again after scaling back production earlier this summer when testing demand dropped. Lynn Sutfin, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said Friday the state is not aware of any Michigan labs with shortages.

But in the Upper Peninsula, “we have hospitals now relying on antigen testing because they’re running out of (PCR laboratory testing) supplies,” said Kerry Ott, spokesperson for the LMAS health department, which represents four counties in the eastern U.P.

Christ Gorges, CEO of Farmington Hills-based Quick Clinic labs, said his company had hoped to have by now 10,000 of Abbott Laboratories’ BinaxNOW tests — a rapid test widely used by nursing homes. One of Abbott’s facilities had closed this summer as demand for such tests plummeted. But the rise of the delta variant in recent months has changed the calculus.

“We’ve been told it will be December before we see one piece” of the BinaxNOW order, Gorges said Friday.

He said he doesn’t blame Abbott. It’s a supply issue as the delta variant and others pose a global threat. “They’ve been a good partner,” he said of Abbott.

He and others said they now draw supplies from a variety of manufacturers and distributors, so that if one supply chain dries up, they can turn to another.

Beaumont Health has also been keeping a close eye on testing supply chains, especially for rapid tests because of the “extremely high” customer demand. The health system has been “proactively building up stores of rapid testing supplies,” according to an email Friday. Beaumont said such challenges have not yet affected its ability to provide routine test results within 24 hours. At its peak, the lab ran about 1,700 cases a day; on Thursday it ran 993.

It’s not yet clear how severely the Biden vaccine mandate will further affect the availability of testing supplies in Michigan.

As part of the sweeping plan to boost vaccination rates and contain COVID, Biden announced Thursday the federal government will buy $2 billion worth of rapid point-of-care and over-the-counter at-home COVID tests — 280 million tests in all — from various manufacturers to distribute to schools, long-term care facilities, community testing sites, homeless shelters, jails and other sites.

The plan also calls for major retailers Walmart, Amazon, and Kroger to sell at-home tests at cost for most customers and free to those on Medicaid.

The federal government also will distribute 25 million free at-home rapid tests to 1,400 community health centers and hundreds of food banks serving low-income residents, according to the plan.

But just how soon all that happens is unclear.

And that, in turn, can put stress on labs as it did last year during earlier surges of the coronavirus when nursing homes and other long-term care facilities had to do regular testing of staff and residents, said Nick Decker, laboratory services director at Memorial Health Labs, which provides testing for Owosso-based Memorial Healthcare and residents in Detroit.

Last year, when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid began requiring nursing homes to test, it took several weeks to get the testing supplies distributed and staff trained to administer them in-house, Decker said. Nursing homes contracted with laboratories to run the testing in the meantime.

“There’s usually a lag between when someone strikes the pen (drafts government policy) and when things are fully operational,” he said.

Compounding the problem is that many supplies have been put on “allocation,” meaning that labs can only order them in limited quantities, he and others said.

“I used to be able to stockpile supplies, but I can’t bump up that stock like I used to,” Decker said.

And that’s a problem as the number of new infections in Michigan has risen since early July, with cases likely to climb this fall as students return to school and people spend more time indoors as the weather cools.

Labs continue to face waves of COVID cases, Decker said, and it appears that Michigan may be on the front end of another, even as testing mandates pressure supply chains.

“As the waves go up and down, you need to be in front of them, get ahead of them,” he said. “It’s too late when it’s already here.”


OAKLAND COUNTY SCHOOLS MAKING TARGETED INVESTMENTS WITH INFLUX OF GOVERNMENT DOLLARS

THE OAKLAND PRESS — Oakland County school superintendents are grateful for the historic influx of state and one-time federal assistance, but admit that more needs to be allocated to meet the long-term need of students and teachers.

According to data compiled by The Associated Press, Oakland County school districts have been allocated and/or received $353.9 million dollars in federal assistance since the pandemic. These Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund dollars were allocated by Congress through The CARES Act (March 2020), American Rescue Plan (March 2021), and the $900 billion relief bill (December 2020), and sent to states for distribution to local school districts.

The third round of one-time federal payments to Oakland County school districts total $89.8 million. At this point, the U.S. Department of Education has not approved Michigan’s ESSER III spending plan, which describes how the third round of ESSER dollars will be used by local school districts. The plan must be approved before dollars are distributed to districts.

Pontiac Schools Superintendent Kelley Williams said districts with higher poverty rates need additional resources, but is “pleased” that the amount of federal dollars allocated to the district during the pandemic were based, mostly, on poverty rate and students with special needs, not solely on student population as enrollments have declined during the pandemic. The district has received over $65 million in federal funding since the pandemic began.

Williams said the district has spent about $14.1 million of that federal funding to support virtual learning, provide students and staff instructional technology, support student and staff safety and health, address learning loss, provide staff hazard pay, and retain staff.

“A large part of the funds will focus on student learning loss,” she said. “We have spent portions of recent financial surpluses to reduce the district’s financial deficit. Following the completion of our audit next month, we plan to use these additional federal dollars to provide more opportunities and resources for students, improve the competitiveness of our teacher and support staff wages, as well as pay down long-term district debt.”

The Michigan Department of Education has awarded 90 percent of the one-time federal relief funds to eligible local school districts based on the 2019-20 Title I, Part A funding formula, which is designed to provide additional dollars to school districts that serve more children living in poverty or with special needs.

Nationwide, the total federal school allocation from the three ESSER funding rounds is expected to hit around $200 billion. This includes over $5.7 billion for Michigan school districts.

This fall, Williams and her administration will be presenting to the Pontiac School Board a $39 million plan on how to spend the latest round of federal dollars. Other Oakland County superintendents agree that increased federal funding has been helpful in making critical, targeted investments, but is still not enough.

Since the one-time federal relief funds will not be provided as ongoing funding for Michigan school districts, the dollars are not being included in the school districts’ long-term funding models to sustain operations

Scott Lindberg, Waterford Public Schools superintendent, told The Oakland Press that federal dollars have been used to support student and staff needs during the pandemic and preparing for the future. The district has received over $21 million in federal pandemic assistance.

“The funding has been used to purchase personal protective equipment, improve airflow in our buildings, provide laptops and hotspots to our students, and invest in curriculum materials to address any learning loss and prepare for the future,” he said. “All of the federal funding has not been allocated at this time. We will continue to make thoughtful, data-driven decisions about how the one-time money is spent.”

In July, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the state’s $17 billion school budget for fiscal year 2022.

It includes $723 million to eliminate the gap between the minimum and maximum per pupil allocation by setting both at $8,700 per student, an increase of $589 per student from the current year minimum amount and an increase of $171 per student from the current year target amount.

In addition, intermediate school districts will receive a 4 percent operational funding increase. Although public school districts get most of their student funding from the state’s School Aid Fund, a portion comes from local taxes assessed on non-homestead properties such as businesses, second homes, rental property, and commercial agriculture.

According to a report from The School Finance Research Collaborative, K-12 funding has increased during the pandemic, but still falls short of where funding needs to be to educate a child. The report says funding should be at least $9,590 per student and more for students with disabilities, English Language learners, and transportation.

Oakland County school districts are estimated to see a $49.85 million per pupil increase over the 2020-2021 school year, according to data provided by the Senate Fiscal Agency. Statewide, that per-pupil increase is around $670 million.

Even with all of this additional funding, one of Oakland County’s largest school districts is grossly underfunded in the areas of special education and transportation, according to its superintendent.

Paul Salah, superintendent for the Huron Valley School District, said the amount of state funding that districts receive is dependent on student enrollment, which has been declining countywide for years with parents making choices outside of the public schools.

He believes that public school funding is not equitable in how it’s allocated and should be based on being able to support full operations. As an example, he said the district spends over $1,000 per student, annually, to transport students to and from school every day.

“Not all districts provide transportation for students,” he said. “The HVS bus fleet drives the equivalent mileage of a flight to Europe every day, but we as a district use foundation allowance to transport students while other districts drive fewer miles or do not provide transportation at all.”

Salah said the district’s $4.5 million increase in per student funding for the current school year, an increase of $589 per student to $8,700, will be used to attract and retain staff in all areas of the district.

“Many districts received far more stimulus funding than HVS which has created a competitive space that we have not seen for some time,” he said. “HVS will utilize the dollars to enhance teaching and learning, develop educational programs, provide social emotional support for students and focus on the ever-changing landscape by leaning into technology utilization for all.”


BIDEN’S COVID-19 VACCINE MANDATE COULD HAVE A MAJOR IMPACT ON MICHIGAN WORKPLACES

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Calling it a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” President Joe Biden announced a new, sweeping federal mandate Thursday that will require about 100 million American workers to get coronavirus vaccines with hopes of squelching a national surge driven by the delta variant that has choked the U.S. economy.

“This is not about freedom or personal choice,” Biden said. “This is about protecting yourself and those around you, the people you work with, the people you care about, the people you love. My job as president is to protect all Americans.

“The bottom line: We’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated coworkers.”

The federal COVID-19 vaccine requirement comes through an emergency order via the Department of Labor and will apply to any private company with more than 100 workers as well as employees of health care facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding.

Workers who refuse to get vaccinated will have to undergo weekly coronavirus testing. The administration pledged to improve access to rapid at-home tests by working with Walmart, Amazon and Kroger to sell those tests at cost for the next three months. That will lower the cost of these tests by about 35% starting at the end of this week, the White House said Thursday.

Medicaid will be required to fully cover the cost of at-home tests for beneficiaries.

In addition, Biden said he’d sign an executive order requiring all federal government contractors and employees to be fully vaccinated — without the option of weekly tests to avoid the shots.

“We have the tools to combat the virus if we come together as a country to use those tools,” Biden said.

About 75.3% of the U.S. adult population had gotten at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine as of Thursday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Michigan’s vaccination rate is far lower. Just 66.3% of Michiganders ages 16 and older have gotten at least one dose, according to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine data tracker. 

Still, the spread of the virus is high in every state in the country, including Michigan.

The state is seeing a growing number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and  percentage of positive coronavirus tests — putting increasing pressure on hospitals across Michigan.

Brian Peters, the CEO of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, said Thursday that hospitals statewide are facing a critical staffing shortage that, combined with rising case rates, threatens to push them to capacity.

Dr. Karen Kent VanGorder, Sparrow Health System’s chief medical and quality officer, said its leaders were still evaluating all of what the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate will mean for its workers.

Until now, there was a hodgepodge of vaccine rules for medical workers around the state.

“This is very helpful to provide consistent assurances for patients that they’re safe in American hospitals,” Kent VanGorder said. “The consistency … makes it much easier for hospitals to attend to patients and caregivers in a unified way. And is the safest approach rather than have everyone decide by county or hospital.”

Biden also called on governors Thursday to enact vaccine mandates for all teachers in their states, saying the best way to protect children — many of whom are not yet eligible for vaccines — is to immunize the people around them.

But Gov. Gretchen Whitmer so far has stopped short of requiring vaccines for any state workers, including public school teachers and staff. And Republican state legislators continue to take steps to ban any kind of vaccine requirements.

Bobby Leddy, Whitmer’s spokesman, said “our top priority remains slowing the spread of COVID-19 so that businesses can keep their doors open, schools can keep students in the classroom, and the state can continue our strong economic jump start.”

“The science shows that vaccines offer unparalleled protection against this deadly disease, including the delta variant,” Leddy said. “Gov. Whitmer shares the president’s goal to tackle this virus, and our office is reviewing the president’s plan to understand what this means for Michiganders. In the meantime, we are encouraging all Michiganders to find a COVID-19 vaccine location near them at Vaccines.gov to protect themselves and their families.”

In June, the state House passed a bill that would essentially prevent public entities from requiring vaccines as a condition of employment. In theory, public institutions such as  the University of Michigan and Michigan State University — both of which mandate vaccination for students, staff and faculty — would be affected by this bill. However, any such legislation would likely meet Whitmer’s veto pen.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate is an overreach.

“The only thing it seems our government is more concerned about than COVID is their obsession with vaccines,” Shirkey said. “This is not about health care. … It is about control when the government dictates the private health decisions of its citizens. It is about control when the government restricts acceptable health treatments to one specific option. It is about control when the government forces private business to make a specific status a condition of employment.”

Although companies such as Google, the Washington Post, Facebook, Twitter, Uber and Lyft all have announced vaccine requirements, many Michigan-based companies have so far stayed away from requiring them because they’re difficult to manage — from offering religious and medical accommodations to the steps required when employees refuse to get vaccinated.

Rocket Companies Inc. came close to mandating COVID-19 vaccines, announcing last month that all of its unvaccinated employees would be required to undergo weekly COVID-19 tests, according to Crain’s Detroit Business.

Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, which represents the business interests of the Detroit region, said while the chamber supports individual businesses that encourage or require coronavirus vaccines, it is opposed to a federal mandate.

“A government mandate that encompasses businesses as small as 100 seems problematic from a political and logistical standpoint,” Baruah said.

Ford Motor Co. didn’t immediately respond to a Free Press request for comment.

In a statement Thursday, General Motors Co. spokeswoman Maria Raynal said the company is strongly encouraging its employees to get vaccinated, but didn’t reference the company’s stance on the federal mandate.

Stellantis said it also urges workers to get COVID-19 vaccines, and plans to “review the administration’s announcement and discuss it with our partners,” said spokeswoman Jodi Tinson.

There’s legal precedent supporting vaccine requirements.

In late May, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission clarified that no law prevents an employer from “requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, so long as employers comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions” under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, along with other EEO considerations.

That means a person with a true medical reason not to get the vaccine, such as an allergy to the components, or someone who has a religious objection to vaccination may be entitled to an exemption under the law.

And in June, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes ruled that Houston Methodist Hospital — the first hospital in the U.S. to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for employees — was within its rights to require them.

“This is not coercion. Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus,” Hughes said in the ruling, according to Becker’s Hospital Review. “It is a choice made to keep staff, patients and their families safer.”

In a July legal opinion, the U.S. Justice Department further solidified employers’ right to vaccine mandates.

It found that both public and private employers — as well as universities and school districts — have the authority to require their workers to be immunized.

Still, the Biden administration’s new vaccine requirements are likely to face legal challenges.

Jenin Younes, an attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based New Civil Liberties Alliance, a legal advocacy organization, said the Biden mandates “vastly” exceed the powers of the executive branch.

“The federal government has no police power, and likewise no authority to force private employers of any size to mandate vaccines. It seems like the White House is trying to usurp legislative power that it does not have,” Younes said.

Biden said the vaccines are safe, free and easy to get; the Pfizer vaccine has full FDA approval.

“We’ve been patient,” he said. “But our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us. So please, do the right thing.”


MICHIGAN HOSPITAL LEADER: GET VAXXED FOR COVID. WE’RE NEAR CAPACITY AGAIN.

BRIDGE MI — The head of Michigan’s hospital industry group said Thursday that COVID patients are straining state bed capacity as medical leaders once again urged more residents to get vaccinated against the deadly coronavirus.

As of Wednesday, more than 1,400 patients were being treated at Michigan hospitals for confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19, up from roughly 300 patients in early July. That’s nowhere near the state’s peak of 4,422 hospitalized COVID patients in April.

But hospital leaders say staffing shortages have worsened 18 months into the pandemic as nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers quit, retire, change jobs or leave the field after a series of deadly surges.

“The issue is staffing,” Brian Peters, CEO of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, said Thursday. “You could have all the beds in the world, but if you don’t have an adequate number of nurses, physicians, and other health care providers to staff those beds, that’s where we run into a problem.”

“Right now, our staffing is stressed to a level that we have not seen previously,” Peters said.

The precise size of the staffing shortage is unclear and MHA is collecting data now, he said. But he said representatives from small and large health systems “and everything in between” have expressed an “amazingly consistent theme” in recent months.

“What I can tell you is that in my 32 years at MHA, I have never heard a consistent theme from across our entire membership like I have on this staffing issue in the last several months,” he said. “It is clearly the top priority for our members.”

At a press conference Thursday, Peters and others noted the research showing that vaccines not only save lives and relieve pressure on health systems, but also can help stabilize sectors of the economy strained by the pandemic.

In a June survey of more than 600 small businesses in Michigan, 18 percent of the businesses said they worried they would not survive COVID’s toll, said Rob Fowler, CEO of the small businesses group.

“It has been said that businesses loathe uncertainty, and one of the challenges that we have today is certainly a year and a half worth of uncertainty,” Fowler said. “The one thing that we know that can help is when we reach a certain level of community vaccination.”

Dr. Geneva Tatem, a Henry Ford Health System pulmonologist and critical care doctor, said she is “heartbroken and discouraged by patients who continue to remain unvaccinated because they thought they could outrun the disease.”

Adding to the present strain, she and others said, is a pent-up demand among other patients for medical care, as many people postponed care for serious conditions — often until it was too late, Tatem said.

“When they finally do come to get care, they are sicker, and their disease is more advanced, and — in some cases, which I’ve seen — too severe to cure at that point,” she said at the press conference.

“The threat of a fourth surge is very real,” she said. “The strain that we are all under, we are all very concerned, may be a tipping point for all of our health systems around the state.”

As she spoke mid-morning, Henry Ford was caring for 109 COVID patients, she said. By mid-afternoon, hospital spokesperson David Olejarz told Bridge Michigan, two more patients were admitted, bringing the total to 111.

One doctor at the press event characterized the medical community’s frustration with vaccine hesitancy in more personal terms.

Dr. Nicole Linder, chief hospitalist at OSF St. Francis Hospital in Escanaba, in the Upper Peninsula, mentioned a patient named Kathy who “refused the vaccine adamantly.” The patient’s husband, who was vaccinated, suffered a “mild breakthrough infection” but survived.

Kathy, however, spent three weeks in the hospital, “and during her hospital stay, she campaigned for her loved ones to get vaccinated. She was on the phone calling all of her friends and family that, like her, had refused to be vaccinated.”

According to the doctor, at least six people were vaccinated as a result of Kathy’s calls.

“But it was too late for her,” Linder said, noting the woman is in the process of being returned home to hospice care. “Despite everything that could possibly be done for her, she’s going to lose her battle and lose her life.”

“I’m fatigued,” Linder said, “and I’m sick and I’m tired of watching people suffer needlessly and die of a disease that could have been prevented by a simple and safe and effective vaccine.”

Michigan’s hospitals have seen waves of patients and deaths during the 18 months of the pandemic, while some businesses continue to struggle, and families must work within limited child care and uncertainty in schools.

As of Thursday in Michigan, 20,447 deaths have been connected to COVID, and more than 964,000 people have been infected with the virus.

Last fall, hospital leaders made a similar plea to Michiganders to enact safety precautions, asking them to mask up and avoid Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday plans as hospital census numbers surged.

When the first of three COVID vaccines were approved last December, Linder said, “I think there was a feeling that we were getting to the finish line and we just had to hold on until the vaccine was available and then everyone would be vaccinated from this whole thing up over.”

A consensus of medical authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has recommended eligible people get vaccinated, even if they previously contracted COVID-19.

On Thursday, a Beaumont Health study of COVID-19 patients across Southeast Michigan added to a growing body of research showing that vaccination — while not a guarantee against contracting COVID — dramatically reduces the chances of hospitalization and death for those who become infected.

The study appeared in the peer-reviewed journal, Lancet Regional Health – Americas. Reviewing the records of 11,834 COVID-19 patients treated at Beaumont emergency centers, researchers found the rate of hospitalizations and emergency visits was 96 percent lower among patients who were fully vaccinated than among unvaccinated patients.

Of the visits cited in the study, 10,880 were unvaccinated patients and just 129 of the patients were fully vaccinated. The remaining 825 were considered “partially vaccinated.”

Despite incentives, pleas, and even employment threats, fewer than 61 percent of eligible Michiganders have received a first dose of a vaccine; and just over 56 percent are fully vaccinated, according to state data.


BEAUMONT STUDY SHOWS VACCINATED MICHIGANDERS MUCH SAFER AGAINST COVID-19

THE OAKLAND PRESS — A new Beaumont Health study of nearly 12,000 COVID-19 patients shows that the hospitalization rate and emergency center visit rate was 96% lower in fully vaccinated patients.

The study also found that fully vaccinated patients with breakthrough COVID-19 infections comprised just 1% on COVID-19 emergency care visits during the four and a half month study period. Within that group, those who required hospitalization and developed severe illness were typically older and much sicker with other underlying health conditions.

“The take-home message here is that vaccination works. It is such a powerful tool, it will keep you out of the emergency room, it can keep you out of the hospital, it can keep you at home safe,’’ Dr Amit Bahl, a Beaumont Royal Oak emergency medicine physician and author of the study, said during a virtual media briefing on Thursday.

The study was published Thursday in Lancet Regional Health – Americas, an open-access medical journal focused on high-quality, evidence-based research.

“The main point is your odds of going to the hospital for COVID if you’re vaccinated is almost zero. You might get ill; you might feel bad for a couple of days. But you’re typically not going to go to the hospital and you’re not going to die,’’ Bahl said.

The retrospective study evaluated de-identified medical records for 11,834 patients, age 18 and older, who came to emergency rooms at Beaumont’s eight hospitals between Dec. 15, 2020, and April 30, 2021, and tested positive for COVID-19. Of those, 10,880 patients were unvaccinated, 825 were partially vaccinated, and 129 were fully vaccinated. The average age of the patients was 53 and 52.8% were women.

The analysis showed that there were only 1.29 emergency center COVID-19 visits per 100,000 persons among fully vaccinated individuals, while during the same period Beaumont emergency departments saw 12.88 per 100,000 partially vaccinated patients, and 22.61 per 100,000 unvaccinated patients.

“What this data shows us is that the need for emergency care and/or hospitalization due to breakthrough COVID-19 is an exceedingly rare event in fully vaccinated patients,” said Dr. Barbara Ducatman, chief medical officer of Beaumont, Royal Oak.

Bahl said his study stands apart from others for a few reasons.

“My team was very interested in understanding: Does this work for the average Michigander? How does this impact you, your families and your friends? There’s a major gap in knowledge regarding the impact of vaccination on this subset. This is what our study targeted,’’ Bahl said. “From what I know this is the largest study of its kind that is addressing this specific question regarding vaccination.’’

The Beaumont study also showed that elderly patients with significant co-morbidities who required hospital-based treatment tended to suffer more severe outcomes, regardless of vaccination status.

“This study emphasizes that we need to be very protective of our elderly, shielding them from potential exposure, knowing that they can be so vulnerable,” Ducatman said. “That is especially true for those who may suffer from diabetes, heart or pulmonary disease or other co-morbidities.”

Researchers looked at the rate of COVID-19 emergency care and hospitalization for patients who were unvaccinated versus partially and fully vaccinated. They also looked at whether those patients eventually landed in the intensive care unit, required the help of a ventilator or died.

Among the unvaccinated there were 384 deaths — the youngest was age 21 — while there were just eight deaths in the fully vaccinated.

“Many of the fully vaccinated with breakthrough COVID infection have multiple comorbidities. They’re our vulnerable population. Their baseline risk is exceedingly high of any bad outcome. Unfortunately what we thought might happen kind of did,’’ Bahl said.

The study wrapped up in April and does not include data from the Delta variant which arrived in Michigan in June.

“However, I think it’s important to take a look at the fact there were 10 different variants present in Michigan at the time of our study. Many of which were very virulent. The vaccine was very effective at preventing emergency visits and hospitalization in that subset. Delta is not the last variant we’re going to see, I want to make sure that’s clear to everyone,’’ Bahl said.

“I’m very positive that vaccination truly is effective against Delta. There is some work to be done but all the evidence does indicate that vaccination is protective,’’ the doctor added.

For more information on getting vaccinated go to Beaumont.org/CovidVaccine.


MICHIGAN: MASKED OR VAXXED STUDENTS MORE LIKELY TO AVOID COVID QUARANTINE

BRIDGE MI — Just days into the new school year, the Whitmer administration has stepped up pressure to mask and vaccinate students in classrooms, issuing new guidance Wednesday that excuses children exposed to COVID from quarantine if they were following safety protocols at the time.

The updated recommendations allow more students to remain in school, even if they have been exposed, as long as both students — the infected student and the one exposed — wore masks, or if the exposed student is vaccinated.

That marks a significant change from last year’s state orders, which called for quarantining all staff and students found to be in close contact with someone infected by COVID-19.

The new guidance could be a “game changer” for schools who need to focus on educating, said Eric Pessell, health officer for the Calhoun County Health Department.

Wednesday’s guidance by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), coupled with local mask mandates that require the majority of Michigan students statewide to wear face coverings, will likely lessen the number of students who must miss school this year because of quarantine orders, Pessell and school leaders told Bridge Michigan.

Last school year, it was common for 10 to 25 students to be ordered to stay home from school for 10 days for every one student who tested positive, under a policy of quarantining all students and staff exposed for a prolonged period to someone who tested positive for the virus.

Generally, students and staff last year were considered exposed if they were within six feet of the infected person for 15 minutes. The new recommendations carve broad exemptions for students who take basic COVID health precautions.

The goal of the new guidelines is to offer flexibility to local districts, according to Lynn Sutfin, spokesperson for MDHHS.

“The local health department may modify quarantine policies based on different factors, including how close the contact is, the duration and intensity of the contact, if the students were wearing masks, and what is happening in the local community,” she told Bridge Michigan in an email. “Schools and local health departments should work together to decide what quarantine policies work best in their community.”

Peter Spadafore, spokesperson for the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators, said the guidelines will likely incentivize school districts to encourage or mandate mask-wearing.

“I’m not sure it’s going to change (policies in) every district, but it does spell out a clearer path for students returning to the classroom faster when there isn’t a positive test.”

One district where the recommendations could be helpful is Harper Creek Community Schools — the only one of Calhoun County’s largest school districts not to require masks — where 22 confirmed cases among staff and students have led to 192 quarantines since the beginning of school Aug. 23, Pessell said.

Should Harper Creek and other districts adopt the state guidelines, some of those students would be allowed to “test out” of quarantine, he said.

The guidance comes as K-12 students return to public classrooms amid concern about the continuing pandemic and heated public debate over school mask mandates. As the pandemic stretches well into its second year, there is growing consensus on the importance of returning students to classrooms for their well-being and academic success. Extensive quarantines such as the ones enforced statewide last year would endanger in-person learning.

The new, more flexible quarantine recommendations could be a boon for the roughly 60 percent of Michigan students currently required to wear face coverings in classrooms, under mandates either from school districts or local health departments.

Under the new guidance, a student exposed to COVID-19 could nevertheless remain in school if:

  • They are fully vaccinated, even if they didn’t wear a mask and even if they were in close contact with a COVID-positive student. However, they should test for COVID-19 three to five days after their last exposure, wear a mask, and monitor symptoms for 14 days after the exposure.
  • They wore masks, even if they were unvaccinated, as long as the students remained at least three to six feet apart, if the infected person was also wearing a mask. However, the exposed student must continue wearing a mask, and should monitor symptoms for 14 days following the exposure.
  • They wore masks, even if they were unvaccinated and the students were less than three feet apart. However, the exposed student must continue wearing a mask, test daily for seven days and monitor for symptoms for 14 days. Alternatively, the exposed student can stay out of school for seven days and return with a negative test result, or stay home for 10 days without a test.

While schools can obtain free antigen tests and supplies through the MI Safe Schools Testing program and the Mi Safer Schools, who will be responsible for administering COVID tests to students who want to “test out” of quarantine and return to school?

The language of the state’s guidance is specific to students, and doesn’t spell out quarantine policies for teachers and staff. And Harrand, of the Buckley district, noted another impediment to implementing such a policy: She said she can ask students if they have been vaccinated, but can’t demand that information.

Contact tracing and quarantining are crucial to keeping COVID under control, especially because infected and contagious individuals can be asymptomatic. But allowing some students to return with safeguards makes sense, too, said Pessell, the health officer.

“We need to keep in mind that the goal here is to keep as many kids in school as possible,” he said.


HENRY FORD EMPLOYEES SEEK INJUNCTION OVER COVID-19 VACCINE MANDATE

THE OAKLAND PRESS — Fifty-one employees of the Henry Ford Health System are seeking a preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan to prevent termination due to their COVID-19 vaccination status.

Henry Ford issued a vaccine mandate for its employees on June 29 requiring them to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 10 or lose their jobs. This decision applied to all team members, medical staff, students, volunteers and contractors that do business in the Henry Ford facilities including employees who work remotely or those who have had COVID 19.

Henry Ford reported on Sept. 1 that 92% of 33,000 Henry Ford team members had received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

In response to the litigation, Henry Ford Health System sent a statement on Wednesday: “We remain confident that vaccination is the most powerful tool we all have against the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond that, we cannot comment on pending litigation.’’

The lawsuit also states: “Defendants through this imposed mandate arbitrarily  show disregard for the personal autonomy of their employees in violation of the United States of America and other Laws.”

Katie Kirn of Waterford, a registered nurse and unit educator at Henry Ford West Bloomfield, is the first plaintiff listed. The lawsuit reads: “Ms. Kirn has been repeatedly harassed by HFHS management for participating in local government exchanges.To date she has not been advised of her employment status but if she has been terminated it is because of the Mandate of this case.”

Kirn, spoke at the Oakland County Board of Commissioners meeting on Thursday, Sept. 2, about her issues with the vaccine mandate. At the time she said she’d received notice that her health insurance had been canceled as of Aug. 31 due to “resignation.”

“To be very clear I’m unemployed for refusing and standing against this unconstitutional mandate. There is no choice when there is no right to refuse,’’ Kirn told the board in a public comment portion of the meeting. “I have advocated for patients rights and choices my entire career. I’ve treated patients how they want to be treated despite my own personal beliefs.’’

When the mandate was instituted the health system allowed exemptions for medical or religious beliefs. With the hospital system’s flu vaccine mandate, less than 1% of the staff has a medical or religious exemption. In June they expected about the same number for the COVID-19 vaccine.

The defendants in the case are Henry Ford Health System; Wright Lassiter III, president of HFHS; and Robert G. Riney, chief operating officer for HFHS.

Henry Ford was the first health care system in Michigan to mandate vaccination.


DTE, CONSUMERS DOWN TO 22K OUTAGES FROM TUESDAY STORMS IN MICHIGAN

DETROIT NEWS — Two of Michigan’s largest utility companies said they had restored outages to most customers who lost power in Tuesday’s storms, with fewer than 23,000 people in the dark Wednesday night.

More than 155,000 customers across the state lost power during the storms.

Consumers Energy crews have completed restoration by 10 p.m. to more than 80,000 homes and businesses affected by the storms, according to a news release.

Less than 10,000 customers remained without power Tuesday night and crews were prepared to continue working overnight, the company said.

“We are grateful for our customers’ patience and are pleased the vast majority of them again have power as they go to bed tonight,” said Guy Packard, Consumers Energy’s vice president for electric operations. “At the same time, our crews will not let up. We know more of friends and neighbors still need help, especially in places where winds not only caused power outages but did major damage to entire communities.”

Of the 80,000 DTE Energy customers affected by the severe thunderstorms that carried wind gusts up to 60 mph, 11,189 remained without power by 10:30 p.m. Wednesday.

More than 1,300 DTE employees and 625 local and out-of-state linemen from Canada, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Ohio and Tennessee were working to restore power, DTE said Wednesday morning.

DTE outages were reported near Keego Harbor, Waterford Township, Brighton, South Lyon, Marion Township and Milford, Rochester, Farmington and the city of Wayne.

Consumers Energy reported saw many outages scattered throughout Kalamazoo and in mid-Michigan, near Clare, Beaverton, and Edenville and Larkin townships.

The National Weather Service reported damaging winds, downed trees and power lines, and hail up to the size of a quarter.

Wind damage from the storm system was reported throughout the Lower Peninsula with reports of downed trees and power lines from Traverse City to Hudson at the Ohio border and Muskegon in west Michigan to Port Sanilac on Lake Huron.

Flooding was reported across a swath of northern Lower Michigan starting at Rosscommon and Grayling to Harrisville on the east side of the state.


NEW COVID-19 OUTBREAKS IN MICHIGAN SCHOOLS MORE THAN TRIPLE IN ONE WEEK

DETROIT NEWS — Thirty-one new COVID-19 school outbreaks were reported Tuesday by state health officials, a more than three-fold increase from last week’s numbers.

The state reported 26 new outbreaks at K-12 schools, two at higher education institutions, one at an administrative building and two at intermediate school districts.

Last week, there were nine new outbreaks.

The largest K-12 outbreak is at Adams Elementary School in Midland where 23 cases including students and staff were reported. Two other Midland elementary schools also reported outbreaks of six and five cases, respectively.

The largest university outbreak is at Eastern Michigan University which has 16 student cases. Adrian College has 11 cases involving students.

Three Oakland County high schools reported new outbreaks: Avondale High School in Auburn Hills with four cases, Marian High School in Bloomfield Hills with three cases and Troy High School with two cases.

A COVID-19 outbreak was reported among football players at Detroit’s Renaissance High School last week. The Detroit Public Schools Community District website listed 10 student cases and said 40 others were in quarantine. The state reported six cases at the school on Tuesday.

State health officials also reported 13 ongoing school outbreaks, compared to four last week.

An outbreak at the University of Michigan has grown from 86 to 172 cases among its undergraduates and staff.

Howell High School has an ongoing outbreak with 14 cases.

Michigan added 6,313 COVID-19 cases and 29 deaths from the virus on Tuesday, including totals from Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Amid concerns over the more contagious delta variant, the latest tallies from the state Department of Health and Human Services push the overall totals to 961,953 cases and 20,396 deaths since the virus was first detected in the state in March 2020.

The average number of new confirmed cases is 1,578 per day over the four days. Of the deaths announced Tuesday, 10 were identified during a vital records review, the state health department said.


39K POWER OUTAGES REMAIN AFTER TUESDAY NIGHT STORMS

THE OAKLAND PRESS — The series of storms that moved over the area on Tuesday evening and night knocked out power to thousands of residents throughout the southeast Michigan region.

DTE Energy reported it had 573 crews working before 8 a.m. Wednesday, having already restored power to more than 19,000 customers this morning. Shortly after 9 a.m., less than 40,000 outages remained in southeastern Michigan.

The bulk of the outages run along a west-to-east path from Brighton through Pontiac and into the Rochester area and Utica.

Most of there outages did not yet have an estimate for restoration. The series of storms on Tuesday brought high winds, heavy rains along with lightning and thunder. Other outages are scattered in western Wayne County, including in Redford, Garden City and Woodhaven.

The weather on Wednesday is starting off more mild than the last major outages from a storm. The temperatures in the morning were in the lower t60s with highs expected to reach the mid-70s, according to accuweather.com..

WDIV reported a dozen school closures — confined to single buildings rather than districts — due to building problems.

Power outages have occurred throughout the state, as Consumers Energy reported 47,000 hot es and businesses without power at 8 a.m. Wednesday, with mid-Michigan especially impacted. On Tuesday night, at the height of the outages, more than 150,000 customers were without power, according to The Associated Press.


MICHIGAN REDISTRICTING COMMISSION SUED IN ANTICIPATION OF MISSING CONSTITUTIONAL DEADLINE

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Serial litigant Robert Davis sued Michigan’s redistricting commission Tuesday for moving ahead with a schedule that will have the group missing the constitutional deadlines for proposing and adopting new maps for the state’s legislative and congressional districts.

Michigan’s constitution requires the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission to adopt the new districts no later than Nov. 1 after providing at least 45 days for public comment on the proposed maps.

But the commission is expected to blow past the Sept. 17 constitutional deadline for drawing new maps. The commission had anticipated it would miss the deadline  because of an unprecedented delay in census data and moved forward with an alternative mapping schedule.

In suing the commission, Davis, of Highland Park,  called on the Michigan Supreme Court to require the commission to meet the Sept. 17 and Nov. 1 deadlines.

In his complaint, Davis wrote that the commission “has chosen to deliberately ignore the clear mandate” in the state’s constitution. “Such deliberate and unlawful conduct should not be tolerated by this Court,” he wrote. The first-ever, independent group of randomly selected voters tasked with redrawing the state’s political lines was established after voters in 2018 backed a constitutional amendment to take away redistricting responsibilities from state lawmakers. The commission is seen as a corrective to gerrymandering, the practice of drawing lines to advantage a political party.

Davis’ complaint states that voters in Michigan changed the constitution “with the understanding that the amendments contained mandatory deadlines.”

Davis expressed concerns that if the commission moves ahead with a delayed redistricting schedule, it will shorten the period of time to mount legal challenges to the new maps and undercut the ability of potential candidates for office to gather the required number of signatures from voters in the new districts.

The commission proactively petitioned the Michigan Supreme Court for a deadline extension for proposing and adopting new districts, but its request was denied in July. In the face of an active legal challenge, it is unclear whether the high court will allow the commission to proceed with its current schedule, which has the commission launching the 45-day public comment period on Nov. 14 and considering a vote on adoption of final maps on Dec. 30.

The commission’s general counsel, Julianne Pastula, told the state Supreme Court in late June that the census delay was a “rare and extreme circumstance” that justified the commission’s request to the court for a delayed timeline.

“When the people enacted this constitutional amendment, there was no way that they could foresee this would ever happen,” she said.

Redistricting authorities across the country have had to contend with a truncated timeline for crafting new districts because of the census delay.

Federal law required the Census Bureau to share redistricting data with states by April 1 this year following the conclusion of the decennial count of the U.S. population. But census officials have said that the COVID-19 pandemic, wildfires, hurricanes and civil unrest made meeting that deadline impossible. Census data was released on Aug. 12.

In his complaint, Davis argues that the commission received the data with sufficient time to meet the Nov. 1 deadline.

Since the group began drawing maps, commissioners have repeatedly raised concerns that the process isn’t moving efficiently as the inaugural group has had to work collaboratively to draw lines that consider public input and maps submitted by the public as well as racial and partisan voting data.


MAJORITY OF MICHIGAN STUDENTS MUST NOW MASK UP, AS INGHAM, WASHTENAW ADD RULES

BRIDGE MI — Two more Michigan counties have issued school mask mandates, with about six in 10 K-12 students now required to wear face coverings in classrooms because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Health officials in Ingham and Washtenaw counties issued school mask requirements Thursday morning, joining at least 14 other Michigan counties with mandates.

Eight of the nine most populous counties in the state now have orders requiring face masks in school buildings. Most mandate masks for all students, but a few only require face coverings for elementary students, who are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccination.

At least 16 of Michigan’s 83 counties now have countywide school mask mandates. There are at least 220 districts with a mask policy in place, and 717,740 students (59 percent of all public K-12 students) must mask up.

The Ingham County order requires everyone to wear face masks inside school buildings, regardless of vaccination status. The order applies to traditional public, charter, private, parochial and vocational schools. The order doesn’t apply to colleges.

The order in Washtenaw County is similar, and will be in place until after 14 consecutive days when the county’s infection rate is considered “moderate” or lower by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Currently, Washtenaw and Ingham counties are considered at a “high” rate of transmission.

Both orders go into effect Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, which is traditionally the first day of school in Michigan, though many schools have already started classes.

Mask requirements have led to protests and debates in school board meetings in recent weeks, with anti-mandate parents arguing families should make their own decisions about children and that the benefits of masks are outweighed by academic and social-emotional harm.

Pro-mandate parents counter that their children aren’t safe from COVID-19 unless all students are masked up.

School officials have pleaded for a statewide policy to avoid differences between districts and counties. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whose administration imposed a statewide mask mandate in the 2020-21 school year, has allowed school districts to set their own policies.

As of Aug. 30, nine states had prohibited school districts from requiring masks, and 15 states and the District of Columbia had mask mandates.

Mask mandates have become a heated political issue at school board and county commissioner meetings around Michigan in recent weeks. But that hasn’t stopped an increase in mask requirements in districts, particularly in the southern half of the state.

Research on the effectiveness of masks in schools to limit COVID-19 spread isn’t conclusive, but health experts and many educators view the mandates as part of a series of mitigation efforts they hope will help keep students in classrooms this year, rather than lurching back and forth between schools and online learning.

The seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases in Michigan has nearly quintupled since early July, rising to 1,925 this week, largely due to the highly infectious delta variant. While that’s still far fewer cases than this spring, health officials say they remain concerned.

“We are grateful to our local schools and districts that have already done the work to require masks and that continue to work closely with us on isolation and quarantine measures,” Jimena Loveluck, health officer with Washtenaw County Health Department, said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, we are trending in the wrong direction, and it’s imperative that we use all of our tools to prevent and control COVID in educational settings and provide in-person learning as safely as possible.”


HUNDREDS PROTEST OAKLAND COUNTY SCHOOL MASK MANDATE

THE OAKLAND PRESS – Mothers, fathers, doctors, nurses and even a high school student spoke to the Oakland County Board of Commissioners on Thursday night mostly condemning the county’s mask mandate for school children that was announced on Aug. 24.

Outside there were a few hundred protesters carrying signs and making enough noise at times to be heard in the commissioners’ auditorium.

Due to COVID restrictions protesters were limited in the auditorium, but once one person left another was allowed to enter. The board was ready to stay until the last voice was heard.

The first speaker, a school teacher, spoke in favor of the mask mandate.

Then the tide turned.

“I would personally like to invite any of you in this room — even Mr. (Dave) Coulter, even MIss (Leigh-Anne). Stafford. Come into my kindergarten classroom and watch mandated masks. It is beyond obscene,’’ said Autumn Frazier, a Huron Valley Schools teacher. “These little ones are constantly touching them, whining, complaining, sneezing in them, fussing in them, filling them with snot and other substances and wearing them improperly. It doesn’t take a medical doctor to watch this debacle and recognize it’s doing more damage than good.’’

She explained that they can’t communicate properly and she thinks it interferes with their social development.

Each person had three minutes to make their feelings known. Nothing was going to change. The emergency order remains in effect. A Republican resolution by Adam Kochenderfer would have condemned the mandate, but it failed 11-8.

“This is a little bit of a Republican party theater. We had a Republican that put up a resolution, that they didn’t have the votes for, they knew they didn’t have their own members here to vote for,’’ said Dave Woodward, chairman of the board of commissioners.

“I also recognize there are a number of people who disagree with the mask mandate. I firmly support the mask mandate — it’s what’s necessary to protect all of our kids in school. We want to make sure our kids can remain in-person school. To do that we need to mitigate the virus,” Woodward said. “The vaccine is the best tool. Masks work to help minimize spread … It is the prudent step we have to take.’’

Evangeline Cobb, a freshman at Oakland Christian, didn’t need notes when she stood to speak. “I have Lyme disease which causes severe exhaustion. Every day after school I am so tired I can barely play sports, it causes me depression, it’s such an evil way to live,’’ said Cobb who was accompanied by her dad, Dan. “I hated it so much and dreaded it every day. The teachers told me to put a mask on every single day and it’s the worst experience, it’s pure evil.

“I just pray that everyone here knows we are suffering so much – us students – and it’s not fair. It’s not just me, it’s all my friends. I’ve seen them suffer every day, I see them walking down the hallway depressed. With these masks. I can’t see them smiling, I can’t see them laughing, it’s torture, it’s abuse and it’s not fair for us to live like this.

“I really hope you guys understand we are struggling so much through this, it’s not just the face covering, it’s way more,’’ she added.

Kristen Carr of Oxford brought her 8-year-old son along.

“For the last 3 days in a row he has been kicked out of his school for not wearing a mask. This county and its health department told me that in order for my son to go to school and be afforded his right to an education he has to put on a mask and he tells me he cannot breathe in it,’’ she said. “How am I supposed to force my child to put a mask over his mouth and nose when he tells me he can’t breathe? If I did that at home it would be called child abuse.’’

Frustration with COVID is clearly been an issue for many who voiced their opinions and not just because of the county’s mask mandate for schools. They also ripped the COVID-19 vaccines and the way the pandemic has been handled on a national level.

Erin Pruitt of Rochester Hills hit hard on Dr. Anthony Fauci who is the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Adviser to the President.

“The country has been listening to Dr. Fauci as if he is God and literally knows it all. In my opinion he is the Josef Mengele of the 21st century, the angel of death who experimented on human beings in Nazi Germany,’’ Pruitt said. “Instead of following his recommendations this man should be tried for crimes against humanity. This is nothing short of experimentation on human beings.’’

She was not the only one who strayed from the county mask mandate topic.


CONFUSION REIGNS OVER DEADLINES TO REDRAW MICHIGAN COUNTY COMMISSION MAPS

BRIDGE MI — Clerks in Michigan’s 83 counties are at odds with the state elections officials over when they need to draft new districts for county commissions.

According to state law, counties have 60 days from the time the U.S. Census Bureau releases full population counts to draw the maps for commission seats, before filing them with the county clerk to take effect.

But changing schedules from the Census Bureau have county officials insisting the deadline is Oct. 11, while the state contends it is Nov. 29.

“We’re trying to figure out … when we actually have to have this thing submitted,” Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck told Bridge Michigan.

As with state and federal offices, county districts are redrawn every 10 years after the Census Bureau releases population figures.

In most counties, the county districts are drawn by an apportionment commission composed of five officials: the county clerk, treasurer, prosecutor and the chairpersons of the county Democratic and Republican parties.

In counties with over 1 million residents — Wayne and Oakland — the Board of Commissioners draws the lines.

County apportionment panels that miss their deadline to draw maps would lose the authority to vote on their own proposals, the law says. Instead, they’d have to choose a plan submitted to the panel by registered voters.

Clerks worry that counties following the state’s guidance could miss deadlines and face legal challenges by residents.

“It’s definitely putting a little bit of a pressure crunch,” said Roebuck, a Republican.

The confusion centers on shifting deadlines from the U.S. Census Bureau, which published decennial population tallies on Aug. 12, but did so by releasing raw data.

The agency had promised to release a user-friendly version of the data by Sept. 30, then amended the release to Sept. 16.

Clerks contend the clock for the 60-day deadline started on Aug. 12. The Secretary of State’s Bureau of Election believes it doesn’t start until Sept. 30, said Tracy Wimmer, a spokesperson for the agency.

Wimmer added the Bureau of Elections has released a tool for counties to draw maps, and has said they are allowed to begin drafting the new lines “now if they wish to do so.”

But the bureau has told clerks to consult their attorneys about the official date to follow.

The bureau has also asked the Michigan Attorney General’s office to weigh in, Wimmer said. The office declined comment to Bridge Michigan on Thursday.

Multiple attorneys consulted by counties — including Ingham and Livingston— and by the Michigan Association of County Clerks contend the state’s timeline is wrong and counties must approve districts by Oct. 11.

“The bureau’s rationale is not entirely clear,” Grand Rapids-based law firm Warner Norcross and Judd told the clerk’s association, according to an opinion obtained by Bridge Michigan.

Barb Byrum, the clerk of Ingham County, told Bridge Michigan it’s unclear why the Bureau of Elections has a different timeline.

The Democrat added her county’s attorney has also said the timeframe already started.

“It is the opinion of counsel that the deadline to have those maps drawn is Oct. 11, unless the apportionment commission wishes to have the public draw the map,” Byrum told Bridge Michigan.

The issue of what is considered complete data from the U.S. Census Bureau has also caused problems for the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

The panel, created in 2018 through a voter approval, has started drawing state legislative districts using the Aug. 12 data. However, they have said they would use the user-friendly version to cross check their work.

The group, which had a constitutional deadline of Sept. 17 to have initial political maps ready for public review, has already said the delays in the release of the data will likely make them miss it.


OAKLAND UNIVERSITY FACULTY OUT ON STRIKE; STUDENTS TOLD TO CHECK IF classes are  CLASSES ARE IN SESSION

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Oakland University’s faculty have gone on strike, but the university says the first day of classes Thursday will continue.

The 880-member faculty union’s contract expired Wednesday night. At issue are pay and benefits, the union said. Talks between the two sides with a mediator were scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday.

“The job action, which was overwhelmingly supported by faculty, comes after months of intensive negotiations failed to produce a new contract before the start of the new term,” the union said in an early morning statement. “Faculty negotiators were seeking cost of living increases and compensation for professors who earned exemplary performance scores from administration for teaching and research in the pandemic year.”

Union President Karen Miller said the university needs to treat its faculty fairly.

“Oakland is using the pandemic as a pretext to cut faculty compensation and exert control over academic programs,” she said in a media release. “The university has received state and federal assistance during the pandemic. There is no longer a financial emergency, administrative pay has been restored to pre-pandemic levels and there have been new hires at the upper levels of management. The money is there to fairly compensate faculty.”

Thursday is the first day of classes for the 2021-2022 school year. University officials said classes would begin as scheduled.

“The University hopes to resolve remaining contract issues as soon as possible and with minimal disruption to fall classes, which will not be canceled,” the university said in an email to students. “Students are advised to report to classes as scheduled and wait at least 15 minutes to determine whether their instructor will be teaching. Students may also contact their instructors in advance to determine whether classes will be taking place. Students will be responsible for all course content and assignments delivered during and subsequent to the negotiation period.

“While contract talks continue, all university classes, support services, extracurricular activities and other operations will continue on their normal schedules.

“The university regrets that this faculty union strike is taking place, particularly given that public sector strikes are illegal under Michigan law. The university’s negotiating team urges faculty to teach and requests that non-faculty employees urge faculty to do the same.”


FLOODING IN METRO DETROIT INEVITABLE DESPITE PUMP OUTAGE, CONSULTANTS SAY

DETROIT NEWS — Flooding in Metro Detroit following June rainstorms would’ve been bad even if pump houses on Detroit’s east side had been working properly when the downpour hit, two consultants told the Great Lakes Water Authority board on Wednesday.

The assessment from consultants Ed Hogan of Wade Trim and Dave Hitz of Brown and Caldwell was provided to board members as part of a preliminary update on an internal investigation into rain events on June 25 and 26 that water authority officials have characterized as a “1000-year storm.”

Hogan said the initial model results show the basement flooding “was similar to what would have occurred under more ideal circumstances.”

“There’s no question that the intensity of this rain event, and the duration of the intensity of this rain event was such that there was going to be extensive basement flooding,” Hogan added.

Hogan noted the water authority subscribes to two weather forecasting services: Weather Sentry, which augured “a little bit more than an inch” over June 25 and 26 and the National Weather Service Probabilistic Forecast, which predicted 1.6 inches between June 24 and 27.

The rain, he said, was much more than that. The system is designed for 1.8 inches of rain in one hour, but it got six inches in three hours. The rainfall resulted in tens of thousands of flood claims and a presidential disaster declaration.

The presentation comes two days after GLWA’s interim CEO Suzanne Coffey gave a tour of the two Detroit pumping stations impacted by outages during the June rain, noting the internal review would examine what took place in the days ahead of the storms and the impact it had on operations.

Hogan, during Wednesday’s Zoom meeting, showed that Wayne County flood claims were widespread, in every corner of Detroit, and from the Grosse Pointes to the east to about Dearborn Heights to the west. From Eight Mile to the Detroit River.

“Nobody was spared in that thing,” noted John Zech, GLWA’s board chair and Wayne County’s representative on the board.

The final report is not yet complete and wasn’t provided to the board ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, prompting some aggravation among members.

“I’m not happy the board was not given the presentation before the meeting,” said Brian Baker, Macomb County’s representative on the regional six-member board. “That to me is unacceptable. This board needs this information beforehand.”

Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Director Gary Brown agreed, and questioned the value of the preliminary update.

“Hopefully in the future the board gets documents beforehand instead of live at the meeting,” added Brown, who also is one of two Detroit representatives on the board. “I’m not sure we should be putting information out until it’s completely vetted.”

Wednesday’s meeting was Coffey’s first since taking the post. She replaces Sue McCormick who announced her resignation in . The update, Coffey told members, was her attempt at transparency.

The flooding events have spurred lawsuits and millions of dollars in FEMA claims as well as small business loans for affected homeowners.

The internal probe, once complete, is expected to answer whether there’s anything the authority could have done to prevent sewer backups in the June storms and others in the weeks that followed.

The Conner Creek Pumping Station in Detroit faced electrical outages during the June rainstorms leaving enough power for only three of its eight storm pumps to operate.

The Freud pump station was down five of eight pumps when rain hit June 25. The issues there were tied to an outage first reported to have occurred June 23 but later revealed to be June 22. Power wasn’t restored to that station until June 30.

GLWA also is conducting an external investigation into how the outages occurred. No timetable for the final report has been given.

The outside investigation, led by attorney Jeffrey Collins and assisted by engineering firms AECOM and Applied Science, will focus on pumping stations, power supply and power redundancy, procedures and employees.


GET A SHOT, GET A SMOOTHIE. DETROIT MCDONALD’S OWNER JOINS COVID EFFORT.

BRIDGE MI — It was a lie, but Jon Campbell listened with a broad smile anyway.

The owner of a McDonald’s franchise on Grand River, Campbell had just invited an older couple placing a food order Wednesday to return the next day for a vaccination event in the parking lot.

The couple had been vaccinated, the woman first assured him. Okay, well, not really, she admitted moments later after he took her order for a Big Mac. She shrugged. She just didn’t want to have to wear a mask, she said.

Campbell’s smile didn’t flicker, even for an instant.

“That’s alright,” he said. “Just come on back tomorrow, okay? We’ll be here.”

Campbell, 52, grew up close to this McDonald’s in northwest Detroit. He was flipping burgers in the 1980s, earned economics and food systems management degrees at Michigan State University, and now owns two McDonald’s in the city and several others in the metro area.

Through a program with Henry Ford Health System and the Detroit-based insurer, HAP, Campbell’s parking lot will become a mobile vaccination site on Thursday, in a zip code where vaccination rates among low-income HAP members are perilously low.

Among all residents here insured by HAP, about 55 percent have had at least one vaccine dose. But among those on HAP Medicaid plans, just 19 percent — one in five — have had a first vaccine dose.

Bridge Michigan talked to Campbell about how the pandemic has affected him personally, and why he’s helping promote vaccines.

Your business is the Golden Arches. Why are you stepping into the vaccine effort?

The safety of our employees, the safety of the customers, the safety of everybody — it’s huge. If we want to have a safe world, and vaccinations by everybody is the way to go, then we’ve got to just do it, to make that turn.

How were you personally affected by the pandemic?

We had to shut down for a period of time, so we lost revenue. But on a more serious note, I mean, it was just people sick — missing work and people dying.

You didn’t have employees who died, I hope?

No, but we had a lot of people come down with COVID, and I did lose my dad and my stepfather last year … to COVID.

I remember going to visit my stepfather, when they were like, “This is almost the end.” I was at the hospital, and you had to cover all up (with personal protective equipment), and you had to go down this ward with this plastic up everywhere. You saw all the ventilators. You couldn’t even tell that people were people, there were so many tubes and everything.”

So fast forward to today. Who hatched this vaccination plan?

They approached the McDonald’s PR people, and my restaurant happens to be in a community that’s highly unvaccinated.

Are you surprised?

I am, in that my friends — we’re all, “You got to get the vaccine” — so it does seem surprising that way. I got mine at TCF (the convention TFC Center in Detroit) as soon as it was available.

And I’m not surprised. There are a lot of people who are hesitant for various reasons. And maybe it’s not all about concerns about the vaccine or the hesitation. Maybe it’s about access too. A friend of mine told me the other day that he and his wife just hadn’t taken the time. They’re doing this, they’re doing that. They’re traveling. I was like “What? What do you mean you haven’t taken the time? Man, get the shot.”

What about your employees?

We put out an incentive —  “Hey, no pressure, but if you get vaccinated you get $25 in your paycheck.” So they got them early; in March, I think.

That was really huge for us to get people vaccinated so we can get people more comfortable and safe in coming to work. Some people just weren’t comfortable coming back.

What are your expectations for tomorrow (Thursday)?

I’m hoping it’s a huge turnout. We’re giving away all smoothie drinks. We’ve got strawberry, lemonade.

Are you picking up the cost for that or is McDonald’s?

We’re all sharing in the cost, but you know what, I can pick up the cost.

It’s not a big deal. We just want the people to come out and get vaccinated and just be safe.


1 IN 5 AMERICANS STILL SAY THEY WON’T GET COVID VACCINE, POLL FINDS

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS — Vaccine resistance in the U.S. is trending downward, but a vocal minority remains, according to a new poll.

One in five eligible people, or 20%, say they won’t get a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the latest Axios-Ipsos poll released Tuesday. That’s the lowest number since these pollsters began asking people about the vaccine in early April.

The drop could be influenced by a number of factors, including increased mandates by employers, rising case counts caused by the delta variant and the Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine.

About 72% of eligible Americans have received at least one shot, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The Axios-Ipsos poll arrived at the same number.

In August, 14 million people got their first dose, up from 10 million in July, USA Today reported. Additionally, the U.S. has averaged 900,000 shots per day in recent weeks, up from 500,000 in mid-July.

The poll also found more parents plan to make their children get vaccinated, with 68% saying their kids either already got a shot or would when they were eligible.


MEMO: WHITMER STAFF REVIEWS FOIA REQUESTS, EVEN THOUGH SHE’S EXEMPT FROM LAW

BRIDGE MI — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is not subject to the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, but an internal memo shows her legal team is asking to review any communications from her office before they are released to the public by state departments that must follow the law.

Whitmer’s spokesperson called the policy a good government approach to increase efficiency, and officials from past administrations said governors’ offices typically expected advanced warning before any sensitive disclosures.

A leading open government advocate called the Whitmer memo “problematic,” however, because the review could further slow public records requests. And a conservative activist called Whitmer hypocritical given her 2018 campaign promises to boost transparency in her office.

In a memo first issued in July 2019 and revised in April, Whitmer chief legal counsel Mark Totten directed department and agency directors to notify the governor’s team when certain “legal actions or developments arise,” including pending public records disclosures involving Whitmer or staff.

“Please provide the language of the actual request and a copy of all documents that include an (executive office) communication,” the memo states, according to a copy Whitmer’s office provided upon inquiry by Bridge Michigan.

The governor’s office of legal counsel “will promptly complete its review and notify the department that the review is complete,” the memo continues. “The department can then provide the responsive documents to the requestor.”

The memo asks departments to notify the governor’s communications director of “any FOIA response that could generate a media story now or in the future,” along with any requests sent to multiple agencies so the executive office “can assist with ensuring a timely, coordinated response.”

Lisa McGraw of the Michigan Press Association, which advocates for government transparency, called the Whitmer administration’s advance review policy “problematic” because it “just slows everything down.”

“Obstructionist is the word that comes to mind,” she said.

Under Michigan law, government agencies must acknowledge FOIA requests within five business days and can then extend the response time by 10 days. Complete responses, however, can often take weeks or even months.

Whitmer spokesperson Bobby Leddy said the executive office review occurs alongside a department’s typical FOIA process and adds very little time.

The governor’s office “never” approves, rejects or denies the release of public records, he said.

‘Fully informed’

Michigan is one of two states in the nation that fully exempts the governor’s office and Legislature from public records requests, leading to a failing grade on transparency by a national watchdog group.

As a candidate in 2018, Whitmer vowed to voluntarily subject her office to FOIA requests but has not done so.

Michigan’s FOIA law, like the federal version, guarantees public access to records of most government bodies, including city and county governments and state departments. But some materials are exempt from disclosure, including those subject to attorney-client privilege.

The Whitmer administration memo “is meant to ensure the executive office of the governor is fully informed about legal developments across state government,” Leddy told Bridge Michigan in a statement.

“As the executive office for the state of Michigan, it is important for our team to receive frequent updates from departments to ensure that state government is operating with the best information to make decisions that are in the best interest of Michiganders.”

Former Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration did not have a similar rule according to former communications director Ari Adler, who said reviewing FOIA responses would be a “pretty large amount of work” for the executive office.

“There’s no way we would have spent our time doing that, and I certainly don’t think our legal counsel would have either,” he told Bridge Michigan.

However, Adler acknowledged that Snyder administration officials would sometimes give each other a “courtesy  call” before sending out public records “so we didn’t get blindsided by a reporter calling us out of the blue on it.”

The Whitmer memo appears to be a “formal version” of an informal expectation in previous administrations, said attorney Steve Liedel, who worked as legal counsel to former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat.

Granholm’s office didn’t have a written policy to review any FOIA responses before they were released to the public, but it was “certainly understood” that senior department leadership would provide updates on requests associated with the executive office, he said.

That approach was largely driven by Granholm’s communications team, but it made sense for legal counsel to be aware of FOIA requests as well, especially since Republican Attorney General Mike Cox was often at odds with the Democratic administration, Liedel told Bridge Michigan.

“It wasn’t any sort of a gag order or attempt to centrally coordinate it, but certainly you can appear like you don’t know what you’re doing if you’re the governor or her team or a department director and you’re caught off guard by an issue raised in a FOIA,” he said.

In 2019, Whitmer signaled support for House legislation that would subject the governor and Legislature to public records requests, but it did not pass the Senate to reach her desk.


MICHIGAN STANDARDIZED TESTING SHOW PANDEMIC SETBACKS

ASSOCIATED PRESS — Michigan standardized test results released Tuesday showed gaps in students’ learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, with state education officials noting lower than usual participation rates.

Children in third to eighth grade and 11th grade take the M-STEP test. All grades saw a decline in the percentage of students testing proficient or better in math from 2019 to 2021. Sixth-graders saw the biggest drop at 6.5% less students testing proficient or better in math.

A similar decline was seen in social studies. Students in third through seventh grades saw a decline in English language arts scores, while eighth and 11th grade saw improvements.

The state Department of Education noted that participation in different subjects in the M-STEP ranged from 64% to 72%, making comparisons to previous years tricky.

Michigan schools administered the M-STEP test in-person this spring after the U.S. Department of Education declined to waive testing requirements for the 2020-21 school year, as it did for the 2019-20 school year.

Schools in wealthier districts with the resources to offer more in-person instruction and accommodate a safer in-person test-taking experience were more likely to have higher testing participation. The Michigan Department of Education asserts that groups of students who are historically lower achieving did not have the opportunity to participate at the same rates as some groups of historically higher achieving students.

“The 2020-21 school year was such an uneven year with high health risks for students and staff, inconsistent technology, and variations in teaching and learning across the state,” State Superintendent Michael Rice said in a news release. “Any analysis of M-STEP results must factor in low participation rates in state testing.”

Michigan took steps to reduce inequalities between school districts by creating a 2022 state budget allocation of $17.1 billion that aims to create more equality in per-student funding between school districts.

Also Tuesday, Michigan State University’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative released a report on benchmark data, but also provided insight on the M-STEP test. According to the report, third graders — who are subject to a state law that requires schools to identify those within that grade with reading and writing struggles — saw a significant decline in participation.

The report says 96.5% of third graders took the M-STEP English language arts portion for the 2018-19 school year, while only 71.2% took it for the 2020-2021 academic year. Black students were the least likely demographic to take that portion of the M-STEP, the report said.

Also, economically disadvantaged students were less likely to participate than their non-economically challenged peers, the report said.


OAKLAND COUNTY AREA ORCHARDS AND CIDER MILLS OPEN FOR THE SEASON

THE OAKLAND PRESS — Area orchards and cider mills are opening for the season, offering treats such as apple cider, doughnuts, pies and early season apples.

The Michigan Apple harvest 2021 crop estimate is 18.25 million bushels (766.5 million pounds), a decrease from the 2020 harvest of 22 million bushels, according to the Michigan Apple Committee website, MichiganApples.com. The 2021 crop estimate is lower than the 2020 harvest due to a spring freeze, this year.

“In late April, a freeze occurred in which some Michigan Apple growing areas experienced nine or more hours in the 20 degrees Fahrenheit range, which was too cold for any of the delicate apple blossoms that had opened at that time,” Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee said in a press release.

“Even with frost protection tools and the apple trees’ natural defense mechanisms, some of the fruit was lost. However, there will still be plenty of apples for consumers to enjoy this fall.”

Orchards and cider mills may continue to follow COVID safety measures including: outdoor walk-up windows for cider and donut sales, capacity limits and masks requirements for entry to facilities. The following is a list of orchards and cider mills in Oakland County and nearby:

Oakland County

  • Ashton Orchards, 3925 Seymour Lake Road, Ortonville, 248-627-6671 – Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon -5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 18 through the end of season. Apples, cider mill, doughnuts, pies, baked goods, seasonal produce.
  • Bonadeo Farms, 1215 White Lake Road, Highland Twp., 248-787-4553, bonadeofarms.com– Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, Sept. 17 to Oct. 31, featuring fresh produce, pasteurized cider, doughnuts, pies, hayrides, pumpkin patch. The regular Corn Maze is offered 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, adults-$8, children (ages 5-8) -$5. The Haunted House and Haunted Corn Maze are offered after dark through 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday nights, $25 per person.
  • Diehl’s Orchard & Cider Mill, 1479 Ranch Road, Holly, 248-634-8981, diehlsorchard.com– Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, Aug. 14 through Oct. 31. Then, noon-5 p.m. weekends, Nov. 6-21. Pre-picked apples, cider mill, doughnuts, pumpkin patch and corn maze. Hayride/corn maze combo ticket, (weekends, beginning Sept. 11) – $7. Cider Fest is Sept 25-26.

 

  • Erwin Orchards & Cider Mill, 61475 Silver Lake Road, South Lyon, 248-437-0150, erwinorchards.com/wordpress– Open Tuesday to Sunday, Aug. 21-Oct. 31. Cider mill is open 8 a.m.-7 p.m., orchard is open for U-pick apples and raspberries, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., weather permitting, while supplies last. Already picked and U-pick apples, cider mill, petting zoo, corn maze in season, seasonal produce, cash or check only.

 

  • Fogler’s Orchard & Farm Market, 3979 Rochester Road, (Rochester and Gunn Road), Rochester, 248-652-3614, foglersgreenhouse.com– Open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. daily through Oct. 31. Seasonal produce- Apples, corn, tomatoes, peaches, melons, raspberries, pumpkin patch opens mid-September.

 

 

  • Goodison Cider Mill, 4295 Orion Road, Rochester, 248-652-8450, goodisoncidermill.wordpress.com– Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, Aug. 28 through November and then 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Friday-Sunday until Christmas Eve. Cider mill, apples, caramel apples, doughnuts, pies and Pistachio Nut Bread.

 

  • Long Family Orchard Farm & Cider Mill, 1540 East Commerce Road, Commerce Township, 248-360-3774, longsorchard.com– Apples, cider and fresh produce including sweet corn, in season. Open noon-6 p.m. Aug. 28 through the season while supplies last, drive-thru service.

 

  • Paint Creek Cider Mill, 4480 Orion Road, Rochester, 248-656-3400, paint-creek-cider-mill.business.site– Open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily. Cider mill, doughnuts, ice cream, cafe, located by Paint Creek Trail.

 

  • Rochester Cider Mill, 5125 N. Rochester Road, Rochester Hills, 248-651-4224, rochestercidermill.com– Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, Aug. 27, through the height of the season, hours vary later in the season. Cider mill, petting farm, bakery, ice cream, doughnuts, pie, apples, produce, cash or check only.

 

  • Yates Cider Mill, 1990 E. Avon Road, Rochester Hills, 248-651-8300, yatescidermill.com– Open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 27 through the season. Yates at Canterbury Village, 2375 Joslyn Ct., Lake Orion, is open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m.-8 p.m. weekends. Cider, apples, ice cream, fudge, Dearborn brand hot dogs and Knackwurst.

Orchards and cider mills, nearby

  • Big Red Apple Orchard, 4900 32-Mile Road, Washington Township, 586-752-7888, facebook.com/bigredorchard– Open Friday-Sunday. U-pick apples, cider and doughnuts.

 

  • Blake’s Big Apple Orchard is at 71485 North Ave., Armada, 586-784-9710. Blake’s Orchard and Cider Mill and Blake’s Hard Cider-Winery & Tasting Room are at 17985 Armada Center Road, Armada, 586-784-5343, blakefarms.com– Orchards are open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, seasonal U-pick is 8 a.m.-5 p.m. through early November. Blake’s Orchard & Cider Mill is open 8 a.m.-8 p.m., daily through November. Blake’s Backyard, 5600 Van Dyke, Almont retail location is open 9 a.m.-7 p.m., daily.

 

  • Hy’s Cider Mill, 6350 37 Mile Road, Bruce Township, 810-798-3611, hyscidermill.comfacebook.com/hyscidermillMI– Open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. weekends, September through October. U-pick with a hayride depending on the weekend, $20 minimum pick.

 

  • Mueller’s Orchard and Cider Mill, 6036 Lobdell Road, Linden, 810-735-7676, muellersorchardandcidermill.com– open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily Sept. 5 until November, then 10 a.m.-5 p.m. until Thanksgiving.

 

  • Historic Parshallville Cider Mill, 8507 Parshallville Road, Fenton, 810-629-9079, parshallvillecidermill.com– Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday-Sunday, Sept. 4 through the season.

 

  • Parmenter’s Northville Cider Mill, 714 Baseline Road, Northville, 248-349-3181, northvillecider.com– 10 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, Aug. 28 to Nov. 21. Cider mill, doughnuts, pies and other food products. Option to pre-order online.

 

  • Porter’s Orchard Farm Market & Cider Mill, 12060 E. Hegel Road, Goodrich, 810-636-7156, portersorchard.com– Open 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday to Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 21 until after Labor Day, then 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday to Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday to Dec. 23.

 

  • Spicer Orchards, 10411 Clyde Road, Fenton, 810-632-7692, spicerorchards.com– Open 9 a.m.-7 p.m. daily, through December. Grill is open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, Winery is open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday-Saturday. U-pick and already picked apples, raspberries, and other seasonal produce, winery and ice cream. Annual Farmers Market is Sept. 18-19, accepting applications for vendors.

 

  • Stony Creek Orchard and Cider Mill, 2961 W. 32 Mile Road, Romeo, 586-752-2453, stonycreekorchard.com– Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, Sept. 17 through the season. U-pick is available Saturday and Sunday.

 

  • Verellen Orchards, 63260 Van Dyke, Romeo, 586-752-2989, verellenorchards.com– Open year-round, 6:30 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays, and 7 a.m.-6 p.m. weekends, already picked apples and fresh produce in season.

 

• Westview Orchards & Winery, 65075 Van Dyke (M-53), at 30 Mile Road, two miles south of Romeo, 586-752-3123, facebook.com/WestviewOrchards – Open 8 a.m.-6 p.m., daily through the season, U-pick apples in season, raspberries and vegetables.


MSU, WMU VACCINE REQUIREMENTS CHALLENGED IN COURT

DETROIT NEWS — Four soccer players at Western Michigan University and an employee of Michigan State University are challenging their schools’ COVID-19 vaccine policies, contending they’re unconstitutional in new federal lawsuits.

Emily Dahl, Hannah Redoute, Bailey Korhorn and Morgan Otteson filed their suit on Monday against Western University Michigan, university President Edward Montgomery and its athletic director, Kathy Beauregard. They said the university’s requirement that student athletes get vaccinated “seeks to override” their “sincerely held religious beliefs and viewpoint and discriminates against them on the basis of their religion.”

“Defendants’ policies violate the First Amendment by punishing students who

exercise their religious beliefs in connection with their personal medical decisions,” according to the suit filed in U.S. District Court for Michigan’s Western District.

For the rest of the student body, Western Michigan is requiring regular testing of those who are unvaccinated. The four soccer players’ lawyers are from the nonprofit Great Lakes Justice Center.

University spokeswoman Paula Davis said Western Michigan wouldn’t comment on pending litigation.

In a separate case,Jeanna Norris, a 37-year-old MSU administrative associate and fiscal officer, sued university President Samuel Stanley and the Board of Trustees, arguing that she has natural immunity after recovering from COVID-19 late last year.  Her immunoligist, Hooman Noorchashm, has advised her that it is medically unnecessary to undergo a vaccination, the lawsuit said.

“If Plaintiff follows her doctor’s advice and elects not to take the vaccine, she faces adverse disciplinary consequences,” according to the suit that was filed in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids. “In short, the Directive is unmistakably coercive and cannot reasonably be considered anything other than an unlawful mandate.”

“Furthermore, it represents an unconstitutional condition being applied to Plaintiff’s constitutional and statutory rights to bodily integrity and informed consent, respectively.”

Norris is being represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a nonprofit civil rights group based in Washingon, D.C. NCLA filed the complaint, which seeks class-action certification and a preliminary injunction.

MSU deputy spokesman Dan Olsen said the university is not commenting on pending legislation at this time.

MSU was among the first Michigan public universities to announce a vaccine requirement for students, faculty and staff on July 31 and required it by this Tuesday unless the individual sought an exemption based on medical or religious reasons. MSU is now among six other universities with vaccine mandates, including the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint; Wayne State, Grand Valley State and Oakland universities.

A ruling last month by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel said  public and private entities can require that employees receive one of the vaccines.

“The opinion is silent on preemption, however,” the lawsuit says.

Classes at Michigan State and Western Michigan begin Wednesday.


NINE MORE COVID-19 OUTBREAKS AT MICHIGAN K-12 SCHOOLS, UNIVERSITIES

DETROIT NEWS — Nine new COVID-19 school outbreaks were reported Monday by state health officials, including an outbreak with 14 cases among students and staff at Howell High School in Livingston County.

Of the nine new outbreaks, seven are at K-12 schools and two are at Northern Michigan University, one among students and one among administration.

Just as many universities and schools open their doors, state health officials have resumed posting weekly data reports on school outbreaks.

The number of new school outbreaks reported by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services grew from one last week to nine on Monday.

Other outbreaks reported Monday include two cases among Tecumseh High School’s freshman football team and a separate outbreak of three cases at its girls cross country team.

Negaunee High School has two cases, Fulton High School in Middleton had four cases and Troy Athens High has two cases, according to the state. Hunt Elementary in Jackson reported two cases.

The state also has four ongoing school outbreaks, including one at the University of Michigan which had 86 cases among its undergraduates. Lapeer High School has five cases.

In Kalamazoo, a kindergarten class has four ongoing cases and a fourth-grade class has two.

Several counties, including Wayne and Oakland, have implemented mask orders for K-12 schools.

Macomb County health officials and school superintendents, meanwhile, are still contemplating possible strategies as Executive Mark Hackel said the county doesn’t believe “there is one side or one-size-fits-all” approach.

Several Macomb districts have mask mandates, such as Warren Consolidated Schools, while others do not, including Utica Community Schools, the county’s largest school district.

Other counties have issued mask mandates, including Genesee, Kalamazoo, Allegan, Kent and Ottawa, although some, like Genesee, only require masks for students in grades K-6.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has defended her decision to forgo a statewide student mask mandate.

Eastern Michigan University has a classroom mask mandate for students regardless of vaccination status. More than half the state’s 15 public universities are not requiring a vaccine.

Michigan added 5,020 COVID-19 cases and 26 deaths from the virus on Monday, including totals from Saturday and Sunday.

Amid concerns about the more contagious delta variant, the tallies from the state Department of Health and Human Services pushed overall totals to 946,698 cases and 20,256 deaths since the virus was first detected in the state in March 2020.

Michigan’s COVID-19 infection numbers have been trending upward for a month.

The weekly record of 50,892 cases was set Nov. 15-21. The second highest weekly total was 47,316 Nov. 22-28.


WHICH MICHIGAN SCHOOL COVID MEASURES WORK? WE ASKED SCIENTISTS

BRIDGE MI — In the Gibraltar School District in Wayne County, they’re taking down Plexiglas partitions. In Holt Public Schools in Ingham County, clear plastic shields are everywhere.

And in all Michigan districts, the recommended safe space between desks has been cut in half since last year — from 6 feet apart to 3 feet.

About 1.5 million students have already returned or are preparing to return to Michigan classrooms for the fall, and they may well see some different mitigation measures in their schools, as well as from district to district.

As their understanding of a still-new and shifting virus evolves, researchers, public health officers and school leaders have learned more about what measures help slow viral spread in schools, and what efforts employed last year didn’t provide much benefit.

There’s less enthusiasm for other measures schools employed last year, in those first, frightening, throw-the-kitchen-sink months of the pandemic, such as Plexiglas partitions and wholesale daily deep cleans of schools.

Studies conducted so far come with a myriad caveats — there are no “control groups” in a pandemic, and mitigation efforts are often used in combinations, making it difficult to distinguish the value of one measure versus another. Still, research of COVID-19 and efforts to slow its spread offer useful clues for Michigan schools.

Bridge Michigan examined dozens of studies and spoke with school officials, scientists and researchers about what has been found to work well, and what has less utility in keeping COVID-19 out of classrooms.

Here’s what we found:

Masks

During the pandemic last year, face masks were mandated for in-person classes. But children and their families face a mixed bag of mask policies as they return this fall, with a hodgepodge of local mask policies, and fiery debates about COVID protocols at school boards across Michigan.

As of Monday, more than half of the state’s public school students returning to class this fall are in counties or districts that have ordered some or all students to wear face coverings.

Some districts and county health departments are mandating masks only for elementary students — who are not yet eligible for vaccines, while others are requiring all staff and students, K-12, to wear masks regardless of vaccine status.

In Great Britain and some other European countries, students don’t wear masks, with schools instead trying to limit the spread of infection through quarantines and rapid testing. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization was more equivocal than the CDC on the issue, saying the “benefits of wearing masks in children for COVID-19 control should be weighed against potential harm associated with wearing masks, including feasibility and discomfort, as well as social and communication concerns.”

The WHO noted, however, that it isn’t saying masks don’t help limit spread of COVID, and studies on the impact of masks on COVID-19 spread indicate “mask wearing reduces transmissibility per contact.”

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association strongly recommend student face masks, and a Duke University report noted that masks were effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19 in schools studied in North Carolina.

In Michigan, the administration of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also recommends masks, though it has declined to impose mandates, leaving that decision (and the blowback from some parents that comes with it) to local officials.

There are some health experts who’ve raised questions about universal student masking, citing a CDC study involving students in Georgia, released in May. The study found requiring masks of teachers and staff had a significant impact in reducing COVID transmission, but that the 21 percent reduction found in the study in schools that “required mask use among students was not statistically significant (in reducing spread) compared with schools where mask use was optional.”

It’s important to note that the same CDC study still recommended universal mask wearing in schools, pointing to an October 2020 study that found masks have a “protective effect” in limiting the spread of the virus, particularly when masks are worn by those who are infected.

Health experts Bridge interviewed endorsed student mask requirements, saying they are one in a collection of preventive measures schools can leverage to limit infection and keep schools open this fall as children return to classrooms.

Masks are the “first layer of protection” against COVID, but “the battles over masking obscure the fact that masks are the base layer of a suite of tools,” said Alison Bernstein, an assistant professor of translational neuroscience  at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and member of the group, SciMoms, a website which offers science-based information to parents.

She and other infectious disease experts say there’s no single way to stop COVID’s spread. Vaccines are effective but, as with other COVID safety protocols, are not 100 percent effective. Masks stop most particles, but not all.

The strategy, then, is to layer safety measures to limit the virus, one on top of the other, like piling slices of Swiss cheese to cover holes in other layers, said Dr. Matthew Sims, head of infectious diseases research at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

Plexiglas

Acrylic dividers can help in certain situations. But they can make things worse, too.

It’s common sense that Plexiglas and similar shields separate you from the sneeze or cough blast in front of you that could contain the droplets that can carry the coronavirus, said Sims at Beaumont.

So the dividers can help in places such as salons and grocery stores, he said.

“Have you ever coughed or sneezed in the car, and you can’t take your hand off the wheel at that moment?” he said. “You know what your windshield looks like. Well, that’s what Plexiglas catches.”

But if they’re overused, those same barriers can also seal contaminants into a small space, Sims said.

In a classroom setting, a more effective deterrent to viral spread is improving ventilation, he and others said.

“Everybody’s aerosols are going to be trapped and stuck there and building up, and they will end up spreading beyond your own desk,” Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech and an authority on viral transmission, told The New York Times.

Ventilation upgrades

Many schools have made improvements to ventilation systems or are planning to use COVID school relief funds to renovate sometimes decades-old heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

That’s important because small particles can stay in the air for hours or days; good ventilation can help reduce the proportion of airborne contaminants.

The Georgia study found coronavirus infections were 39 percent lower in schools that had improved ventilation systems than in schools that had not.

Even without expensive HVAC improvements, teachers can improve ventilation through “dilution” efforts — opening doors and windows or using portable air purifiers and fans to dilute air contaminants in the air, experts said. Fans, for instance, should be used to move potentially contaminated air outdoors, rather than simply circulating it in small spaces.

“Don’t forget to open windows on school buses,” Emily Somers, an associate professor and epidemiologist at the University of Michigan, wrote to Bridge in an email.

Schools should also consider shifting activities outdoors when feasible, especially activities in which higher levels of airborne viruses are expected to accumulate and spread, such as lunch, choir and band, Somers said.

In a February review in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, authors found that the odds of indoor transmission are 18.7 times higher than outdoor transmission.

Social distancing

Last school year, state health officials recommended that Michigan schools that held in-person instruction should keep desks 6 feet apart to try to decrease COVID spread. That policy that made it nearly impossible for schools to have all students in classrooms at the same time.

But in a study published in March, researchers who reviewed infection rates in 251 Massachusetts school districts with more than a half-million students found no significant difference in spread between districts that adopted 6-feet versus 3-feet social distancing.

The CDC updated its recommendations to reflect the change, but even that is layered with variables, said Dr. Peter Gulick, an infectious disease expert at Michigan State University.

A reduction in social distancing can be problematic in poorly ventilated areas or when vaccination rates are low, for example, he said. In those cases, weekly testing is advised.

Temperature checks

Some schools checked the temperature of students, staff and visitors as they entered school buildings in the 2020-21 school year. The temperature checks were never mandated by the state, but they were included in the state’s return to school roadmap as a possible additional mitigation measure.

It’s unclear whether any school districts are continuing temperature checks this year.

Gulick at Michigan State questions the return on time invested in this measure.

Temperature checks aren’t going to flag students or staff who carry the virus but are asymptomatic, and he worried about temperature devices that aren’t working properly or people who aren’t properly working them.

In the setting of airports, another CDC study found that screening protocols that included temperature checks and symptom screening for passengers yielded few COVID cases, took up considerable resources and was unlikely to detect a majority of infected travelers.


DETROIT ZOO VACCINATING SOME ANIMALS AGAINST COVID-19

THE OAKLAND PRESS — Tigers and gorillas may not appear vulnerable, but they and some other animals at the Detroit Zoo are getting protection in the form of COVID-19 vaccinations against the deadly virus.

Dr. Ann Duncan, a veterinarian and director of animal health at the zoo, said about 20 animals have already gotten their COVID-19 shots.

Chimpanzees, gorillas, lions, and tigers are among the animals that have gotten vaccinated already.

“They are all getting two vaccinations,” Duncan said, “and we are nearly halfway done.”

Other primates and carnivores that are known to be susceptible to COVID-19, such as wolverines, North American river otters and sea otters, are also getting their shots.

Several lions, tigers, leopards and gorillas have contracted the coronavirus in other zoos nationwide.

A lion and a tiger have died from the virus in European and Indian zoos.

Thus far, no animals at the Detroit Zoo have been verified or suspected of having contracted COVID-19.

“In other zoos where there have been infections it was non-symptomatic human caregivers that transmitted the virus,” Duncan said. “We have a really high vaccination rate among our caregivers, but we’re not taking any chances.”

All the animals at the zoo are too far away from human visitors because of public barriers to catch the virus from them, she added.

But after health experts found the virus could be spread to animals, Detroit Zoo officials started a program to limit the animals’ contact with their human caregivers, who are required to wear N-95 face masks, along with full personal protective equipment.

The vaccines will allow caregivers to again have more contact with the zoo animals, Duncan said.

The special COVID-19 vaccine for animals was developed by Zoetis, a veterinary pharmaceutical company. It is authorized for use by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on a case-by-case basis.

Ducan said the vaccine is needed to protect animals at the zoo in the same way that dogs are vaccinated against parvovirus, distemper or rabies.

“The (zoo) animals routinely get other vaccinations,” said Scott Carter, the zoo’s chief life sciences officer in a statement. “Many of the mammals are trained to present themselves to our animal care staff for minor medical procedures, including vaccinations.”

Zoo officials said Zoetis’ research and development team, headquartered in Kalamazoo, used decades of experience to develop the animal COVID-19 vaccine.

The pharmaceutical company is donating more than 11,000 doses of the vaccine to 70 zoos and a dozen conservatories, sanctuaries and other organizations nationwide.

“We’re both thankful and relieved a special vaccine is now available to protect (animals) against COVID-19,” Carter said in a statement.


AS MICHIGAN PANDEMIC PROTESTS RAGE, EXPERTS FORECAST FALL COVID-19 SURGE

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Dr. Rob Davidson is accustomed to delivering advice. But the west Michigan emergency room physician was stunned when he received a few tips ahead of speaking at a recent Ottawa County Commission meeting.

A county staff member noticed Davidson’s shirt, which had the words “public health” emblazoned on the front.

“You might want to turn that inside out. Some people won’t like that,” Davidson said the staffer told him, before adding, “hope your shoelaces are tied tight so you can run if you have to.”

In fact, Davidson, a Democratic health care activist, did need an escort after he voiced his support for a public health order mandating masks for all schoolchildren in preschool to sixth grade who are too young for coronavirus vaccines.

The scene is far from unique: across Michigan and the country, people are protesting the mitigation measures health and safety experts say will help stymie the ongoing generational health crisis.

All the while, the pandemic rages on. The indicators of an impending surge have risen drastically: Case rates in Michigan are up more than 1,000% since June 22, the day Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration rolled back the remaining statewide pandemic orders. The test positivity rate is up more than 600% over the same time frame, according to a review of state data.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are up 175% since the day the orders were rescinded. Deaths dipped but have risen back to approximately the same level recorded on that date in June.

This is just the beginning, state health experts warn. As the ultra-transmissible delta variant bears down, they’re predicting another surge, potentially greater than the one in the spring that became the worst outbreak in the nation. And it’s expected to hit just as hundreds of thousands of kids — many ineligible for a vaccine — are returning to in-person school in the coming days.

State leaders are urging local school boards, county commissions and health departments to enact masking rules, but have not instituted any new statewide epidemic orders. That’s prompted local officials to scramble to come up with the best way to keep students safe and residents happy.

“I just don’t know how we got to this point — how this ridiculous thing, a simple mask on someone’s face, has become so divisive and political,” said Davidson, who lives in Ottawa County and has children in a local school system.

Davidson was not physically harmed, but had to push past hundreds of angry parents and children who booed him. Chanting “Vote them out,” they held signs with phrases like “I refuse to wear a mask!” and “Our Kids Our Choice #NoMask.”

The state’s largest counties, including Wayne, Oakland, Kent and Genesee, have enacted school mask mandates. However, all district and county mandates still only cover approximately 54% of Michigan students, according to Whitmer’s office. Some middle schools in Genesee County serve children in sixth, seventh and eighth grades, but the mask mandate applies only to sixth-graders, many of whom are still not old enough to be fully vaccinated. Only one coronavirus vaccine, Pfizer, is authorized for use in children as young as 12.

While sixth-graders must wear masks at all times, seventh- and eighth-graders also would need to wear masks when attending classes with the sixth-graders, a county health official said. Teachers must wear masks if there are sixth-graders in their classes.

On Friday, Halaina Burt, a 42-year-old Grand Blanc resident, was arraigned on charges of sending death threats to two Genesee County health department officials who enacted the mask rule for younger students in the mid-Michigan County.

“I understand the passion that some people feel over this mask order. It’s going on across the state, I’ve seen it in other counties as well,” said Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, noting Burt is innocent until proven guilty.

“Peaceful protest is a healthy thing. But there’s a line you can’t cross, and these allegations cross that line.”

Vaccines and the right masks do slow the spread of the coronavirus, and they have never been more readily available.

Despite this, some people are genuinely concerned about the efficacy of vaccines and masking. There are studies that suggest some masks are less effective or do little to stop the spread of COVID-19 in schools or elsewhere, and those vaccinated in late 2020 or early 2021 likely need a booster shot.

A widely cited study on the effectiveness of masks in schools examined the impact of masking policies in November and December on Georgia students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The study found masking by teachers and staff helped slow COVID-19 spread, but the impact of masking students “was not statistically significant compared with schools where mask use was optional.” This study was done before vaccines were widely available, and before the delta variant became the most prevalent form of the virus.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends universal masking in schools, pointing to other studies that showed masking by students — along with other strategies like physical distancing, improved building ventilation and testing — prevent the spread of COVID-19.

While the vast majority of recorded cases now are among unvaccinated people, the number of cases of infected people who are vaccinated is on the rise. Many are asymptomatic carriers, which is why the CDC urged all Americans — vaccinated or not — to resume wearing masks in indoor public places in areas where transmission rates are substantial or high.

In Michigan, pandemic trends have gotten worse since the state rolled back the remaining pandemic regulations on June 22. Every county in the state now has high or substantial levels of community spread by CDC’s benchmarks.

The seven-day case rate average climbed to 1,743 at the end of the week. On June 22, that number was 133 cases. The seven-day average daily test positivity rate — the percentage of COVID-19 tests tracked by the state that come back positive — jumped from 1.2% on June 22 to 8.7% at the end of last week.

About 1,115 people were hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the end of last week, up more than three times the 332 who were hospitalized on June 22.

The average number of daily deaths over a seven-day period dipped substantially after the state’s pandemic restrictions were rescinded, falling from 13 on June 22 to 2 on Aug. 9. But that average had climbed to 17 by Wednesday.

About 5 million people ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated, about 52% of the eligible population in Michigan. But vaccination trends have dropped from a seven-day daily average of 15,000 total shots on June 22 to anywhere from 9,000 to 10,000 total shots delivered daily on average in August.


HEALTH CARE WORKERS PROTEST HENRY FORD MACOMB HOSPITAL’S FORCED VACCINATION

THE OAKLAND PRESS — Carrying signs with messages such as “Unmask our children” and “I do not co-parent with the government,” hundreds of health care workers and others held a rally in front of a Clinton Township hospital Sunday to protest forced vaccinations.

As of noon, an estimated 2,000 people lined both sides of the sidewalk along 19 Mile Road, west of Garfield Road, in front of Henry Ford Macomb Hospital. They barked slogans, waved to passing cars as motorists honked their horns and sang “God Bless America” on a steamy hot afternoon.

They were protesting mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for employees, contractors and others. Workers say Sept. 10 is the deadline to undergo the treatment or face “voluntary” termination.

“My employer is not going to tell me that I have to take a shot,” said Frank Tanner, who said he worked at Henry Ford.

“When I was hired here, I wasn’t told I’d have to have a shot. Now, 35 years later they are forcing me to take one. We all know in Oakland and Macomb counties it’s about the votes and it’s about money. I will be doggone if you’re going to tell us we have to take a shot — no. It’s tyranny.”

Protestors said they aren’t opposed to the vaccine itself — some on Sunday acknowledge they’ve received it — it’s the fact that business or government can force that as a condition of employment that they objected to.

Don Parkinson of Macomb County, who is not a health care worker but is acting as a mouthpiece for some, said Sunday’s rally attracted many outside of the health care industry who are simply “freedom fighters.”

“If they end up firing a third of their staff because they don’t want a shot, the hospital will have to terminate people in order to accomplish that. That’s unfortunate. We don’t want to see people lose their jobs, we want to seem them have a choice in the matter,” Parkinson said.

Henry Ford Health System became the first known hospital system in the state to require all 33,000 of its employees to get vaccinated.

Bob Riney, president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System, said in a statement that the vaccines are safe, effective and the “most powerful tool” available to fight the pandemic.

“The recent decision by the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) to grant full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine further solidified what we already knew. As the first health system in Michigan to require vaccination for our workforce, we remain confident in our decision and are pleased to see broad support for a vaccine requirement across healthcare and in other industries,” Riney said in the statement.


MICHIGAN’S LARGEST PUBLIC COMPANIES ‘ENCOURAGED’ BY SECOND-QUARTER REBOUND

BRIDGE MI — Michigan’s largest publicly traded companies have mounted a strong comeback since the COVID-19 pandemic sent them reeling last year.

The latest corporate financial filings from the state’s biggest employers show their revenues in the second quarter (Q2) of this year rebounded to levels achieved in the same period in 2019 — before the coronavirus devastated the global economy.

Combined, revenues for 30 of these firms dropped 40 percent last year — from $128 billion in Q2 2019 to $77 billion in Q2 2020 — then rose 60 percent to $123 billion this year.

Many of the companies have demonstrated optimism that the recovery will continue by reinstating share buybacks, increasing dividends, paying down debt, and issuing improved financial outlooks for the remainder of the year.

“We’re encouraged by the healthy sales pipelines and new wins we’re seeing across all of our businesses,” Peter Quigley, CEO of Troy-based staffing company Kelly Services, said in a statement. “Our reinstatement of a dividend for the quarter reflects the progress we’re making . . . and our confidence in the economic recovery.”

On Kelly’s quarterly call with industry analysts, Quigley noted that “the temporary labor market is approaching pre-COVID levels, the unemployment crisis in the US has eased with three months of strong job growth, and demand for staffing and other workforce solutions continues to grow.”

Michigan’s recovery mirrors the national picture: in Q2 2021, U.S. economic output surpassed pre-pandemic levels for the first time. Gabe Ehrlich, an economic forecaster at the University of Michigan, said the U.S. government’s $5.2 trillion fiscal response to the pandemic bolstered household incomes and helped fuel the recovery — but the comeback is not complete.

“We have had a strong recovery so far. Big business has done well,” Ehrlich said. “That’s great news, but it’s not the whole picture. Small businesses have had a harder time during the pandemic and there is still a jobs shortfall.”

The state’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.8 percent in July but, compared with February 2020, the labor force has shrunk by 213,000 people and 256,000 fewer Michigan residents are working, according to data from the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some people who left the labor force during the pandemic won’t return to work, Ehrlich said, including individuals who retired earlier than they planned and women who quit to care for children and manage other family responsibilities.

Meanwhile, some Michigan-based public companies are concerned that the recovery is susceptible to inflation, supply chain vulnerabilities, and the resurgence of COVID.

The international microchip shortage is particularly concerning to the auto industry. Ford reported that its quarterly profits fell by half largely due to the shortage of computer chips, and GM CEO Mary Barra said the impact on production will likely extend into 2022. Production shutdowns cost Cooper Standard, a supplier based in Northville, $200 million in Q2.

As consumer demand drives the economic recovery, supply chain issues will continue to create bottlenecks — and this disconnect between demand and supply is expected to cause moderately higher inflation, Ehrlich said.

Economists are optimistic about blue collar employment, he added, noting that the construction sector is strong, logistics jobs are rebounding, and the warehousing and utilities sectors have surpassed pre-pandemic levels.

Hiring for jobs requiring a college degree will be less robust than the blue-collar segment, he said, but better than the service sector. Bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues may continue to struggle as working-from-home and reduced business travel become the norm.

“Due to COVID and how it’s changed the way we do business, (the hospitality sector) remains at risk,” said Ehrlich, who directs the U-M Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics (RSQE).

Overall, forecasts suggest the U.S. economy won’t fully rebound until at least the end of 2023. “Closing that last-mile gap is going to take some time,” he said.

While most of Michigan’s publicly traded companies are heartened by the comeback, they also are acutely aware that COVID remains a cloud on the economic horizon.

“The most important thing from here,” Ehrlich said, “is what the pandemic is going to do. It’s still in the driver’s seat.”


ATTABOYS! TAYLOR NORTH BRINGS HOME MICHIGAN’S SECOND LLWS CHAMPIONSHIP

DETROIT NEWS — With a Little League Baseball World Series championship on the line, Hamilton, Ohio, got 14 runners on base to 10 for Taylor North.

What Taylor North did with those runners, its own and Hamilton’s is the reason the team is returning home as the first Michigan champion in 62 years.

Jackson Surma drove in four runs and Taylor North limited Hamilton to one run in five plate appearances over three bases-loaded situations Sunday afternoon during a 5-2 victory in the championship game at Lamade Stadium.

“We’re getting ready to celebrate with a lot of very important people that have been waiting to celebrate with us,” Taylor North manager Rick Thorning said of players and coaches reuniting with the rest of their families after largely being kept apart for COVID-19 protocols during the Great Lakes Regional and World Series.

The clutch performances that made the celebration possible started right from the first inning.

Taylor North never had a bases-loaded opportunity, but went 5-for-14 with runners on base. With runners in scoring position, it was 2-for-8 with Surma’s hits driving in four runs and Furkas producing another on an out.

An error-free defense turned a double play when it was still a two-run game in the fifth inning and got an extra out when Thorning quickly spotted and threw out the confused base runner. Farner, the shortstop, started the double play that Van Belle turned from his second base position.

The rest came from Van Belle and Ulin pitching through difficult situations on a day when they threw almost as many balls (62) as strikes (74).

Taylor North breezed through the postseason, with just one loss in its last 16 games — coming earlier this week to Hawaii, the team it beat, 2-1, on Saturday, to advance to Sunday’s championship game. On Sunday, Taylor North beat the Hamilton, Ohio, team it also beat in its Great Lakes Regional final. Two teams from each U.S. regional advanced to Williamsport this year, with no international teams because of COVID-19.

The run by Taylor North caught the attention of baseball fans and dignitaries all over Michigan, with the Tigers announcing scores at Comerica Park, college coaches sharing words of encouragement on Twitter, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sending congratulation and good-luck messages on social media, and Michigan basketball star Hunter Dickinson even attending a game earlier in the tournament.

Tigers manager AJ Hinch taped a message Sunday morning.

“Bring that championship home,” Hinch said from Comerica Park. “Play hard, have fun, score some runs, play some good defense. We’re rooting for you.”

The Tigers tweeted congratulations moments after the final out.

The team, which also included Noah Boren, Max LaForest, Jaxon Shufeldt and Kale Harris, joins the 1959 Hamtramck squad as Michigan’s only champions.

“We’ve done a little bit of research,” manager Thorning said. “We got to watch the videos in the museum and we got to in there and see the pitcher.

“We’re just excited that we’re mentioned with them and to be in there with them.”

Taylor North was just the second champion from the Great Lakes Region (Louisville, 2002); Hamtramck came out of the old Central Region. West Side Little League, the team from Hamilton, Ohio, has been a regular in the Little League World Series, but became the first from its state ever to compete in the championship game.

Meanwhile, this was the first team from Taylor ever to play in the Little League World Series, and the build-up process was a long time coming, with coaches Rick Thorning and Guido Ulin — dads to two star players — leading the charge to merge, amid declining enrollment, three of the city’s Little Leagues into one, to help assemble a greater All-Star team for postseason play.


MICHIGAN CONFIRMS 4,326 COVID-19 CASES AND 38 ADDITIONAL DEATHS OVER PAST TWO DAYS

THE OAKLAND PRESS — Michigan public health officials confirmed Wednesday an additional 4,326 COVID-19 cases and 38 virus deaths.

Those cumulative totals represent testing data collected Tuesday and Wednesday. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) publishes new case, death, and vaccination numbers every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Of the 38 deaths reported, 10 were identified during a vital records review. Over the past two days, the state has averaged 2,163 cases per day, up from 1,273 cases per day Aug. 21-23, a 69.9 percent increase.

The two-day case total brought the state’s total confirmed cases and deaths to 937,720 and 20,161 since the onset of the pandemic.

Oakland County saw the largest increase in cases at 619 followed by Wayne County at 573 (excluding Detroit), Macomb County at 383, Kent County at 288, and Ottawa County at 187. Detroit saw an increase of 220 cases.

26 of the state’s 83 counties reported at least one new death, according to MDHHS data.

The state’s COVID-19 case and testing positivity rates continue to remain high due to the spread of the Delta variant. Statewide, there are over 1,120 Michiganders hospitalized with COVID-19, the majority being in southeast Michigan, with 76 percent of the state’s hospital beds occupied.

Michigan’s daily case rate currently stands at 125.5 cases per 100,000 residents, which puts the state in the high community transmission category. The testing posivity rate is averaging around 8-10 percent per day.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting that 92.98 percent of U.S. counties have had high community transmission levels, including the majority of Michigan’s 83 counties. High transmission means averaging at least 100 new cases per day per 100,000 residents over a 7-day period.

According to Michigan public health officials, most of the state’s 83 new virus outbreaks are concentrated in the long-term care (26 new outbreaks) and childcare setttings (18 new outbreaks).

As of Aug. 25, the state’s vaccination coverage rate for residents 16 and older was over 65 percent including 36.2 percent for those aged 12-15, 44.7 percent for those aged 16-19, 42.7 percent for those aged 20-29, and 53.1 percent for those aged 30-39.

Among the older groups, vaccination rates are 57.3 percent for those aged 40-49, 68.5 percent for those aged 50-64, 82.8 percent for residents aged 65-74, and 79.5 percent for Michiganders aged 75 and older.

On Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive directive to state departments and agencies to begin preparing the state’s vaccine response to administer booster COVID-19 vaccine doses to Michiganders beginning Sept. 20. Whitmer added that Michigan “has an ample supply of the COVID-19 vaccine to meet the projected demand.”

In that directive, Whitmer also directed the state’s vaccine providers to prioritize booster doses beginning with residents in long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and adult foster care.

“With booster doses on the horizon, we are reactivating our close partnerships with local health departments and pharmacies to get shots in arms as quickly as possible,” said Whitmer. “We know that this virus still disproportionately affects older Michiganders, which is why I’m also prioritizing booster shots for residents in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.”

Lynn Sutin, MDHHS spokesperson, confirmed Wednesday that 9,010 booster doses have been administered since Aug. 13 statewide. Right now, the only groups eligible for a third dose include those the federal government identifies as immunocompromised such as organ transplant, active cancer, and HV patients at least six months out from their two-dose series.

Sutfin said updated third dose numbers should be added to the state’s website on Friday.

On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also gave full use approval to the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which could lead to increased confidence and decreased relunctancy among the unvaccinated to get vaccinated and allow more employers and universities to feel comfortable implementing vaccine mandates.


ALMOST HALF OF MICHIGAN STUDENTS NOW IN SCHOOLS WITH COVID MASK MANDATES

BRIDGE MI — Even without a statewide school mask mandate, a rising number of Michigan school districts are requiring face coverings when classes open, either of their own choice or through orders from county health departments.

As of Tuesday night, at least 153 of the state’s 537 traditional school districts, enrolling about 660,000 students — 46 percent of all public school students in Michigan — had mask mandates, according to figures tabulated by the administration of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Not all those 624,000 students will be required to wear masks — in some of the 153 districts, for instance, only elementary school students, who are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, will face a mask mandate. While in others, all students must wear face coverings.

Mask mandates have skyrocketed in the past week as delta variant-fueled cases continue to rise, a greater number of children in some areas are being hospitalized, and with the federal government granting full approval to the vaccine produced by Pfizer. The health division of Oakland County issued a mask mandate for all schools in the state’s second most populous county Tuesday evening. The order covers the 28 public school districts in the county as well as charter schools.

That order requires all staff and students from pre-K through 12th grade to wear face coverings while in school, regardless of vaccination status, and stays in effect until 14 days after community transmission in the county is lowered to “moderate” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oakland County is now categorized by the CDC as having “high” transmission. Most counties in the state are categorized as having “substantial” or “high” transmission, both considered worse for COVID spread than “moderate.”

Oakland is at least the sixth county to issue mask mandates for schools, following Genesee, Kent, Ottawa, Kalamazoo and Allegan counties.

Some schools without countywide mandates are making the choice on their own to require masks.

One example is Warren Consolidated Schools in Macomb County, the state’s 10th-largest school district with 13,000 students. That district had announced in early August that masks would be optional. But faced with growing concern about the delta variant and increasingly strident federal and state recommendations that face masks be required, the district changed course Sunday, requiring masks for all staff and students.

“Given the vaccine is not yet available for children younger than 12 years old and many live with older siblings, the spread of Covid-19, and the more contagious delta variant, remain a significant concern,” Warren Superintendent Robert Livernois wrote to parents. “This is especially important as cases are increasing just as schools are returning to full-time, in-person learning this fall.”

Plymouth-Canton Community Schools announced a mandate Tuesday, making it the seventh of the state’s 10 largest-enrollment school districts to require face masks. Among the top 10, Utica and Chippewa Valley in Macomb County and Livonia in Wayne County remain mask-optional.

Other districts with mandates include Detroit, Dearborn, Rochester, Grand Rapids and Lansing.

Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a statewide mask mandate during the 2020-21 school year, but so far have stopped short of requiring face masks this fall, instead issuing guidance that “strongly recommends” masks.

The administration’s top doctor, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, acknowledged last week that she had recommended to Whitmer that a statewide school mask mandate would decrease COVID among students.

Since then, Whitmer has continued to insist that those school districts rather than the governor should make the “hard decisions” about whether to mandate masks for staff or students or make them optional.

School leaders responded by saying that medical experts, rather than superintendents and school boards, should make the decision about masks. Robert McCann, executive director of the K12 Alliance for Michigan, a school advocacy group, said repeatedly during this summer that schools, facing intense pressure from vocal anti-mask parents, would never mandate masks on their own.

But that resistance has started to crumble in the past week. The percentage of Michigan students attending schools where masks are mandated for at least some students rose from 35 percent Monday, to 46 percent one day later, according to data collected by the state and shared with Bridge Michigan.

In Oakland County, for example, as of Friday, just 11 of the county’s 29 public school districts had announced mask mandates, according to The Oakland Press. Tuesday’s mandate issued by Oakland County officials means all 176,000 students in the county will be wearing masks this fall. The county order cited rising infections and hospitalizations among children linked to the more-infectious delta variant of COVID-19.


AFTER MONTHS OF MICHIGAN SCHOOL MASK PROTESTS, ANTI-ANTI-MASKERS MOBILIZE

BRIDGE MI — With roughly two weeks before classes start at Grosse Pointe Public Schools, Beth Bright Wood is rushing to make decisions on what to do next for her severely asthmatic 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter.

The school district currently is not requiring masks for the upcoming school year, and Bright Wood is, for now, planning to un-enroll her daughter from kindergarten and have her son learn at home.

“My husband and I have to choose between our children’s health or their education, and that’s not right,” she told Bridge Michigan.

For months, across Michigan and much of the country, people opposed to mask mandates have dominated the news with loud protests at school board meetings, as districts wrestle with decisions on face masks.

Bright Wood is among parents who favor school mask mandates who are organizing rallies, issuing news releases and peppering school leaders to make sure their voices are also being heard amid a cacophony of anti-mask protests.

One pro-mask rally was held Wednesday outside the Macomb County Health Department, just miles and a few hours away from an anti-mask protest at the Oakland County Health Division.

“Seeing the ‘unmask-our-children’ parents get really vocal at the school board meetings — I think a lot of us (thought) now we need to start speaking up, too,” said Emily Mellits, the mother of a first- and third-grader in Romeo Community Schools in Macomb County.

“They think they are the majority and quite frankly they might not be,” Mellits said.

Parents who criticize mask mandates have raised a number of concerns, from arguing that parents should have the freedom to decide if their children wear facial coverings, to masks interfere with students’ educational and social development. Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey has questioned the science behind the effectiveness of masks to protect against COVID in schools, and cited studies indicating the virus is no more harmful to children than the flu.

But with the delta variant continuing to fuel a rise in COVID-19 cases, and children under the age of 12 still not eligible for vaccines, pro-mask parents say they are tired of ceding the public square to anti-mask families.

The Oakland County Health Division announced Tuesday that everyone in elementary, middle and high schools as well as vocational schools in the county will be required to wear face coverings regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status. That edict will remain in effect until 14 days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determine COVID spread in the county is “moderate” or lower. Currently, the CDC considers COVID spread in Oakland County to be “high.”

As of Tuesday, about 46 percent of the state’s students attend a school district or are in a county that has implemented a mask mandate.


500,000-PLUS JOBLESS MICHIGAN WORKERS BRACE TO LOSE UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

BRIDGE MI — More than a half-million unemployed Michigan residents are preparing to lose all or part of their jobless benefits at the end of next week when federal pandemic-related unemployment programs expire.

The transition will leave fewer than 100,000 state residents receiving jobless benefits in September, down from a record 2.1 million people in April 2020.

Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency this week notified everyone with active claims to expect the reduction — including the $300 per week enhanced benefit that was included with all payments since March — along with information on how to access job search tools.

“These federal programs provided much-needed financial relief to those who experienced job losses as a result of the pandemic,” said Liza Estlund Olson, acting UIA director, in a statement.

Now, she said, the focus is on resolving outstanding issues at UIA and scaling back department operations as the number of people receiving benefits decreases as of the week ending September 4.

“We want to work through any backlogs that we have,” she said Wednesday during a press conference.  “We want to make sure that we’re taking care of all of the people who we need to take care of.”

Based on the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Labor as of the end of July, the changes in Michigan’s unemployment will affect:

  • About 312,000 people receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. PUA is for  workers who are not ordinarily eligible for state unemployment benefits, such as self-employed, independent contractors and gig workers.
  • About 185,000 people receiving Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation. PEUC allows up to 53 weeks of extended benefits after someone exhausts their regular state claim.

In addition, an estimated 95,000 people receiving regular benefits will lose the $300 weekly supplement, known as Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.

Business leaders say employers hope to welcome many of the jobless workers back into the workforce. Some state legislators had hoped to end the $300 enhanced benefits three month early, saying in June that employers needed them back and that the payments provided a disincentive to seek work.

Michigan’s labor force declined by about 236,350 in July when compared to July 2019, before the pandemic, according to federal data.

And among the people who are working, 252,310 fewer jobs were filled over that same time frame. Employers across the U.S. have said this year that they’re struggling to hire enough workers as businesses fully reopen following pandemic restrictions.

“People who are on unemployment are not going to have a hard time finding work that pays as much or more than unemployment,” said Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan.

“The work is there,” Calley said. “Lack of jobs will not be the problem.”

At the same time, advocates for low-income Michigan residents worry about what the change will mean for many of them, especially workers who are not able to return to work due to health issues, concerns about COVID-19 and the delta variant, child care issues, and for gig workers whose industries have not rebounded.

“There are not enough safety nets in place,” said Lisa Ruby, public benefits law attorney with the Michigan Poverty Law Center.

“Workers and their families will suffer both housing and food insecurity,” she said. “This will impact health, and the ability of children to engage in school, especially during this time when they are returning, for the most part, to in-person learning.”

The change in unemployment will affect the state agency administering them, too.

Complaints about UIA have dogged it since the start of the pandemic, as people went unpaid while overwhelmed staff struggled to adapt its controversial computer system to the dramatically higher volume of filers. Wide-scale fraud attempts, slow payments, difficulty resolving concerns and the resignation of the agency director all feed what state Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, speaking at a recent House Oversight Committee meeting, called “a pattern of incompetence and mismanagement”.

Olson defended her department during a call with reporters Wednesday.

“Come walk a day in my shoes,” she said. “And in everybody else who works in this agency’s shoes who are trying to get this work done and totally and completely understand that our mission is to pay eligible claimants the benefits they are due.

“We do that every day.”

But the number of people doing that work within UIA will decline as outstanding cases are resolved. About 20,000 people who have filed what the state calls “potentially eligible” claims have received no benefits, and Olson said the agency was unable to say when those people will hear a determination of benefits.

After September 4, about 1,500 contract staff will leave the UIA, Olson said, with the limited-term staff assigned to UIA from other departments — just under 500 people — departing next. That will leave 650 permanent staff, she said.

Olson advised people who’ve made UIA claims to keep an eye on their accounts for up to a year, due to the length of time it can take to resolve appeals and other pending issues.

That also will give them access to information “in case there are additional issues with their claim,” Olson said, noting that various reviews could result in money owed to them.

“We still have work that we’re doing for the people who are currently there,” Olson said,

Meanwhile, she stressed, people with questions and concerns about their benefits should continue to make appointments for online and in-person visits, as those will remain available.

Michigan’s unemployment system has processed 3.39 million claims since the pandemic began in March 2020, resulting in payouts totaling $38.3 billion.


OAKLAND COUNTY MANDATES MASKS IN ALL K-12 SCHOOLS IN EMERGENCY ORDER

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Students and staff in schools across all of Oakland County will be required to wear masks as the school year begins.

Oakland County’s Health Division issued an indoor mask mandate on Tuesday, citing increasing COVID-19 hospitalizations among children nationwide. Oakland County is the second biggest county by population in Michigan, with 200,000 students who will be impacted by the order.

Districts include Rochester Community Schools, Troy School District and Novi Community School District.

“Our top priority is keeping students in school for in-person learning,” said Dave Coulter, Oakland County executive. “Masking is one of the best defenses against increased transmission of COVID and higher hospitalization rates among kids.”

The order follows other counties in Michigan, including Genesee and Kent counties. . While other states have broadly mandated masks, Michigan state leaders, led by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, left mandates up to individual counties.

With Oakland’s order, 152 Michigan districts are now under a mask policy, representing 624,000 kids or about 43.4% of all students in the state, according to Whitmer’s office.

The uncertainty on the state level has left some school administrators in difficult positions, pulled in two different directions by community members vehemently opposed to and ardently supportive of masks.

Debates over masks reached peak levels in recent weeks, with school board meetings growing chaotic, punctuated by yelling. In Birmingham, one man was thrown out of a meeting for giving a Nazi salute.

And time is running out for many Michigan schools, which typically begin in the weeks before or after Labor Day. Many districts will start school next week, on Aug. 30.

The order also cites studies involving masks and schools, which found that proper masking cuts down on COVID-19 transmission in schools, particularly when vaccines aren’t available to every age group. The COVID-19 vaccine is available for children ages 12 and up, but still not authorized for children younger than 12.

State Rep. Kelly Breen, D-Novi, said she was relieved upon hearing news of the order, as a parent of two young children.

“We see that school districts are shutting down and the last thing we want is for our kids to have to return to virtual learning,” she said. “Some schools are not even set up for that right now. … This is quite simply the right thing to do.”

While some Oakland County school districts had mandated masks on their own, others, such as Clarkston, made masks an optional accessory for back-to-school.

The news for parents in Oakland County was cheered by some and vilified by others. Families flooded the comment section on the county’s Facebook post announcing the mandate, leaving “thank you” and “I hate you” notes.

“I know it’s not a popular decision but thank you on behalf of all of the parents whose children cannot be vaccinated,” wrote one commenter.

Jason Wantuck, a parent in the Avondale School District, said his two children started school this week. He supports the mandate, he said.

“Whatever we have to do to get that to happen so that we don’t have further shutdowns, we don’t have further quarantines, we don’t have anything that really interrupts the educational process as much as possible,” he said.

Christopher Peace, a parent with two sons in Lake Orion’s school district, said his 5-year-old son is entering kindergarten and has serious health issues. Peace desperately wants his son to experience in-person learning, but the lack of a mask mandate worried him, especially when vaccines aren’t available for young children.

“I’ve been fighting for it for quite awhile,” he said. “For many years, we’ve sort of been treated as second class citizens. … When your choice of trying to avoid a mere inconvenience can hurt my child, it becomes a major issue for me.”


MORE STORMS BRING MORE POWER OUTAGES TO METRO DETROIT

THE OAKLAND PRESS — Tens of thousands of metro Detroiters are without power on Wednesday morning, after another round of storms passed over the region during the prior evening.

The outages come on another day that is expected to be hot, with temperatures approaching 90 degrees and high humidity.

At 8 a.m., the company reported about 30,500 homes and businesses without power.

The outages are scattered across the region, including Oakland and Macomb counties as well as in the Downriver area in Wayne County. They also are stretched into the Thumb area and along the Canadian border in New Baltimore and Algonac.

One cluster of outages is in the Waterford and White Lake townships areas, impacting about 5,800 customers. About 6,000 homes and businesses are without power in southern Macomb County, including in Warren and Mount Clemens.

About 2,500 were out in southeastern Oakland County, many along I-75 near Royal Oak.

Nearly 3,000 lost power in the Downriver communities of Southgate and Lincoln Park.

Most outages did not have a restoration, but 560 DTE Energy crews were in the field at 8 a.m. Wednesday. One large outage in Rochester Hills, impacting thousands along Tienken Road, has already been restored, according to a review of the DTE Energy outage map.

A heat advisory is in effect until 8 p.m. today with the heat index expected to reach into the upper 90s or up to 100.

“Hot temperatures and high humidity may cause heat illnesses to occur,” the National Weather Service reported. “Drink plenty of fluids, stay in an air-conditioned room, stay out of the sun, and check up on relatives and neighbors. Young children and pets should never be left unattended in vehicles under any circumstances.”

These outages follow several major storms this summer, causing widespread outages. Earlier this month, about a million Michigan residents lost power after three major storms passed by in two days.


MICHIGAN REDISTRICTING COMMISSION’S LATEST CHALLENGE: ATTENDANCE

BRIDGE MI — As the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission races to draw the state’s new political boundaries, the panel is also faced with an internal issue: absences.

The biggest recent offender is the commission chair, Brittni Kellom, a Democrat from Detroit. She has missed 14 of 33 (42 percent) of the commission meetings since being elected chair March 18, according to minutes and other records analyzed by Bridge Michigan.

Overall, Kellom has missed 17 meetings of 60 since the commission started its work Sept. 17.

The commissioner with the second worst attendance is Juanita Curry, also a Democrat, who has missed nine of 60 meetings since September.

In the last three meetings, three members of the 13-member commission have been absent, raising concerns within the panel that it was close to lacking a quorum for the meetings.

Just on Monday, Rhonda Lange, a Republican, joined the panel via Zoom but was hesitant to support a motion to extend the length of the meeting.

“I’m not feeling good today and I’m here today just to make sure we have a quorum,” Lange said.

The spate of missed sessions prompted a reminder from the organization whose efforts led to the commission’s creation through a statewide vote in 2018. Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, noted in a statement to Bridge Michigan that the commission’s work will have an impact on voting rights and political boundaries for the next decade.

“The public needs every commissioner to show up and actively participate in every aspect of the redistricting process,” Wang said.

The state’s redistricting commission has 13 members: four Democrats, four Republicans and five independents. According to rules adopted by the panel, a quorum consists of nine commissioners, and must include at least one member from each of the three groups.

In addition to missing 17 meetings overall, Kellom, the commission chair, arrived late to three other meetings and twice left meetings early, the records show.

In a statement, Kellom told Bridge on Tuesday she has been open with the commission “regarding any unexpected personal and family health challenges and work conflicts, especially against the necessarily evolving MICRC schedule.

“Like other Michigan residents, and the only commissioner who works full-time, I do my best to juggle all my responsibilities effectively, efficiently, and ethically,” said Kellom, founder and executive director of Just Speak, an advocacy group that focuses on childhood trauma. “Nevertheless, I remain committed and resolute in raising my voice to ensure fair maps through public engagement.”


WHITMER: ‘NO PLANS TO DO ANY BROAD MANDATES’ AROUND VACCINES, MASKS IN SCHOOLS

DETROIT NEWS — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is not considering a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for state workers now that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration granted the first full authorization Monday of a coronavirus vaccine.

“There are no plans to do any broad mandates,” she said Monday, referring to her decision not mandate vaccines or require masks at Michigan schools.

“Those who were uneasy because of the early use authorization status of the vaccine maybe now will have a greater confidence in the fact that these vaccines are safe and they work.”

It’s the latest in a series of statements Whitmer or members of her administration have made to rebuff the idea of new pandemic regulations in Michigan. While the governor and state health department leaders have argued mask mandates and capacity restrictions saved lives in the first months of the pandemic, since January the Whitmer administration has promoted a message that revolves around personal responsibility.

That’s left some school leaders and parents frustrated and afraid. Some districts are mandating masks, but the majority are not.

In the early days of the pandemic — when almost all schools were offering only remote education — there were few reports of children hospitalized due to COVID-19. But the number of children in the hospital sick with the virus has risen drastically in recent weeks in parts of the country where the delta variant is raging.

The FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine, to be marketed under the name Comirnaty, is for use in Americans ages 16 and older. For those ages 12-15, the vaccine still has emergency use authorization and the vast majority of experts agree it is safe. But kids under the age of 12 still cannot get the vaccine, and that makes them vulnerable to infection. The governors of New Jersey, Washington state, California, Hawaii and New York as well as the mayor of the District of Columbia all have put some form of COVID-19 vaccine mandate in place, whether it’s for public-sector employees, health care workers or teachers. In some places, all three classes of workers must either get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. Federal employees also must attest to being fully vaccinated or undergo frequent COVID-19 tests, and the U.S. military is expected to issue a vaccine mandate as well.

Whitmer’s goal was to get at least one dose of coronavirus shots into the arms of 70% of the state’s 16 and older population, but the state has yet to reach that benchmark despite incentives that included a statewide lottery-style raffle in July.

As of Monday, the state’s vaccination rate stood at 65.2% — below the national rate of vaccine uptake, which is 73%, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The people that are getting COVID and needing to be hospitalized are overwhelmingly the unvaccinated,” Whitmer said. “So anyone who’s been waiting to see if this (vaccine) gets full approval now knows that it did and we’re hopeful that they will go and get vaccinated.”

From January to July of this year, unvaccinated Michiganders accounted for 98% of COVID cases, 95% of hospitalizations, and 96% of deaths, according to state health department data.


CDC GUIDANCE: ALL BUT 2 MICHIGAN COUNTIES SHOULD MASK UP

DETROIT NEWS — COVID-19 transmission is high enough in all but two of Michigan’s 83 counties that an overwhelming majority of Michigan residents should be wearing masks while in public under federal guidelines, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People who live in areas where there are “high” or “substantial” number of COVID-19 cases should wear masks in public indoors, or outdoors if social distancing isn’t possible, to prevent the spread of the delta variant.

The number of counties that meet that threshold climbed from 33 on Aug. 3, when the new CDC guidance was announced, to 81 as of Saturday, according to CDC data.

Missaukee and Roscommon Counties, which sit next to each other in the northern Lower Peninsula, are listed as having “moderate” rates of community transmission on the CDC’s COVID-19 Tracker.  No Michigan counties have a “low” rate of transmission.

In comparison, three weeks prior, seven of the state’s 83 counties were considered “low” rates of transmission, and 44 were considered “moderate,” meaning the CDC was recommending fewer than half of all Michigan counties wear masks indoors in public. Only six counties had “high” transmission rates.

That matches a trend seen nationally as the delta variant has spread. Across the country, most states have been marked as “high” transmission communities. Many states, including Indiana in the Midwest and nearly all of the states along the Gulf Coast, are ranked as being entirely high transmission.

The places in the United States that are still considered low transmission are among some of the least-densely populated. That includes rural counties in places like Idaho, Nevada and Nebraska, some of which only have a few thousand or even a few hundred people living over several hundred square miles, 2020 census data shows.

The CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status.

On Monday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer defended her decision to forgo a statewide student mask mandate, arguing Michigan finds itself in circumstances much different than last year when executive orders were one of the only options available to protect people.

Now there are vaccines, and better mask and social distancing guidelines, she told reporters at a Monday press conference.

“We now have tools so that we can take action to protect ourselves and those around us,” Whitmer said. “And we know that districts in large measure wanted the ability to make those decisions at the local level.”

But Michigan State University Epidemiologist Dr. Nigel Paneth, an emeritus university distinguished professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and pediatrics, said it’s clear that people need to go back to masking.

“We jumped the gun a bit in June when we said we don’t need masks as of July 1. I think everybody was trying to accommodate the anti-maskers, and I think it was a mistake then.”

Michigan on Monday reported 3,920 new COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths over three days as a health association said statewide hospitalizations tied to the virus have now exceeded 1,000.

On Monday, amid ongoing concerns about the more contagious delta variant, the tallies from the state Department of Health and Human Services pushed overall totals to 933,394 cases and 20,123 deaths since the pandemic began in March 2020.

The latest figures reflect cases and deaths from Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Michigan’s COVID-19 hospitalization and new infection numbers have been trending upward for a month.

The state has reported 10,807 new cases over the last week, up 14% from the 9,467 cases disclosed over the previous seven-day period.

Asked about the virus progressing from 33 to 81 counties with high or substantial transmission in three weeks, Paneth wasn’t surprised.

“They’re not masking, they’re not vaccinated,” Paneth said. “And if you’re not masking and not vaccinated, you’re asking for trouble.”


OAKLAND UNIVERSITY MANDATES VACCINE FOR ALL ON-CAMPUS STUDENTS, FACULTY AND STAFF

THE OAKLAND PRESS — Oakland University announced today that it is now mandating vaccines for all students attending in-person courses and other activities, in addition to all faculty and staff working on campus or at off-site locations.

The move comes after the university decided earlier this month to mandate masks indoors but not vaccines, which drew ire from faculty members.

“We’ve been constantly assessing the situation,” said Dr. Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, OU president, to The Oakland Press. “What we’ve done today is an extension of the mandate initially in place months ago.”

She was referring to the school’s spring decision to make vaccines mandatory for students living on campus.

Pescovitz said the university’s decision was a response to the “staggering numbers of hospitalizations and deaths in Michigan” and nationwide in relation to COVID-19 and the Delta variant.

Today, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer stated that from January to July of this year, unvaccinated Michiganders accounted for 98% of COVID cases, 95% of hospitalizations and 96% of deaths.

University officials also pointed to the state’s seven-day case average increasing 14% to 133,056 cases. In the state, COVID-19 hospitalizations are up 23% since the week of Aug. 9 and deaths are up 41% since late July.

“There has been a rapidly rising rate of COVID infections nationwide, but also here in Michigan and in particular in our areas in Macomb and Oakland counties,” Pescovitz said. “Our concern is that the rate with which the Delta variant is affecting people, and especially young people, we were concerned we might not reach our goal of completing herd immunity in time to protect our campus community.”

There was a preference to reach herd immunity voluntarily, she added, but officials realized they might not get there because students are not yet on campus. Those living on campus are scheduled to move in this weekend.

More than 80% of OU students come from Oakland and Macomb counties.

Pescovitz said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granting full approval today for the Pfizer vaccine also aided the decision.

“The data demonstrates that many vaccine-hesitant individuals would be much more accepting of vaccinations once the FDA approved the vaccine,” she said. “That helped us as well.”

The mandate stipulates that those who have not yet been vaccinated must receive their first shot by Friday, Sept. 3, and their second shot for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by Friday, Oct. 1. Vaccination status must be uploaded through OU’s Graham Health Center secure patient portal, where their individual information will be kept confidential.

Pescovitz said that since Moderna requires four weeks between first and second shots, it allows students to get their first shots with enough time to reach the deadlines. Vaccinations are also offered on campus.

Requests for medical and religious exemptions will be considered. However, exempted individuals would be required to have “frequent” COVID-19 testing.

Pescovitz said that such exemptions would have to be approved but did not elaborate.

OU says it will continue to offer $100 to all students, faculty and staff who upload their data to the portal. It also said it is working to expand the number of online courses.


OAKLAND COUNTY RESIDENT WINS $2 MILLION IN MI SHOT TO WIN SWEEPSTAKES

THE OAKLAND PRESS — An Oakland County resident has won the $2 million grand prize in the MI Shot To Win Sweepstakes.

The MI Shot To Win Sweepstakes giveaway, which began July 1 and ended July 30, included $5 million in total prizes to vaccinated residents, including a $1 mllion prize, $2 million prize, and 30 $50,000 daily drawings, and a combined total of nearly $500,000 in college scholarships to nine students.

The goal of the sweepstakes was to help encourage more Michiganders to get vaccinated and push the state’s vaccination coverage rate closer to 70 percent for its age 16 and older population.

On Monday, Christine Duval, of Bloomfield Township, an immigrant from Canada, was named the winner of the sweepstakes’ $2 million prize. She said the money will help her family achieve “the American dream” and support the community with plans to donate a portion of the winnings to aid community mental health services adding, “it’s a cause very close to our heart.”

“Our family has been incredibly blessed by this unexpected windfall,” she said. “We’re very grateful to the Great State of Michigan, and our fellow Michiganders for this great opportunity life has placed ahead of us. Winning a sweepstake is never something you plan.”

The mother of three children said she, her husand, and two of three children are all vaccinated. Her youngest daughter is 10-years-old and not yet eligible for the vaccine. Duval and her husband were vaccinated in April at a pharmacy in Southfield.

Duval added, “As such, our family needs time to process this incredible news and dedicate reflection time over how to handle this change. Over the next few weeks, we will measure the level of good fortune we received while trying to remain true to who we are. We’re especially enthusiast in making a difference for the Mental health cause. We would like to keep encouraging all of those still unvaccinated to go and get the
vaccine. This is the quickest and safest way for all of us to get back to a normal life.”

In addition to announcing the final eight winners of daily prizes of $50,000 and the $2 million grand prize, state officials also announced the nine four-year college scholarship winners ages 12 to 17.

Protect Michigan Commission Director Kerry Ebersole Singh said several winners who were previously unvaccinated before the sweepstakes said they were inspired to get their vaccinations based on those discussions and the prizes they could win.

During the one-month sweepstakes, the state’s vaccine coverage rate for residents age 16 and older increased from 61 percent to 63 percent. Michigan’s current vaccination rate now exceeds 65%, according to state’s most recent data provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).

 

During July, the number of first-dose vaccine administration’s increased week-over-week including:

July 4-10 28,000 first doses administered

July 11-17 30,000 first doses administered

July 18-24 35,000 first doses administered

July 25-30 41,000 first doses administered

Over that same period, more than 2.4 million Michiganders signed up to win cash prices and over 106,000 Michiganders entered to win college scholarships.

“Thanks to every Michigander who got their shot, the MI Shot To Win Sweepstakes has been a success and we are continuing to make progress in keeping our families and communities safe,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. “But our work is not done. We are going to keep making efforts to reach people where they are, answer their questions and help them get their shots. If we work together, I know we can get this done and continue our economic jumpstart.”


CORONAVIRUS TRACKER | CASES SPIKE BY MORE THAN 700 AFTER REMAINING STABLE FOR WEEKS

BRIDGE MI — COVID-19 cases spiked to 4,197 cases on Thursday and Friday — or nearly 2,100 per day — from the daily average of 1,345 on Wednesday and 1,184 on Monday [of last week].

The increase follows rising positive test rates, with 33 counties now averaging 10 percent or more positive tests over the past week, up from 28 counties on Wednesday and 22 counties last Friday.

Most of the counties are rural, but others, urban areas also are experiencing similar increases including Kalamazoo County (12.2 percent) and Kent County (10.2 percent.) The statewide positive test rate remains 8.4 percent over the past week.

Case counts in both Kalamazoo (22 daily cases per 100,000, up from 15) and Kent (17 cases per 100,000, up from 13) are rising as they are in 68 of the state’s 83 counties and Detroit.

However, Michigan still has one of the lowest overall rates in the country.

The increase in cases has put more people in the hospital, with the state reporting more than 1,000 COVID-19 patients (1,011 total) for the first time since 1,007 were reported on June 1.

The number of hospitalized fell to a low of 279 on July 12 but has risen since.

The state also reported 37 additional COVID-19 deaths on Friday and over the past week it was reported 102, double the 61 reported in the previous week.

State officials have warned that the state could face a fourth surge unless more people get vaccinated and people take precautions like wearing masks and remaining vigilant.


WAYNE COUNTY TO OFFER COVID-19 BOOSTER SHOTS STARTING MONDAY. HERE’S WHAT TO KNOW

DETROIT NEWS — Wayne County will begin offering booster shots of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines on Monday as the nation grapples with the delta variant.

A booster shot for the vaccines has gained attention in recent months as a further protectant against the virus, especially as new variants create uncertainty about the vaccines’ long-term efficacy. While the U.S. is expected to recommend Americans get a booster shot eight months after their second dose, immunocompromised Wayne County residents are already cleared to get one at least 28 days after their second shot.

“We encourage residents to consult their doctor or other medical provider about whether they should receive a booster,” said Melita Jordan, director of the Wayne County Department of Health, Human and Veterans Services, in a statement. “This booster will help protect immunocompromised individuals from the virus especially as the more contagious Delta variant continues to spread.”

Here’s what you need to know about getting a booster in Wayne County.

How much does it cost?

The booster will be available free of charge at all Wayne County-sponsored vaccine sites, according to a release from Wayne County Executive Warren C. Evans.

Which vaccines can I get?

Boosters for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will be offered at Wayne County sites.

Johnson & Johnson, the single-shot vaccine, does not have a booster approved and will not be offered at county sites.

Questions about “vaccine mixing,” or the act of mix-and-matching doses from different vaccine makers, have been raised as new information comes out about the ability of different vaccines to protect against new variants. Residents have been advised to get their booster in the same vaccine as they got the first two — meaning those who got two Pfizer shots should stick with Pfizer and those who got Moderna should still get Moderna.

Where can I get one?

The Pfizer booster is available at six locations.

The Henry Ford Centennial Library in Dearborn is open Mondays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In Garden City, the Maplewood Community Center is also open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The Belleville and Taylor campuses of Wayne County Community College both offer the booster on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Flat Rock Community Center and  Lincoln Park Community Center are also giving the booster from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Moderna’s booster is available on three college campuses:

The Harper Woods campus of Wayne County Community College has the booster on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Schoolcraft College in Livonia has it on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Boosters for both brands are also available at many grocery stores, pharmacies and other businesses in the county.

How long should I wait between doses?

The CDC recommends most non-immunocompromised people wait approximately eight months between their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna for the booster.

But the wait is shorter for the immunocompromised. People who fall into this category should wait a minimum of 28 days after the second shot.

Why get a booster?

Officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services say the boosters help to “maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability.” Health experts have said the boosters should not be taken as a sign of vaccine ineffectiveness, but rather as another step to further protect oneself against the virus and hospitalizations.

“Boosters for immunocompromised residents are another safe and effective tool to help our residents stay safe from COVID-19,” Evans said. “The best way to end this pandemic is for all eligible residents to get vaccinated and wear masks in public indoor spaces. Both actions are proven ways to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Do I need an appointment? If so, how can I get one?

Appointments or requests for in-home boosters can be made by calling 1-866-610-3885 or texting “WAYNE VAX” to 48355.

All Wayne County sites take walk-ins from residents.


OAKLAND COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICTS TAKING ACTION ON MASK MANDATES

THE OAKLAND PRESS — To mask or not to mask?

That is the question many Oakland County school districts are trying to answer with classes starting soon and COVID-19 infections on the rise as the Delta variant surges among unvaccinated populations, including children under age 12 not eligible for the vaccines.

The Oakland Press reached out to the county’s 29 public school districts to see who will be mandating masks, both in school buildings and while on buses this fall.

As of Friday, 11 of the county’s 29 public school districts told The Oakland Press they would be mandating masks indoors, in some form, to begin the school year while making clear things could change if cases drop and formal guidance from state and local public health officials is altered.

For the 18 remaining districts, their school boards have either not formally voted on whether to implement an indoor mask measure or not, or have decided only to recommend or make masks optional.

Most of the masking-related actions are being driven by current community transmission levels, as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which in Michigan are currently high, and after consulting with federal, state and county public health officials who have all issued guidance strongly recommending, not mandating, universal masking.

The school boards yet to vote on indoor mask measures include Novi, Northville, and West Bloomfield. All three are expected to announce decisions next week.

The districts not mandating indoor masks include Avondale, Brandon, Clarenceville, Clarkston, Clawson, Holly, Lake Orion, Lamphere, Huron Valley, Lake Orion, Madison, Oxford, Rochester, South Lyon, Walled Lake, and Waterford.

As for mask requirements on buses, every county district, except for one, told The Oakland Press that it would follow the long-standing CDC order requiring masks to be worn on school buses and other public transportation. That order was recently extended through January 2022.

The Oakland Press made repeated attempts to verify whether the Walled Lake school district planned to follow the CDC’s school bus order, but did not receive a response. Vildana Kurtovic, a district spokesperson, said the district will be sharing more information on the upcoming school year sometime next week.

CURRENT FEDERAL, STATE, AND LOCAL GUIDANCE

On Wednesday, MDHHS released new data showing that complete masking, combined with testing, can significantly reduce the likelihood of outbreaks and new cases in classrooms, even with the emerging Delta variant.

According to the data, if one infectious elementary student attends a fully-masked class with 25 other students, it would take 120 hours for there to be a greater than 50 percent chance of transmission. In high schools, it would take 89 hours. In classes with imperfect masking, it would take 24 hours and 18 hours respectively.

MDHHS also released data from North Carolina State University that shows masking in K-12 schools reduces new infections by 40-75 percent. New infections among 500 students after a four-month semester with strict masking and testing protocols in place totaled 105 for elementary, 60 for middle, and 38 for high schools.

Elementary students, ages 5 to 11, are currently not eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Russel Faust, the county’s medical director, said the health department has been working with the schools and holding weekly meetings with school superintendents.

“Basically our guidelines will be similar to the CDC guidelines,’’ he said. “Frankly, each of the schools do what they believe is best regardless of what our recommendations are. Some of them follow our recommendations to the letter, some say, ‘ No, there’s just too much pressure for parents. We’re just not going to mask or we’re not going to do whatever.’ That’s their choice.’’

David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers Michigan, the state’s largest teacher union, told The Oakland Press that the science is clear: layered mitigation efforts, including masks, all work together to help keep everyone safe.

“Particularly given the rise of the Delta variant, we must take every reasonable precaution to protect students and staff in our schools, colleges, and universities,” he said. “Safety plans are always most effective when developed in collaboration with employees, so we encourage all school and college administrators to proactively involve local unions in the process.”

PARENTS AND ADVOCACY GROUPS SPEAK OUT

Fabrice Smieliauskas, a professor of economics and pharmacy practice at Wayne State University, is the father of a Troy elementary school student. As of Aug. 17, a petition to support mask mandates in the Troy School District had been signed by more than 750 people, mostly parents.

“The mask-optional plan you propose does not align with the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) for the return to school this fall,” the petition reads. “These agencies recommend that mask wearing be required for all school children and teachers, vaccinated and unvaccinated, in all K-12 schools.

“We are confused as to why you chose to second-guess these national recommendations and opt for voluntary masking, which the guidance stresses would increase COVID risk. We are dismayed that we face a choice between the education and the safety of our children.”

The national nonprofit organization Moms For America held an event Aug. 19 at the DeVos Performance Center in Grand Rapids, calling for parents “to disregard unlawful orders and not comply with unconstitutional government mandates by joining the National Parents Strike.”

Moms for America was started by Kimberly Fletcher in 2004 in Dayton, Ohio. It has more than 500,000 members and is described as a “national movement of mothers to reclaim our culture for truth, family, freedom and the Constitution.”

“We are going everywhere and we are trying really, really hard to meet the demand,” Fletcher said in an Aug. 18 phone call with The Oakland Press. “We are hitting as many places as we can, from California to the Carolinas, north to south.”

Fletcher, a mother of eight children and grandmother to seven grandchildren, said control measures have reached “Draconian” levels where the health and physical and emotional well-being of children are being dictated by people in control locally and nationally.

She maintains her organization is neither anti-mask nor anti-vaccine. Rather, she and organization members want to dictate how their children are raised.

According to the CDC, multi-layer cloth masks can both block up to 50-70 percent of these fine droplets and particles and limit the forward spread of those that are not captured.

The CDC recommends when choosing a mask for children to find one that is made for children to help ensure a proper fit. Also, check to be sure the mask fits snugly over the nose and mouth and under the chin and that there are no gaps around the sides

Parents shouldn’t be worried about a lack of oxygen when a child is wearing a mask since they are not airtight.

The carbon dioxide (CO2) escapes into the air through the mask when you breathe out or talk. CO2 molecules are small enough to easily pass through mask material. In contrast, the respiratory droplets that carry the virus that causes COVID-19 are much larger than CO2, so they cannot pass as easily through a properly designed and properly worn mask.


MICHIGAN APPLE HARVEST EXPECTED TO FALL AFTER COLD APRIL

ASSOCIATED PRESS – A spring freeze will likely put a fall chill on the size of Michigan’s apple harvest.

The state is expected to produce 18.25 million bushels of apples this year, down from 22 million in 2020, the Michigan Apple Committee reported, citing a forecast from an industry trade show in Chicago.

Some growing areas in April had temperatures in the 20-degree range, said Diane Smith, executive director of the committee.

“Even with frost protection tools and the apple trees’ natural defense mechanisms, some of the fruit was lost. However, there will still be plenty of apples for consumers to enjoy this fall,” Smith said.

There are more than 14 million apple trees in commercial production at hundreds of Michigan farms, especially in western Michigan and the northern Lower Peninsula. The state typically ranks third in the U.S. in apple production.

“When apple trees produce a smaller crop, energy is stored and directed toward production for the next crop,” Smith said. “The industry is hopeful we’ll see a larger crop next year.”


RECORD DELTA WAVE HITS KIDS, RAISES FEAR AS US SCHOOLS OPEN

ASSOCIATED PRESS — [W]ith the highly contagious delta variant spreading across the U.S., children are filling hospital intensive care beds instead of classrooms in record numbers, more even than at the height of the pandemic. Many are too young to get the vaccine, which is available only to those 12 and over.

The surging virus is spreading anxiety and causing turmoil and infighting among parents, administrators and politicians around the U.S., especially in states like Florida and Texas, where Republican governors have barred schools from making youngsters wear masks.

With millions of children returning to classrooms this month, experts say the stakes are unquestionably high.

Very high infection rates in the community “are really causing our children’s hospitals to feel the squeeze,” said Dr. Buddy Creech, a Vanderbilt University infectious disease specialist who is a helping lead research on Moderna’s vaccine for children under 12. Creech said those shots probably won’t be available for several months.

“I’m really worried,” said Dr. Sonja Rasmussen, a pediatrician and public health expert at the University of Florida. “It’s just so disappointing to see those numbers back up again.”

While pediatric COVID-19 hospitalization rates are lower than those for adults, they have surged in recent weeks, reaching 0.41 per 100,000 children ages 0 to 17, compared with 0.31 per 100,000, the previous high set in mid-January, according to an Aug. 13 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, calls the spike in cases among children “very worrisome.”

He noted that over 400 U.S. children have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. “And right now we have almost 2,000 kids in the hospital, many of them in ICU, some of them under the age of 4,” Collins told Fox News on Sunday.

Health experts believe adults who have not gotten their shots are contributing to the surge among grownups and children alike. It has been especially bad in places with lower vaccination rates, such as parts of the South.

While it is clear the delta variant is much more contagious than the original version, scientists are not yet able to say with any certainty whether it makes people more severely ill or whether youngsters are especially vulnerable to it.

As experts work to answer those questions, many hospitals are reeling. Those in Texas are among the hardest hit. On Tuesday, they reported 196 children being treated with confirmed COVID-19. That compares with 163 during the previous peak, in December.

At Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, the nation’s largest pediatric hospital, the number of youngsters treated for COVID-19 is at an all-time high, said Dr. Jim Versalovic, interim pediatrician-in-chief. In recent weeks, the vast majority have had delta infections, and most patients 12 and up have not had shots, he said.

“It is spreading like wildfire across our communities,” he said.

The delta surge is yet another test for the nation’s schools, which are dealing with students who fell behind academically as a result of remote learning or developed mental health problems from the upheaval.

Outbreaks have already occurred at reopened schools in the South that are facing resistance to mask-wearing.


POLL: COVID ANXIETY UP, VACCINE REQUIREMENTS FAVORED

ASSOCIATED PRESS — Anxiety in the United States over COVID-19 is at its highest level since winter, a new poll shows, as the delta variant rages, more states and school districts adopt mask and vaccination requirements and the nation’s hospitals once again fill to capacity.

The poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research also finds that majorities of American adults want vaccination mandates for those attending movies, sports, concerts and other crowded events; those traveling by airplane; and workers in hospitals, restaurants, stores and government offices.

The poll shows that 41% are “extremely” or “very” worried about themselves or their family becoming infected with the virus. That is up from 21% in June, and about the same as in January, during the country’s last major surge, when 43% were extremely or very worried.

“I wouldn’t have said this a couple of years ago, but I’m not as confident as I was in America’s ability to take care of itself,” said David Bowers, a 42-year-old business analyst in the Phoenix suburb of Peoria.

Bowers, a Democrat, and his wife, a public school teacher, got vaccinated early. But they fret once again about their daughters, ages 7 and 9, attending school in a state whose Republican governor, Doug Ducey, signed a law to block school districts from mandating masks, let alone vaccines.

A brief summer respite from COVID-19 fatigue included a family trip to New York. “COVID was pretty much out of mind,” Bowers said. “Now it feels like we’re going backward.”

Close to 6 in 10 Americans say they favor requiring people to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to travel on an airplane or attend crowded public events. Only about a quarter of Americans oppose such measures.

Roughly 6 in 10 also support vaccine mandates for hospital or other health care workers, along with government employees, members of the military and workers who interact with the public, such as in restaurants and stores. Support is slightly lower for requiring vaccinations to go out to a bar or restaurant, though more are in favor than opposed, 51% to 28%.

Nearly 200 million people, or just over 60% of the U.S. population, had received at least one vaccine dose as of Thursday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just over half of the population was fully vaccinated.

Hospitals across the U.S. had more than 75,000 coronavirus patients as of last week, a dramatic increase from a few weeks ago but still well below the winter surge records. Florida, Arkansas, Oregon, Hawaii, Louisiana and Mississippi have set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations in recent weeks, and the surge in the delta variant, combined with low vaccination rates, has produced a scramble to find beds for patients.

The poll suggests that despite increasing cases and greater concern about the virus, Americans have not stepped up their own precautionary behavior since June, though at least half still say they always or often wear a mask around other people, stay away from large groups and avoid nonessential travel.

Confidence in vaccines to withstand virus variants has not waned, either, as U.S. health officials this week announced plans to dispense booster shots to all Americans to shore up their protection. The doses could begin next month.

The poll shows that 55% support requiring Americans to wear masks around other people outside their homes, while 62% support mask mandates specifically for workers who interact with the public, such as at restaurants and stores. Eighty-five percent of Democrats and 39% of Republicans are in favor of mask mandates for public-facing workers.


DTE TO GIVE $100 CREDITS TO ELIGIBLE CUSTOMERS WITH POWER STILL OFF MONDAY

DETROIT NEWS — DTE Energy will issue $100 credits to eligible customers whose power remained off Monday morning, six days after storms pummeled the region.

“Our teams are working to apply the credits on the accounts of all customers who qualify, and we will be notifying these customers over the next several days,” DTE said in an email Thursday.

DTE did not have an estimate of who many customers were eligible  but about 40,000 DTE customers remained without power early Monday, according to the company’s outage map. By Thursday afternoon, 1,700 were waiting to have their power restored.

The $100 credit comes after Nesselon Monday publicly called on DTE and Consumers Energy to voluntarily credit customers who went without power and to provide additional support to those have lost food or have had to seek alternative housing.

“The utility workers for Consumers Energy and DTE Energy are working hard to restore power, and I appreciate those who have worked tirelessly the last several days on behalf of the communities they serve, but these companies also need to work hard to restore trust with their customers,” the attorney general said in a statement.

The new credit is in addition to $25 DTE offered to customers with power outages for more than 120 consecutive hours. DTE customers eligible for the $100 will receive both credits for a total of $125.

Consumers also is offering a $25 credit to eligible customers.

The average power bill in Michigan came to $103.59 in early 2020, according to iPropertyManagement, which uses data from the Energy Information Administration and ranks the state 36th in the country for electricity costs.


MICHIGAN’S REDISTRICTING PANEL REVERSES COURSE ON PLANS FOR NEW MAPS

BRIDGE MI — Members of Michigan’s redistricting panel voted Thursday to drastically change the way they intend to draw new state legislative and congressional districts.

The 13-member commission adopted a plan that requires members to start drawing districts by region, starting with the southeast and south central regions of the state.

This is a departure from a mapping schedule that was adopted just last week, in which commissioners had agreed to first draw all 38 Senate districts, before moving to the state’s 110 House districts and the 13 congressional districts.

Sue Hammersmith, the executive director of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, said the changes should make it easier for commissioners to draw new districts and consider voting patterns of racial minorities in cities like Detroit and Flint.

Edward Woods, the communications and outreach director for the commission, told reporters that “maybe we just got ambitious” with the initial schedule.

The change comes less than one week after the U.S. Census Bureau released decennial population data that will be used to draw the districts. The commission was created by voters in 2018 to wrest political redistricting away from politicians, who produced what one court deemed some of the worst gerrymandering in the nation.

But so far, the panel has encountered delays, caused in part by delays in Census data, and failed in its bid to seek the blessing from the Michigan Supreme Court to complete the maps past the deadline.

By law, the first draft of the commission’s maps is supposed to be ready for public review by Sept. 17, a deadline the group acknowledges it will miss.

Tony Daunt, the executive director of the conservative advocacy group FAIR Maps Michigan, said the latest change in plans is “a painful reminder of how unprepared this commission is to meet their constitutionally mandated deadline.”

“Today’s meeting further damages their trust in that process, and flies in the face of the promise of a clear and transparent process,” Daunt said in a statement.

Under the new plan adopted by the commission, the panel will use most of August to create new state legislative districts in the southeast and south central parts of Michigan.

All the other regions, including metro Detroit, as well as the new congressional districts, will be drawn in September.

The commission is racing against the clock: The constitutional deadline for the adoption of maps is Nov. 1, which it will also probably miss.

Now, the commission is aiming to consider drafts Sept. 30 before hosting a series of meetings throughout the state and voting on drafts Nov. 5.

The commission will then hold a 45-day public comment period. If the commission has to change anything from the proposed maps, it will have to hold again a 45-day public comment period.

That would make it unlikely the commission meets its self-imposed deadline of Dec. 30 in adopting the maps.

If that’s the case, Woods said the commission would then have to adjust the deadline again.

“If we change the maps we have to start the process again for the 45 days, which will have an impact, as in terms of map adoption.”

Meanwhile, political consultants have said the delays could make it harder to recruit candidates to run for office because of the uncertainty of the districts.


IN MICHIGAN, THE COVID INCREASE ISN’T JUST AMONG THE UNVACCINATED ANYMORE

BRIDGE MI — A rise in new coronavirus infections and hospitalizations among the fully vaccinated has altered the COVID-19 picture in Michigan and the United States.

In Michigan, roughly a quarter of 8,100 recent cases have hit those who are fully vaccinated, according to new data released Wednesday.

And while the federal government had said the fully vaccinated accounted for just 3 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations, the Henry Ford Health System of hospitals said Wednesday that its current rate is between 15 to 20 percent.

Those changes, sparked by the more virulent and contagious delta variant,  prompted the Biden administration on Wednesday to call for everyone to get a booster shot of the vaccines.

While Michigan cases have remained relatively steady for two weeks at about 1,300 a day, Michigan’s top epidemiologist, Sarah Lyon-Callo, told reporters Wednesday that officials fear cases, hospitalizations and deaths could soar to levels seen in Texas and Florida if more people do not get vaccinated and take precautions like mask wearing.

“We could have the same kind of experience here if we don’t make use of mitigation measures,” Lyon-Callo said.

Current projections suggest the state could have another 4,000 COVID-19 deaths in late summer and fall if cases spike, atop the 20,000 since the start of the pandemic last year.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration lifted the last major COVID restriction on June 22, and has not ordered new ones amid the steady rise in cases over the past month. She has resisted following the lead of governors in 10 states and issuing a mask mandate for schools, but has strongly recommended that districts require them.

Amid the debate, there have been nearly 2,000 breakthrough cases among the vaccinated in the week ending Aug. 11, out of just over 8,100 total new infections during that same time.

Even though there have been nearly 2,000 “breakthrough cases” in the past week, the rate of infection among the vaccinated is far smaller than those who have not gotten vaccinated. The crude rate, adjusted for population, is 6 daily cases per 100,000 for the vaccinate compared to 17 cases per 100,000 for the unvaccinated.

Public health officials have long said  breakthrough cases are inevitable because the vaccines  are roughly 90 to 95 percent effective. Recent studies have shown lower rates of effectiveness, especially against the delta variant: with one study from five states found the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was only 42 percent effective against that strain.

But medical experts have said those breakthrough cases would likely involve less serious illnesses and deaths.

“We’re also seeing breakthrough disease in the very frail elderly, but we are not seeing healthy people who receive the vaccine hospitalized, which again shows you how effective these vaccines are at this time,” said Dr. Dennis Cunningham, the system’s director of infection control and prevention.

From a peak of over 400,000 first doses given in a week in early April, vaccination rates fell quickly, with fewer than 29,000 first doses given in the second week of July.

But the rate of weekly vaccinations has risen since, averaging over 42,000 in the past three weeks. Nearly 65 percent of the population 16 and older have had at least the first dose. At 42,000 first doses a week, it would take over two months to get to Whitmer’s goal of 70 percent.

So far, over 4.7 million Michigan residents have become fully vaccinated and there have been 12,121 documented infections among the vaccinated, or  0.3 percent of the fully vaccinated.


MICHIGAN’S TOP DOCTOR ASKS WHITMER FOR SCHOOL MASK MANDATE. THE GOVERNOR HASN’T BUDGED.

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The state’s top doctor said Wednesday she has advised Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that a mask mandate for K-12 schools would help keep children safe when they return to classrooms this fall, but Whitmer and state health department Director Elizabeth Hertel have yet to take action on that recommendation.

“I have recommended that if a mask mandate were in place and it were followed, it would likely decrease the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the chief medical executive for the state health department during a news conference.

“I am concerned about what is happening, and what could potentially happen, with our schools. We have put out and updated our guidance last week and specifically recommended that schools implement a universal mask requirement so we can protect our students, keep them in in-person learning.

“We continue to work very closely with our local health departments, providing information to our local superintendents as well. We do understand that there currently is a law that would allow us to implement that mandate. But at this time, the governor and the director have not made that determination.”

Why not, Khaldun couldn’t say.

“I cannot speak to that,” she said. “I do know that my lane is to provide public health guidance but I also recognize that there are many other things that have to be considered when it comes to implementing it.”

Whitmer spokesman Bobby Leddy declined to say why the governor’s administration has yet to issue a school mask mandate and did not confirm whether Khaldun made such a recommendation. Instead, he pointed to the state’s recent public health guidelines that encourage school districts to put in place their own mask requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Leddy noted that nearly 60 local school districts in Michigan have issued mask mandates so far — that amounts to roughly 11% of the state’s 537 school districts.

“Most children cannot be vaccinated and will be spending hours together inside classrooms,” said Sarah Lyon-Callo, the state’s top epidemiologist and director of the Bureau of Epidemiology and Population Health.

New data released Wednesday by the state health department shows that if one elementary school child infected with the delta variant of coronavirus attends a class of 25 students and no masks are worn, it would take just three hours to infect half the other students in that room.

“Vaccination is of course important, however the correct use of a well-fitting mask, KN95, N95s, can be useful,” Lyon-Callo said. “Making use of physical distancing, the use of testing and screening and staying home when sick continue to be important in our fight against COVID. We know these methods work.”

Dr. Adnan Munkarah, executive vice president and chief clinical officer for Henry Ford Health System, urged everyone — vaccinated or not — to wear masks as a growing number of children are sickened by the virus.

“We are already seeing children who are … testing positive,” he said. “We are seeing that there are hospitals around the nation that are filling up with pediatric patients because of COVID. So COVID is not sparing children at the present time.”

The delta variant is about twice as transmissible as the alpha variant, also known as B.1.1.7, that hit Michigan so hard in the spring, Lyon-Callo said. It now accounts for about 99% of the cases that undergo genomic sequencing in Michigan, and is threatening to push the state into yet another surge.

Those at highest risk are people who are unvaccinated, which includes young children who are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

But mask requirements for schools is a polarizing topic, and mandates are opposed by many prominent Republicans.

The Michigan Republican Party issued a statement this week denouncing mask mandates, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, called mask requirements “the dumbest thing.”

Shirkey argued children are at extremely low risk from COVID-19, pointing to data that shows a small number of children who have died nationally from the disease.

However, more than 1,900 kids were hospitalized over the weekend because of COVID-19, the most of any point during the pandemic. And they also can develop Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome — Children, which occurs weeks after the initial coronavirus infection and leads to hospitalization in about 70% of kids who get it, Lyon-Callo said.

Michigan now has moved to a high transmission rate under the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s thresholds, she said. That means that more than 100 new cases of coronavirus per 100,000 residents have been confirmed in the last week. The percentage of positive coronavirus test is now at 7.7% statewide, and has steadily climbed over the last seven weeks.

The number of outbreaks across the state also is climbing, up 36% in the last week to 183 outbreaks, led by manufacturing and construction sites, social gatherings and child care settings, Lyon-Callo said.

While the COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. are effective in preventing severe disease and death from the delta variant, the strain has led to some breakthrough infections even in fully vaccinated people. However, people who are fully vaccinated are far less likely to be sick enough to be hospitalized or die.

About 54.9% of Michiganders ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated, and have gotten either two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine; nearly 60% have gotten at least one dose, state data shows.

Because even fully vaccinated people can transmit the virus to others, the CDC now recommends all Americans wear masks indoors in public places and health officials urge anyone who has yet to be immunized to get vaccinated now.

Since the pandemic began, the state has confirmed more than 922,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 20,000 deaths.


MICHIGAN UNEMPLOYMENT RATE CONTINUES TO DROP

THE OAKLAND PRESS — Michigan’s economy continues to return to pre-pandemic levels, according to figures released by the state Wednesday.

The state’s jobless rate decreased by two-tenths of a point to 4.8% in July, according to data released by the Department of Technology, Management and Budget. It was at 5.0% in June.

The state unemployment rate peaked at a high of 24 percent in April 2020 and has been around 5 percent for most of 2021.

Nationally, unemployment fell by half a percentage point between June and July to 5.4%, .6 higher than Michigan’s rate. Over the year, the U.S. rate went down by 4.8 percentage points, while the statewide rate decreased by 4.2 percentage points. “Michigan’s job numbers are headed in the right direction. Our unemployment rate is below the national average and businesses are staffing up fast,” Governor Gretchen Whitmer said in a release issued by her office.

This marks the lowest state unemployment rate since the lockdown brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic caused historically high unemployment in March 2020, according to Wayne Rourke, associate director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives.

He added the July figures mark the largest monthly payroll job gain since February 2021.

The metro Detroit region jobless rate, which includes Lapeer, Livingston, Macomb, Oakland, St. Clair and Wayne counties, dropped by 6.8 percentage points in the past year to 4.3% though the labor force remained 80,000 below year-ago levels, which has caused limits on business growth in some sectors.

The manner in which Michigan determines its unemployment rate does skew the picture, however, as it is calculated by dividing the number of unemployed people by the total number in the labor force, then multiplying by 100. The low labor force participation rate exhibited by the jobless rate gap indicates large numbers who are considered to not be actively seeking work and not considered to be unemployed.

“Despite our seven months of decreasing unemployment, however, we still have a lot of work left to do to help every family, community, and small business participate in our economic jumpstart,” Whitmer said. “Right now, we have an unprecedented opportunity to use the massive influx of federal funds we have received to make tangible, lasting investments in the kitchen-table issues that impact Michigan families and small businesses most—childcare, skills training, job creation, housing, and more.”


BIDEN TAPS FORMER MICHIGAN HEALTH DIRECTOR GORDON FOR FEDERAL POST

DETROIT NEWS — President Joe Biden intends to nominate Michigan’s former health director to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the White House said on Wednesday.

Biden is tapping Robert Gordon to serve as assistant secretary for financial resources at the agency.

Gordon abruptly resigned on Jan. 22 as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s director of the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services where he had led the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Gordon is currently senior counselor at the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities and senior adviser for Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan, according to the White House.

Gordon was subpoenaed to testify in April before a state oversight hearing, where he seemed to be unclear about the specific reasons for the governor’s decision, revealing she told him over video conference that it was time to go in a “new direction.”

Gordon also said there were disagreements about elements of the state’s reopening plans. The Detroit News previously reported he had advocated for a more cautious approach to reopening restaurants, according to email communications obtained through a public records request.

GOP lawmakers have raised concerns about the $155,506 separation agreement that Whitmer’s administration had with Gordon, saying it violated a constitutional provision barring “extra compensation” paid to any public officer after the person’s “service has been rendered.”

Gordon has said Whitmer’s administration offered him the separation deal through the Michigan Attorney General’s office, and the payment was “for entering the agreement.”

“It was made clear to me that the governor wanted to go in a new direction,” Gordon said. “And I, as a public servant and an at-will employee, understood what that meant and resigned.”

Gordon’s separation deal became public in March as a result of Freedom of Information Act requests by The Detroit News.

Under the terms of the arrangement, Gordon got $155,506 in exchange for dropping any potential legal claims against the state and maintaining confidentiality about the circumstances that led to his departure. The payment represented nine months of salary and health benefits.

Last year, Gordon helped with the transition to the new Biden administration, co-leading the agency review team for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Gordon previously served as acting deputy director at the White House Office of Management and Budget under former President Barack Obama and also worked in policy development at the U.S. Department of Education.

He also served as a senior official at the New York City Department of Education, spent time as a Capitol Hill staffer, clerked for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and helped to create the AmeriCorps program as a White House aide, the White House said.

Gordon’s resume includes time as senior vice president for strategy and finance at the College Board and as a law guardian for children in abuse and neglect proceedings, according to his bio.


MICHIGAN GOP EYES LIMITS TO VACCINE, MASK RULES. HEALTH OFFICIALS DISMAYED

BRIDGE MI — Michigan Republicans who spent months fighting state pandemic restrictions that were fully lifted last month have shifted their focus to preventing vaccine and mask mandates by businesses, schools and local governments.

A state House committee on Thursday will begin debate on legislation that would prohibit private businesses and public employers from “discriminating against” employees who are not vaccinated from COVID-19, the common flu or even tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

Top GOP leaders also want parents to fight COVID-19 mask mandates in schools around the state, and at least one northern Michigan county is poised to require vaccine promotions to also warn of any risks.

The proposed state ban on vaccine mandates would also bar businesses — including hospitals — from forcing unvaccinated workers to wear a surgical face mask “as a consequence” of not getting vaccinated.

And employees fired for refusing vaccines would have new rights to sue and recover financial “damages,” even though legal experts and the federal government say businesses have the authority to mandate inoculation for at-will employees.

The proposed state ban on vaccine mandates would also bar businesses — including hospitals — from forcing unvaccinated workers to wear a surgical face mask “as a consequence” of not getting vaccinated.

And employees fired for refusing vaccines would have new rights to sue and recover financial “damages,” even though legal experts and the federal government say businesses have the authority to mandate inoculation for at-will employees.

[Those] in public health say data and the latest science guide all their recommendations.

“Sadly the pandemic has become political. The mitigation measures that, in normal times, we would recommend for different (diseases) — now they’re very polarized,” said Nick Derusha, president of the Michigan Association for Local Public Health, which represents health officers for the state’s 45 health departments.

Public health strives to be apolitical, he said. But that’s difficult when school districts — facing angry parents on both sides of a mask mandate debate — turn to public health departments to sort it out, and employers consider vaccine mandates.

“All of us heard pretty loud and clear last year that ‘We don’t want mandates. We don’t want orders. Let us do the things we need to do (and) take personal responsibility,’” he said.

“So that’s what we’re trying to do — trying to utilize the approach of providing information and giving our best recommendations to folks,” he said. “Now we’re hearing from some that that may not be enough.”


MACOMB COUNTY TO OFFER THIRD DOSE OF COVID-19 VACCINES

DETROIT NEWS — The Macomb County Health Department will start making appointments next week for residents with compromised immune systems to receive a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, officials announced Tuesday.

Those eligible for the third jab starting Aug. 23 include those who are at least age 12, have already had two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, received solid organ transplants, have an active or untreated HIV infection, or were in active treatment for cancer, the department said.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have made it a priority to help protect those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19,” said Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel. “And with recent approvals to administer a third dose, I encourage anyone who is considering a third dose to contact their health care provider to see if they are eligible.”

Timing of the third dose needs to be at least 28 days after the second. Residents are urged to use the same vaccine they received for the first and second dose, “but if that is not possible, receiving a third dose with another mRNA vaccine is acceptable,” the health department said Tuesday.

Third dose vaccine appointments are available during the department’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic hours at the Verkuilen Building in Clinton Township and the Southwest Center in Warren/Majestic Plaza.

For details, go to https://www.macombgov.org/VaccineCentral. To schedule an appointment for a third dose, go to https://www.macombgov.org/healthappointment.

Residents who need help making an appointment or transportation can call SMART at (586) 421-6579.


MICHIGAN UNEMPLOYMENT SYSTEM STILL NEEDS FIXING, CRITICS TELL LAWMAKERS

BRIDGE MI — Frustration over Michigan’s unemployment system reignited in Lansing Tuesday as the House Oversight Committee took testimony on the state’s attempt to reevaluate nearly 700,000 jobless claims this summer.

Tony Paris, an attorney who’s worked with at least hundreds of clients who’ve struggled with Michigan’s unemployment office during the past decade, said the letters that went out to 692,000 people in June from the state Unemployment Insurance Agency asking people to recertify claims were yet another sign that the system is broken.

One portion of the June notice said that people receiving the letter faced paying back benefits. But the rest of it was unclear to many people receiving it — and to the people they went to for help.

“I could barely decipher the letter,” Paris told the committee, going on to describe the fear and confusion it generated among jobless residents who’d already received the payments to replace lost income during the pandemic.

State Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland and the committee chair, said he called the hearing because of the waves of complaints and frustration that overtook legislative and legal aid offices as they were contacted following the June notices.

A month later, the state said about half of the people who’d received the letters were notified that they didn’t have to return the benefits. However, another 241,000 were still being evaluated. The agency did not respond to a Bridge Michigan request on Tuesday for updated numbers of how many evaluations remain in progress.

In the meantime, many unanswered questions about that process remain, Johnson said. He said he is asking agency officials,  including Lisa Estlund Olsen, acting director of the department, to testify at future hearings.

“I believe there needs to be leadership changes going on there,” Johnson said of UIA at the close of the hearing.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Estlund Olsen, Johnson told Bridge Michigan later Tuesday.

However, the way the letters were handled in June showed “a pattern of incompetence and mismanagement” at the unemployment agency,” Johnson said, including with staff training and fraud investigations.

“We’re hoping to figure out where the problem is there.”

The state has received 3.38 million claims for unemployment benefits since spring 2020 when the COVID pandemic first slammed Michigan, pushing the system to the brink. Complaints about the state’s unemployment system escalated over the past 16 months as widespread fraud, hundreds of thousands of delayed payments and difficulty resolving issues persisted.


MICHIGAN STATE POLICE START IMPAIRED DRIVING ENFORCEMENT CAMPAIGNS

THE OAKLAND PRESS — While Michiganders are enjoying summer vacation, the end is of the season is near and Labor Day is not that far away.

Police throughout out Michigan, including the state police, have opened several campaigns to target drunk or impaired drivers.

So far this year, through Aug. 17, the state police had reported 673 deaths on Michigan roadways, up by 74 from last year at this time. The state has also seen 3,253 serious injuries, also up from last year by 369.

“The end of summer is traditionally marked by the Labor Day holiday and is a time for friends and families to enjoy pool parties, backyard barbecues and other activities,” the Michigan Department of Transportation reported in a release. “Sadly, the Labor Day holiday weekend is also one of the deadliest times of the year in terms of impaired-driving fatalities.”

The agency said several campaigns have kicked off this week from state police and the Office of Highway Safety Planning, working with law enforcement agencies throughout the state. The campaigns include Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over; Drive High, Get a DUI; and If You Feel Different, You Drive Different.

The initiatives stared Monday, Aug. 16, and run through Sept 6.

Besides increased messaging about the dangers of impaired driving, motorists will see increased enforcement and more officers on roadways.

Last year during the Labor Day holiday period, the state saw 1,833 crashes including 15 deaths, of which, eight involved impaired driving through drugs or alcohol. And in all of 2020, according to data from U-M’s Transportation Research Institute, 161 alcohol-impaired drivers were killed. Of those, 63 were not wearing seat belts.

“The Labor Day holiday is a time for fun and community as families and friends gather for a final, late-summer celebration. Unfortunately, there are people who will make the wrong choice to drive impaired, needlessly putting themselves and others at risk,” said Michael L. Prince, OHSP director in a statement. “The law enforcement officers participating in these campaigns are dedicated to enforcing our traffic laws and keeping our roadways safe. We need people to understand that it’s up to them to make the smart decision to drive sober.” Also in 2020, 42 percent of fatalities on Michigan roadways involved the use of drugs or alcohol.

During the 2020 Labor Day campaigns, police arrested 216 people, of which 181 were intoxicated and 35 were under the influence of drugs.


CORONAVIRUS TRACKER | NEW CASES HOLD STEADY AMID NATIONAL SPIKE

BRIDGE MI — Michigan averaged nearly 1,200 daily COVID-19 cases over the weekend, staying relatively stable even as the percent of positive coronavirus tests has risen.

The state reported 3,554 new COVID-19 cases and 19 COVID-19 deaths on Monday, covering Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Although that pushed the seven-day daily average up to 1,352, the increase hasn’t risen steeply as it has in Sunbelt states reeling from the more-contagious Delta variant.

Case rates in Michigan are climbing, now averaging about 14 cases per 100,000 per day.

But that’s a fraction of the more than 70 cases per 100,000 per day seen at the height of the spring surge when some counties’ rates exceeded 120 cases a day per 100,000.

The latest testing data shows that over the past week nearly 7.7 percent of tests have been positive, up from 7.1 percent a week ago. It was 6 percent on Aug. 1 and below 2 percent from mid-June through mid-July.

Hospitalizations rose slightly over the weekend, with 925 patients being treated for confirmed or suspected COVID, up from 908 on Friday.

Michigan COVID-19 cases continue to rise, as state officials on Friday reported 3,127 cases over the past two days — for an average of 1,564 — and a positive test rate of 7.9 percent.

That’s the highest positive rate since it was 8 percent on May 11.

Of Michigan’s 83 counties, 22 have 10 percent or more tests coming back positive. In Iosco County 21 percent of tests in the past week have been positive.


BIDEN ADMINISTRATION EXPECTED TO RECOMMEND COVID BOOSTER SHOTS FOR ALL AMERICANS AMID CASE SURGE

USA TODAY — Biden administration health officials are expected to recommend COVID-19 booster shots for all Americans, regardless of age, eight months after they received the second shot, a source familiar with the plans confirmed to USA TODAY.

The news, which will be announced as soon as this week, comes as the delta variant rages across the country. It also comes amid anxieties about the Pfizer vaccine’s waning immunity and the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of booster vaccines for immunocompromised people.

The official spoke to USA TODAY on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly.

Booster shots will begin as early as mid-to-late September once the FDA formally approves vaccines. The action is expected for the Pfizer shot in the coming weeks. As long as any of the vaccines are issued under an Emergency Use Authorization, no one but the FDA can recommend boosters.

The change comes due to recent data released from Israel and the Mayo Clinic, among others, said Dr. Eric Topol, vice president for research at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, and a national expert on the use of data in medical research.

Data published by Israel’s Ministry of Health shows that protection from the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine dropped off precipitously after six months, down to 40-50% effectiveness against infection, he said. The vaccine was still highly protective against serious illness and death, but not against milder COVID-19.

“There’s still a risk for long COVID and people can get quite ill from symptomatic infections, you can’t gloss over that,” he said.

Reports from Qatar and the Mayo Clinic are seeing the same issue, he said.

“It gets down to the 40 to 50% effectiveness range, whereas it used to be 95%,” he said.

Why the mRNA vaccines become less effective over time isn’t known, Topol thinks it’s likely due to the short dosing schedule the United States chose. The two-dose vaccine series was given three weeks apart for the Pfizer shots and four weeks for Moderna.

The United States used the spacing that Pfizer and Moderna used in their trials because that’s the data that was available. The short spacing might not have allowed the memory B and T cells in the body to develop as robustly as they would if the interval had been longer.

“This might not have happened if the spacing had been eight to 12 weeks. That’s what Canada, the United Kingdom and Scotland did,” Topol said.

Adding booster shots raises thorny moral questions as the world continues to be ravaged by COVID-19 and few countries have access to enough vaccines for their people. Given that global inequity, having Americans get a third dose while so many have had none is problematic.

Dr. William Moss, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, has proposed that the United States donate doses for every booster dose that’s given.

“I would love to see the Biden administration say we’re going to donate 10 doses for every booster dose we give,” he said. “It’s a visible way of showing we understand there’s an issue here and this is how we’re going to address it.”


WHERE IS MY CHILD TAX CREDIT? HERE’S HOW TO TRACK A MISSING PAYMENT

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The second round of advance child tax credit payments hit millions of bank accounts on Friday. But what should you do if you didn’t get your money?

Or what can you do if you’ve been waiting more than a month and didn’t even get the first payment for July?

It’s tricky because, well, so much depends on a wide range of quite specific, individual factors. Many times, there are not one-size-fits all answers.

And you’re not going to be able to get a quick response by calling the Internal Revenue Service, which has notorious delays on its phone lines at 800-829-1040. Keep in mind that the IRS also is still dealing with a backlog of tax refunds for 2020 returns, an adjustment that applies to early filers who were unemployed in 2020 and other issues, as well as the child tax credit.

Many people aren’t sure where to turn. So, here’s a look at possible options and things to know about the advance child tax credit payments:

HOW DO I TRACE A MISSING CHILD TAX CREDIT? 

The IRS has a timeline for when you can even begin to track missing payments.

If you’ve been  waiting since July 15 for a payment, you might be able to put a trace on it now.

You do have to wait a bit if you’re anxious about an August payment, which just began rolling out by direct deposit on Aug. 13.

For example, the IRS says you cannot trace the money until you’ve waited:

Five days since the deposit date and the bank says it hasn’t received the payment.

Four weeks since the payment was mailed by check to a standard address

Six weeks since the payment was mailed, and you have a forwarding address on file with the local post office

Nine weeks since the payment was mailed, and you have a foreign address

To start a payment trace, mail or fax a completed two-page Form 3911, Taxpayer Statement Regarding Refund.

IS THE IRS SENDING OUT SOME JULY PAYMENTS NOW?

Yes, so you might want to read up on this one before trying to track missing money.

The IRS noted on Aug. 13 that some families could be getting their first advance payments in August, if they did not get a July payment.

The IRS is correcting an earlier problem that involved a specific group of families where the parent or parents have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number and the qualifying children have a Social Security number.

“Such families who did not receive a July payment are receiving a monthly payment in August, which also includes a portion of the July payment. They will receive the remainder of the July payment in late August,” according to an IRS alert.

What happens if you just started receiving payments in August?

You’re now looking at spreading those advance payments over five months, instead of six months. So the monthly payments would be somewhat bigger.

The IRS notes: “For these families, each payment is up to $360 per month for each child under age 6 and up to $300 per month for each child ages 6 through 17.”

WHO IS GETTING THE CHILD TAX CREDIT NOW? 

Many families don’t need to do anything to get this money. The IRS is basing monthly payments on the most recently processed tax return, either the 2019 federal return or the 2020 return.

The IRS said that the August payments reflect information on tax returns that had been processed by Aug. 2, including people who don’t typically file a return but during 2020 successfully registered for Economic Impact Payments using the IRS Non-Filers tool on IRS.gov.

This group also includes those who this year successfully used the Non-filer Sign-up Tool for advance child tax credit at IRS.gov.

An effort is ongoing to get those who typically aren’t required to file a tax return, based on a low income, to sign up to receive the advance credit money.

IS THE IRS MAILING OUT A BIGGER BATCH OF AUGUST PAYMENTS? 

Yes. Roughly 4 million people or more who received direct deposits of their advance child tax credit in July now will be stuck waiting a bit longer to receive the August payments by mail.

Remember, you could have to wait until the end of August — or roughly two weeks — to allow enough time for delivery by mail of payments being sent by paper check.

The IRS and U.S. Treasury did not detail the so-called glitch that created this issue in August. But the IRS said the issue is “expected to be resolved by the September payments.”

The IRS said no additional action is needed for the September payment to be issued by direct deposit for this group. Best bet: The IRS recommends that families visit the Child Tax Credit Update Portal to see if they’re receiving a direct deposit or paper check this month.

The IRS has a Child Tax Credit Update Portal at IRS.gov. You can visit IRS.gov/childtaxcredit2021 for details.

You’d have until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time Aug. 30 to make possible changes if you want those changes to be reflected in the next payment, which will be issued Sept. 15.

The advance payments, which currently apply to this year only, were scheduled for July 15, Aug. 13, Sept. 15, Oct. 15, Nov. 15 and Dec. 15.


‘I FEEL LOST’: MICHIGAN LOSES MORE THAN 20,000 DEAD TO COVID-19

DETROIT NEWS — More than 20,000 Michigan residents have now died of COVID-19, a grim milestone in the pandemic that has gripped the state since Michigan’s first cases were confirmed on March 10, 2020.

That means about 1 in 504 Michiganians has died from the virus.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported Friday 20,011 confirmed deaths as the state prepares for a projected new onslaught of infections caused by the highly transmissible delta variant that is sweeping the country. Michigan added 29 deaths over a two-day period to surpass the milestone and had 3,127 new infections to reach 919,133 confirmed cases.

Many families are still coping with grief and loss more than a year after Metro Detroit first became a national hot spot for the virus in spring 2020.

For others, such as the family of Danielle Schoewe, a 45-year-old wife and mother from Warren who died on May 5, the pain is new and acute.

“I wake up alone. I go to bed alone. I just miss her,” said her husband, Bill Schoewe, who is now raising the couple’s three teen and pre-teen daughters by himself.

“She was my world, my soulmate, and I feel lost.”

Confirmed deaths associated with COVID-19 have risen and fallen in a series of three waves in Michigan over the past 17 months, with a quarter of the fatalities associated with the first wave of the virus in spring 2020.

As of Thursday, Michigan ranked 12th in the nation for deaths per 100,000 people, coming behind such states as New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Louisiana and Pennsylvania, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With 617,096 deaths through Thursday across the United States, according to the CDC, the COVID-19 pandemic appears on track to exceed deaths from the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.

There’s no official death count for the pandemic that swept through the country from 1918 through the winter of 1919, said J. Alex Navarro, assistant director at the Center for the History of Medicine at University of Michigan. But researchers estimate there were between 625,000 and 675,000 deaths, he said.

The Spanish flu had a higher mortality rate, meaning a greater percentage of the people who got sick perished. But the novel coronavirus is more infectious — as much as two to three times more for the delta variant — so more people are getting sick. And the COVID-19 pandemic is lasting longer than the pandemic of 1918, Navarro noted.

The current pandemic has tested the public’s patience due to its long duration. Residents also have had to cope with the return of measures like recommended mask-wearing to try to halt the spread of the delta variant, though Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said she doesn’t plan any more epidemic orders for mask mandates or restaurant shutdowns.

A fourth surge in COVID-19 is possible in Michigan and as many as 6,000 more residents could die because of the virus this fall, according to a presentation released Wednesday by the state Department of Health and Human Services. Under current vaccination and social contact trends, which could change, the projections from the University of Michigan say the state could experience 3,937 to 6,177 deaths linked to the virus from August through November.


RURAL POPULATION LOSSES ADD TO FARM AND RANCH LABOR SHORTAGE

DETROIT NEWS — Rural America lost more population in the latest census, highlighting an already severe worker shortage in the nation’s farming and ranching regions and drawing calls from those industries for immigration reform to help ease the problem.

The census data released last week showed that population gains in many rural areas were driven by increases in Hispanic and Latino residents, many of whom come as immigrants to work on farms or in meatpacking plants or to start their own businesses.

“We’ve struggled on this issue for a long time to try to come up with a more reasonable, common-sense approach,” said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, which is part of a group lobbying Congress for new immigration laws. Vilifying immigrants “just makes it harder to get there.”

The population trend is clear in Nebraska, where only 24 of the state’s 93 counties gained residents. Of those 24, just eight reported an increase in the white population, suggesting that most of the growth was driven by minorities, said David Drozd, a research coordinator for the University of Nebraska Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research.

Drozd crunched the census data and found that Nebraska counties with the greatest racial diversity are a “who’s who of where the meatpacking plants are,” even though many plants are in rural areas that are often perceived as mostly white.

“In the rural areas, if you didn’t have the Latino growth, employers would be struggling even more just to fill those positions,” Drozd said.

Some Republican state legislators blamed the labor scarcity on supplemental unemployment benefits, which they say create a disincentive to work because they pay more than some low-wage jobs. Democrats see a persistent labor crisis.

The challenge is exacerbated in Midwestern states that already have many of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates, said Al Juhnke, executive director of the Nebraska Pork Producers Association. Juhnke said his group would like to see changes that would allow seasonal immigrant workers to stay in the country longer.

“These folks buy houses. They bring their families. They go to our churches. They earn money and spend it locally,” he said. “It’s really a win-win-win for these communities.”


HOW MICHIGAN SCHOOLS ARE SPENDING $6 BILLION IN FEDERAL COVID RELIEF

BRIDGE MI — School leaders delivered books to children’s doors, hired tutors, replaced hard-to-clean carpeting and offered more summer school than ever before. Now they’re upgrading ventilation systems, replacing water fountains with more sanitary water-bottle fill stations and adding soap dispensers.

Some are investing in thousands of laptop computers and expanding virtual learning programs in case COVID-19 resurges during the school year. Others, more confident the pandemic is ending, are investing in programs that bolster traditional learning.

Beyond that, a lot of school leaders don’t yet know what they’ll do with the windfall of roughly $6 billion in federal COVID relief coming over three years. It’s the kind of money school leaders never envisioned and know they’ll never see again.

That’s why they want to ensure it’s spent wisely, according to interviews Bridge Michigan and Chalkbeat Detroit conducted with leaders in five Michigan communities: Benton Harbor, Flint, Alpena, Traverse City and Niles.

“I don’t want to commit to spending this money on something I’m not 100 percent sure is going to make a difference in the lives of children,” said Eric Lieske, principal and CEO of Flint Cultural Center Academy, a K-8 charter school.

“I need to get these kids back first and I need to get feedback from my staff on what they think they need to make sure we’re impactful,” he said. “I want to see the kids back. I want to see how they’re engaging and how they are emotionally.”

That sounds reasonable to state Board of Education President Casandra Ulbrich.

“When you have a big pool of money like this it makes sense to come up with a very strategic plan,” she said. “It provides the opportunity to be very creative.”

Congress approved $189 billion for the nation’s K-12 schools over three years from the Elementary Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) and Governors’ Emergency Education Relief funds. The most funding is targeted for districts with high poverty and large populations of students of color, English language learners, students with disabilities, migratory families and other groups most affected by the pandemic.

Michigan was awarded about $6.1 billion over three years. Administrators across the state who spoke with Bridge and Chalkbeat suggested it may take all of those 36 months to decide how to spend it. School boards and superintendents have wide discretion. The money can be used to support safe, in-person instruction, to recover learning loss during the pandemic, or to support the academic, social and emotional needs of students.

People who expect dramatic increases in test results might be underestimating the severity of the pandemic’s disruption on education, said Katharine Strunk, director of the Education Policy Innovation Collaborative and a professor of education policy at Michigan State University.

“There’s real learning recovery that needs to happen,” she said.


MICHIGAN PEDIATRICIANS CALL FOR UNIVERSAL MASKING IN SCHOOLS, PRESCHOOLS

DETROIT NEWS – An association that features more than 1,500 Michigan pediatricians is recommending that everyone older than the age of 2 wear masks in schools this fall regardless of their vaccination status.

The Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics issued the guidance on Thursday amid increases in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations that could mark the beginning of a fourth surge in the state. Meanwhile, most Michigan schools will reopen for their new year in the coming weeks, spurring debates about mask and vaccination policies.

“The recommendation for universal masking of all children older than 2 years is one of multiple measures to reduce transmission in the school setting,” said Dr. Sharon Swindell, a pediatrician and past president of the academy’s Michigan chapter. “Currently, children under age 12 do not have the option to be vaccinated, vaccination rates remain low in 12-18 year-olds, some members of the school community cannot be vaccinated due to underlying medical and immune system conditions.”

The organization issued a statement Thursday, saying increases in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths have concerned medical and education professionals, who “wish to bring children back into classrooms while minimizing the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak.”

On Tuesday, the Michigan Board of Education voted in favor of a resolution supporting independence for local school districts to make “scientifically informed decisions,” including on “mandates for universal masking” at all school facilities and events for students, teachers and visitors.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration has also recommended universal masking in K-12 school buildings. But the ultimate decisions are being left up to individual districts.

The policy choices come as Michigan’s COVID-19 metrics show the virus is gaining steam in the state and portions of the southern United States experience significant surges that are again testing hospital capacity.

A fourth surge in COVID-19 is possible in Michigan and as many as 6,000 more residents could die because of the virus this fall, according to a presentation released Wednesday by the state Department of Health and Human Services. Experts are tying the increases in cases and hospitalizations directly to the more contagious delta variant.

As it stands, multiple of Michigan’s current COVID-19 metrics are in a worse position than they were one year ago as schools were preparing to start their terms. On Aug. 11, 2020, the state reported 796 new cases. On Wednesday, the state reported a two-day case average of 1,393 new cases per day.


POWER MAY NOT BE RESTORED UNTIL NEXT WEEK FOR SOME IN SOUTHEAST MICHIGAN

DETROIT NEWS — The state’s top energy providers warned Thursday, as nearly 714,000 customers were without power across southern Michigan, that some might not have electricity until the middle of next week, prompting calls by local leaders for further explanation of the high number of outages in Metro Detroit.

DTE estimated 700,000 customers had been affected by two waves of severe weather and said crews had restored power to more than 150,000 by Thursday night. More than 1,800 DTE personnel and another 1,000 out-of-state line crews were involved in restoration efforts, officials said.

The utility said it was “targeting to have more than 80% of customers restored by the end of Saturday. The vast majority of outages — around 95% — should be restored by the end of Sunday.”

High winds were a big part of the problem. DTE is repairing some 3,100 downed power lines, broken poles and tree-related damage. Nearly 535,000 customers were in the dark early Friday.

At one point, more than 850,000 customers lost power across the state.

Consumers Energy, meanwhile, reported at 6 a.m. Friday more than160,000  customers without electricity. Contractors and crews from seven states have helped restore power to some of the  371,000 who had been affected since storms started Tuesday night, the company reported.

“Over 550 three- and four-person crews remain at work around the clock and will work through the night heading into Friday,” the company said late Thursday. “Their goal: Restore power to most homes and businesses by late Saturday night and finish almost all of their work by the end of the weekend.”

Most Consumers Energy customers who don’t have power were expected to have electricity restored by Saturday, but some outages will last further into the weekend, said Garrick Rochow, president and CEO of the utility.

One community’s mayor and a legislator called for DTE to explain the level of outages. Farmington Hills Mayor Vicki Barnett said the utility promised in 2007 to complete tree-trimming within five years. It did not happen, she said.

“What we are told will happen and what they deliver is very different,” Barnett said.

She said the city is considering pursuing a formal complaint with the Michigan Public Service Commission.

“We need a stable grid people can rely on, where power doesn’t go out every time it rains,” Barnett said.

DTE Energy is the energy provider for 2.2 million homes and businesses, mostly in southeast Michigan. Consumers Energy provides energy to another 1.8 million homes and businesses beyond Metro Detroit. Together they cover most households in the state.


CENSUS TAKEAWAYS: WEST MICHIGAN GAINS, DETROIT & U.P. LOSE, STATE MORE DIVERSE

BRIDGE MI — West Michigan keeps growing, Detroit is still shrinking, the state is getting more diverse and more residents than ever before say they belong to two or more racial groups.

The U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday released new local-level population and demographic data from 2020, providing the most compressive snapshot to date of how the country has changed since 2010.

The numbers confirm prior findings: Michigan’s population grew by 2 percent to 10,077,331 residents, the second-slowest rate in the nation. Michigan is the 10th most populous state, down from its eighth in 2010, passed by Georgia and North Carolina.

The new data — delayed for months, in part due to challenges associated with COVID-19 — will help Michigan’s new independent redistricting commission redraw political boundaries for 2022 as the state loses a congressional seat because of stagnant population. Michigan will have 13 districts next year.

But it’s about more than just the next election cycle.

All told, 2020 Census data will “be used for the next 10 years to shape the future of our country,” acting Census Bureau Director Ron Jarmin said Thursday in a virtual press conference.

“Local leaders can use this data to make decisions such as where to build roads and hospitals, and how to help our nation recover from the pandemic,” he said. And it will “help inform how hundreds of billions in federal funds will be distributed each year.”

In the coming days, Bridge Michigan will explore the 2020 Census and what it means for the state. But here are quick takeaways from Thursday’s release that highlight the changing landscape of Michigan and its 10,077,331 residents.

Along the shore of Lake Michigan, Ottawa was the state’s fastest growing county over the past decade, growing by 12.3 percentage points to 296,200 residents. And Kent County was the  third-fastest grower at 9.2 percent, reiterating the west Michigan population boom that Bridge reported on earlier this week. 

Fifty Michigan counties lost population over the past decade, including several along the southern border of Ohio, the Thumb region, the northeast Lower Peninsula and, most dramatically, the Upper Peninsula.

Michigan’s biggest city, Detroit, lost 10.5 percent of its population, falling to 639,111. Mayor Mike Duggan, who has repeatedly said he should be judged on whether the city gains population under his leadership, questioned the data and claimed Detroit was undercounted “by at least 10 percent.”

Michigan, like most of the country, appears to have grown more racially diverse over the past decade, although Census officials say that may be partially attributable to new questions posed to residents.

In 2020, 76.7 percent of Michigan residents identified as white and non-Hispanic, down from 80.1 percent in 2010. That’s 274,288 fewer residents, a 3.6 percent decrease, a larger drop than the 2.6 percent reduction nationwide.

Only 11 Michigan counties actually became more white over the past decade, led by some of the fastest growing: Ottawa, Grand Traverse and Allegan. The share of white residents in the U.P.’s Ontonagon County fell by 17 percent, making one of the state’s fastest-shrinking regions also one of its fastest diversifying.


FLASH FLOOD WARNING IN METRO DETROIT AS 700,000+ MICHIGANDERS LOSE POWER DUE TO STORMS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — Consumers Energy and DTE Energy crews were already working feverishly into the night after severe thunderstorms knocked hundreds of thousands of Michigan customers out of power Wednesday evening.

Then another barrage of severe storms hit southeast Michigan overnight, adding flash floods, more downed power lines and trees, and more outages to the mix.

As of 6:30 a.m. Thursday, more than 215,000 Consumers Energy customers are without power, as well as more than 500,000 DTE Energy customers, according to both companies.

The National Weather Service also issued a flash flood warning for southern Macomb County, southern Oakland County and northern Wayne County until 9 a.m. Thursday.

Between 2-4 inches of rain fell between the storms Wednesday afternoon and overnight, said Sara Schultz, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in White Lake. She said Pinckney accumulated a total of 4.21 inches of rainfall.

All lanes of northbound Interstate 75 at 9 Mile in Oakland County and both directions of I-94 at I-696 in Macomb County are completely blocked due to flooding as of Thursday morning, as well as all lanes of I-94 after Michigan Ave. Avenue in Wayne County. Eastbound I-696 at Groesbeck is also closed due to flooding.

Streets leading up to the Detroit Metropolitan Airport were flooded early Thursday morning. The lanes have reopened, but the airport’s Twitter warns that the flooding still impacts traffic and recommends leaving extra early for any flight

Hot and humid” conditions will persist again today, according to the National Weather Service’s White Lake office, with afternoon heat indexes in the 90’s.

“We have a marginal risk for severe weather mainly between 4 p.m. and 2 a.m.,” Schultz said. “So today we’re looking at in the Detroit area around 90 (degrees) but then once we have this cold front that comes through later on, which is why we’re getting another round of storms and everything, it will start cooling off.”

Consumers Energy and DTE had dispatched hundreds of power restoration crews across southeast Michigan as of 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Heavy rains and 60 mph winds damaged more than 2,000 power lines, DTE said in a news release. Teams will be working 16-hour shifts around-the-clock to restore power, as the company brings in 1,000 additional line workers from out of state to help with restoration efforts. DTE customers can expect a more accurate restoration estimate once a crew has been assigned to their outage, DTE said.

Michigan State Police in metro Detroit took to Twitter to warn residents of storm damage and power outages. Police reminded drivers to treat darkened intersections as a four-way stop.

DTE advised people to unplug and turn off their appliances to prevent an overload once power is restored. The company also advised against driving over downed power lines.


MICHIGAN IN LINE FOR $7B FROM INFRASTRUCTURE BILL. HERE’S WHERE IT WOULD GO

BRIDGE MI — If President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill becomes law, Michigan will have billions of dollars to fix its decayed bridges and roads, and improve access to broadband.

The proposal, which was approved by the U.S. Senate this week but has yet to pass the U.S. House, has drawn praise from Michigan lawmakers who say it will lead to transformational investments in a state that has received poor marks for years for its infrastructure.

“What this bill is going to do is create resources to do a lot of the things that we need to rebuild Michigan that are so critical,” U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing., told reporters Tuesday.

According to the proposal, Michigan is expected to get $7.3 billion for highways and $563 million for bridge replacements over a five-year period.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a fellow Democrat who campaigned as a gubernatorial candidate promising to “Fix the Damn Roads,” said the bill would help modernize infrastructure.

More than a quarter of state bridges are structurally deficient or obsolete, and a 2016 state report recommended Michigan spend $4 billion more annually to update infrastructure the American Society of Civil Engineers has said “is reaching the end of its useful life and continues to threaten the state’s lakes, rivers, drinking water, and public health and safety.”

“This bold package will create millions of good-paying jobs, fix crumbling roads and bridges, help us build a clean, resilient energy grid, bolster public transportation, deliver clean drinking water to millions of families, and ensure every home has access to high-speed internet,” Whitmer said.

Here’s what Michigan is also in line to receive from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act:

  • A minimum of $100 million to provide broadband coverage and connect at least 398,000 residents to the Internet. Michigan estimates 1.2 million homes — about 1 in 4 in the state — lack a permanent fixed broadband access.
  • $110 million over five years for the expansion of electric vehicle charging networks. Michigan has about 600 charging stations, putting it in the top 25 percent among states nationwide.
  • $1 billion to improve public transportation including rail lines and buses over five years.
  • $1 billion over five years for the protection and restoration of the Great Lakes, increasing the current appropriation by about $200 million

Money to replace lead pipes and address PFAS contamination. The bill contains $55 billion nationwide, but Michigan’s share has not been identified. The state has an estimated 11,000 sites contaminated with the so-called “forever chemicals,” and up to 500,000 lead lines that will cost up to  $2.5 billion to replace them all, according to the Michigan Municipal League.


14 MICHIGAN RESIDENTS INDICTED ON UNEMPLOYMENT FRAUD CHARGES

DETROIT NEWS — Federal prosecutors have charged 14 southeast Michigan residents believed to be part of a scheme to defraud the unemployment systems in several states, one of the largest arrests in the crackdown on pandemic unemployment fraud.

Nine were named in an initial indictment, and charges against five others believed to be involved in the plot were unsealed shortly afterward.

The plan, allegedly developed by Sharodney Harrison, included fake email accounts, stolen personal information under which claims were filed and a California Airbnb rental from which fraudsters could collect California claims, the indictment said.

The scheme continued from Feb. 1, 2020, through Jan. 26, 2021, and included claims filed in Michigan, California, Montana, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Texas and Washington state, according to court filings.

Federal prosecutors have charged a total of 37 individuals in relation to pandemic unemployment fraud in Michigan in recent months. Those 37 are believed to have submitted about $20 million in fraudulent claims in Michigan and elsewhere.

The $20 million makes up a small fraction of the “hundreds of millions” of dollars in fraudulent claims that are believed to have been submitted during a crush of claims early in the pandemic.


COVID VARIANT FORCES CONCERT INDUSTRY TO RETHINK APPROACH

DETROIT NEWS — After swinging open its proverbial doors to fans in June, the concert industry is rethinking its approach as the delta variant surges across the country. As the numbers worsen, some artists and venues are tightening the restrictions that were dropped perhaps too early as artists and fans started filing back into venues, and are now requiring fans to show proof of vaccination and/or a negative COVID test before gaining entry into their shows.

That’s the case at this week’s Dave Chappelle shows at the Fillmore Detroit. The comic kicked off a run of seven shows at the venue with back-to-back concerts Tuesday, and fans are required to take a rapid COVID-19 test before gaining entry into the venue.

Concert promoter Live Nation announced last week it will allow individual artists to mandate whether concertgoers will need to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to be admitted into their shows.

There were no mask mandates or vaccine requirements at Comerica Park at Sunday’s Guns N’ Roses concert, which drew an estimated 20,000 hard-rocking fans to the Detroit Tigers’ home, or at Tuesday’s Hella Mega tour stop, featuring Green Day, Fall Out Boy, Weezer and a crowd of around 32,000 fans.

Some venues are taking matters into their own hands. Detroit’s Marble Bar, Ferndale’s Magic Bag and Small’s in Hamtramck are all requiring guests to be vaccinated or to provide proof of a negative COVID test in order to enter.

Last month’s Faster Horses festival at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan, was the state’s largest concert gathering since restrictions on capacity limitations for outdoor gatherings were lifted on July 1. The three-day country music fest drew an estimated 40,000 fans, and after an outbreak was traced back to the event, Michigan health department officials encouraged concertgoers who attended the fest to get tested for COVID-19. A reported 96 cases of COVID have been traced back to the festival.

Dr. Preeti Malani, chief health officer at the University of Michigan, said a cluster outbreak at Faster Horses indicates people in rural areas need to get vaccinated in order to continue attending events.


SCHOOLS SHOULD MANDATE MASKS, BEAUMONT HEALTH INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST SAYS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — The director of Infectious Diseases Research at Beaumont Health said Tuesday that schools should be mandating masks when they return for classes this fall.

“The fact of the matter is, it just takes one or two cases to start ripping through schools.  … And those kids can then take it home, spread it to their parents, spread it to their family, the grandparents who are older and may be more vulnerable. It’s just a danger that there’s no reason to take the risk of, you know, making this optional,” said Dr. Matthew Sims, who has two school-age daughters, a 13-year-old who received the COVID-19 vaccine and an 11-year-old who is not eligible for the shot.

Tension is growing around the question of mask mandates for schoolchildren ahead of the new school year. Children age 12 and older are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine while those younger than 12 are not.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending all students age 2 and older, staff, teachers and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks and take additional measures.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services agree with the recommendations, but state officials have said they don’t expect the state will issue a mask mandate. Some school districts have said they are not going to require masks or that they would be optional.

A change.org petition with more than 2,200 signatures is asking the state health department and/or the Oakland County Health Division to mandate masks. .

“We understand that not all of the recommended strategies are possible for every school to implement; however, at the very least, we ask you to order all districts to adopt the masking policies recommended by the CDC, MDHHS, and AAP until all individuals have an opportunity to be fully vaccinated,” according to the online petition started by Oakland County Parents for Safe In Person School. “We also ask that you order Oakland County schools to work with the Oakland County Health Division to assist them with efforts to contact trace and quarantine students as needed.”

On Monday, state and local public health officials urged parents to make sure their children were up to date on all immunizations, such as measles, mumps, pertussis and chickenpox, in addition to COVID-19, before the new school year begins.

State data shows that as of this past spring, childhood vaccination rates slipped below 70% in more than half of Michigan counties, said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief deputy director for health and MDHHS chief medical executive.


MICHIGAN SCHOOLS MUST TEACH IN-PERSON, GET WAIVER, OR LOSE FUNDING

BRIDGE MI — Michigan public schools are expected to offer a full week of in-class instruction this fall. And districts that close classrooms could lose crucial state funding unless they obtain a special waiver — which may be hard to secure.

Gone from the state’s budget for the upcoming school year is the “maximum flexibility” the state gave school districts last year to hold school remotely as educators faced an unprecedented global pandemic and were forced to adapt on the fly.

All this means more uncertainty for superintendents who already face a barrage of angry parents, difficult decisions, and a rapidly climbing, Delta-variant-fueled COVID spread.

“Everybody’s intention is to offer in-person learning. There’s no question,” said Robert McCann, executive director of the K-12 Alliance of Michigan, an education policy organization.

But, he said, if the local or state health department orders a school or schools to close their doors because of spiking COVID cases, “we don’t have a lot of flexibility right now to accommodate that … What are we supposed to do?”

For others, a limit on online learning is welcome news.

Nicholas Bagley, a father of an 11- and 13-year-old who attend school in Ann Arbor, testified at the Michigan Senate Education Committee in February about the difficulties of remote learning.

“My daughter used to love school,” Bagley told lawmakers then. “Now, when she trudges back to her bedroom, she says ‘Here comes more misery.’”

Many schools closed their classrooms last school year to contain the spread of COVID, but countless children and their families struggled amid shattered routines and the social isolation of online learning. Depression and attempted suicides were up. There’s evidence, too, of an increase in eating disorders among youth, as some students neared their breaking point.

“School districts, before the pandemic, didn’t have the freedom to shut down just because they felt it was unsafe,” Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan, told Bridge Michigan this week.

Schools that remained online only, or offered instruction for limited hours a week, “have time and again placed the interests of their most fear-filled teachers over at the expense of their students,” he said.

The budget change is “really a return to the status quo,” said Bagley, who tweeted approvingly of the policy shift.

The new law effectively restores the traditional requirement that districts offer at least 180 days and 1,098 hours of in-school instruction, which had been loosened to allow for various forms of remote and virtual learning.

Schools can still offer a virtual option this year, according to recent guidance from the state, but parents must agree to virtual enrollment on a student-by-student basis.


MICHIGAN REDISTRICTING GROUP MAY HIRE LAW FIRM THAT HAS DEFENDED GERRYMANDERING

BRIDGE MI — Michigan’s redistricting panel is considering hiring a law firm that has defended congressional and state legislative maps that have been deemed unconstitutional gerrymanders.

The 13-member panel voted last week to interview E. Mark Braden and the firm Baker Hostetler of Washington, D.C. to serve as litigation counsel to defend any court challenges to the congressional and legislative maps.

The interview is set for this Thursday.

“They clearly are well qualified to handle any litigation that we might have,” Steve Lett, an independent on the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, said last Thursday.

But some are sounding alarms about the firm because it has defended Republican redistricting plans that courts determined were illegal. Braden, in addition to being one of the most experienced attorneys on redistricting in the nation, is the former chief counsel to the Republican National Committee, according to his biography.

Braden and BakerHostetler served as litigation counsel, and defended the state of Pennsylvania’s 2011 congressional plan that was found unconstitutional by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2018 because it favored Republicans.

David Daley, the author of the book about redistricting, “Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count,” called the decision to interview Braden and BakerHostetler “outrageous.”

“They have a lot of experience in redistricting,” Daley told Bridge Michigan Monday.

“Unfortunately, all of it is the wrong kind.”

Daley said that hiring the firm would “corrupt” the commission, which begins work in earnest this week when U.S. Census counts are expected to be released.

“People like Mark Braden, and Baker Hostetler are exactly the kind of people those Michigan voters wanted out of the room when maps were being drawn,” Daley said.

This is not the first time the commission attracts scrutiny over a potential hire.

Republicans criticized the commission over the hiring of Bruce Adelson, a Maryland-based attorney, as the Voting Rights Act attorney. Adelson donated $125 to the 2018 campaign of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat.

The commission also hired Kimball Brace of Virginia-based Election Data Services, Inc., to help with the drawing of the maps.

Brace has been accused of being behind some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country. His proposal to the commission acknowledged the company is sometimes viewed as leaning Democratic.

“Everybody thinks a district is gerrymandered if they don’t like it,” Brace told the commission in March.


HOW MICHIGAN’S PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES WILL HANDLE MASK, VACCINE MANDATES

One by one, Michigan colleges and universities have announced mask and vaccine mandates for the approaching school year.

The measures are meant to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, as concerns over the virus’ delta variant escalate. The CDC on Wednesday bumped Michigan’s transmission level up to substantial from high. The CDC updated its guidance to recommend that vaccinated people still don masks indoors in areas where COVID-19 transmission is high or substantial.

Here is what the state’s public universities have announced:

University of Michigan 

 U-M has mandated vaccinations for students, faculty and staff members. In a news release, university officials said those who do not adhere to the mandate will be subject to disciplinary action, but did not specify what the discipline would entail.

The university will require all faculty, staff and students to either submit proof of vaccination (full or partial) no later than Aug. 30 or apply for a medical or religious exemption.

Masks will also be mandated for anyone entering a U-M campus building in Ann Arbor, Flint or Dearborn starting Wednesday.

Michigan State University 

Students, staff and faculty members must be vaccinated by the time they return to campus, by Aug. 31, with religious and medical exemptions. Those not fully vaccinated will be subject to testing requirements.

The university will also require masks inside campus buildings.

Central Michigan University

 While CMU classrooms will return to full capacity in the fall, CMU’s President Bob Davies said in a letter that students, staff and faculty will be required to wear masks.

The university won’t mandate vaccines, but will strongly encourage them, Davies wrote.

Eastern Michigan University 

 EMU will require masks in classrooms, regardless of vaccination status, according to the university’s website. In all other indoor areas, face coverings are optional for individuals who have confirmed with the university that they are fully vaccinated.

Vaccinations are encouraged, but not required.

Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley will require all students and staff members to be vaccinated by Sept. 30. The requirement was developed with the expectation that the Food and Drug Administration will fully approve the vaccine in September.

Everyone is required to wear a mask indoors in university buildings as of Monday.

Oakland University

Masks are not required outdoors, but required indoors for all campus community members and guests, according to university safety requirements.

Vaccines are encouraged, but not required.

Wayne State University

Wayne State will require students, staff and faculty to show proof of vaccination if they wish to return to campus in the fall.

An indoor mask mandate for all is in effect through Sept. 15 at least.

Western Michigan University

Everyone must wear a mask inside any WMU facilities, according to a recent letter written by university administrators.

Vaccination is not required, but encouraged.


MICHIGAN HAS DRAMATICALLY LOWERED THE RATE OF INMATES RETURNING TO PRISON

Michigan’s taken notable steps in recent years to prepare inmates for a productive life after prison so they are less likely to return. Among the most promising is the intensive skilled-trades program that fuels Fabus’s optimism that he can find work.

According to the Michigan Department of Corrections, the percentage of inmates returning to prison within three years of their release has plunged — from 44.9 percent of those released in 1999, to 26.6 percent of those released in 2017. The prison population also has dropped dramatically, from more than 51,000 inmates in 2006 to about 33,000 today.

MDOC spokesperson Chris Gautz attributed part of the decline in prison recidivism to changes in parole supervision geared to help former inmates succeed on the outside.

“Supervision has become a lot more evidence-based — stressing public safety and treatment, rather than just relying on sanctions for those offenders who have a technical violation of parole that is not endangering the public,” he said.

But for all that progress, reform advocates say there are still too many inmates who find it difficult to get work after release, which makes them more likely to find their way back to prison.

Recognizing the need to add to [tools for living a successful, productive life after incarceration], MDOC in 2016 opened its first high-quality job training facility, called a Vocational Village, at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility outside Ionia ─ the prison where Fabus, the inmate awaiting parole, is learning how to diagnose a faulty fuel pump or automotive computer control module. MDOC launched a second Vocational Village the following year at Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson and expects to open a third such program later this month at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti. According to MDOC spokesperson Gautz, more than 1,300 inmates have graduated from these programs since 2016.

The programs are a step up from vocational training MDOC offered before. Vocational Village is promoted as an immersive, state-of-the-art set of trade courses that range from welding to carpentry to computerized manufacturing, taught by instructors experienced in their field and supplemented by hundreds of thousands of dollars in training equipment. Graduates — who apply from prisons throughout the state — can earn a variety of trade certifications and state licenses that are often a path straight to a job, many paying upwards of $30 an hour.

Perhaps just as important, MDOC officials say, inmates in these programs are housed together, so they develop a sense of shared purpose and spend more time in training.

Barriers remain for many

But for all the promise of these programs, most of the estimated 8,000 Michigan inmates who are paroled each year exit prison with no such edge. About half enter prison without a high school degree, adding to their challenges when they return to an outside world transformed by rapid changes in technology. Many don’t qualify for the Vocational Village program, which requires that participants be within 24 months of their release date and have a good conduct record.

At a specialty butter manufacturing firm in Grand Rapids, Butterball Farms CEO Mark Peters has been hiring ex-offenders at his plant for more than a decade. Of his production work force of about a hundred workers, Peters estimates that a third have criminal records.

“This whole idea that we all need second chances is just so true,” Peters told Bridge. “It’s a matter of just saying yes to people.”


CDC RAISES MICHIGAN COVID RISK LEVEL: WHY IT MATTERS, AND WHY IT MAY NOT

BRIDGE MI — With rapid changes in pandemic data points this week, Michigan seemingly has jumped back into the COVID danger zone.

The state’s new status, reflected in the mapping tool used by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is not likely to mean new safety mandates for Michiganders, at least in the near term. But in the 71 counties listed early Friday as places of “substantial” or “high” transmission, the CDC recommends residents once again mask indoors, even if they are already vaccinated.

It’s a rapid shift in circumstances for a state in which COVID-19 had been consistently fading since a spring surge.

Just over a week ago, Michigan was listed by the CDC as a state with “moderate” COVID transmission, with only 10 of 83 counties showing “substantial” or “high” spread. Now, the vast majority of counties fall into these higher categories, including the most populous regions of the state.

Michigan joins most states in being listed as having “substantial” or “high” transmission, based on a rising number of cases and higher test positivity rates. Just one state — Vermont — remains at a “moderate” transmission level. No state is now listed with “low” transmission.”

Transmission has been increasing across the globe, driven largely by the highly contagious Delta variant. In Michigan, as of Tuesday, the variant had been confirmed in at least 40 counties. The number of new Michigan cases — including all variants of COVID — has been inching upward since mid-July.

The state recorded 2,605 more total COVID cases over four days ending Tuesday, pushing the seven-day daily case rate to 693 — well above the 100 cases the state averaged on July 6. (New case data is scheduled to be released Friday afternoon.)

The good news is that Michigan’s case numbers still remain low compared to the three worst surges of the coronavirus. At its peak this spring, there were more than 7,000 new daily cases reported.

State hospitalization numbers remain low, too — a result, experts say, of the majority of eligible adults in the state becoming vaccinated, which has blunted infection rates and the severity of the virus among those receiving the vaccines.

But, still, the virus continues to spread.


AMAZON WAREHOUSE WORKERS TO MASK UP AGAIN AS VIRUS SPREADS

DETROIT NEWS — Amazon.com Inc. is ordering frontline U.S. employees to resume wearing masks at work regardless of vaccination status, joining the ranks of companies ramping up precautions in response to the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant.

The world’s largest online retailer said in a notice to employees on Friday that workers in its warehouses and other logistics depots in the U.S. must resume wearing masks beginning on Monday.

 

Amazon had been relaxing its COVID-19 safety measures in recent months. Since late May, vaccinated employees could remove their masks at work. The company has dismantled on-site virus testing and temperature checks, and removed some physical barriers and social-distancing enforcement from its warehouses.

“In response to the concerning spread of new COVID-19 variants in the U.S. and guidance from public-health authorities and our own medical experts, we are requiring face coverings indoors regardless of vaccination status,” Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, said in an emailed statement. “We are monitoring the situation closely and will continue to follow local government guidance and work closely with leading medical health care professionals, gathering their advice and recommendations as we go forward to ensure our buildings are optimized for the safety of our teams.”

The new masking mandate does not apply to Amazon’s corporate workforce. Amazon on Thursday pushed back the return-to-office target for those workers to January. The company had previously expected to have employees in the office at least three days a week in September.

Amazon hasn’t mandated vaccines for its workers. The second-largest private employer in the U.S. behind Walmart Inc., the company employs thousands of people in places where vaccination rates are relatively low. Some in Amazon’s warehouses suspect a vaccine requirement would lead employees to quit en masse.


FAMILIES REUNITE, COUPLES RETURN TO EMPTY PROPERTIES AS CANADA BORDER REOPENS

DETROIT FREE PRESS — When the clock struck midnight on Monday, Canada reopened its borders to U.S. citizens after more than a year of only allowing essential travel.

Although some Americans were not going to wait a minute longer than necessary to get into Canada, Detroit’s ports to Canada didn’t get much attention early Monday. Wait times for the Ambassador Bridge hovered around 10 minutes, with the Detroit-Windsor tunnel following closely.

But the Ambassador saw some families reunite and couples return to empty properties across the river.

Asawari Kaur of Indiana, along with her family, huddled together at Detroit’s duty free shop minutes before midnight. Some of Kaur’s family hadn’t seen her brother, who got married in April, in almost two years.

“We were all so eagerly waiting for that day,” Kaur said. “As soon as it hits midnight, we’re gonna enter the border.”

Carolyn Ferroni and David Bruns of Columbus, Ohio, hadn’t seen their lake house across the border in almost two years. The minute Canada’s border reopened, the couple was ready to go.

“It’s just part of a family culture and tradition — we go there every year,” Ferroni said.

If not for close kept friends on the other side, Ferroni said their well-loved family lake house of 50 years could’ve been in disarray.

Now, Ferroni and Bruns said they plan to resume their yearly visits to the St. Anthony property.


BIDEN URGES $100 INCENTIVE IN HARD PUSH FOR VACCINATIONS

President Joe Biden on Thursday announced sweeping new pandemic requirements for millions of federal workers as he denounced an “American tragedy” of rising-yet-preventable deaths among unvaccinated U.S. employees and others.

Federal workers will be required to attest they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus or else face mandatory masking, weekly testing, distancing and other new rules. The newly strict guidelines are aimed at boosting sluggish vaccination rates among the four million of Americans who draw federal paychecks and to set an example for private employers around the country.

“Right now, too many people are dying or watching someone they love die and say if ‘I’d just got the vaccine,’” Biden said in a somber address from the East Room of the White House. “This is an American tragedy. People are dying who don’t have to die.”

The administration encouraged businesses to follow its lead on incentivizing vaccinations by imposing burdens on the unvaccinated. Rather than mandating that federal workers receive vaccines, the plan will make life more difficult for those who are unvaccinated to encourage them to comply.

Biden also directed the Defense Department to look into adding the COVID-19 shot to its list of required vaccinations for members of the military. And he has directed his team to take steps to apply similar requirements to all federal contractors.

Biden also urged state and local governments to use funds provided by the coronavirus relief package to incentivize vaccinations by offering $100 to individuals who get the shots. And he announced that small- and medium-sized businesses will receive reimbursements if they offer employees time off to get family members vaccinated.

Biden praised the recent increase in Republican lawmakers urging those not vaccinated – many of whom, polling suggests, identify as conservatives – to get their shots.

“This is not about red states and blue states,” he said. “It’s literally about life and death, life and death.”


GOV. WHITMER: NO VACCINE MANDATE FOR STATE EMPLOYEES, BUT MASKS REQUIRED

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is not considering mandating COVID-19 vaccines for state employees, but unvaccinated workers must wear a mask in the office.

“Our policy is you’re vaccinated or you’re wearing a mask at all times when you’re in the workplace,” Whitmer said Thursday during an editorial board meeting with the Free Press.

“We’re not talking about a mandate at this juncture. I don’t know that we will, but we are continuing to engage with our different units on conversations about how we keep our workplaces safe and our employees safe.”

The governor’s stance is slightly different than the one adopted Thursday by President Joe Biden. He said all federal workers — more than 4 million Americans, including 2 million in the civilian workforce in the U.S. and around the world — must either attest to being fully vaccinated or wear a mask and comply with weekly or twice weekly coronavirus testing.

Anyone who is not fully vaccinated will be subject to travel restrictions. In addition, Biden announced all federal personnel and visitors to federal buildings will be required to wear masks.

Whitmer guessed more than 65% of the approximately 50,000 state employees are vaccinated. While those who are not are required to wear a mask when working in person, there are relatively lax requirements for employees to prove their vaccination status.

Earlier in the week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidance to recommend everyone — even those who are vaccinated — wear masks in areas of substantial and high transmission rates. While Michigan currently has 11 counties that meet this criterion, Whitmer and health department officials said on Tuesday they are not considering issuing new pandemic orders at this time.


MICHIGAN’S AFFORDABLE HOUSING CRISIS MAY GET WORSE, AS EVICTION MORATORIUM ENDS

A renter making minimum wage would have to work 77 hours a week — nearly two full-time jobs — to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Michigan.

That’s according to a report released this month by the National Low Income Housing Coalition examining the gulf between wages and housing cost among American renters.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there weren’t enough affordable homes to meet demand for them in the state. The ensuing economic upheaval only heightened housing instability, pushing lawmakers to dole out billions of dollars in emergency rent aid. But housing experts say that aid is a short-term fix and communities need more affordable housing options, especially as federal protections expire. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s moratorium on certain evictions is slated to lift on Saturday.

With no moratorium in place, evictions are expected to increase. An acute lack of affordable housing will make it even tougher for people who are evicted to find a place to live.

It’s a huge challenge just to find housing, no less keep it,” said Jim Schaafsma, a housing attorney with the Michigan Poverty Law Program. “That problem is prevalent now and … as the CDC order goes away, it’s only going to make the market and that situation even more chaotic for families, so it’ll only worsen an already huge problem.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday announced a plan to use $100 million in federal COVID-19 relief dollars to create 2,000 new affordable rental homes. The money would go toward providing grants and loans for development, preserving existing housing and security deposit assistance. The City of Detroit is allocating $7 million from federal relief funds to an affordable housing locator. Last fall, the city and partners launched a $48 million fund that would offer developers low-interest loans, private grants and other financial tools to preserve and create affordable housing.

In Michigan, 73 percent of extremely low income families —  $25,750 for a family of four — spent more than half of their income on housing, according to a National Low Income Housing Coalition analysis. There are 35 affordable and available units per 100 extremely low income households, making it one of 13 states below the national average.

In other words, the state needs roughly 200,000 units for these households. Metro Detroit alone needs 100,000, the coalition estimated.

“If families are being displaced and going out into the general community, whether that’s to an already overburdened shelter system or doubling up with other families — which is not a permanent solution and poses a


CDC REVERSES COURSE ON INDOOR MASKS IN SOME PARTS OF US

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed course Tuesday on some masking guidelines, recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the delta variant of the coronavirus is fueling infection surges.

Citing new information about the variant’s ability to spread among vaccinated people, the CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status.

The guidance on masks in indoor public places applies in parts of the U.S. with at least 50 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week. That includes 60% of U.S. counties, officials said.

 

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Tuesday it’s a good idea to mask up indoors, but she has no intention to bring back the mask mandates imposed earlier in the pandemic.


THE MARBLE BAR WILL REQUIRE PROOF OF COVID-19 VACCINATION FOR ADMISSION

One popular Detroit nightspot will require proof of vaccination at the door.

On Monday, The Marble Bar on Holden, south of Grand Boulevard and west of the Lodge Freeway, announced it would require patrons to show proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test results in order to be admitted into the venue.

The emergence and spread of the Delta Variant was cited as the reason for the additional safety measures in a post to the bar’s Instagram page.

“The Delta variant has proven to be more resilient against the vaccine and more transmissible in all environments. As an establishment aiming to bring people close together, we feel it is our duty to limit transmission and proliferation of COVID-19 in any way possible so that the party can continue,” the post read.

Online reception of the new policy was mixed. Some people praised the bar’s decision on Facebook, while others voiced frustrations and said they would be taking their business elsewhere.

The new policy will go into effect Friday, July 30. Patrons may present proof of vaccination or negative test results within 48 hours before admission. Physical proof or an image on a patron’s phone will be accepted, but the patron’s name must be visible and must match the name on their state-issued ID.


WHITMER OKS $385M BILL WITH AID FOR HOSPITALS, NURSING HOMES

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday signed a $385 million supplemental budget bill, two-thirds of which will go to Michigan hospitals and nursing homes confronting financial pressures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The new law allocates $10 million in state emergency spending for places hit with tornadoes, heavy rainfall and flooding in late June. More than $100 million will go toward increasing subsidy rates by 40% for child care providers that serve low-income children, retroactive to last October, and paying providers based on enrollment and not attendance as of late June.

Grants to hospitals — $160 million total — will be proportional to their share of Medicaid revenue. Nursing homes that have seen a 5% or higher decline in occupancy will split $100 million based on their population of Medicaid-eligible residents.

 

All but $17 million of the funding is from federal COVID-19 relief aid enacted by Congress and former President Donald Trump late last year. Some funds will expand grants to county sheriffs to patrol roads amid an increase in fatal crashes and replenish a state fund that compensates wrongfully convicted prisoners.


WSU TO REQUIRE COVID-19 VACCINES FOR STUDENTS LIVING IN DORMS

Less than five weeks before students move back to Wayne State University, officials said Monday that residents of its dorms will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

WSU President M. Roy Wilson made the announcement in an email that accompanied results from an online survey showing 86% of respondents reported being vaccinated. Those who responded included 9,106 people, a 29.5% response rate out of the 30,853 members of the campus community. There were 23,052 students enrolled during winter semester.

WSU is gearing up for students to move back to campus during the last week of August as scores of people remain hesitant to get the vaccine and COVID-19 cases are increasing, particularly among those who are unvaccinated. Classes begin Sept. 1.

The vaccine mandate for students living in the dorms follows University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Oakland University, which announced mandatory vaccines four months ago for students living in campus dorms and it does not leave not much time for WSU students to get vaccinated before move-in during the last week of August. UM’s Ann Arbor campus set a deadline for students to provide proof of vaccination by July 15.

 

UM-Dearborn has announced tougher rules: students, faculty and staff returning for the fall semester must either provide documentation that they have received a COVID-19 vaccine or evidence of a weekly negative PCR test.


U.S. WON’T LIFT TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS, CITING SPIKE IN COVID DELTA VARIANT CASES

The United States will not lift foreign travel restrictions due to concerns over the rise in the more contagious Covid-19 delta variant cases, according to a White House official.

About 83 percent of new Covid cases in the U.S. this month are delta variant infections, and experts say the variant is behind the new wave of nationwide infections.

U.S. delta variant cases are concentrated among those who are unvaccinated and the number is likely to increase in the coming weeks, the official said. They also note that last Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised Americans against travel to the United Kingdom, given the surge of cases there.

The U.S. currently bars entry for most noncitizens who within the last 14 days have been in the U.K., European Union nations, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.


METRO DETROIT CONCERTS COME STORMING BACK: A LOOK AT WHAT’S AHEAD AT DTE AND OTHER VENUES

Sunday evening, Chicago will step onto the DTE stage — presumably to a pent-up roar from the crowd — to end a 665-day concert hiatus for America’s most successful summer amphitheater.

In the era of COVID-19, not much is set in stone. But as things stand, Chicago’s DTE show marks the opening of the floodgates as concerts return in full force across metro Detroit.

The veteran band with the big brass attack is fitting for the return of DTE, which ranked No. 1 nationally in attendance in 2019: Chicago has played the former Pine Knob more than any act in the venue’s history, logging 80-plus performances.

But this is the week concerts come back big time.

At Detroit’s big four amphitheaters — DTE, Michigan Lottery, the Aretha, Meadow Brook Amphitheatre — more than 70 shows are on the books through early October. Comerica Park will also be humming with music again, and some of the region’s familiar music festivals are on the way.

For a 2½-month stretch, there will be a major concert in metro Detroit nearly every night of the week.

More than 16 months after COVID-19 hit, nearly every live-music spot in Michigan is intact — not what many would have predicted in March 2020 if they had known venues would be dark for a year-plus. Clubs in Warren (Hot Rock Bar) and Lansing (the Loft) announced permanent closures, but the scene is otherwise resurrecting to its pre-pandemic state.


OAKLAND COUNTY SURPASSES 70% VACCINATION RATE, SOME COUNTIES LAG BEHIND

Oakland County has reached the state and national vaccinate rate goal of having at least one dose administered to 70% of adults — and a handful of other counties aren’t far behind.

Michigan’s second-largest county accounts for 1.2 million people and is the second in the state to reach the goal following Leelanau County, which has 77% of its 19,500 residents vaccinated.

Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter announced Friday that while this is a significant milestone, the county is wary of highly transmissible COVID-19 variants that continue to spread.

As of Tuesday, Michigan has 13,772 confirmed cases of COVID-19 variants — the majority, or 13,301 cases, being B.1.1.7. There are also 318 known cases of the P.1. variant and 71 known cases of the delta variant in the state.

“While reaching this vaccination goal is an important moment to acknowledge, we’re not done fighting this pandemic,” Coulter said in a statement. “The delta variant of the virus is still present in the state and Oakland County and these new mutations of COVID are highly contagious. With 30% of our population still unvaccinated, we can’t fully get back to normal.”


17 CASES OF COVID-19 IDENTIFIED IN FASTER HORSES FESTIVAL ATTENDEES

At least 17 cases of COVID-19 have been identified in people who attended Michigan’s Faster Horses Festival last weekend, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Some of those individuals were infectious while at the three-day country music festival at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.

MDHHS is warning that those who attended the festival may have been exposed to the virus and is urging attendees to get tested. The agency is working with local public health departments to investigate the cases.

Faster Horses Festival officials said they “worked closely with local officials to ensure all recommended guidelines were followed” and they “strongly encourage everyone who can to get vaccinated.”

Symptoms of the virus, including fever, shortness of breath, cough, fatigue and loss of taste and smell, generally appear two to 14 days after exposure, MDHHS said. People who experience severe symptoms are advised to seek medical care.


FAUCI SAYS US HEADED IN ‘WRONG DIRECTION’ ON CORONAVIRUS

The United States is in an “unnecessary predicament” of soaring COVID-19 cases fueled by unvaccinated Americans and the virulent delta variant, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert said Sunday.

“We’re going in the wrong direction,’ said Dr. Anthony Fauci, describing himself as “very frustrated.”

He said recommending that the vaccinated wear masks is “under active consideration’ by the government’s leading public health officials. Also, booster shots may be suggested for people with suppressed immune systems who have been vaccinated, Fauci said.

Fauci, who also serves President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, told CNN’s “State of the Union” that he has taken part in conversations about altering the mask guidelines.

 

He noted that some local jurisdictions where infection rates are surging, such as Los Angeles County, are already calling on individuals to wear masks in indoor public spaces regardless of vaccination status. Fauci said those local rules are compatible with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that the vaccinated do not need to wear masks in public.

Nearly 163 million people, or 49% of the eligible U.S. population, are vaccinated, according to CDC data.


CONCERN ABOUT SAFETY MAIN REASON MANY DETROITERS ARE NOT GETTING VACCINATED, U-M SURVEY FINDS

About half of adults living in Detroit are not yet fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data just released from a University of Michigan survey (PDF).

Among Detroiters who have not received any doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, nearly 8 out of 10 cited concerns about the safety of the vaccine among their reasons. A similar number of unvaccinated Detroiters, 78%, also reported that concerns about side effects were among the reasons they had not gotten vaccinated.

In general, unvaccinated Detroiters were far less likely to say they trust the government’s ability to ensure the safety of the vaccine (51%) than those who have already been vaccinated (6%). When asked about the single, “main reason” Detroiters have not been vaccinated, safety concerns were the most common reason offered (29%). According to the representative survey of Detroit households conducted by U-M’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study, concern about side effects was a slightly less important factor, with 22% of respondents saying it was the “main reason” they had not gotten the COVID-19 vaccine.

Black (19%) and Latino (16%) residents were more than twice as likely as white (6%) residents to report that they did not get a vaccine due to concerns about the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine. Residents under 40 were also more likely than those between 40 and 64 to avoid getting the vaccine because they felt their risk of getting COVID-19 or getting seriously ill from COVID-19 is low.

Given these concerns, the U-M survey also asked respondents whom they trust for information about COVID-19. Among unvaccinated Detroiters, news media were, by far, the least trusted sources for information on COVID-19. Only 10% of unvaccinated Detroiters said they placed high trust in the news media for this information. On the other hand, about one-third of unvaccinated Detroiters reported that they trusted their doctors a great deal for information on COVID-19.


DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE NOT OPENING PROBE OF MICHIGAN NURSING HOMES

The U.S. Department of Justice says it’s not opening a civil rights investigation into Michigan nursing homes after requesting information from the state last yearamid intense scrutiny during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In August, when former President Donald Trump’s administration was still in office, the federal department requested data from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as it examined executive orders for nursing homes issued in some states led by Democrats.

The Department of Justice joins Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel in declining to probe the policies on which Republicans have focused attacks. While GOP lawmakers have pressed to uncover more information about how the orders impacted the virus’ spread among a vulnerable population, the lack of law enforcement inquiries hinders their efforts.

The Department of Justice’s request in August came amid the presidential campaign and escalated a long-brewing fight over policies implemented by some governors on how to care for elderly individuals with the virus in nursing homes amid fears of hospitals being overrun.

 

For longer than a year, nursing homes have been a point of contention between GOP lawmakers, who control the state Legislature in Michigan, and the Democratic governor’s administration. According to state data, 5,756 COVID-19 deaths in Michigan have been either residents or staff of long-term care facilities, equaling about 29% of the statewide virus-linked deaths.


NFL WARNING TO TEAMS: COVID-19 OUTBREAKS AMONG UNVACCINATED PLAYERS COULD LEAD TO FORFEITED GAMES

The NFL has added an additional COVID-19 vaccination incentive for players, threatening forfeits and the loss of game checks if an outbreak among unvaccinated players causes an unresolvable disruption in the regular-season schedule.

Commissioner Roger Goodell informed clubs of the new policy Thursday in a memo. The league has encouraged vaccination for players but has not required it, per an agreement with the NFL Players Association.

Unvaccinated players will be subject to severe protocols during training camp and the regular season, including daily testing, mask-wearing and travel restrictions. Thursday’s memo made it clear that unvaccinated players could, in theory, be responsible for the losses of games and paychecks as well.

The new policy drills down on a scenario that never occurred in 2020, when the NFL postponed five games and moved 10 others to accommodate outbreaks. A forfeit will be called in 2021 if all of the following circumstances occur:

  • A game is postponed by requirement of government authorities or medical experts, or at the discretion of the commissioner, because of ongoing health concerns of an outbreak.
  • The league can’t find a suitable date to reschedule within the 18-week framework of the regular season.
  • The original postponement was caused by an outbreak among unvaccinated players of one team.

 

If the forfeit occurs, players from both teams will lose their game checks. The team that suffered the outbreak would be responsible for any shortfall in the league’s revenue-sharing pool and also would be credited with a loss for the purposes of playoff seeding, with the opposing team credited with a win.


U.S. MOVE TO EXTEND CANADA BORDER RESTRICTIONS THROUGH AUG. 21 DRAWS IRE

Canadian leaders were left “stunned” Wednesday by the U.S. decision to extend its border closure to “nonessential” Canadians until at least Aug. 21, despite plans by Ottawa to open its border to Americans 12 days earlier.

Some U.S. lawmakers are similarly unhappy with the announcement, with politicians from both sides of the aisle criticizing the move. Wednesday’s announcement comes two days after Canada said it would allow vaccinated Americans to start crossing the border for nonessential travel beginning Aug. 9.

The border discrepancy risks exacerbating tensions between the economic allies — especially if extended by the Americans beyond Aug. 21. Cross-border trade and tourism are the lifeblood of the industrial heartland in both countries, making the border crossing between Detroit and Windsor one of the busiest in North America.

Federal Register document published Wednesday from Customs and Border Protection announced the extension of the U.S. current policy through Aug. 21. The policy only allows for ground travel deemed essential from people looking to enter the U.S. from Canada.

The document, signed by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, pointed to a “specific threat to human life or national interests” with COVID-19 spread between the two countries.


MICHIGAN HOUSE REPEALS EMERGENCY POWERS LAW GOV. WHITMER USED TO FIGHT PANDEMIC

A 76-year-old Michigan law crafted in the wake of Detroit race riots and used more recently to combat a generational health crisis is officially dead.

The Republican-controlled state House on Wednesday voted 60-48 largely along party lines in support of initiative petition language that repeals the Emergency Powers Act of 1945. The vote came one week after the state Senate also approved the initiative.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used the law to issue sweeping health and safety restrictions in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, moves that eventually garnered pushback from Republicans and other opponents.

Democrats blasted the initiative effort and opposed repealing the law, arguing the power is needed and lawmakers should allow the petition to go to voters in the form of a ballot question.

The House voted for the repeal to take effect immediately, but the Senate did not. That means the law officially takes effect 90 days after lawmakers formally adjourn their current legislative session.

Whitmer and her administration have used other laws to battle health emergencies, but this initiative process outlines a playbook for conservatives to take future action in a way that avoids a veto.


COIN SHORTAGE AGAIN PRESENTS INCONVENIENCES FOR BUSINESSES

Along with the many product shortages amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic over the past year and a half is the coin shortage, which has once again crept back up for many businesses and banks.

The original cause of the 2020 coin shortage was production at the United States Mint slowing down because of the pandemic — with last year’s “cumulative mintage” down to just over 4 billion as of May 2020, as opposed to 5.07 billion the previous year.

The other problem was that early in the pandemic, very few coins were circulating in the economy, thanks largely to stay-at-home orders and fewer people going out and spending money. Once the economy began to reopen, many businesses exhausted their coin inventories.

In May of this year, the U.S. Federal Reserve acknowledged businesses and banks in various parts of the country were having a hard time getting their hands on enough quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies.

“There is currently an adequate overall amount of coins in the economy,” a statement from the U.S. Federal Reserve read. “But business and bank closures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic significantly disrupted normal circulation patterns for U.S. coins. This slowed pace of circulation reduced available inventories in some areas of the country during 2020.”

The statement continued to read “the Federal Reserve continues to work with the U.S. Mint and others in the industry to keep coins circulating.

The U.S. Coin Task Force, which was formed in July 2020 to identify, implement, and promote actions to address disruptions to coin circulation, continues to meet regularly until coin circulation normalizes.”

Since mid-June of 2020, the U.S. Mint has been operating at full production capacity. In 2020, the mint produced 14.8 billion coins, a 24% increase from the 11.9 billion coins produced in 2019.


NEARLY 73 MILLION AMERICANS LIVE IN COUNTIES WITH HIGH COVID-19 INFECTIONS. IT’S TIME TO RESET AND PUT MASKS BACK ON, EXPERT SAYS

With the highly contagious Delta variant spreading, particularly among unvaccinated Americans, it may be time to hit the “reset button” on pandemic response and for much of the country to put their masks back on, an expert said.

“We are at a very different point in the pandemic than we were a month ago,” Dr. Leana Wen told CNN’s Jim Acosta Tuesday. “And therefore, we should follow the example of LA County and say that if there are places where vaccinated and unvaccinated people are mixing, then indoor mask mandates should still apply.

Los Angeles County reinstated a mask mandate over the weekend, requiring masking indoors regardless of vaccination status.

 

Wen, a CNN medical analyst, said there are two exceptions to the occasions she thinks people should be wearing masks indoors in public: when everyone is vaccinated and has provided proof or if there is a very high level of community vaccination.

 

But about 22% of the US population, or nearly 73 million people, lives in a county considered to have “high” Covid-19 transmission, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only 48.7% of the total US population is fully vaccinated against the virus, according to the CDC — a number far below the 70 to 85% health experts have estimated it would take to slow or stop the spread.


CMU ANNOUNCES VACCINE INCENTIVE PROGRAM FOR STUDENTS

In an effort to increase the number of students receiving COVID-19 vaccines, Central Michigan University today launched a vaccine incentive program with prizes including four scholarships equivalent to a full year of tuition and hundreds of gift cards.

 

Beginning today, students who have completed a full vaccine protocol — one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine — may register online to enter the incentive program. And, while they can enter only once, students are eligible for every drawing held after they register.

 

“The earlier a student registers, they more chances they have to win prizes,” said Jennifer DeHaemers, CMU’s vice president for student recruitment and retention.

CMU will choose 101 winners during each of four scheduled drawings. Winners will be announced Aug. 2 and 23, Sept. 13, and Oct. 4. In each drawing, 100 students will receive a $75 gift card, and one student will win a full-tuition scholarship. All participants will also receive a 20% discount at the CMU Bookstore, DeHaemers said.


FRANCE REQUIRES COVID PASS FOR EIFFEL TOWER, TOURIST VENUES

Visitors need a special COVID pass to ride up the Eiffel Tower or visit French museums or movie theaters from Wednesday, the first step in a new campaign against what the government calls a “stratospheric” rise in delta variant infections.

To get the pass, people must show they are either fully vaccinated, have a negative virus test or proof they recently recovered from an infection. The requirement went into effect Wednesday at cultural and tourist sites, following a government decree.

President Emmanuel Macron wants to rush through legislation to mandate the pass for restaurants and many other areas of public life, as well as requiring that all health workers get a jab. The lower house of parliament starts a debate on the bill Wednesday.

It has prompted resistance in some quarters, and anti-vaccination protesters are planning a demonstration Wednesday.

France’s daily infections dropped sharply in the spring but have shot up again over the past two weeks, and some regions are re-imposing virus restrictions.


NEXT FEW DAYS LOOMLARGE FOR US GYMNASTS AFTER ALTERNATE’S POSITIVE COVID TEST

The biggest challenge to the gold rush for Simone Biles and the U.S. women comes even before the competition begins.

The news that alternate Kara Eaker tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday following a training camp with Biles and the rest of the Olympic team means there will be a nervous eye on test results the next few days. Biles is the biggest thing going at the Tokyo Olympics, heavily favored to win, well, everything, and the U.S. women are expected to cruise to a third consecutive team title.

They have to be able to compete, however.

If the last few days have reminded us of anything, it’s that the COVID pandemic is far from over, and being fully vaccinated does not give someone an impenetrable shield. Eaker said after last month’s Olympic Trials that she was fully vaccinated, and yet the 18-year-old is now quarantined, as is her training mate, Leanne Wong, who was deemed a close contact.

Masks were to be worn at all times except when athletes were eating, actively training or in their individual rooms.

 

Competition begins Sunday.


CANADA TO LET VACCINATED US CITIZENS ENTER ON AUG. 9. WHAT TO KNOW

Canadian officials announced Monday they will begin letting fully vaccinated U.S. citizens into Canada on Aug. 9, and those from the rest of the world on Sept. 7.

Entry will require not just the traditional passport but proof of vaccination.

Officials said the 14-day quarantine requirement will be waived as of Aug. 9 for eligible travelers who are currently residing in the United States and have received a full course of a COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in Canada (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca).

On Monday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, who noted he spoke with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Friday, said the United States has not yet indicated any plan to change current restrictions at the land border. However, Canadians are able to fly into the United States with a negative COVID-19 test.

For the United States’ part, it must decide whether to extend its land border closures with Canada and Mexico by Wednesday.

 

Also, according to the Canadian government, fully vaccinated travelers must also:

  • Provide COVID-19-related information electronically through ArriveCAN (app or web portal) including proof of vaccination prior to departing for Canada (subject to limited exceptions)
  • Meet pre-entry testing requirements
  • Be asymptomatic upon arrival

Have a paper or digital copy of their vaccination documentation in English or French (or certified translation, along with the original) ready to show a government official upon request.


OAKLAND COUNTY CONTINUING RENT, MORTGAGE, AND UTILITY RELIEF PROGRAM

Oakland County is continuing a program that will provide $3.9 million in rental, mortgage, and utility assistance for low-income residents continuing to struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This will be the third round of grant disbursements from the Oakland County Neighborhood and Housing Development Rent, Morgage, and Utility Relief Program. The program was first implemented in spring 2020 and uses federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) dollars received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

To receive assistance you must:

  • Be an Oakland County resident
  • Have a household income less than 80% of the area median income, as defined by HUD
  • Have had a COVID-19 related hardship beginning March 10, 2020 or later such as inability to pay due to temporary job loss, reduced work hours, or other income hardship
  • The household has not received assistance from any other source for the same activity and time period as requested through this program
  • Your landlord or property manager or mortgage company must agree to participate in the program.  (No payments will be made directly to the applicant.)
  • This program provides a one-time grant for eligible households and covers the following areas:
    • Rent payment (includes land contract payments, mobile home lot rent, late fees, court costs).
    • Mortgage payment and/or association fees
    • Utility payment (gas, electric, water and sewer).
  • Household liquid assets (e.g., savings, checking, cash) are limited to $15,000

Eligible Oakland County residents can fill out and submit grant application by visiting: http://www.oakgov.com/RMU.


HENRY FORD HOSPITAL EMPLOYEES PROTEST VACCINE MANDATE

Hundreds of Henry Ford Hospital employees and their supporters turned out in front of the Clinton Township hospital location on 19 Mile Road to protest against mandatory COVID vaccines.

 

Henry Ford Health System announced June 29 it would require all hospital workers, including students, volunteers and contractors, to be fully vaccinated for COVID by Sept. 10, 2021. Workers who opt not to get fully vaccinated could risk losing their jobs.

Many protesters expressed concern regarding the safety of the vaccine as well as what they see as a violation of their right to personal freedom under the Constitution of the United States as well as a violation of privacy laws and federal laws restricting release of medical information.

 

People lined both sides of 19 Mile Road holding signs with messages such as “My body my choice” and “I identify as vaccinated” and waving American flags.

Protests also took place at Henry Ford Health System’s main location on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit as well as HFHS locations on West Maple Road in West Bloomfield Township; North East Avenue in Jackson; and Biddle Avenue in Wyandotte.

 

President of Healthcare Operations and Chief Operating Officer of the Henry Ford Health System Bob Riney pointed to the danger caused by the coronavirus in a prepared statement:

 

“We have received widespread support from our patients, team members and the community for our decision to require the COVID-19 vaccine for team members. At the same time, we acknowledge that uncertainty remains for some, and respect the rights of those members of our Henry Ford family, as well as those in our broader communities, to voice their concerns. The data and science continue to reinforce the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, including the mitigation of new and emerging threats like the Delta variant. As such, we know more than ever that vaccination is the absolute best way to end this pandemic and we remain confident in our decision. We are deeply committed to working alongside every team member who has concerns or questions.”

 

Riney said the HFHS COVID vaccine policy is in keeping with existing policy requiring employees to be vaccinated for the flu, measles, mumps, rubella and whooping cough.


UM FACULTY SURVEY: MOST SUPPORT MANDATORY COVID-19 VACCINATION

Most instructors at the University of Michigan think COVID-19 vaccination should be mandatory for all faculty, staff and students, with limited medical or religious exceptions — or if not, instructors should be able to opt out of in-person instruction, according to results of an informal survey obtained by The Detroit News.

Faculty Senate members, clinical faculty and lecturers were asked whether they would support a university mandate that all students, faculty and staff be vaccinated, with limited medical and religious exceptions — an expansion of a current requirement for students who want to live on the Ann Arbor campus this fall.

The instructors also were asked if they should be able to opt-out of in-person teaching, should such a mandate not be adopted.

 

Among the Faculty Senate, 1,484 out of 4,297 members responded to the survey, with 89.1%, or 1,305, saying Yes, they support mandatory vaccinations for all students, faculty and staff.

Among clinical faculty, 487 of 2,024 responded, with 88%, or 418, voting Yes on the vaccine requirement.  And among 399 of 1,169 lecturers who responded, 85.1%, or 339, said they support a mandate.

Asked if instructors should be able to opt out of in-person teaching if the University of Michigan doesn’t mandate vaccinations, 76% of Senate Faculty members, or 1,054 of those who responded, said instructors should be able to opt out.

The question of whether COVID-19 vaccination should be mandatory has been hotly debated across the country, and some Michigan institutions have adopted vaccine requirements.


SOME DNR CUSTOMER SERVICE CENTERS TO REOPEN TO PUBLIC

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is resuming some regular operations that were suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Starting this week, some customer service centers and field offices will be open to the public on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through Labor Day. Staff in these offices sell hunting and fishing licenses and fuelwood permits, according to the DNR.

All customer service centers, field offices and other destinations are expected to return to their pre-pandemic office hours by Sept. 7.

The DNR also says that headquarters buildings at state parks and recreation areas, state-managed harbors and DNR shooting ranges are open.


AMERICANS WHO ARE FULLY VACCINATED CAN ENTER CANADA AS OF MID-AUGUST

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday Canada could start allowing fully vaccinated Americans into Canada as of mid-August for non-essential travel and should be in a position to welcome fully vaccinated travelers from all countries by early September.

Trudeau spoke with leaders of Canada’s provinces and his office released a readout of the call. He noted that if Canada’s current positive path of vaccination rate and public health conditions continue the border can open.

Trudeau noted Canada continues to lead G20 countries in vaccination rates with approximately 80% of eligible Canadians vaccinated with their first dose and over 50% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated. He said case numbers and severe illness continue to decline across the country as vaccination rates continue to increase.

 

Non essential entry into Canada by Americans and others has been restricted since the early months of the pandemic.


LOS ANGELES COUNTY TO REQUIRE MASKS INDOORS — REGARDLESS OF COVID-19 VACCINATION STATUS: LIVE UPDATES

Los Angeles County, the most populated county in the U.S., will once again require people to wear masks indoors – regardless of vaccination status – due to a recent surge in new COVID-19 cases.

The startling change, announced exactly a month after California became one of the last in the country to reopen and drop coronavirus mandates, aims to stunt an uptick in new cases combined with the spread of the highly infectious delta variant. It will go into effect at 11:59 p.m. Saturday.

The news out of California comes asthe U.S. is once again reporting more than 1,000 new coronavirus infections every hour, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data for the week ending Wednesday.

 

The nation is averaging about 25,300 new cases per day, more than double the rate of the week of June 22. The total rose in 48 states – all but Iowa and South Dakota. Still, the totals represent only about 10% of the numbers reported in the U.S. in its worst week in January.


MICHIGAN MAN GETS PRISON TIME FOR $590K COVID-19 FRAUD SCHEME

A Michigan man was sentenced to two years in federal prison on charges of bank fraud and money laundering after securing a $590,000 Paycheck Protection Program loan for a nonexistent business and using those funds to purchase vehicles, the U.S. Department of Justice announced.

 

Before the fraud was uncovered, Darrell Baker, 56, of Detroit, withdrew about $170,000 of the loan and purchased two Cadillac Escalades, a Dodge Charger and a Hummer using cashier’s checks

The PPP was set up to provide loans to small businesses to keep their workforces employed during COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Baker pleaded guilty in September 2020 to one count of bank fraud arising from his effort to obtain the loan by defrauding Customers Bank, of Pennsylvania. He also pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering related to financial transactions with the fraudulently obtained funds.

He was sentenced this week to 24 months in prison. He was also ordered to forfeit the vehicles he purchased, to pay restitution of $89,864 and to repay the $172,484.40 that he withdrew from the loan.

Baker applied for and obtained the loan on behalf of “Motorcity Solar Energy, Inc.,” a business he claimed to own but that does not exist. He claimed the business had 68 employees and paid them $2.8 million during 2019 – those claims were false as the business does not exist.


FIRST FOUR WINNERS OF $50,000 VACCINE PRIZES NAMED — MOST HAIL FROM DETROIT AREA

The first four winners of $50,000 each were named Wednesday in the MI Shot To Win Sweepstakes that is aimed at increasing vaccinations against the coronavirus and its variants.

 

Three of the four winners, who were randomly selected for getting vaccinated from July 1 to July 4, were from Metro Detroit. The last winner from the Fourth of July was from west Michigan.

 

The governor cited the Delta variant of COVID-19 as a reason to get vaccinated, saying it must be taken “very seriously.” The Delta variant is considered more contagious and possibly more lethal than other versions of the coronavirus.

 

The effort, which is a collaboration of Meijer, Michigan Association of United Ways, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and other groups, is meant to encourage more Michiganians to get vaccinated and achieve Whitmer’s goal of having 70% of the adult population protected. Ohio and other states launched similar efforts in May.

Michigan’s vaccination rate on Wednesday was 62.4% of adults 16 years and older with at least one dose of the vaccine. When it was announced on July 1, nearly 62% had received one dose.


US VIRUS CASES ARE RISING AGAIN, DOUBLING OVER THREE WEEKS

The COVID-19 curve in the U.S. is rising again after months of decline, with the number of new cases per day doubling over the past three weeks, driven by the fast-spreading delta variant, lagging vaccination rates and Fourth of July gatherings.

Confirmed infections climbed to an average of about 23,600 a day on Monday, up from 11,300 on June 23, according to Johns Hopkins University data. And all but two states — Maine and South Dakota — reported that case numbers have gone up over the past two weeks.

At the same time, parts of the country are running up against deep vaccine resistance, while the highly contagious mutant version of the coronavirus that was first detected in India is accounting for an ever-larger share of infections.

Nationally, 55.6% of all Americans have received at least one COVID-19 shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The five states with the biggest one-week jump in cases per capita all had lower vaccination rates, according to the CDC data: Missouri, 46%; Arkansas, 43%; Nevada, 51%; Louisiana, 39%; and Florida, 55%.

The percentage of Michigan residents of all ages who have received at least one dose of the vaccine stood at 52%, according to the federal numbers. But as of now, Michigan is not experiencing a significant jump in cases.

As of Tuesday, Michigan had the 12th lowest number of new infections per capita over the last seven days among the 50 states, according to the CDC’s tracking.


AMERICANS FACING MASSIVE PASSPORT PROCESSING DELAYS, LAWMAKERS URGING STATE DEPT. TO ACT

A crush of Americans are seeking to travel overseas again as vaccination rates climb in the U.S., and foreign governments loosen their restrictions. But many of them are running into a critical problem: Their passport is expired.

That’s led to another crush — of passport applications — one that has overwhelmed the State Department’s 26 passport agencies across the country and created an enormous backlog of applications.

For Americans planning to travel abroad, the agency warned they should submit an application at least six months in advance.

 

The lengthy delays in processing have left many Americans unable to travel, sparking public frustration, as well as concern from Congress. Two top lawmakers urged the State Department this week to expedite applications and cut down the “well beyond usual processing times.

 

The State Department now says passports submitted through the mail for renewal can be expected back in up to 18 weeks, or 12 weeks if an applicant pays extra for expedited processing. It’s unclear how many applications in total are backlogged — a number that was previously available to the public.

For Americans who want to apply in-person, most of the offices across the country still have very limited appointments, reserving them for life-and-death emergencies. The State Department said it is returning staff to offices still, even though many cities across the country are already fully reopened.


THOUSANDS OF COVID-19 VACCINES COULD EXPIRE BEFORE BEING USED UP IN MICHIGAN

It wasn’t long ago that vaccines were a hot commodity in Michigan, with people waiting in long lines to get their turn at partial immunity against COVID-19 and few, if any, shots going to waste.

Fast forward to early summer 2021 and the state’s supply of shots has surpassed demand to the point of some unused doses heading toward expiration in the coming weeks.

Michigan estimates that at least 240,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine will expire in the next two months, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Additionally, health official estimate that approximately 45,000 doses of Moderna’s shot and 21,000 doses of Pfizer’s will expire at the end of July.

To limit the waste of vaccine, MDHHS Spokesperson Lynn Sutfin said the state is working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to redistribute vaccines to other states, as well as large pharmacy chains within Michigan. The state recently sent some excess Johnson & Johnson doses to Minnesota, Sutfin noted.

The state is also urging vaccine providers to share doses with higher trafficked sites, and has provided strategies to vaccine sites for using up on-hand doses.

As of Friday, July 9, Michigan has administered more than 9 million doses of the three available vaccines. About 56.6% of the 12 and older population has gotten a first shot, and 52.3% are fully immunized.


U.S. INFLATION IS SOARING, HERE’S WHY GROCERY STORE, RESTAURANT MEAL PRICES KEEP RISING

The consumer price index, the U.S.’s key inflation measure, soared by 0.9 percent in June — the largest one-month increase in inflation measures in 13 years, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s report released Tuesday.

 

The report from the Labor Department also noted that over the past year, prices went up 5.4%, the biggest jump in yearly inflation also in 13 years.

 

Much of the increase in prices is due to the rise in gasoline prices, which have increased way above summer 2020 levels.

The coronavirus pandemic caused a sharp drop in the number of cars on the road last year, leading to lower oil prices. But now that the nation is slowly recovering from the pandemic and getting vaccinated, demand for travel is back, and so is demand for oil and gas.

 

Gas prices went up 45.1% compared to last year, the Labor Department said.

Food prices also have increased over the past year by 2.4%, and prices for eating out at restaurants rose 4.2%, according to the Labor Department.

 

As restaurants are reopening, they are having trouble attracting help, which has led to sign-on bonuses and higher wages for employees.

 

But the increased cost for the employees comes at a price to the customer, leading to higher prices for menu items.

 

Economists at the Federal Reserve and the White House expect this round of inflation to pass, although some central bank officials have conceded that inflation is stronger than they had thought.


ARTS, BEATS & EATS FESTIVAL TO RETURN WITH 200 BANDS

The Soaring Eagle Arts, Beats & Eats festival is returning this Labor Day weekend after it was canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The last festival, which is presented by Flagstar Bank, was in 2019 and drew more than 343,000 people to downtown Royal Oak over four days.

“Arts, Beats and Eats is happening at full capacity” this year, said Jon Witz, producer of the annual event. “We got here because the majority of people (in the county) have gotten vaccinated. It’s really up to everyone to get vaccinated.”

Though he released no names of the headlining acts, Witz promised to deliver on the entertainment.

“We have reached out and gotten the biggest name band in our history,” he said.

Arts, Beats & Eats has been in Royal Oak since 2010 and before that was in Pontiac. It is now entering its 24th year.

This year there will be more than 200 performances on nine stages.

The event also features a juried fine art show, dozens of food offerings from restaurants and food trucks.

For the first time, the festival is eliminating food and drink tickets for festival goers, which were not always popular for those who ended up with unused tickets or ran out of tickets and had to wait in line to buy more.

Witz said attendees this year can buy food and beverages directly from restaurants with cash or credit cards. He described the less cumbersome payment system as an experiment that will give people more flexibility and reduce touch points.


US OFFICIALS FLAG “SMALL” REACTION RISK WITH J&J VACCINE

Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine may pose a “small possible risk” of a rare but potentially dangerous neurological reaction, U.S. health officials said Monday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement it has received reports of 100 people who got the shot developing Guillain-Barré syndrome, an immune system disorder that can cause muscle weakness and occasionally paralysis.

That number represents a tiny fraction of the nearly 13 million Americans who have received the one-dose vaccine. Most cases of the side effect were reported in men – many 50 years old and up – and usually about two weeks after vaccination.

The CDC said it would ask its panel of outside vaccine experts to review the issue at an upcoming meeting.


OAKLAND COUNTY SEES HISTORIC DROP IN PUBLIC SCHOOL ENROLLMENT DURING PANDEMIC

All but one of Oakland County’s 28 public school districts saw a drop in enrollment during the 2020-2021 academic year, one riddled with significant challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Carolyn Claerhout, Oakland Schools pupil services manager, is anticipating enrollment numbers to return to more normal levels this fall with the majority of students enrolled for in-person instruction, five days per week.

Claerhout said that school districts across the county are going to see a “very large” increase in kindergarten or first-grade enrollment compared to last year.

Last year, however, Oakland County had 6,038 fewer students in its public schools, of which the largest portion were kindergarteners, a trend that continued at the state level.

In Oakland county, 29 percent of the enrollment decline, or 1,715 students, was among kindergartners with parents choosing to either homeschool or hold their children back a year, putting them in child care instead.

If public school enrollment does not recover to the level that many school administrators are anticipating, schools could eventually see funding cuts down the road, though federal pandemic relief money is boosting budgets for now with Michigan receiving $3.7 billion in K-12 funding from the American Rescue Plan, which was signed by President Biden in March.


LIONS ‘THRILLED’ TO WELCOME BACK FANS IN 2021; FULL CAPACITY SET FOR FORD FIELD

Are you ready for some football? Like, real, live, in-person football?

The Lions sure hope so.

The Lions announced Monday morning that they plan to be back to full capacity for the 2021 NFL season, after playing in front of only friends and family during the COVID-19-impacted 2020 season.

“We have long awaited the moment where we can officially declare we will have 65,000 fans at Ford Field this fall,” Lions president and CEO Rod Wood said in a statement. “We’ve worked diligently with the NFL, as well looked to federal, state and local guidelines to monitor what’s best for our team, staff and fans. We’re thrilled to be at this point and to welcome One Pride back into the stadium.

The Lions say several considerations were factored when making the decision to welcome back fans, most notably the state’s vaccination level. More than 60% of Michigan residents age 16 and up have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

The Lions announced they will not require proof of vaccination, and face masks won’t be required.

Fan activities, including tailgating and zip lines, also are scheduled to return.

They said they “reserve the right” to go back to no fans should the COVID-19 situation worsen before or during the upcoming season, which starts Sunday, Sept. 12, at home against the San Francisco 49ers.

Single-game tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Wednesday, July 28, at lions.com.


VACCINATED TEACHERS AND STUDENTS DON’T NEED MASKS, CDC SAYS

Vaccinated teachers and students don’t need to wear masks inside school buildings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday in relaxing its COVID-19 guidelines.

The changes come amid a national vaccination campaign in which children as young as 12 are eligible to get shots, as well as a general decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.

The nation’s top public health agency is not advising schools to require shots for teachers and vaccine-eligible kids. And it’s not offering guidance on how teachers can know which students are vaccinated or how parents will know which teachers are immunized.

 

Another potential headache: Schools should continue to space kids — and their desks — 3 feet apart in classrooms, the CDC says. But the agency emphasized that spacing should not be an obstacle to getting kids back in schools. And it said distancing is not required among fully vaccinated students or staff.

All of this may prove hard to implement, and that’s why CDC is advising schools to make decisions that make the most sense.


FASTER HORSES FEST TO CRANK UP THE PARTY FOR TENS OF THOUSANDS AS THE MUSIC RETURNS TO MIS

Michigan’s biggest country music festival is back in the starting gate. And it’s poised to be not just the state’s biggest gathering since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but one of the first major festivals to return nationwide.

Faster Horses, which traditionally has drawn 40,000-plus daily, will hit Michigan International Speedway next weekend for three days of camping, country tunes and red-white-and-blue partying as the July tradition notches its eighth installment.

Headliners Luke Combs (Friday), Thomas Rhett (Saturday) and Jason Aldean (Sunday) lead a lineup that’s unchanged from the bill originally set for last year before Faster Horses and the rest of the concert industry got sidelined by the pandemic.

Attendance won’t be announced until the festival concludes, but officials say they expect crowd numbers to approach those of previous years. If so, Faster Horses will be the biggest event in Michigan since Garth Brooks played for 70,000 at Ford Field in late February 2020. (At Comerica Park, which returned to full capacity in June, the largest crowd for a Detroit Tigers game so far has been 34,484 on July 5).


648,000 COVID JOBLESS AID RECIPIENTS IN MICHIGAN ASKED TO CLARIFY QUALIFICATIONS

More than 648,000 Michigan unemployment recipients have to file additional paperwork and may have to repay benefits because of unapproved qualification criteria developed by a state agency.

The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency mailed letters in late June to claimants who had marked one of four reasons provided by the state to indicate they were eligible for federal pandemic unemployment assistance, a form of jobless aid made available to part-time, self-employed or gig workers who wouldn’t normally qualify for benefits.

The U.S. Department of Labor said the four qualifications listed by the state when it began distributing Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits did not comply with federal guidelines. This forced the state to re-evaluate PUA eligibility for all individuals who selected Michigan’s non-qualifying reasons.

The UIA’s mailing came as a source of frustration for Rep. Steve Johnson, the Wayland Republican who’s taken hours of Oversight Committee testimony regarding delays, fraudulent claims and mistakes at the Unemployment Insurance Agency.

The agency experienced significant delays during the pandemic because of an unprecedented number of claims from laid-off workers and constant efforts to identify and root out fraudsters.

“The Unemployment Insurance Agency is a mess,” Johnson said. “If the state made the mistake, the people shouldn’t have to pay for it. The state should have to pay for it.”


ST. JOSEPH MERCY REQUIRES COVID-19 VACCINATIONS FOR EMPLOYEES

Trinity Health, which includes St Joseph Mercy Oakland in Pontiac, has announced effective immediately all colleagues, clinical staff, contractors and those conducting business in its health care facilities must be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The requirement applies to Trinity Health’s more than 117,000 employees in 22 states nationwide in an effort to stop the spread of the virus and keep all patients, colleagues, and the broader communities safe.

St. Joe’s Oakland employs between 2,500-3,000 who will be affected.

Henry Ford Health System announced a vaccine requirement for its 30,000 employees on June 29.

Employees at Trinity Health and its Health Ministries must meet a series of rolling deadlines, with most locations requiring them to submit proof of vaccination by Sept. 21. It has not yet been determined if a COVID-19 vaccine booster will be required annually, but if so, employees will also need to submit proof of the booster as needed. Exemptions are available for religious or health reasons and must be formally requested, documented, and approved. Employees who do not meet criteria for exemption and fail to show proof of vaccination will have their employment terminated.


PFIZER TO SEEK OK FOR 3RD VACCINE DOSE; SHOTS STILL PROTECT

Pfizer is about to seek U.S. authorization for a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine, saying Thursday that another shot within 12 months could dramatically boost immunity and maybe help ward off the latest worrisome coronavirus mutant.

Research from multiple countries shows the Pfizer shot and other widely used COVID-19 vaccines offer strong protection against the highly contagious delta variant, which is spreading rapidly around the world and now accounts for most new U.S. infections.

Two doses of most vaccines are critical to develop high levels of virus-fighting antibodies against all versions of the coronavirus, not just the delta variant – and most of the world still is desperate to get those initial protective doses as the pandemic continues to rage.

 

But antibodies naturally wane over time, so studies also are underway to tell if and when boosters might be needed.

 

On Thursday, Pfizer’s Dr. Mikael Dolsten told The Associated Press that early data from the company’s booster study suggests people’s antibody levels jump five- to 10-fold after a third dose, compared to their second dose months earlier.

In August, Pfizer plans to ask the Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization of a third dose, he said.


EXPANDED HOURS, NEW RENEWAL OPTIONS COMING TO MICHIGAN SECRETARY OF STATE BRANCHES

Expanded hours and the ability to renew driver’s licenses and state IDs without visiting a Secretary of State branch are among improvements and changes coming to SOS branches.

 

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says that the dreaded visits to SOS branch will become shorter with new methods of serving people. Online visits can be scheduled at Michigan.gov/SOS or through their number, 888-SOS-MICH. Or, you can go into an office and schedule in person.

There are two main advances to the operating model:

  • From July 19 to Sept 30, all offices will stay open until 6 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays, and open at 8 a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays to deal with pandemic backlog. Offices are usually only open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekdays.
  • Drivers licenses and state IDs that expire on or after July 1st can now be renewed online. No need to wait in line to renew your expired license. In addition, photos only need to be retaken every 12 years rather than eight, making required visits even less frequent.

 

“The extra office hours will provide in-person service to 120,000 additional Michiganders, and the technology upgrade will enable hundreds of thousands of residents to renew their licenses and IDs from the comfort of their own home,” Benson said. “We have a strong plan in place to provide an abundance of in-person office availability in coming months, to work through the transaction backlog created by the pandemic, and to improve upon our service-driven operating model that provides the convenient, efficient and equitable service that Michiganders have sought and deserved for decades.”


AUDITOR GENERAL TO REVIEW MICHIGAN’S COVID-RELATED NURSING HOME DEATH DATA

The state auditor general will conduct a review to determine the accuracy of Michigan’s data pertaining to COVID-related deaths at long-term care facilities.

Michigan Auditor General Doug Ringler estimated the audit would be complete between late September and the middle of October in a letter addressed last week to Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland.

Ringler, who was appointed in 2014, was chosen by a majority vote of lawmakers for an eight-year term. Ringler’s office is tasked with conducting “post financial and performance audits of all branches, departments, offices, boards, authorities, and other institutions,” according to the office’s website.

Johnson requested the Office of Auditor General undertake a “comprehensive study of reported and unreported deaths in long-term care facilities” in June following questions over the reliability of the state’s data.

The Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday that it had received a request from the Office of Auditor General and welcomed the opportunity to meet with the team.


JAPAN DECLARE STATE OF EMERGENCY IN TOKYO THROUGH OLYMPICS DUE TO COVID-19 SURGE

IOC President Thomas Bach arrived in Tokyo on Thursday just as a ban on spectators at the Tokyo Olympics is likely after Japan Prime Minister Yoshihde Suga announced a state of emergency because of rising coronavirus infections in the capital.

Suga said the state of emergency would go in effect on Monday and last through Aug. 22. This means the Olympics, opening on July 23 and running through Aug. 8, will be held entirely under emergency measures.

Suga said the state of emergency was needed to “prevent the resurgence of the future spread on cases across the country.”

 

Bach’s arrival comes just two weeks before the postponed Tokyo Games are to open. The IOC and local organizers are attempting to hold the games during a pandemic despite opposition from the Japanese public and medical community.

 

The main focus of the emergency is a request for bars, restaurants and karaoke parlors serving alcohol to close. A ban on serving alcohol is a key step to tone down Olympic-related festivities and keep people from drinking and partying. Tokyo residents are expected to face stay-home requests and watch the games on TV from home.


MICHIGAN’S COVID-19 OUTBREAKS DROP 89% IN A MONTH

drop

A month ago, Michigan was tracking 523 active COVID-19 outbreaks.

On Wednesday, July 7, the state updated its count to 56 active outbreaks, including two newly discovered clusters and 54 ongoing outbreaks.

Michigan saw a 89% decrease in active outbreaks since June 7, and a 54% decrease since last week, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. The department reports outbreak data weekly, typically on Mondays, with data up through the prior Thursday.

An outbreak is generally defined as an instance in which two or more cases are linked by a place and time, indicating a shared exposure outside of a household.

The two latest outbreaks involved a long-term care facility and a social gathering.

Among the ongoing outbreaks, 18 were tied to assisted living facilities, and 15 were linked to manufacturing/construction sites. No other setting reported more than three outbreaks.


PONTIAC OFFERING INCENTIVES TO ENCOURAGE RESIDENT COVID-19 VACCINATIONS

Pontiac is offering incentives to encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The “Let’s Get Pontiac Vacc to Normal” campaign kicks off Wednesday, July 7 and will take place in the parking lot of Pontiac City Hall, 47450 Woodward Avenue.

All participants will receive two free tickets to the “Unity in the Community” concert featuring Lakeside, Midnight Star and The Stylistics on Aug. 1. Anyone who gets vaccinated also receives a $50 gift card from Visa, Mastercard or American Express.

Other vaccination clinic dates include July 8, July 28 and July 29. St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital is sponsoring the July 7 and July 28 clinics. McLaren Oakland Hospital is sponsoring the July 8 and July 29 clinics.

Each clinic will be open to the public between 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Vaccines will be provided by Honor Community Health. Advance registration through their website is available but not required.


COSTCO WILL DROP COVID-19 SENIOR HOURS ON JULY 26 AFTER MORE THAN 16 MONTHS

Costco Wholesale will soon drop its senior hours after holding them for more than 16 months amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The retailer said on its COVID-19 updates page that it plans to end the weekday senior hours and resume regular operating hours effective July 26.

“Until July 26, Costco warehouses in the U.S. and Puerto Rico are open for Special Operating Hours from 9 to 10 a.m., Monday through Friday,” Costco said on its website, listing a few locations that have different hours.

Like most of the nation’s major grocery stores, Costco started designating special shopping hours in March 2020 to help those the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considered most vulnerable and at-risk for COVID-19.

Costco’s hour is for members who are 60 and older, members with disabilities or those who are immunocompromised. The membership club does not allow guests who do not meet its criteria during the designated shopping time.

 

Costco started offering senior hours March 24 as a twice-weekly event and quickly extended to three times a week. When clubs resumed normal hours in early May 2020, clubs extended the senior hours to weekday mornings at most locations.

Last summer, Costco originally announced plans to reduce the special hours to twice per week in July 2020 but didn’t cut the hours as cases spiked.


MICHIGAN WILL NOW PUBLISH STATE’S COVID-19 DATA ON TUESDAYS AND FRIDAYS

From now on, the State of Michigan will publish COVID-19 data on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Previously, the state published data Monday through Saturday, but recently began excluding weekends before reducing updates to Tuesdays and Fridays.

COVID-19 case rates have been steadily declining in Michigan. Last month, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said Michigan is now at the lowest COVID-19 case rate since the pandemic started nearly 15 months ago.

As of July 2, more than 9 million vaccines doses have been administered, with 56.5% of the state’s population fully vaccinated. The state’s first-dose vaccine tracker will continue to be updated daily.

The state is also working to continue to vaccinate Michiganders with vaccine sweepstakes that offer up to $5 million in prizes.

Michigan has recently dropped almost all COVID-19 restrictions across the state.


MICHIGAN ROLLS BACK MANDATORY COVID-19 TESTING FOR AGRICULTURAL WORKERS

Michigan will no longer mandate COVID-19 testing for agricultural and migrant workers.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) cited increased vaccination rates and declining COVID-19 cases when it rescinded the order Thursday, July 1.

The measure went into effect last August following virus outbreaks at farms and food processing plants.

Farmers challenged the mandate that required employers of migrant or seasonal workers with more than 20 employees on site at a time to test all workers. The lawsuit was dismissed in September.

 

MDHHS recently awarded $60 million to improve vaccination access for high-risk populations, including for seasonal agricultural workers.

Through a partnership with the Michigan Primary Care Association, health officials can bring a mobile unit directly to farms to provide vaccinations and testing for employees.

Other protections for workers remain in place. Emergency rules require agricultural laborer housing to have a COVID-19 response plan and provide quarantine housing for workers exposed to the virus.


MICHIGAN’S LATEST BUDGET COULD HELP ACHIEVE EQUITY IN SCHOOL FUNDING

A tidal wave of funding will hit Michigan schools this year, between federal funding and a record state budget.

State lawmakers passed an unprecedented $17.1 billion budget on Wednesday, and federal COVID-19 relief funding will also send billions to schools.

The latest budget hikes per-pupil funding in the state to $8,700, closing a persistent funding gap between Michigan school districts that state lawmakers for years have tried to incrementally close.

Education advocates hailed the massive infusion of funding, but said the state’s work on the funding system is unfinished.

 

While the new budget may mean the state is close to achieving equality in funding, they said achieving equity — the idea that many vulnerable groups may require more or different resources to receive an adequate education — would take a complete overhaul of the school funding formula.

 

The equal per-pupil funding from the state doesn’t mean all districts are now funded equally. Districts in wealthier areas can lean on local property owners to supplement funding still needed to improve buildings, among other uses.


COVID VACCINE TRIAL PARTICIPANTS CONCERNED ABOUT NOT BEING ELIGIBLE FOR MICHIGAN’S SWEEPSTAKES

The state of Michigan is on the receiving end of billions in COVID relief, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is now using about $5.5 million of those federal dollars to incentivize getting the vaccine.

However, there are concerns over who is eligible for the “MI Shot to Win Sweepstakes” money, and that is the very first people who received the vaccine.

The governor decided that since the vaccine became available to the public on Dec. 1, 2020, that was the date she’d use for people to register for a chance to win.

Officials with the Governor’s Office referred Local 4′s questions to Meijer, which they said is administering the program. Meijer could not be reached for comment by Monday afternoon.


WHITMER TO ANNOUNCE MICHIGAN COVID-19 VACCINE SWEEPSTAKES, SCHOLARSHIPS

Are you feeling lucky, Michigan?

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer plans to announce details Thursday of a COVID-19 vaccine sweepstakes that will give vaccinated Michiganders a chance to win a combined total of more than $5 million in cash and nine college scholarships worth $55,000 apiece.

Called the MI Shot to Win Sweepstakes, the lottery-style raffle will be operated by the state in conjunction with Meijer and the Michigan Association of United Ways as an incentive to encourage more residents to get vaccinated.

Any resident 18 or older who has gotten at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine is eligible for the sweepstakes. For teens and tweens ages 12-17, there’ll be a chance to win one of nine Michigan Education Trust (MET) Charitable Tuition Program four-year contracts valued at $55,000. The scholarships can be used to pay for tuition and mandatory fees at a college or university in accordance with MET terms and conditions.

As of Wednesday, just over 5 million Michiganders ages 16 and up had gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, which amounts to 61.8% of that population, according to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine dashboard.


OAKLAND COUNTY EXTENDS $50 GIFT CARD INCENTIVE FOR RESIDENTS WHO GET COVID-19 SHOT

Oakland County Health officials said Wednesday they will continue to offer a $50 gift card to county residents who get vaccinated for COVID-19.

The county last week announced the gift card initiative for residents who received their first dose of the vaccine between June 24 and July 4. It now will remain in place until 70% of county residents 16 and up have received at least one dose. Those under 18 are eligible for the vaccine and a gift card with the consent of their parent or legal guardian.

As of Tuesday, 68.6% of county residents 16 and up have received at least one dose, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.

County residents can visit Oakland County Health Division vaccine clinics or enrolled COVID-19 vaccine providers in Michigan to qualify for the incentive while supplies last.

The Health Division is holding daily vaccine clinics from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at both its North Oakland Health Center in Pontiac and South Oakland Health Center in Southfield.

Oakland officials are urging residents who have not yet received their first dose of the vaccine to get it, noting data shows unvaccinated individuals are most susceptible to the virus and at higher risk of becoming infected with the contagious Delta variant.


GOOGLE IS BUILDING SUPPORT FOR DIGITAL COVID VACCINE CARDS INTO ANDROID

Google is opening up Android’s built-in passes system to let Android users store a digital vaccine card, which it calls a COVID Card, on their phone. The feature will initially roll out in the US, and it will rely on support from healthcare providers, local governments, or other organizations authorized to distribute COVID vaccines. The feature will also support storing COVID test results.

For vaccinations, your COVID Card will show info on when you were vaccinated and which vaccine you received, according to a Google support page. The card can be saved from your healthcare provider’s app or website as well as from texts or emails sent to you.

Google recommends that you add a shortcut to the card on your home screen and will offer the option when you save your card to your device. Google says that the card won’t be saved the cloud and that it won’t use the information you provide for advertising purposes, but it does say that it will collect some information, like how many times you use your card and on which days. And you won’t have to have the Google Pay app downloaded to save and access cards.


COVID-19 VACCINATIONS REQUIRED FOR HENRY FORD HEALTH EMPLOYEES

OAKLAND PRESS – Being vaccinated against COVID-19 will be a condition of employment at the Henry Ford Health System starting on Sept. 10.

“We believe we are the first health care system in Michigan to mandate vaccination. Nationally we are aware that over 18 health care systems are requiring or are in the process of requiring vaccination for their employees and we anticipate that number will continue to grow.’’ Bob Riney, Henry Ford’s president of healthcare operations and chief operating officer, said at a virtual press conference on Tuesday.

This decision applies to all team members, medical staff, students, volunteers and contractors that do business in the Henry Ford facilities including employees who work remotely or those who have had COVID 19.

Exemptions will be granted for medical or religious reasons.

“With COVID-19 hospitalizations in single digits at each of our hospitals, and the positivity rate hovering at about 1%, we’re optimistic that the worst is behind us,’’ Riney said. “But we have lived this fight long enough to know the new variants are real and worrisome. They will continue to emerge and surges can happen any time, anywhere.’’

Employees who have antibodies will be required to receive the vaccine because it offers more protection against variants such as Delta.

Science and data has proved the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine and Finey said he expects the FDA to grant permanent approval to the vaccines.

“No question in my mind that every person who walks through our doors will find some comfort knowing that their team care providers and everyone they come into contact with are vaccinated against COVID-19,’’ said Dr. Dennis Cunningham, Henry Ford’s system director of infection control and prevention.

Currently 68% or just over 23,000 of the 33,000 Henry Ford team members are vaccinated. About 90% of the physicians fall in that category which matches the national average noted by the American Medical Association.


EXTRA DEPUTIES TO PATROL OAKLAND COUNTY LAKES OVER JULY 4

DETROIT NEWS – Extra sheriff’s deputies will be patrolling Oakland County lakes over the July 4 holiday period as part of a national campaign aimed at reducing alcohol, and drug-related accidents and fatalities on bodies of water.

Operation Dry Water was launched in 2009 by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard and local, state and federal law enforcement.

Oakland County to the north and northwest of Detroit has 450 navigable lakes and 83,000 registered boats, according to the sheriff’s office.

The county’s marine unit has 13 full-time deputies trained in dive and emergency rescue. It also has more than 45 part-time marine deputies who respond to lake emergencies, 23 patrol boats, two rapid response jump boats, one hovercraft, six all-terrain vehicles and three specialty boats for search and rescue emergencies.


44 MICHIGAN COUNTIES HAVE NO ACTIVITY BUT VIRUS CASES PERSIST

OAKLAND PRESS – Coronavirus cases and deaths continue to mount but more than half of Michigan’s counties have no new cases or deaths.

There were 173 new cases and 32 deaths (27 from vital records reviews) announced Tuesday by the state health department, but no new cases or deaths in 44 of the state’s 83 counties.

The larger daily numbers continue to be in southeast and southwest Michigan.

There were 43 cases and three deaths in Wayne County, 14 cases and one death in Macomb County, eight cases and three deaths in Detroit, and eight cases and two deaths in Oakland County.

In west Michigan, there were 17 cases and three deaths in Kent County and 15 cases in Ottawa County. In mid Michigan, Clare County had one death, and Gratiot County had one case.

Vaccination levels statewide of residents ages 12 and older are above 50 percent, ranging from a low in Detroit of slightly more than 31 percent to a high of more than 71% in Leelanau County in the northern Lower Peninsula.

More than 60% of residents over age 50 have been vaccinated, and vaccination rates are higher with older age groups. Younger age groups are increasingly acquiring vaccinations, including 21% in the 12-15 age group.

Even with more normal economic and social conditions compared to a year ago, the state health department says it has no plans to halt daily updates of COVID cases and deaths, and vaccination rates.


MEDICAL PROVIDERS PARTNER WITH SCHOOL DISTRICTS TO VACCINATE YOUTH

Hundreds of children ages 12 to 17 in metro Detroit school districts have been vaccinated against COVID-19 with the help of local medical providers.

MedNetOne Health Solutions, based in Rochester, hosted multiple pop-up vaccination clinics since May. Approximately 700 students in Rochester and Berkley school districts were vaccinated, including some parents.

The healthcare provider said early vaccination efforts and partnerships with metro Detroit schools were part of a larger effort to vaccinate ethnic communities. Filipino, Korean, Chinese, Hmong, Thai, Vietnamese and Albanian communities were said to be immunized by these clinics.


OAKLAND COUNTY USING $6.6M FROM AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN TO SUPPORT CHILDCARE AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT

Oakland County is beginning to distribute portions of its $244 million American Rescue Plan allocation to help those hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this year, the county was allocated $244,270,949 in federal Local Fiscal Recovery Funds from the American Rescue Plan and has received the first of two expected disbursements in the amount of $122,135,474. The remaining funds will be distributed by May 2022.

In April, Dave Coulter, Oakland County Executive, reconvened the 31-member COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force, a group of community stakholders representing the education, health, construction, local government, hospitality, labor, non-profit, and business sectors, to make strategic recommendations on how the county should use its American Rescue Plan allocation.

Over the past few months, the task force has made recommendations to the Coulter Administration, which includes addressing immediate community needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic and its negative economic impacts

This week, the county board of commissioners is expected to approve a $6.6 million allocation that will be used by the county to enhance workforce training and education needs.

The Oakland Together Skilled and Educated Workforce Program dollars will be allocated for the following uses:

  • $2,874,000: To fund grade 6-12 Oakland80 Career Navigators to be embedded in communities across the county. The navigators will help students understand their skills and the potential
    education and training paths to gain access to high quality, in demand jobs with pathways to
    advancement.
  • $1.05 million: To continue and build on partnership with the Oakland Livingston Human Services Agency (OLHSA) to deploy three success coaches in support of the Oakland County Business Resource Network. The network supports businesses and their employees to address issues related to workforce retention. Coaches guide the development of strategies to increase employee retention, provide supportive services, and share best
    practices.
  • $1.5 million: Provide assistance to individuals facing financial barriers that limit access to career
    credential and higher education programs. The financial assistance would be administered by Michigan Works! and include support for transportation, childcare, work clothing, books and supplies, housing, utilities and training/education opportunities.

$1.2 million: To provide childcare scholarships to individuals and families disproportionately impacted
by the COVID-19 pandemic who face barriers to employment opportunities. The scholarships would be granted at $1,200 per household who qualify at up to 300% of the U.S. federal poverty guidelines or meet Oakland County Michigan Works! Agency’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Dislocated Worker, Adult, or Youth Program Eligibility guidelines. The scholarships would support families with coverage costs which include co-pays, applications fees, and direct care costs.


GRETCHEN WHITMER CALLS FOR ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE, INFRASTRUCTURE WHILE ON FLOOD TOUR

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer toured a flooded Detroit freeway by air and on the ground Monday, calling it “a devastating moment” for many Metro Detroit residents.

Whitmer spoke with reporters Monday on Interstate 94 near the Martin Street overpass, a section of the freeway still closed and flooded with water. The roofs of several submerged vehicles were still visible from the weekend rain.

She urged residents cleaning up to be safe and to document their losses and file claims with local municipalities.

She blamed the flooding on climate change and a lack of political will to fund needed infrastructure repairs.

Whitmer said the long-term solution won’t be found in President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan and urged lawmakers to come together.

“Now we are seeing the cost of not fixing it and it would be overly simplistic to say that we should use one time dollars because this is an ongoing problem,” Whitmer said. “Republicans and Democrats have to put aside the traditional corners which they go when anyone talks about investment because investment in infrastructure is investment in our public safety. It’s an investment in our economy.”


MDHHS RECOMMENDS THAT SCHOOLS MAINTAIN COVID-19 SAFETY MEASURES

State officials are recommending that schools continue safety and sanitation steps in place for the last academic year to help reduce disruptions to in-person learning when classes resume in the fall.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has issued recommendations for schools to help protect those who are not vaccinated against COVID-19. Currently, the vaccine is not recommended for children under age 12.

Key prevention strategies in schools include:

  • Promoting COVID-19 vaccination for eligible staff and students
  • Using masks in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control
  • Social distancing, physical distancing, including cohorting children to reduce potential exposures
  • COVID-19 screening, testing and contact tracing
    Encouraging students and staff to stay home if sick or having COVID-19 symptoms
  • Encouraging students and staff to get tested for COVID-19 if having symptoms or if they are not fully vaccinated and are in close contact with someone who has COVID-19
  • Conducting screening and implementing contact tracingand quarantine, collaborating with the local health department
  • Promoting handwashing and covering coughs and sneezes
  • Routine cleaning to help maintain healthy facilities

Avoiding crowded or poorly ventilated indoor activities (e.g., engaging in outdoor activities when possible and increasing ventilation for indoor activities).


FOREIGN CARMAKERS’ U.S. PLANTS RELAX COVID-19 PROTOCOLS AS DETROIT 3 KEEP MASKS

Foreign automakers are beginning to relax some COVID-19 protocols at their U.S. plants, including the wearing of masks, even as the Detroit-based carmakers and the United Auto Workers union continue to require workers to wear masks.

Toyota Motor Corp, Nissan Motor Co, BMW AG and Geely’s Volvo Cars all are beginning to let workers at some U.S. plants shed their masks as COVID-19 vaccinations continue to climb across the country. Some companies are requiring workers to provide proof of vaccination before they can go mask-free.

In the meantime, General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Stellantis NV all said their workers must continue to wear masks. The decision was made jointly with the United Auto Workers (UAW) on June 9, when a joint task force agreed to continue most workplace protocols, except for temperature screening.

UAW spokesperson Brian Rothenberg said the task force is scheduled to meet again this week.


ALMOST EVERYONE HOSPITALIZED IN MICHIGAN THIS YEAR WASN’T FULLY VACCINATED

More than 99% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations in Michigan between Jan. 1 and June 15 involved people who were not fully vaccinated against the virus, according to data from a statewide hospital association and state government modeling.

There were 50,954 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalizations in that time period, according to the Michigan Health & Hospital Association. Only 447 of those hospitalizations were for fully vaccinated people two weeks out from their final dose, state modeling data shows.

Only about 0.88% of all hospitalizations were for fully vaccinated people. It takes about two weeks from the second dose for a COVID-19 vaccine to reach full strength, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the same period, less than 1% of people who were fully vaccinated later tested positive, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Those cases, called “breakthrough cases,” are expected but rare. In Michigan,  7,135 people of the nearly 4.3 million who had received their final doses by June 15 — less than one-fifth of 1% — were considered to be breakthrough cases.

The availability of COVID-19 vaccinations, which are free and now available to everyone 12 years and older, increased significantly over that time period, which doctors say helped to bring down case counts and hospitalization numbers to some of the lowest points seen in months.


MORE MICHIGAN RESTAURANTS TOLD THEY WILL NOT RECEIVE PREVIOUSLY APPROVED FEDERAL AID

After being approved for aid from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, the owner of five Bobcat Bonnie’s locations, found out this week via email from the U.S. Small Business Administration they will not be disbursing the previously approved aid.

 

Nearly 3,000 restaurant businesses in the prioritized group, those owned by women, “socially or economically disadvantaged” individuals and veterans, received notice from the Small Business Administration stating they would not receive previously approved funds because of lawsuits filed by several white business owners.

 

Restaurants in Texas and Tennessee filed lawsuits against the SBA, arguing that prioritizing the Restaurant Revitalization Fund to groups based on race and gender is unconstitutional. The fund is aimed at aiding restaurants, an industry decimated by the pandemic. Recent court rulings ordered the SBA to stop disbursing funds to the prioritized group.

The SBA opened the fund to the priority groups for the first 21 days of the application window. Prioritizing the applicants was mandated by Congress.

Since the fund closed on May 24, the SBA received more than 372,000 applications requesting $76 billion in funds — far exceeding available funding. To date, more than 100,000 restaurants have received $27.4 billion in relief funds.

It’s estimated that 1 in 6 restaurants across the country permanently closed because of the pandemic. But not everyone was eligible or will receive funds.


SURVEY: 7 OF 10 MICHIGAN SMALL BUSINESSES NOW EXPECT TO SURVIVE COVID-19

Survival is no longer a driving concern of small business owners in Michigan, where a recent survey shows that 72 percent expect to withstand the pandemic.

However, effects of the last 15 months linger for them: Nearly two thirds say COVID-19 is still negatively impacting their business and close to 50 percent say the pandemic caused permanent changes in their customer bases.

Business owners are moving toward the point where they can quantify what the pandemic means to their futures.

Things like office employees remaining at home for work and a lack of robust online presence for certain products mean that a so-called return to normal will mean future changes for many businesses. And with pandemic restrictions just ending in Michigan, it also will take time for event centers in the state to see the impact from customers returning, Calley said.

The responses come from a survey conducted June 8-18 by SBAM, which asked more than 600 small businesses based in the state questions about their outlook after the pandemic.

The answers offer glimpses into what types of issues the small businesses face as Michigan ends most pandemic restrictions. These businesses represent about 1 million entities and half of the state’s private employers.

Responses, according to SBAM, showed staffing and related issues played a role in many answers:

  • 47 percent of respondents say difficulty finding and keeping employees is the biggest problem facing their business.
  • 50 percent of those surveyed expect to increase the size of their workforce over the next six months.
  • 52 percent of small businesses have increased wages of their employees since the pandemic began.

33 percent of businesses reported staffing reductions due to the pandemic.


63RD ANNUAL MACKINAC BRIDGE WALK IS BACK THIS LABOR DAY

Grab your friends and put on your walking shoes because the Mackinac Bridge Walk is back this summer. The event, which was canceled last year due to the pandemic, will take place on Sept. 6.

The event, which began in 1958, usually garners 25,000-30,000 participants, according to a news release.

Beginning at 6:40 a.m., participants will have the chance to walk one of the largest suspension bridges in the world.

Walkers can start at either end and walk all the way across or turn back at the halfway point and return to their starting city. Since participants can start from either end, there will be no buses driving people from one side to the other.

The bridge will be closed to traffic from 6:30 a.m. until noon, and walkers must reach the midway point by 10 a.m. or they will be turned back.


OAKLAND COUNTY SPENDING $1 MILLION ON GIFT CARDS FOR NEWLY VACCINATED RESIDENTS

Oakland County is spending $1 million on gift cards to get more young people vaccinated.

The county will be using federal CARES Act dollars to pay for the program, which includes 18,000 gift cards worth $50 each to be given to newly vaccinated county residents. The gift cards will be offered through July 4, or until all gift cards have been distributed, whichever comes first.

To be eligible, you must be an Oakland County resident. Those interested in taking advantage of this program can visit any county health division vaccine clinic or any other COVID-19 vaccine provider in Michigan.

Although the program is open to all unvaccinated county residents, county officials are hoping young people will respond to this new incentive. Residents under 18 are eligible to receive a vaccine and a gift card with the consent of their parent or legal guardian.

Right now, 68.2 percent of Oakland County residents age 30 and above have been vaccinated, but only 49.4 percent of those between the ages of 12 to 29 have received their first vaccine dose, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).

County residents who receive their first dose from June 24 to July 4 at a vaccine provider other than the health division may claim their gift card by: Visiting OaklandCountyVaccine.com or calling Nurse on Call at 800-848-5533.


EXPERTS: BENEFITS OF COVID VACCINE OUTWEIGH SMALL HEART RISK

Federal officials said Wednesday they plan to strengthen cautions about a rare side effect of some COVID-19 vaccines – chest pain and heart inflammation, mostly among teenagers and young adults.

But in an unusual joint statement, top U.S. government health officials, medical organizations, laboratory and hospital associations and others stressed the overriding benefit of the vaccines.

“The facts are clear: this is an extremely rare side effect, and only an exceedingly small number of people will experience it after vaccination. Importantly, for the young people who do, most cases are mild, and individuals recover often on their own or with minimal treatment,” the statement said.

There does seem to be a link between the Pfizer and Moderna shots and some cases of heart inflammation, experts said at a meeting Wednesday of an outside panel that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on vaccinations.

The problem appears to be most common in young men after they receive their second of two doses, but it is nevertheless rare overall: There have been 323 confirmed reports of the inflammation in people younger than 30, and the vast majority recovered from their symptoms.


NEW REPORT SAYS MICHIGAN IS THE STATE WITH THE SLOWEST RECOVERY FROM COVID-19

The United States is slowly but surely recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and more and more businesses are reopening as restrictions are gradually eased. As a result, the unemployment rate has dropped to 6% from its high of 14.7% in April 2020.

About 32% of the population is also fully vaccinated.

Despite the great strides that some states have made others have lagged behind including Michigan, which is the state with the slowest recovery from COVID-19, according to Tuesday’s report by WalletHub.

To identify the states that are having the most successful recoveries, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 22 key metrics including the number of people fully vaccinated, doses delivered, hospitalization rate, number of seated diners from online, phone, and walk-in restaurants, presence or absence of state domestic travel and the presence or absence of policies that have banned gatherings of 25-plus people in the state.

In terms of the share of its population that are fully vaccinated Michigan was ranked 25, which is about average. It also ranked higher than most in terms of its unemployment rate now versus the pre-COVID levels at 15. However, other factors like its death rate and number of people hospitalized contributed to its poor ranking.


NEW COVID CASES FALL BELOW 100 TUESDAY

On Tuesday, Michigan health officials reported just 91 new cases of COVID-19 statewide. This is a new record-low for a single-day of reported cases, in line with numbers dating back to the very beginning of the pandemic. Last week, Michigan dipped below 1,000 total cases, also a rare occurrence since the earliest days of recording COVID-19 case metrics.

These numbers are extremely encouraging, as Michigan has mostly re-opened back to normal conditions, with restrictions in place such as mask mandates and business capacity limits, as well as some office restrictions, being lifted on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, hospital systems across Michigan confirmed just under 400 people total being hospitalized for COVID treatment, the fewest that have ever been recorded by the State of Michigan. Currently, Michigan testing data returns a 1.3% positive rate, well below the threshold of ‘community spread.’


OAKLAND COUNTY TREATMENT COURTS APPLY FOR NEARLY $1 MILLION IN STATE GRANT FUNDING

Oakland County may soon see nearly 1 million dollars in funding come its way for drug misuse, mental health treatment and sobriety programs through the Fiscal Year 2022 Michigan Drug Court Grant Program.

Per State website information quoted in this Oakland Press Article, “The funding should enable drug/DWI courts to promote public safety and contribute to a reduction in substance abuse and recidivism among nonviolent adult and/or juvenile substance abusing offenders; reduce reliance on incarceration within existing correctional systems and local jails; and establish monitoring and evaluation measures that will demonstrate the effectiveness of the program.”

Additionally, Oakland County’s District Court system applied for grants through the Michigan Mental Health Grant Program, aiming to focus on helping those with mental illness, developmental or cognitive issues and more.


DETROIT PISTONS LAND NUMBER 1 DRAFT PICK

On Tuesday night, the Detroit Pistons won the NBA Draft Lottery, acquiring the first overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, which will occur in late July. The Pistons entered the lottery with a 14% chance of landing the top pick, tied with the Houston Rockets and the Orlando Magic. The Pistons, in the virtual lottery presentation, were represented by Hall of Fame-elect and 2004 NBA Champion, Ben Wallace.

The presumptive pick for the Pistons is Cade Cunningham, a guard out of Oklahoma State University. Among other potential pickups with the number one pick would be NBA G-League guard, Jalen Green, USC center, Evan Mobley, or Gonzaga guard, Jalen Suggs.

This is the Pistons’ third time selecting number one overall, and the first time in 51 years. The last time Detroit selected the first overall pick, they selected (then) future hall of fame center, Bob Lanier.


MICHIGAN’S MASK AND CAPACITY RESTRICTIONS END TUESDAY. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

As previously announced by Governor Gretchen Whitmer, as of today – Tuesday, June 22, 2021 – all business capacity limits and statewide mask mandates would be lifted. The lifting comes nine days earlier than previously declared, with a July 1, 2021 benchmark.

 

The change of plans came as Michigan’s COVID-19 metrics trended extremely positive. Currently, COVID-19 hospitalization rates in the Great Lakes State are at their lowest-recorded level since COVID-19 metrics began to be tracked by the State.

 

Prior to the lifting of restrictions, businesses such as retail shops, fitness centers and restaurants were restricted to 50% capacity limits out of an abundance of caution. While there is joy for the ending of these restrictions, many business owners across the state would still contend that the lifting of these mandates was far overdue. In 2020, Republicans challenged the Governor’s ability to enact emergency orders in court – a case in which they were victorious. Since the court’s decision, most public health orders regarding COVID-19 have been enacted by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.


REDISTRICTING COMMISSION MAKES CASE TO MICHIGAN SUPREME COURT FOR NEW TIMELINE TO DRAW MAPS

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission which is tasked with re-drawing the State’s district lines for state and federal elections, has expressed a need to extend the deadline for submitting redrawn district lines for six months. This extension has been requested due to delays in receiving critical U.S. Census data, which provides critical information including population numbers, as well as race, sex and age demographics, which may factor in to redistricting decisions. The General Counsel for the Commission, Julianne Pastula, referred to the situation as “untenable.”

 

However, Michigan Supreme Court Justices have not been quick to grant the deadline, with one Justice (Viviano) even calling the request “strange.” Amounting factors such as natural disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest have been expressed as factors in the delays in critical data, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

 

The State Constitution mandates that the Commission have maps drawn by September 17 and, following a 45-day public comment period, adopt maps by November 1.The Commission has received support in its petition for a deadline extension from Deputy Solicitor General Ann Sherman and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.


CANADIAN BORDER RESTRICTIONS FRUSTRATE MICHIGAN BUSINESSES AND TRAVELERS

For 15 months and counting, the Canadian government has closed its borders to the United States for non-essential travel due to COVID-19. That moratorium was extended once again this week through at least July 21, 2021. This moratorium on non-essential travel is having a great impact on Americans and Canadians alike, preventing property owners from checking on their properties and families from visiting one another across the border.

 

Business advocated say that the border closure may prove extremely costly to the Michigan tourism industry, which saw over 1 million Canadians cross the border to visit the State of Michigan in 2019. The monetary impact of this closure could be upwards of $26 billion!

 

Travel Michigan’s Dave Lorenz, in this article from Bridge Michigan, was quoted saying “Travel and tourism is not just about those leisure activities that we normally think of like golfing ─ a big part of it is at the retail end. The two biggest things that people like to do when they are on a trip is shop and eat. Tourism is by and large small businesses, mom and pop businesses.” These financial gains do not just go from the Great White North to the U.S.; Michigan exported over 20 billion dollars of products to Canada the year before the COVID-19 pandemic.


IT’S OFFICIAL: WOODWARD DREAM CRUISE TO REV BACK UP AUG. 21

The Dream Cruise is back (officially)! Event organizers for the 26th Annual Woodward Dream Cruise announced this week that the official event will return this summer, following (official) cancellation in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

 

The Dream Cruise, a local tradition in southeastern Michigan, will pay homage to the Ford Bronco SUV at this year’s event, which began assembly once again in Wayne earlier this month. Organizers said that the 1966 Bronco will be the “featured heritage vehicle” of the 2021 Dream Cruise.

 

The M1 Concourse in Pontiac also has festivities planned during the traditional festival, and other events such as Roadkill Nights drag-racing will also return during this August’s event!


MICHIGAN STOPS RELEASING COVID DATA ON WEEKENDS

With COVID-19 cases falling to lows not reported in a year, the state has discontinued weekend updates on new cases, deaths and testing, officials announced Saturday.

On Friday, the state reported 162 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the seven-day average to 176 per day, mirroring lows seen last June.

The state reported 14 additional COVID-19 deaths on Friday. There have now been 19,612 confirmed COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began in March 2020.

The state reported 1.2 percent of nearly 19,400 tests came back positive. The weekly rate was 1.4 percent, the lowest ever recorded.


US-CANADA BORDER RESTRICTIONS EXTENDED UNTIL JULY 21

Canada’s public safety minister said Friday border restrictions on nonessential travel with the United States will be extended until July 21.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair tweeted the move has been made in coordination with the U.S. He said Canada’s No. 1 priority is to keep Canadians safe during the pandemic.

Blair noted the government plans to release details Monday about fully vaccinated Canadians who return to the country. The Canadian government has said it anticipates fully vaccinated Canadian citizens who test negative for COVID-19 will be exempt from two weeks of quarantine when returning to the country sometime in early July.

The border between Canada and the U.S. remains closed to all nonessential travel. The restrictions were announced in March 2020 in the early months of the pandemic and have been extended every month since.


JUDGE RULES FOR FLORIDA ON CDC ORDER BLOCKING CRUISE SHIPS

A federal judge on Friday ruled for Florida in a lawsuit challenging a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order making it difficult for cruise ships to resume sailing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday wrote in a 124-page decision that Florida would be harmed if the CDC order, which the state said effectively blocked most cruises, were to continue.

The Tampa-based judge granted a preliminary injunction that prevents the CDC from enforcing the order pending further legal action on a broader Florida lawsuit.

While the CDC could appeal, Merryday ordered both sides to return to mediation to attempt to work out a full solution – a previous attempt failed – and said the CDC could fashion a modification in which it would retain some public health authority.

 

The CDC first flatly halted cruise ships from sailing in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which had affected passengers and crew on numerous ships. Then the CDC on Oct. 30 of last year imposed a four-phase conditional framework it said would allow the industry to gradually resume operations if certain thresholds were met.


WHITMER RESCINDS MICHIGAN’S GATHERING, MASK RULES STARTING TUESDAY

Michigan’s remaining restrictions on gatherings and masks will be dropped next week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday, ending 15 months of broad limits on businesses and indoor activities in the state.

Under the changes that take effect Tuesday, maximum indoor capacity limits will increase to 100%, and the state’s mask mandate for non-vaccinated people will be removed 10 days earlier than the original goal of July 1. Indoor capacity currently is capped at 50%.

The decision marks the removal of the most significant remaining pandemic rules as infection rates plummet and the percentage of Michigan residents protected by vaccines continues to increase. The Tuesday changes will occur 469 days after the state reported its first COVID-19 cases.

Some orders remaining in place include those protecting individuals in long-term care facilities, prisons and jails as well as mandated COVID-positive reporting requirements at schools and prisons. Michigan’s rules for long-term care facilities, agricultural housing and prisons largely involve testing protocols and record-keeping requirements for staff and residents.

 

The Whitmer administration expects to release updated guidance for students and staff at schools next week.


$300 UNEMPLOYMENT SUPPLEMENT WOULD BE ELIMINATED UNDER BILL PASSED IN MICHIGAN HOUSE

The $300 federal unemployment bonus going to residents who lost work during the COVID-19 pandemic would be eliminated under a bill passed Thursday by the Michigan House.

Republicans insist the measure would help small businesses bolster hiring amid a crippling labor shortage.

During debate on the House floor Thursday afternoon, Republicans argued that HB 4434 would usher in a true “return to normalcy” as the state prepares to abandon most of its pandemic-related restrictions next week.

 

Republicans argued that residents who were collecting unemployment benefits are hurting small businesses, some of which have been decimated by the economic fallout of the pandemic.

 

Democrats scolded their colleagues’ efforts to stop using the federal funding for the supplemental benefits, saying that doing so would deny Michiganders their own tax dollars.

 

Whitmer, who has spoken in favor of continuing to use federal funding to boost the state’s economic recovery, would likely veto the bill.

 


COULD A FIREWORKS SHORTAGE AFFECT JULY 4TH CELEBRATIONS? PHANTOM FIREWORKS URGES CUSTOMERS TO SHOP EARLY

Another possible shortage might mean the sky isn’t as bright this Independence Day.

Weeks ahead of July 4th festivities, Phantom Fireworks, the nation’s largest consumer-based retail fireworks company, is urging customers to shop early as the industry faces a potential shortage for the second year in a row.

Sales of fireworks boomed in 2020 as more families opted to put on their own shows amid the COVID-19 pandemic after cities across the nation canceled public displays.

This year, Ohio-based Phantom Fireworks, which has approximately 80 stores throughout the U.S. and supplies thousands of retailers nationwide, says it has extended store hours and brought in additional staff to sell their backyard firecrackers to.

“Like many other industries, the fireworks industry has also experienced delays due to shipment challenges facing the global market,” Alan Zoldan, Phantom executive vice president, said in a statement. “The good news is that we prepared early in anticipation of high demand again this year, and are encouraging Phantom customers to do the same.”

Phantom says supply chains face slower turnaround times due to lagging global shipments.


40 MICHIGAN COUNTIES HAVE NO VIRUS ACTIVITY AS STATEWIDE CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS CONTINUE TO FALL

New cases of coronavirus in Michigan continue to fall with ever-increasing vaccination rates and in advance of the July 4 holiday weekend a couple weeks off.

Most social and economic activities have already resumed more of an appearance of pre-pandemic normalcy as the numbers continue to improve.

While case counts continue to fall, people are still dying from the effects of the deadly virus.

The state health department announced 182 new cases of the virus statewide Tuesday with 26 deaths, of which seven were from a thrice-weekly review of state vital records.

Forty of the state’s 83 counties had no new cases or deaths and, in a relative sense, activity remains the highest only in the most populated areas of the state.

There were 32 cases and four deaths in Wayne County, 18 cases and eight deaths in Detroit, 18 cases and two deaths in Oakland County, and 15 cases and two deaths in Macomb County.


GOV. WHITMER SUGGESTS MORE COVID RESTRICTIONS WILL BE EASED IN ‘COMING DAYS’

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday her administration could relax the state’s remaining COVID-19 restrictions “in the coming days.”

 

“It’s scheduled for July 1,” the governor said of her previous plan for when the next coronavirus policy changes would come. “But I think you should stay tuned.”

With the percentage of residents covered by vaccinations increasing, the number of new COVID-19 cases in Michigan has plummeted during the month of June

The changing numbers have increased pressure to more quickly ease the remaining restrictions, as other states have done, including California and New York.

On May 20, Whitmer announced plans to end statewide mandates on July 1 and, for the most part, bring life “back to normal” ahead of the Fourth of July holiday. Michigan has been under different levels of emergency orders on gatherings and businesses for about 15 months. The first COVID-19 cases were reported here on March 10, 2020.

The state’s June 1 epidemic order from the Department of Health and Human Services generally limited indoor crowds at businesses and restaurants to 50% of normal capacity constraints and required non-vaccinated individuals to wear masksat indoor gatherings. The order was initially scheduled to expire on July 1.


MORE EVIDENCE SUGGESTS COVID-19 WAS IN US BY CHRISTMAS 2019

A new analysis of blood samples from 24,000 Americans taken early last year is the latest and largest study to suggest that the new coronavirus popped up in the U.S. in December 2019 — weeks before cases were first recognized by health officials.

The analysis is not definitive, and some experts remain skeptical, but federal health officials are increasingly accepting a timeline in which small numbers of COVID-19 infections may have occurred in the U.S. before the world ever became aware of a dangerous new virus erupting in China

The pandemic coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China in late 2019. Officially, the first U.S. infection to be identified was a traveler — a Washington state man who returned from Wuhan on Jan. 15 and sought help at a clinic on Jan. 19.

CDC officials initially said the spark that started the U.S. outbreak arrived during a three-week window from mid-January to early February. But research since then — including some done by the CDC — has suggested a small number of infections occurred earlier

A CDC-led study published in December 2020 that analyzed 7,000 samples from American Red Cross blood donations suggested the virus infected some Americans as early as the middle of December 2019.

The latest study, published Tuesday online by the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, is by a team including researchers at the National Institutes of Health. They analyzed blood samples from more than 24,000 people across the country, collected in the first three months of 2020 as part of a long-term study called “All Of Us” that seeks to track 1 million Americans over years to study health.


OAKLAND COUNTY COVID-19 CASE AVERAGE DROPS TO LOWEST IN NEARLY ONE YEAR

Due to the high number of residents who are vaccinated, Oakland County’s seven-day COVID-19 case average is the lowest it has been since June 26, 2020, with 19 cases per day.

Oakland County’s vaccine coverage for those 16 and older stands at 67.4%. It’s at 65.7% for 12 and up and 83.2% for seniors 65 and older.

The county needs 47,300 more residents 12 years and older to get COVID-19 immunizations to reach the 70% goal by July 4 that has been set by President Joe Biden.

Oakland County Health Division will host 13 COVID-19 vaccine clinics through June 19 in Commerce, Davisburg, Groveland, Highland, Milford, Pontiac, Southfield, Troy, West Bloomfield, and White Lake.

The Health Division will also host vaccine clinics in the South Lyon and Lyon Township area the week of June 21.

For information on clinics check OaklandCountyVaccine.com for upcoming locations and times. Those who do not have access to a computer or the Internet may call the Nurse on Call at 800-848-5533 for more information.


STATE SCRAMBLES TO REDISTRIBUTE COVID-19 VACCINES, AS MORE THAN 500K DOSES SET TO EXPIRE IN AUGUST

As demand for the COVID-19 vaccine continues to wane, the state has over a half-million doses set to expire between now and early August.

It’s pushing public health officials to try to vaccinate as many eligible residents as possible, in addition to redistributing vaccines to other states and large pharmacy chains across Michigan so that they don’t go to waste, the state’s health department spokeswoman said Monday.

The estimate is about 250,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, at least 240,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and about 50,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine are nearing their expiration dates, said Lynn Sutfin, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

More than 4.8 million Michiganders age 16 and older — about 60.5% of the population — have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the state’s dashboard.


VARIANT POSES NEW COVID-19 THREAT FOR MICHIGAN

The “Delta” COVID-19 variant first identified in India is gaining ground in the United States, including in Michigan where 22 cases had been identified.

Also known as the B1.617.2 variant, Delta has quickly become the dominant strain of the coronavirus in the United Kingdom, and some experts fear it will soon outpace other strains in the United States.

The Delta variant has been found to spread faster and cause more serious illness than the B.1.1.7 variant, now called the “Alpha” variant, which is currently the dominant strain in the United States and Michigan. The Alpha variant previously was more contagious and thought to be more likely to cause serious illness than earlier forms of COVID-19.

The Delta variant is responsible for about 90% of COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom, and about 96% of cases in England, according to data cited by Public Health England, part of the Department of Health and Social Care in the United Kingdom.

The United States is vulnerable to outbreaks from the Delta variant because it has pockets where there are unvaccinated individuals or there is a disdain for mask-wearing and other safety measures, said Theo Vos, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.


WHITMER: MICHIGAN TO USE FEDERAL $300 UNEMPLOYMENT BONUS AS BACK-TO-WORK INCENTIVE

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to expand how Michigan uses federal unemployment funds to incentivize Michiganders to return to work after the COVID-19 pandemic, she announced Monday.

The plan involves providing a bonus of $300 per week to specific employees returning to their previous jobs through the week of Sept. 4, Whitmer said during a wide-ranging news conference.

She did not say when the program would start, how many people are expected to be eligible or any eligibility dates for those returning to work.

The payments are currently available only to employers participating in the state workshare program who bring back people previously employed, Whitmer spokesman Bobby Leddy said.

But the governor is working with the Legislature to change the law in order to provide bonuses for any new employee hired by a business through a workshare program, not just those previously employed who are brought back. Leddy said additional details would be available later this week.


WHITMER PITCHES $1.4 BILLION PLAN MAKING MICHIGAN CHILD CARE MORE AFFORDABLE

Michigan receives close to $250 million annually from the federal government to fund child care measures. Federal stimulus passed in December and March allocated an additional $1.4 billion  for the state to spend on child care, providing six times the state’s usual resources to go toward the initiative.

Under Whitmer’s proposal, the state would make more parents eligible to receive low-cost or free childcare by increasing the income eligibility requirement for a family of four from 150 percent of the federal poverty level ($39,300) to 200 percent ($53,000). That income eligibility increase would make about 150,000 additional Michigan children eligible for free or low-cost child care.

The plan also calls for increasing the pay of child care professionals and providing funding to support child care providers.

 

Seizing what she called “an opportunity to make historic, lasting investments in child care,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a proposal on Monday to invest $1.4 billion in federal child care funding to make taking care of kids more affordable for working parents in Michigan.

At a press conference at a child care center in Troy, Whitmer announced plans to increase access to childcare, arguing doing so would accelerate the state’s economic growth and returning to work efforts.


VACCINATED VISITORS SOON CAN TAKE OFF MASKS AT DISNEY WORLD

Walt Disney World in Florida is making it easier to see smiles again, but guests still can’t hug the characters.

Starting Tuesday, face masks will be optional for visitors to the theme park resort who are vaccinated, though Disney workers won’t require proof of vaccination, the company said on its website.

Visitors who aren’t fully vaccinated still will need to wear face masks indoors and on all rides and attractions. Because vaccines aren’t yet available for children under age 12, they too will have to mask up still.

All visitors, whether vaccinated or not, will still be required to wear face coverings on buses, monorails and Disney Skyliner, the resort’s aerial gondola, according to the latest guidelines.

The decision on masks is Disney World’s latest tweak to the virus-related safety rules it created when the coronavirus pandemic was declared in March 2020. Disney World closed for two months last year at the start of the outbreak and reopened last summer with strict safety guidelines that involved masking, social distancing and crowd limits.


NOVAVAX VACCINE OVER 90% EFFECTIVE IN PROTECTING AGAINST COVID-19 INFECTION, STUDY SHOWS

Novavax, the fifth company to receive large federal support for its COVID-19 vaccine, is as good as its competitors, according to data the company released Monday.

The vaccine is more than 90% effective in protecting against infection and even more protective against some of the variants, according to the trial of 29,960 volunteers in the U.S. and Mexico. No one who received the active vaccine fell seriously ill.

As with other vaccines, common side effects included tenderness and pain around the injection site, muscle aches, headaches, and fatigue.

 

The company expects to request federal authorization for its vaccine this summer after it completes final chemistry, manufacturing, and control requirements.

 

Novavax took longer to prove the safety and effectiveness of its vaccine in part because the company is much smaller than other vaccine-makers. It had only about 40 employees when the pandemic began and has struggled to ramp up production,

 

Assuming its vaccine is authorized for use, Novavax expects to produce 100 million doses per month of NVX-CoV2373 by the fall and 150 million doses per month before the end of the year.


JUDGE RULES IN FAVOR OF A HOUSTON HOSPITAL REQUIRING EMPLOYEES TO BE VACCINATED AGAINST COVID-19

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Houston Methodist Hospital by employees who opposed a Covid-19 vaccine mandate as a condition of employment.

On Saturday, US District Court Judge Lynn Hughes ruled against Jennifer Bridges and 116 of her fellow Houston Methodist coworkers who sued to block the Covid-19 vaccination requirement. Houston Methodist Hospital moved to dismiss the case.

Bridges and her co-workers claimed the Covid-19 vaccines used in the US were “experimental and dangerous,” and that it would be “wrongful” to be terminated for refusing the get vaccinated.

 

The privately run Houston Methodist Hospital countered, saying not only were Bridges’ claims untrue, but that under Texas law, workers are protected from termination only if they refuse to commit a criminal act that carries criminal penalties.

 

“It is a choice made to keep staff, patients, and their families safer. Bridges can freely choose to accept or refuse a COVID-19 vaccine; however if she refuses she will simply need to work somewhere else.”

Jared Woodfill, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said an appeal is expected.


MICHIGAN OFFICIALS ASKED POLICE TO HELP LEVY ‘THREAT’ FOR COVID VIOLATORS, EMAILS SHOW

Members of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration encouraged local police agencies in October to more aggressively help the state enforce restrictions on mask-wearing and social distancing — invitations they declined — according to emails released through an open records request.

The messages show Robert Gordon, then-director of the state’s health department, pitched the leaders of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association and Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police on a plan to ask people who saw violations of COVID-19 orders to “contact local police or sheriffs as appropriate.” The organizations rejected the proposal, contending an educational effort would be more effective to gain compliance.

The emails were included in more than 1,200 pages of documents recently obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch, which is based in Washington, D.C. The messages reveal a tougher approach Whitmer’s administration was considering taking on enforcement last fall after the Michigan Supreme Court struck down the governor’s ability to issue unilateral executive orders and as a second COVID-19 spike began to take hold.

 

According to emails, the MSA believed ticketing would be difficult to enforce both legally and from a manpower perspective and encourages all parties to refrain from emphasizing that message, as it is both counterproductive and negative,” Saxton wrote. “Let’s be positive and encourage our fellow citizens to mask up, social distance and be safe by being public examples, rather than encouraging them to increase calls to our offices to report mask violations.”


FEDERAL COVID WORKPLACE SAFETY RULES ARE HERE. BUT ONLY FOR HEALTH CARE WORKERS

Fifteen months into the pandemic, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a mandatory workplace safety rule aimed at protecting workers from COVID-19. But it only applies to health care settings, a setback for unions and worker safety advocates who had called for much broader requirements.

 

Called an emergency temporary standard, the rule takes effect as soon as it’s published in the Federal Register and can remain in place for up to six months, during which a permanent rule could be considered.

 

The new rule mandates that employers develop and implement a COVID-19 plan and take steps to reduce the chance of transmission, including keeping people at least 6 feet apart indoors, installing barriers between workstations where distancing is not possible, ensuring ventilation systems are working properly, and providing and ensuring each employee wears a face mask when indoors, or a respirator and other personal protective equipment when exposed to people with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.

 

For unvaccinated workers, employers are now required to provide paid time off to get vaccinated and to recover from any side effects from the shots.

It’s the first time in the pandemic that OSHA has imposed any requirements about COVID-19 workplace safety on employers. Until now, OSHA had only issued recommendations for measures employers could voluntarily take to keep workers safe.


CDC AWARDS MICHIGAN MORE THAN $40M TO ADDRESS COVID HEALTH DISPARITIES

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is providing the state with more than $40 million to address COVID-19-relate health disparities, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday.

The $40,536,931 in grants was awarded to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the City of Detroit Health Department to “demonstrate our steadfast commitment to keeping equity at the center of everything we do,” said Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, CDC Director.

The state has initiated several programs designed to increase Michigan’s vaccination rate including door-to-door outreach, free rides to clinics and mobile vaccine clinics.

 

The CDC’s new funding intends to: reduce COVID-related health disparities, improve and increase testing and contact tracing among populations that are at higher risk and are underserved, including racial and ethnic minority groups and people living in rural communities and improve health department capacity and services to prevent and control COVID-19 infection, said the release.


MICHIGAN WORKERS MANUFACTURE NEW ARSENAL OF DEMOCRACY IN WAR AGAINST COVID-19: VACCINES

Michigan workers are helping to build a new Arsenal of Democracy — COVID-19 vaccines — in a modern world war against coronavirus, President Joe Biden said Thursday.

The shout out came in a speech ahead of the G7 summit, where Biden detailed the U.S. plan to buy 500,000 COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, and supply them to the rest of the world.

Biden said Pfizer’s CEO and Chairman Albert Bourla and workers at the company’s manufacturing plant in Portage, Michigan, “really stepped up at this critical stage in our fight against the pandemic.”

And they’ve pledged to step up again, he said, to make the extra vaccine doses to aid other nations.

The president said it is America’s humanitarian obligation to do its part to stop the pandemic and help other countries in need of vaccines.


OAKLAND COUNTY MAKES PUSH TO HIT 70% VACCINATION RATE; STUDENT AMBASSADORS NAMED

Oakland County is one of the pacesetters in the state for getting shots into arms. More than 1.7 million county residents have had at least the first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.

It seems to be working. Oakland County’s seven-day COVID case average is now 32 cases per day

“We need at least 57,000 residents to get their vaccine in a little under four weeks. We can do it, I strongly believe we can do it. We’ve really looked at how we can pivot our vaccination clinics,’’ Stafford said.

She spoke at a press conference promoting the new One By One vaccine campaign, a partnership with the county and the Protect Michigan Commission, at the Oakland County Health Division’s Southfield office.

The promotion features Oakland County residents who have been vaccinated, hopefully compelling others to do the same.

As part of the campaign launch, the county introduced seven students — five of them from Troy High — who will serve as vaccine ambassadors. All seven were vaccinated on Tuesday at the press conference.


NEARLY HALF OF MICHIGAN COUNTIES HAVE NO NEW CORONAVIRUS CASES; FEW IN DOUBLE DIGITS

Nearly half of Michigan counties had no new cases or deaths from coronavirus Wednesday, and just seven counties and Detroit had new case counts in double digits in a sign of the waning impact of the virus.

The state health department announced 257 new cases statewide and seven deaths, with 37 of the state’s 83 counties having no new numbers.

Of the eight areas with new cases in low double digits, they were in southeast and west Michigan.

There were 38 cases and two deaths in Wayne County, 26 cases and one death in Oakland County, 26 cases and one death in Macomb County, and 18 cases and two deaths in Detroit.

But in all, the state has experienced 891,314 cases and 19,439 deaths since the start of the pandemic.


DETROIT GRAND PRIX’S RETURN STIRS TENSION DESPITE CAPACITY LIMITS

The Detroit Grand Prix returns this weekend after taking 2020 off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but some Detroiters are questioning whether it’s too soon for such a large gathering.

A June 1 Michigan Department of Health and Human Services epidemic order allows for unlimited attendance for outdoor events like the Grand Prix, which the IndyCar Series has been holding on Belle Isle since 2007.

But race officials plan to have “30% to 50%” of the capacity of past years when the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, presented by Lear, runs Friday to Sunday at Belle Isle.

“It’s concerning that they’re opening it up so soon after the lift of the pandemic orders,” said Wayne County Commissioner Jonathan Kinloch, D-Detroit, whose district includes Belle Isle.

“A lot of people, specifically in the city of Detroit, have not gotten vaccinated,” Kinloch said as about 36% of the city’s adults 16 years and older had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine through Wednesday. “We have to understand that, and we have to continue to operate in a safe fashion.”

But Grand Prix boss Michael Montri said race officials planned for a smaller outing despite the lack of a crowd limit because of the uncertainty about restrictions, which changed about two to three weeks before the race weekend. This will prevent the Grand Prix from entertaining crowds of the past, which organizers said averaged close to 100,000 over three days.


CARDONA PROMOTES VACCINE, FREE TUITION IN DETROIT-AREA VISIT

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona is visiting community colleges in Dearborn and Warren on Tuesday to encourage young people to get the COVID-19 vaccine and to highlight the Biden administration’s effort to provide two years of free college.

Cardona’s first visit to Michigan included a stop at Henry Ford College, where he toured the college’s vaccine clinic and spoke to community members and college leaders. He also traveled to Macomb Community College for a tour with U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township.

Cardona is promoting the Department of Education’s COVID-19 College Challenge, aimed at encouraging higher education institutions to take a pledge to work to get their communities vaccinated against the coronavirus. Already, 350 colleges across the country have joined, including nine community colleges, two tribal colleges and Michigan’s 15 public universities.

The COVID-19 College Challenge is part of a national effort to make June “a month of action” and push the country toward President Joe Biden’s goal of 70% of the U.S. adult population receiving at least one vaccine shot by July 4.


COVID-19 CASES PLUNGE IN MICHIGAN: ‘THIS 3RD SURGE … IS NOW OFFICIALLY OVER’

Coronavirus case counts have plummeted in Michigan to a level last seen in July 2020 as the percentage of Michiganders 16 and older who’ve gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine approaches 60%.

Hospitalizations from the virus also have plunged — dropping 83% since the peak of the last surge in Michigan. On April 19, 4,208 people were hospitalized statewide with confirmed cases of COVID-19, state health department data show. By Monday, that number had fallen to 707.

At Beaumont Health, the COVID-19 patient census dropped Tuesday below 100 for the first time in nearly a year.

Michigan’s downward coronavirus trajectory — with a seven-day case rate of 12.4 per 100,000 population — follows a trend being seen across the United States, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nationally, the seven-day average of new COVID-19 hospital admissions has fallen 83% since Jan. 9, Walensky said, and deaths are down to 379 per day nationally.


WHITMER PITCHES BIG EXPANSION OF MICHIGAN’S FREE PRESCHOOL FOR 4-YEAR-OLDS

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed a massive expansion to the state’s taxpayer-funded preschool program Tuesday, which could eventually offer free preschool to an additional 17,000 Michigan 4-year-olds.

Whitmer proposed a $405 million infusion over three years to the Great Start Readiness Program, which offers preschool to 4-year-old