SPECIAL REPORT: Laws, Regulations Crunching Businesses Trying to Survive

(Editor’s Note: First in a series detailing the issues business owners face as they navigate the COVID-19 crisis.)

As states around the country have begun to relax stay-at-home orders put in place to battle the spread of COVID-19, businesses and their employees are chomping at the bit to reopen and get back to work.

Or are they?

Of course they are, but owners know that, in the new post-COVID era, things aren’t going to be business-as-usual. Most states are going to add new requirements for the safety and health of workers and customers, and experts say a general fear about coming back too soon is likely to cause fear in workers returning to their jobs.

According to Timothy Williams, Vice Chairman of Pinkerton, a global provider of corporate risk management services and solutions, it’s largely a fear of the unknown.

“There’s a great deal of anxiety,” Williams said. “There’s so much we don’t know. We have generally accepted protocols to deal with other crises. We understand how to deal with an earthquake or a tornado. But there are still so many unknowns and so many variables with (COVID) that we’re going to have to be exceptionally patient as we reopen the economy.”

The anxiety is coming in waves from several different directions. Employers are concerned, for instance, about being able to comply with new safety standards that are almost certain to be imposed when they’re allowed to reopen.

Workplace safety the biggest concern
Having workers report back to a safe environment is going to be one of the paramount obligations for employers. Businesses will likely have to have adequate personal protective equipment in place, as well as policies about cleanliness and sanitization.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations are certainly going to affect how companies do business. According to information on the OSHA website (www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/standards.html), some of the more relevant requirements include:

  • OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards, which require using gloves, eye and face protection, and respiratory protection when job hazards warrant it.
  • When respirators are necessary to protect workers, employers must implement a comprehensive respiratory protection program in accordance with the Respiratory Protection standard.
  • The General Duty Clause requires employers to furnish to each worker “employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

Denise Navarro, President/CEO of Houston, Texas-based Logical Innovations, Inc., said the requirements will likely vary by industry, but will still likely be, at a minimum, a financial stressor.

“For instance, I have noted that some businesses are restructuring and redesigning office layouts to accommodate continued social distancing,” Navarro said. “This could lead to additional costs and limited space.”

Workplace safety standards are going to be a focus. According to information provided by the Michigan OSHA, more than 300 workplace complaints were received March 30-31 alone.

What will new standards look like?
Steve Girard, a labor attorney with Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Clark Hill PLC, said OSHA inspectors will look at employers who had COVID-19-positive employees and ask if the company “did everything they could do” to protect employees. If OSHA determines such wasn’t the case, Girard warned, companies could face citations.

The problem with that, he said, is it’ll be an after-the-fact determination of whether companies did everything they could against a virus nobody has ever seen.

“You’re going have investigators after the fact doing some Monday morning quarterbacking and saying ‘you could have done more,’” Girard said.

What safety standards may be required is still a bit of an unknown, and most businesses are already setting up to meet projected requirements as best they can.

For instance, Mid-West Instrument – which develops proprietary designs manufactured for Original Equipment Manufacturers – is already, among other actions, voluntarily testing employees for temperatures at the start of shifts; locking visitors out of the building; requiring staffers to clean their own work areas; placing hand sanitizer throughout the building; offering cloth masks to every employee; and suspended all work-related travel.

Can business keep up with evolving standards?
Because Mid-West Instrument was identified as an “essential” business, the company has remained open during the stay-at-home order, and has only laid off two of its 40 employees. But business is down, and the company is waiting to hear about its loan under the Paycheck Protection Program.

More: Construction, Real Estate Activity Next Up for Reopening

More: Claims Continue to Flow as U.S. Unemployment Passes 30 Million

More: Town Hall Answers Questions as Businesses Get Ready to Re-Engage

Meanwhile, company officials worry about what the requirements will look like when the stay-at-home order is finally eased.

“As this is rapidly changing we do not know what new requirements may be implemented,” said Mid-West Instrument President Mike Lueck. “We are concerned that impractical safety requirements may be imposed which far exceed CDC recommendations.”

Workplace rules changed to benefit the employee could be problematic for employers, as well. For instance, Whitmer signed an executive order last month saying businesses can’t punish workers who stay home when either they or their close contacts are sick.

And Clark Hill’s Girard said worker’s compensation will likely be another big issue for essential employers operating now and non-essential employers when they reopen. Rules were changed last month, Girard said, that employers of first responders and healthcare providers who contract COVID-19 must prove by what Girard called “objective evidence” that the worker didn’t get it on the job before denying a claim.

Legal and political challenges are popping up over how states and individual companies are handling the pandemic. For instance, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker was sued by a couple of business groups and by a state legislator for establishing a stay-at-home order (a judge ruled in favor of the legislator and issued a stay in that legislator’s favor).

An employee of a Tuscon, Arizona electrical company was recently awarded $1,600 because the company denied him paid sick leave after he was told by a doctor to self-quarantine.

And there was a lawsuit filed by a director of Eastern Airlines who was fired just days after requesting time off to tend to an 11-year-old child.

Lois M. Kosch, a partner in the employment law practice group for California-based Wilson Turner Kosmo LLP whose practice emphasizes the litigation of harassment, discrimination, wrongful termination, and wage and hour matters, said that, while the DOL wasn’t doing much enforcement at first, they are now.

“Enforcement actions are happening, whether from the government or private attorneys, so (businesses) should keep those obligations in mind,” Kosch said.

She said some 187 new labor laws have been passed as a result of COVID-19. For instance, the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act mandates paid sick leave and paid time off to take care of children.

There are also obligations under the Family Medical Leave Act to accommodate employees who have child care challenges. That law, Kosch said, entitles employees up to two-thirds of their regular pay, up to $200 per day.

That’s not going to help businesses already looking at balance sheets that aren’t exactly balanced.

“These additional costs in benefits and required payroll additives add to the already-stressed bottom line for some businesses that have been ‘on hold’ during this crisis,” said Logial Innvoations’ Navarro.

To pay unemployment or not to pay, that is the question
Unemployment assistance is turning out to be a double-edged sword. While it provides compensation for workers who lose their jobs, the additional $600 provided by the federal CARES Act can also make it easier for workers to stay off the job because the compensation is often better, particularly in some retail and restaurant businesses.

If the employer tries to bring them back, and they refuse because the money is less, the employee then loses the right to unemployment.

Kosch said recently updated guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor determined workers in that situation are not authorized to collect unemployment, including the $600 federal supplement.

But Dan West, president of the Livonia, Mich., Chamber of Commerce, said he’s still hearing from business owners there are “a lot of concerns” about workers coming back, particularly among restaurant owners.

“Restaurants had to lay off all their wait staff, so a lot of them have taken jobs at Amazon, Walmart, what have you, and may not come back,” West said. “I’m hearing owners are looking for means of bringing people back part-time so they can still get unemployment. There’s really no incentive to come back if they’re making more (on unemployment).”

Kosch pointed out that they won’t be, at least not for long.

“Without (the $600 federal incentive) they wouldn’t be making more than if they were working,” Kosch said. “I think letting people know if they decide not to come back to work when work has been offered to them they’re going to lose that federal supplement … might be a powerful motivator.”

The other thing about which business owners have expressed concern is a question of what the rules will look like when they are finally allowed to reopen. Governors in states like Georgia, Tennessee and Texas have already issued guidelines for re-engagement.

That’s a good thing, according to West.

“The uncertainty is the biggest thing … business people are planners,” he said. “Right now, that uncertainty makes it hard for them to plan. And they can’t work right now, and that makes it even more frustrating for them.”

New requirements could slow productivity
But it’s not just the state rules that trouble some business owners. Ted Barker, the president of Livonia, Mich.-based Shaw Construction and Management Company that employs some 20 workers, said he received a list of 20 requirements the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council wants him to follow when reopening.

Among them are requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE), a specified COVID-19 site supervisor, asking employees to self-identify if they have symptoms, and having running water – “A lot of our sites don’t have running water,” Barker said — and soap on job sites.

“They feel this is a good baseline for future work in this environment and that it will provide the governor with assurance that the Michigan construction industry has the infrastructure, culture and training resources to safely return to work beyond the critical infrastructure projects currently underway,” Barker said. “The (COVID requirements) will cost dollars and has the strong possibility of slowing down productivity, which again will cost dollars to all involved. But I don’t know how we can get clearance to work without trying to inforce a new set of guidelines, either.”

Crisis could crush morale
What owners should really be concerned about, according to Pinkerton’s Williams, is the culture that will exist once restrictions are eased. Morale could be a problem, and business leaders are going to have to be acutely aware of the emotional states of their employees.

“There’s a lot of anxiety around the world, let alone in the United States, about ‘do I have a job,’ ‘do I want to go back to work when I can get paid a little more in the interim?’

“Some have lost coworkers and relatives and haven’t had the chance to grieve,” Williams added. “You’ve got a lot of emotions coming into this, and a lot of fear, because it’s a scenario where we don’t have complete information and may never have.”

Mid-West Instrument’s Lueck agrees about the morale, and says Michigan officials, including Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, haven’t helped the situation with what he calls “aggressive statements.”

“This has been a real issue due to … their total lack of recognition of critical manufacturers supplying to medical gas industry, oil and gas, power generation, military and safe distribution of drinking water,” Lueck said. “This has raised the stress level of many employees who question if we should remain open even though almost all of our products support industries listed (as) essential critical infrastructure workers.”

Fear will also play a role as workers return with concerns about contracting COVID-19 in the workplace. Sonya Bielecki, owner of HR Professional Support Services and a consultant for Express Employment Professionals, doesn’t believe there’s any way to completely reduce an employee’s fear of COVID-19 or the chance they’ll contract it in the workplace.

She said company leadership, “regardless of their personal opinions on COVID-19,” must present a coordinated message to the staff. The other idea she suggests is for employers to prepare a formal communication to workers outlining all of the safety steps they’ve taken.

“If you can prove to an employee that you’ve made CDC and OSHA requirements happen and you’re taking all the steps to keep them safe, that’ll reduce a lot of fears,” Bielecki said. “But the communication has to go out before their return.”

Pinkerton’s Williams agreed communication is the key when there are so many of what former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called “unknown unknowns,” things we don’t know that we don’t know.

“That’s perfect for how we are today … It’s not going to be easy,” Williams said. “Communicating with employees several times a day routinely with current information about what we know and what we don’t know would help a great deal with morale.

“If we can be extraordinarily patient in these times with ourselves, with our customers … I think that will keep the security issues at a minimum, and it’s really going to pay off in morale issues,” he added. “People are on edge, anxious. We’re in uncharted territory for our generation. That’s why that ‘high-touch’ (by telephone and conference calls) and very frequent communications that are forthright is going to be very important.”

Report: U.S. Added 4.8 Million Jobs in June

For the second straight month, there was good news on the U.S. jobs front.

The U.S. economy picked up jobs again, gaining 4.8 million jobs (after some 2.5 million jobs were added in May), and the national unemployment rate dropped to about 11%. That’s after an adjusted drop from 16.4% in May, according to Thursday’s jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to the report, some 1.4 million Americans filed for unemployment assistance during the week ending June 27. Since reaching a record 6.8 million in March, first-time claims have fallen for 13 straight weeks.

Another 12.8 million people continue to claim unemployment under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides jobless benefits to workers previously not eligible for unemployment.

While the 11.1% is a drop from May, it’s still historically high, with millions out of work due to state responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

The numbers could go back up, experts warn, as some states begin to reinstate COVID-19 restrictions in the wake of a spike in cases around the country.

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The states with the highest numbers of claims include:

  • California, with 279,341 claims, down more than 5,000 from last week.
  • Georgia, with 115,750 claims, down nearly 10,000 from a week ago.
  • Texas, with 96,141 claims, up some 6,500 from the week before.
  • New York, with 90,323 claims, up some 1,300 claims.

Other notable statistics in the report:

  • Oklahoma’s claims dropped by 42,000.
  • Indiana’s 53,364 claims was up some 24,000 from the previous week.
  • Michigan saw a spike of more than 17,000 claims over the week before.

According to Bloomberg News, the past two months’ worth of “better-than-expected payrolls additions has not yet made up for the record decline in April, when virus-related business closures wiped out more than 20 million jobs from the economy that month alone.”

“The 4.8 million rise in non-farm payrolls in June provides further confirmation that the initial economic rebound has been far faster than we and most others anticipated,” Michael Pearce, senior US economist for Capital Economics, told Bloomberg Thursday morning. “But that still leaves employment 9.6% below its February level and with the spread of the virus accelerating again, we expect the recovery from here will be a lot bumpier and job gains far slower on average.”

At a press briefing Thursday, President Donald Trump took a victory lap over the jobs report.

“Today’s announcement proves that our economy is roaring back,” Trump said. “These are historic numbers.”

Experts: This Push for Racial Justice Seems Like a ‘Call To Action’

Portia Roberson remembers the 2014 shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, an African-American boy shot by a police officer while wielding a toy gun in Cleveland, Ohio.

Portia Roberson

She remembers thinking at the time that it was something “we as a collective nation” would not get past, a young boy doing something “all young boys, and frankly some young girls” do.

Then came George Floyd, killed beneath the knee of a Minneapolis police officer in May. An 8:46 minute video of the incident emerged and sparked a spate of protests around the country, and what some have called the largest civil rights movement in history.

And experts are noticing that, this time, it’s not just people of color doing the protesting. A diverse group of demonstrators has been turning out for marches since Floyd’s death.

“This has been a different movement than what we’ve seen before,” said Roberson, Chief Executive Officer of Focus: HOPE. “I thought the killing of (Rice) would be the thing that shocked me more than anything. But to see George Floyd, it literally took everyone’s breath away. It’s inspiring seeing that many people are coming to this movement because they want real change now.”

That movement, and how businesses and local communities can help in the movement for changes in racial inequity, were the topics of discussion during a national town hall hosted Wednesday by the Best & Brightest Companies.

Roberson, who majored in English at the University of Michigan, and holds a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University Law School and was previously Group Executive of the City of Detroit’s Civil Rights, Inclusion and Opportunity Department, moderated the discussion of how business leaders can navigate the civil unrest facing the nation.

The panel featured:

  • Lorraine Cochran-Johnson, a commissioner for Super District 7 in DeKalb County, Georgia. Cochran-Johnson earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and criminal justice from Troy University, master’s degrees in administration of criminal justice and in public administration from Auburn University, and attended John Marshall Law School. She represents more than 350,000 constituents.
  • Robert Lewis, Jr., founder and president of The BASE, a Boston organization that engages and supports a growing number of student-athletes and coaches … and has built strong relationships with diverse leaders and institutions committed to changing minds, lives and the status quo. Lewis is a sought-after speaker on urban issues and opportunities.
  • Nikki Pardo, founder of Global Alliance Solutions, a consulting company that offers simulation-based customized diversity training for corporations, non-profit agencies, school districts, and law enforcement agencies. She also is co-founder of The Pack, a community-based project that hosts conversations linked to inclusion, equity and community throughout Detroit.
  • Donnell White, senior vice president, chief diversity officer and director of Strategic Partnerships for TCF National Bank. He has also served as executive director of the Detroit Branch National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), where he helped lead the organization’s largest local branch – also one of its oldest and most storied branches.

The discussion in the 90-minute forum centered around how business and community leaders can get involved, and even lead, the discussion around racial justice.

Lorraine Cochran-Johnson

Cochran-Johnson said it all needs to start with honest conversations.

“Often when we engage in critical conscious conversation, I’ve found it can help create new windows of opportunity that may not have been traditional,” she said. “A large part of the social unrest we’re seeing as we deal not only with a global pandemic but also unprecedented social unrest … is going to come down to critical conversations, basing information on fact because people lie and numbers don’t, so that we can acknowledge what we have overlooked for too long. The day is no longer present when you can tell us that we did not see what we saw.”

So where does the conversation move from here? How can cities advance racial equity within their communities? Lewis remembers in the 1970s, when he said Boston was a “city up in flames.” He remembers his home – in public housing in an all-white community – being firebombed.

“Folks in Boston said that was going to be a moment of change,” Lewis said. “It’s taking too long.”

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Robert Lewis, Jr.

He does point out the advancements he believes the city has made. For instance, the police commissioner, he said, is an African-American, as is the superintendent of schools. For what Lewis said is the first time, Boston’s city council is made up of a majority of women, including the chair.

Now, he said, they’ve got to work on young people.

“We’ve got to get our young people into C-suites, visiting corporate downtown, to see that this city and community belongs to them,” Lewis said. “When we can bring government, business and community, as well as academia, together and collectively and strategically really thinking about change.

“It’s more than all of these companies standing together and saying ‘I stand with Black Lives Matter,’” he said. “You can say it, but will you stay with it?”

Cochran-Johnson said governments don’t pay enough attention to detail. It’s about having fair laws in place, and making sure the right people have roles in crafting them.

“We don’t understand consequences, nor do we take the deep dive into policy,” she said. “As an elected official, it’s important who has a seat at the table. Often we have policy created by people who are not black or brown and there is no conversation. It’s time to move away from that.”

Part of that move, panelists agreed, was for companies to develop specific plans to ensure a diverse group of employees end up in the C-Suite. White said cues from inside companies are “taken from the top,” and that core missions, vision statements, etc., have to become “ingrained in who you are” as a corporate entity.

“We need to look at diversity and inclusion efforts much like we do any other line of business items,” White said. “You put resources behind it, you hire talent associated with the task, and you commit and cascade to the work from the board … in order to make that happen, we have to have that conversation about representation.”

Nikki Pardo

Pardo told a cautionary tale about an automotive company who recognized its leadership was not diverse and, in Pardo’s words, “panicked.” They sent their Black “soldiers” out with a mission, she said: Recruit Black leadership.

“They brought senior leadership to Michigan, and it backfired because there was no integration process in place,” Pardo recalled. “They catapulted these employees into leadership roles, and they weren’t ready. It was a nightmare.”

So how should companies be talking to their Black employees? Lewis said he’s been getting an increasing number of calls from white business leaders since the Floyd protests began, asking, “What do I do? What do I say?”

His advice? Ask yourself if you really want to have the talk.

“The first question I’ve asked some of them is, ‘Are you willing to have this conversation?’” Lewis said. “What I found is a lot of folks instinctively want to care, but they don’t know how or what they should do. What most do is they call one or two of their black friends, or someone they know.

“What we said to the business community is ‘you have to understand, and you actually have to go out and talk to the folks in your company who are Black and ask them what they think,” Lewis added. “There needs to be a commitment of intentionally that this is important. It has to be something that’s intentional, and it also has to be something that’s sustained.”

Donnell White

In trying to get that diversity and inclusion element established, White said, companies have to understand “they don’t have to walk this journey alone.”

“There’s been substantive work in the D&I space over the last five or six decades you can point to,” he said. “In the banking community, we talk about D&I as the key driver behind innovation, profitability and sustainability as a company. It’s great for people empowerment, but you can’t overlook the benefits, the statistical data that supports it for a business imperative. If you want to outperform your peers, this is a space you have to be in.”

First, though, according to Pardo, companies have to overcome the fear of getting started.

“People are scared,” she said. “Everything is so charged right now, it’s so heightened, they don’t know what to say. They’re so petrified of making the wrong move, they kind of fall back.”

Everyone agreed this movement looks different, and had opinions about how to give it some legs. Companies are coming out with statements about how they’ll support the Black Lives Matter Movement, and policies are changing.

White called it “clearly a call to action,” and points out there’s place in the conversation for everyone: C-Suite executives, leadership teams and front-line workers. He said the Black community has seen this before – “As we look back through the annals of history we’ve found instances of moments that happened that we believe should have risen to the level of a movement, but the next shiny object captured our attention,” he said – but he thinks this one could be different.

“If the march on Selma can lead to the Voting Rights Act, and Rosa Parks can lead to the Civil Rights Act, the question becomes what can that 8:46 lead to?” he asked, referring to the length of the video of Floyd’s death. “The faces of the movement look different. The channels of the movement look different. Corporate America is using words and terms that historically have not found breath in corporate communications.  It’s a very unique moment.”

Cochran-Johnson, who hails from Greenville, Ala., said she grew up with a grandfather, uncles, southern Baptist ministers and others all involved on the front lines of the 1960s-era civil rights movement.

Five decades later, she said, a very small number of African-Americans are represented in corporate C-Suites.

“It’s been 56 years ago, and we’re talking about C-Suite that has less than 3% representation of African-Americans,” she said. “Here in DeKalb county, we’re the second largest pocket of African-American wealth in the U.S. (behind Prince Georges County, Md., she said), but if you drive through our community, we look nothing like who we are.

“We have not, because we own not,” she added. “It’s time we stopped waiting for miracles. In 56 years, if this is what it’s gotten us, it’s time we rethink how we do business.”

Bill Spends $800 Million in COVID-19 Relief Funds

Senate Bill 690, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, which provides for the appropriation of some $800 million in federal COVID-19 money for a variety of things, including things like aid to small businesses, rental assistance and school grants, was adopted by the Legislature last month.

And on Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed it.

The supplemental budget includes a number of provisions that allow assist Michigan in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, help small business weather the difficult economic conditions created by COVID-19, and ensure that workers who put themselves at risk on the frontlines are fairly compensated, including: 

  • $2/hour increase for direct care workers; 
  • $125 million in grant funding to reduce the cost of child care for families; 
  • $100 million for hazard pay for local first responders and $200 million for local units of government; 
  • $100 million in small business restart grants; 
  • $60 million in rental assistance and eviction diversion; 
  • $25 million for wireless hotspots and enhanced connectivity; 
  • $18 million for health and safety grants for schools; 
  • $10 million in MIOSHA grants for protections to keep workers safe on the job; 
  • and $14 million for food banks and domestic violence shelters.

While noting how “pleased” she was to sign the bill, Whitmer also urged Congress to pass another coronavirus relief package. 

“Between the signing of this bill today and the recent agreement on the 2020 budget announced earlier this week, we have now put the full amount of the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund to use so that Michiganders can reap the full benefit of our federal funding,” Whitmer said. “Now, we need Congress to act later this month and provide additional aid to the states so that we can begin to address the budget shortfall in 2021.”

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The budget funds a $60 million eviction diversion program developed jointly by Whitmer and the Supreme Court Administrative Office. That program keeps renters in their homes by ensuring that landlords receive quick lump sum payments for back rent, while renters get a fresh start, and will be implemented in collaboration with local stakeholders and aid organizations. 

“We applaud our governor and legislators for working together to secure funding and create programming for what we believe is crucial to the health and safety of our state – keeping vulnerable Michiganders in their homes,” said Eric Hufnagel, Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness Executive Director. “With this support, our communities will keep thousands of families that have been hit the hardest by COVID-19 from the painful experience of eviction and homelessness.”  

Mark Docherty, president of the Michigan Professional Fire Fighters Union, applauded the governor and the Legislature for a bill he said “recognizes the challenging work of first responders” during the pandemic.

“Our job is to serve and protect our communities knowing that we risk our lives every time we go to work, the hazard pay included in this legislation is a reminder that our elected officials have our back when we do,” Docherty said.

Dawne Bell, CEO of the Early Childhood Investment Corporation, said the bill sends an important message.

“Before this pandemic, child care was one of the biggest expenses families in Michigan face,” Bell said. “This legislation does more than provide an additional investment in the early years, it sends a critical message: child care is an essential part of our economy, preparing children for the future and supporting the needs of working families.” 

Sarah Prout Rennie, executive director of the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, said the group is “grateful” for the help contained in the bill.  “While the global health crisis has been difficult on us all, it has also provided additional challenges to those in domestic violence situations,” Rennie said. “We’re proud of how domestic and sexual violence organizations have stepped up across the state, and we’re grateful that our elected officials are providing much-needed funding to help support shelters that have worked hard to keep their doors open and continue to provide essential services for victims and survivors.”

This Fourth of July, Hotels and Restaurants are Cautiously Hopeful for Travelers to Return

Holiday weekends before coronavirus were great times to get together with family and friends both at home and at vacation spots around the state – but that has changed and must continue to evolve in the wake of the pandemic, public-health officials and tourism experts agree.

Because Memorial Day was somewhat of a monetary bust for many tourism spots under quarantine, businesses were looking forward to Fourth of July in the short term and Labor Day in the long term for a financial boost. Now, some owners are opting to close, change or delay reopening some of their services as the Fourth of July looms.

Using data from its Daily Travel Index, travel data company Arrivalist is predicting that Americans will take 36.8 million road trips over the Fourth of July weekend, making Independence Day the biggest road trip event so far this year. Compared to the American Automobile Association’s (AAA) travel prediction last year, road trip travel will be down 11% from the 41.1 million travelers AAA predicted in 2019.

Much of the tourism industry is on a kind of pause, especially in terms of marketing this summer and likely into the fall, said Mark Canavan, executive creative director for Detroit-based Rebuild Group and a former “Pure Michigan” campaign creative lead.

“It’s not that (these businesses) don’t have something to say – they’re trying to figure out how to say it,” Canavan said. “We all have paid time off and vacation days, but no one is using them. You have 270 countries with lockdowns on travel. There are a lot of people with time on their hands but not a lot of places to go.”

But among all the bad news for the travel industry, there is hope. People generally want to take road trips, according to surveys, which bodes well for Michigan as a great day-trip and road-trip state, Canavan said.

A survey conducted by Morning Consult commissioned by the American Hotel & Lodging Association released Tuesday found that 44% of Americans are planning overnight vacation or leisure travel in 2020, with high interest in road trips, family events, and long weekends over the summer months. Encouragingly, 68% of these expectant travelers say they are likely to stay in a hotel in 2020.

“If there was ever a state perfect for social distancing, it could be Michigan,” Canavan said. “We have so many remote areas (and) hidden gems for people to enjoy.”

Pandemic hot spots
The bad news is that the pandemic, despite the easing of the quarantine and reopening of many industries, is still spreading and causing challenges for businesses of all kinds. Hospitality and travel are among those seeing the most issues.

For example, places such as Mexican Fiesta in Dearborn Heights said on social media this week it would close its dine-in service because of customer incidents where people were rude to servers. In another post, Ye Olde Tap Room in Detroit said Wednesday it will close “until the situation improves” with coronavirus hot spots popping up around its Detroit/Grosse Pointe Park location, noting “this is necessary for the absolute safety of patrons and staff.”

There also were closures of restaurants across Michigan in recent weeks such as Grey Ghost in Detroit and Butcher’s Union and the B.O.B. in Grand Rapids because a staff member reported testing positive for coronavirus. These restaurants all reported they would undergo massive cleanings and new safety and health protocol reviews before reopening.

Medical experts are encouraging residents who do travel or head out to eat to wear masks and follow the six-feet rule when it comes to social distancing. In a statement, Bobby Mukkamala, MD, president of the Michigan State Medical Society, urged residents about the continued need to wear masks in public and practice social distancing over the 4th of July holiday weekend.

“With a picture perfect, Pure Michigan weekend predicted, it’s easy to forget we’re still living through a global pandemic. COVID-19 is still very much a threat here in Michigan and around the country, and the best chance we have to prevent its spread is to continue practicing good social distancing habits. Please, wear a mask in public, practice good handwashing habits and have a safe holiday weekend.”

Cautious approach
Those who do reopen this week are taking new approaches to their business in hopes of not only adapting to these new rules but to appeal to customers. In Novi, the Renaissance Baronette Detroit-Novi Hotel and its Toasted Oak Grill & Market re-opened Wednesday with a new menu, sustainability protocols and hope for the summer months.

The Baronette said it will open one floor to welcome back guests while Toasted Oak reopened for dinner service with a new menu. Chef Ken Miller said he created a newly written limited dinner menu to keep food waste to a minimum and the restaurant has started a composting program to complement their waste reduction initiative.

During the coronavirus closure, Chef Ken and Ferris Anthony, Toasted Oak’s Director of Food and Beverage spent a lot of time focusing on sustainable practices at their homes. Chef Ken and Ferris both built gardens at their homes and practice composting on a regular basis. They spent a lot of time gardening, foraging, and volunteering at local farms that Toasted Oak uses for produce. The restaurant’s new dinner menu dinner also features a write up about Maple Creek Farm, the property they volunteered at most often during quarantine.

Toasted Oak is following all CDC and MRLA guidelines for reopening the restaurant. As a result, all guests will need to maintain six-foot distance from each other and the restaurant will require guests to wear masks when not seated at their table. Plexiglass has been placed at Toasted Oak’s bar rail and host stand. It has also been installed at the front desk of the hotel. Additionally, all staff front of house and back of house are required to wear face masks at all times. Toasted Oak will offer outdoor seating on the restaurant’s patio as well as the hotel courtyard.

Detroit Future City Appoints Director to Run its Center for Equity, Engagement and Research

Ashley Williams Clark’s appointment to this position marks an important step in the Center’s year-long planning effort that launched in January. At the onset of Clark’s role, she will work to advance the planning phase objectives, such as establishing a common definition of economic equity.

Order Closes Lower Michigan Bars to Indoor Service

Patrons hoping to stop at their favorite watering hole for a drink are going to have to get it outside, at least in the lower part of the state.

After spikes in COVID-19 cases were linked to bars in several spots around the country, including a couple in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Wednesday signed an executive order closing indoor service at bars throughout most of lower Michigan.

Regions 6 and 8, which include the Upper Peninsula and much of northern Michigan, are excluded from the order, and bars statewide can continue to serve outdoors. The governor also signed a package of bills allowing cocktails-to-go at bars and restaurants to help these businesses serve more Michiganders during this time. 

“We owe it to our front line heroes who have sacrificed so much during this crisis to do everything we can to slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the chance of a resurgence like we are seeing in other states,” Whitmer said. “Following recent outbreaks tied to bars, I am taking this action today to slow the spread of the virus and keep people safe. If we want to be in a strong position to reopen schools for in-person classroom instruction this fall, then we need to take aggressive action right now to ensure we don’t wipe out all the progress we have made.”

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Over the past week, every region in Michigan has seen an uptick in new cases, and daily case counts now exceed 20 cases per million in the Grand Rapids, Lansing and Kalamazoo regions. Nearly 25% of diagnoses in June were of people ages 20 to 29, up from roughly 16% in May. That shift aligns with national trends, and the evidence suggests that young people may be driving a new phase of the pandemic. 

As bars have reopened for indoor service across the country, some have been linked to a growing number of large outbreaks. In Michigan, for example, health officials in Ingham County have linked 107 confirmed COVID-19 cases to an outbreak in a single bar in East Lansing. Similar super-spreader events have been documented in bars in Florida, Louisiana, Texas and elsewhere.

Bars are often crowded, indoors and poorly ventilated — all of which make it easy to spread COVID-19 from person to person. Bars also encourage mingling among groups and facilitate close contact over an extended period of time. They are noisy, requiring raised voices and allowing for more projection of viral droplets. And they serve alcohol, which reduces inhibitions and decreases compliance with mask use and physical distancing rules.  

“I urge all Michiganders to double down on mitigation tactics like wearing masks, practicing physical distancing, and washing hands, so we can get our trajectory headed in the right direction again,” Whitmer said. “If we open up our economy too quickly, the efforts of the last three months will be for nothing and we will have to go through this pain all over again and put our economy, health and medical system at risk. Nobody wants to move backward.” 

The governor’s order applies to establishments with on-premises retailer liquor licenses that earn more than 70% of their gross receipts from alcohol sales. That means that most brewpubs, distilleries, and vineyards can stay open indoors. Traditional bars, nightclubs, and strip clubs will have to end indoor service. 

Whitmer also signed Senate Bill 942 and House Bills 5781 and 5811 into law, which allow bars and restaurants to sell cocktails-to-go and expand social districts to allow for more outdoor seating and areas for people to safely congregate while practicing physical distancing.

“Bars will not have to close down completely, but may still offer outdoor seating and use creative methods like cocktails-to-go in hopes that we can bring our numbers down,” Whitmer said. “I am hopeful providing options for cocktails-to-go and expanded social districts will ensure these businesses can remain open and Michiganders can safely and responsibly enjoy their summer outdoors.”

Bavarian Inn Lodge reopening on July 1, 2020

The Bavarian Inn Lodge in Frankenmuth is reopening for guests beginning on Wednesday, July 1. Dining will be available in both Oma’s Restaurant and the Lorelei Lounge. Face coverings are required for all guests at the present time. This follows the Bavarian Inn Restaurant reopening on June 3.

Dentists, Orthodontists See Success in Re-opening Practices for Staff and Patients

During the coronavirus shutdown, many states including Michigan mandated the closure of dental and orthodontic offices for regular visits, putting these businesses on hold while the healthcare system responded to the pandemic.

Now that these practices that center on oral hygiene have had a month of reopening, many dentists and orthodontists say they have learned more about their industry, discovered new safety practices that they now employ with success and feel more connected to their staff and patients, even in an age of social distancing.

Michigan gave dentists, orthodontists and related providers the green light to go back to work May 29. While they were shut down, many of these offices worked to refashion the lobby, set up new health-and-safety procedures and spent hours tracking down and securing Personal Protection Equipment to prepare for reopening.

“In offices, you’re going to see the plexiglass or sneeze guards. Lobbies are mostly closed. Staff are screened for health and temperature as well as patients. There is additional PPE, such as face shields on clinical staff and masks on the front desks,” said Dr. Steve Meraw, President of the Michigan Dental Association and a full-time periodontist.

“It’s going well,” Meraw added, “but it’s definitely a different feel.”

Caring Smiles
For example, dentists Warren E. Woodruff and Amira May Woodruff of Caring Smiles Family Dentistry in West Bloomfield added new equipment, studied and implemented new protocols as well as produced communication for the public to learn about going back into their offices for treatment.

The Woodruffs installed a medical grade air purification system installed in each treatment room that is constantly running throughout the day. This H13 TRUE HEPA filter is tested to remove 99.97% of particles down to 0.1 microns. The size of the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is about 0.12 microns in diameter.

“You can see how the air purifiers play a role in helping to keep the air clean,” Amira Woodruff said. “For disinfection, we use products that meet the EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2. In our sterilization area of our office, we utilize a biological monitoring service. We send in test strips each week to make sure that all of our sterilization equipment is working properly.”

To determine these changes, the Woodruffs used the American Dental Association (ADA) Return To Work Interim Guidance Toolkit, created through its Advisory Task Force on Dental Practice Recovery that referenced the CDC, OSHA, and other resources to create their toolkit. The Michigan Dental Association (MDA) also released the MDA Addendum to ADA Return To Work Interim Guidance Toolkit.

“For face shields, the biggest concern was to make sure there was a mask that would fit our dental loupes (magnifying glasses) and headlight. We ultimately chose the UVEX by Honeywell Bionic Face Shield with Clear Polycarbonate Visor (S8500),” Amira Woodruff said. “This face shield protects our face from any sort of splatter that is created during dental procedures.”

Amira Woodruff said one of the hardest parts has been the lack of physical contact with patients; she’s a hugger who liked to embrace patients when appropriate. She also worried about her young patients, so she created a video that explained each new piece of protective equipment so kids wouldn’t be scared of her face shield or mask when coming to see her.

“If I have a new patient, I always made a point of shaking their hand. When I left the room, I’d touch them on the shoulder. Without having that touch, there’s a disconnect,” Amira Woodruff said. “It’s hard when they can’t see me smile because I’m in the smile business.” 

Central City
At Central City Integrated Health’s Dental Department, Chief Dental Officer Dr. Kristi Thomas created plans to ensure a safe environment for patients, including negative pressured space and sealed entry doorways.

CCIH is a federally qualified health center located in Midtown Detroit that provides an integrated model of care to its consumers. This includes medical, dental, behavioral, housing, prisoner re-entry, to mention a few.

Thomas said its office follows the infection control recommendations made by the American Dental Association, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It also follows the activities of these agencies so that it is up to date on any new rulings or guidance that may be issued during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Inside the office, CCIH created a negative pressure space used to prevent the spread of potential contagious particles from one area to another. Air is pumped out of the treatment area, creating a negatively pressured space. The air that is pumped out of the space passes through a large HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter about every 3-4 minutes.

The office also installed sealed entry doorways, so when the doors close, air can only filter one way. Then, it uses ultra-low volume (ULV) fogging machines that will apply disinfectant into the air space. This customized space was created for additional safety measure to the standard infection control procedures already have in place.

No Phase 5 For Lower Michigan; Some Regions May Go Back

A few weeks ago, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talked hopefully of being able to move the entire state into phase five of her reopening plan by the Fourth of July holiday, based on dropping COVID-19 numbers and the efforts by Michiganders to adhere to social distancing.

On Tuesday, Whitmer acknowledged that isn’t likely to happen. Not only that, but now some parts of the state may actually be taking a step backward.

At a press briefing Tuesday, Whitmer said she’s considering moving some regions of the state back a phase, which could reimpose some restrictions in areas where there are increases in coronavirus cases.

Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula are already in Phase 5, and Whitmer has allowed the opening of places such as indoor theaters (with capacity limitations) and gyms, subject to safety procedures designed to minimize the spread of the virus. 

“A lot of states in the country are watching cases grow exponentially and worrying that their ICUs are filling up,” Whitmer said during the press conference in Lansing. “We are not in that position, but our numbers are not as strong today as they were a couple of weeks ago.”

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Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said Tuesday spikes are increasing in both the Lansing and Grand Rapids regions, where they’ve jumped to a daily rate above 20 new positive cases per million people. 

Detroit, Kalamazoo, Saginaw and Jackson also are seeing spikes, but their rates are still less than 20 new positive cases per million people.

The increase in cases appears to be coming among younger people. Some 23% of new cases occurred among people age 20 to 29. 

Whitmer said her office is studying the information in an effort to determine which regions, if any, will have to back up with more restrictions. Regardless, she said Tuesday, the lower half of the state will not be moving into Phase 5 before Saturday. 

Whitmer said she hopes to be more specific in the “next 24 to 48 hours.” Michigan announced 32 additional coronavirus deaths Tuesday and confirmed 373 new cases. The state has tallied 70,728 known cases of COVID-19 since the state’s first cases were reported March 10. Michigan’s death toll from the disease now stands at 6,193, including 246 probable deaths.

The New “PPP” for Small Businesses: Proactive. Positive. Planning.

There are a number of key action steps small business owners need to take in your quest to not only withstand the COVID-19 pandemic, but to also be able to tell your story on how you managed the worst global crisis of your lifetime. Businesses that survive the pandemic will be those that take action, face the challenges and stay strong.

Maximize Your Leadership Role
“The speed of the leader determines the rate of the pack.” — Wayne Lukas
• Inspire and motivate your team. You are the one who can set the pace and tone of your business. Now is a good time to reevaluate your team, realign your structure and determine which tasks to delegate and to whom.
• Dust off your strategic business plan and re-look at your company’s plans for the next 12-24 months. What are the new opportunities that you can take advantage of to maximize your strengths?
• Leave time in the day for the unknown. Be available for questions from your team. Address rumors immediately. Communication and transparency have always been important, but right now they are critical.

Leverage the Power of Outside Resources
“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” — Jimi Hendrix
• Establish a brain trust by developing an independent board of advisors who can bring to the table “outside of the box” thinking. These individuals should be people you trust and respect.
• Be open to new ideas. Meet with your professional advisors collectively on a
quarterly basis. This may include your CPA, Insurance Agent, Attorney, Human Resources Consultant, Industry Expert, Marketing Firm and Banker. Stay on the cutting edge. Consider pursuing a leadership role in industry trade associations.
• Become the expert and make yourself known to be the “go to” person for advice. If you haven’t already done so, consider investing in a business coach. What’s in your personal library? Take time each day to listen to a podcast or a short video.

Operate for Cash Flow First, Profit Second
“Revenue is vanity, profit is sanity, but cash is king.” — Unknown
• Create and monitor cash flow projections. Now, more than ever, you must know your sources of incoming cash and manage your outgoing cash. Creating a cash flow projection takes time and/or resources.
• Consider investing in software that
does the hard work, so that you can spend time analyzing. Review your cash flow
forecast weekly. A common trait among all successful business owners is that they understand their cash flow and create action plans accordingly.
• Reduce fixed costs. Bill early and bill often. Drop deadbeat clients…a slow paying customer can be worse than no customer at all. Create contingency plans, both worst- and best-case scenarios, and know what
triggers you are going to pull on either end.

Define Your Reality: Negotiate & Document Everything
You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” — Margaret Thatcher
• Negotiate with vendors. Be willing to walk away from a bad deal, either on the purchasing side or the selling side of your business. When was the last time you looked at your pricing and mark-ups? Is it time to increase pricing? Mystery shop your competitors. Look at your industry’s studies for fees and pricing.
• Challenge the “untouchables.” Make a list of your commitments, contracts and purchase orders, and calendar their expiration dates so you can prepare to negotiate in advance. Don’t settle for the same old; be creative, and look for bargaining points.
• Protect yourself. Memorialize agreements and understandings in writing.

Grade Yourself Often
“To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
• Hold Monday morning team meetings to review deadlines and weekly metrics, which would include financial, production, personnel, and marketing. These meetings enhance collaboration toward common goals and provide clarity of what is to be achieved. You want your team to all be rowing in the same direction.
• Benchmark your business against industry standards, know and develop your business metrics and key performance indicators. Ask your bank for your company’s “spreads.” Even if you don’t have a loan outstanding with a lender, they will have targets for businesses similar to yours for various ratios, including liquidity, debt to equity, and fixed coverage ratios.
• Consider surveying your employees, vendors and customers.
You will not be able to do all of these things at once. Determine and prioritize your actions so that you are positioned to survive and thrive through the post-COVID-19 era.

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” — Effie Neal Jones

School Roadmap Directs Districts to Develop Return to School Plans

A recent University of Michigan study showed that about one-third of parents don’t plan to send their children back to school in the fall out of fear of the spread of the coronavirus.

On Tuesday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a plan she believes will allow a safe return to in-person learning this fall.

Whitmer released the “MI Safe Schools Return to School Roadmap,” a comprehensive document she said will help districts create local plans for in-person learning in the fall. The roadmap outlines a number of safety protocols for schools to implement in each phase of the governor’s MI Safe Start Plan.

The governor also signed Executive Order 2020-142, which provides a structure to support all schools in Michigan as they plan for a return of PreK-12 education in the fall. 

“Our students, parents, and educators have made incredible sacrifices during our battle with COVID-19,” Whitmer said. “Thanks to our aggressive action against this virus, the teachers who have found creative ways to reach their students, and the heroes on the front lines, I am optimistic that we will return to in-person learning in the fall.”

Whitmer said the roadmap will help provide schools with the “guidance they need as they enact strict safety measures” to continue protecting educators, students, and their families.

“I will continue working closely with the Return to Learn Advisory Council and experts in epidemiology and public health to ensure we get this right, but we also need more flexibility and financial support from the federal government,” Whitmer said. “This crisis has had serious implications on our budget, and we need federal support if we’re going to get this right for our kids.”

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said closely examining the data and remaining vigilant in steps to fight the virus are the “most important things we can do” as the state prepares to reopen school buildings this fall.

“I will continue to work closely with (Whitmer) and the Return to Learn Advisory Council to ensure we continue to put the health and safety of our students and educators first,” Khaldun said. “We will remain nimble to protect students, educators, and their families.” 

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Executive Order 2020-142 requires school districts to adopt a COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan laying out how they will protect students and educators across the various phases of the Michigan Safe Start Plan.

The roadmap offers guidelines as to the types of safety protocols that will be required or recommended at each phase. In recognition that these protocols will cost money, Whitmer also announced she was allocating $256 million to support the districts in implementing their local plans as part of the bipartisan budget agreement the Senate Majority Leader, the Speaker of the House, and the governor announced Monday.  

The safety protocols detailed in the MI Safe Schools Roadmap include guidance on the use of PPE, good hygiene, cleaning/disinfecting, spacing in classrooms, screening for symptoms, athletics, and more. The roadmap also recognizes the impact COVID-19 has had on students’ and educators’ metal health, and offers guidance on how schools can address this issue. 

Whitmer will continue to use the MI Safe Start Plan as the highest-level governing framework for determining if and when it is safe to resume in-person instruction.  

“All of us on the Return to Learn Advisory Council share a commitment to marrying science and evidence, and practicality and local needs to ensure the health and safety of our students and educators,” said Tonya Allen, President and CEO of The Skillman Foundation and Chair of the Return to Learn Advisory Council. “We will remain vigilant and flexible, helping ensure safety protocols are in place in every Michigan school.”

David Hecker, president of AFT Michigan, called the roadmap “a thoughtful, comprehensive plan” that puts health and safety of students and educators first.

“Our teachers and support staff are eager and ready to implement safety measures in our schools to ensure everyone who steps foot in them is protected from the spread of COVID-19,” Hecker said. “I applaud the governor’s leadership and unwavering commitment to our students during this time, and look forward to working closely with her as we continue to protect Michiganders from this virus.” 

Parents aren’t sure
Meanwhile, a report from the University of Michigan showed about one-third of parents surveyed don’t intend to send their children back to class in the fall.

The survey shows how uncomfortable many parents are to send their children back to school due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

U of M’s study found two-thirds of parents will be sending their children back to school. Black, Hispanic and Asian parents were less likely to say they will send their children to school, compared to White and non-Hispanic parents.

As school districts prepare for a radically different return, the study found nearly two-thirds of parents supported the following proposals:

  • Decreasing the number of children on buses.
  • Alternating between in-person and virtual classes.
  • Staggering arrival and pickup times.
  • Random weekly COVID-19 testing for staff members.

Utica Native Serves Aboard the USS Bunker Hill

Hull Maintenance Technician 1st Class Christopher Hirth, from Utica, Mich., grinds a piece of metal aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52). Bunker Hill is deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

Allen Park Native Serves Aboard USS Russell

U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. Sarah Chama, from Allen Park, Mich., monitors radar in the pilot house of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Russell (DDG 59) June 25, 2020. Russell is deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sean Lynch)

Chicago Company Invests $500,000, Brings Jobs to Walker

The Right Place, Inc., in collaboration with the City of Walker, announced Chicago-based General Truck Parts & Equipment will open its first operation in Michigan.

The company will be located at 2686 3 Mile Road in Walker. In addition, the new operation will bring 7-10 new jobs to the area in the next three years and invest over $500,000 to launch the new operation.

Founded in 1970, General Truck Parts provides new and remanufactured truck parts, serving the truck parts and equipment industry for on-and off-highway, industrial, agricultural, construction, mining, logging and light, medium and heavy-duty trucks. General Truck Parts also has six other operations located in Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Nashville, Portland, Maine and Rochester, N.Y.

“We knew we could improve service and delivery times with a new operation in Michigan,” said Eric Sjoredsma, Grand Rapids general sales manager, who oversaw the selection and construction of the new operation in Walker. “We contacted The Right Place and they assisted us in identifying potential locations and connected us to key people to help us open our first operation in Michigan.”  

Although there were delays in construction due to the COVID crisis, General Truck Parts & Equipment plans to open their new storefront, warehouse and remanufacturing facility July 1.

Brands available through General Truck Parts include Oshkosh, Eaton/Fuller, Navistar, Rockwell, Meritor, Kessler, ZF, Spicer, Tractech, Borg-Warner, GMC, Mack, Allison, Spicer, Clark-Hurth, New Venture, TTC, Fabco, Muncie, Axletech, SAF- Holland and many more.

“The decision to expand in West Michigan reaffirms the region as a place companies can locate to access markets across the entire state,” said Brent Case, vice president of business attraction for The Right Place and project lead. “Companies located in Chicago and neighboring states recognize the affordability and many other benefits of expanding in West Michigan and we’re pleased to assist in projects like these.”

Darrel Schmalzel, the city manager of Walker, said he was looking forward to the company’s first Michigan operation opening.

“We are pleased to welcome General Truck Parts & Equipment to Walker,” Schmalzel said. “We are confident their new location will provide them the opportunity to serve their Michigan clients more effectively.”

Governor, GOP Reach Agreement to Balance Budget

The Republican-controlled state Legislature has spent a good part of the spring trying to take some of Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s power over the state’s response to the coronavirus away.

But on Monday, the GOP and the governor worked together on an agreement to balance the state budget after steep declines in state revenue amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agreed-upon plan to balance the budget mixes spending cuts with using nearly $1 billion in coronavirus relief money and some $350 million from the state’s Budget Stabilization Fund, which has a balance of more than $1 billion.

The budget agreement includes modest reductions in current year funding but also provides CARES Act funding for Michigan schools and educators, universities and community colleges, and local governments to address the significant COVID 19 costs they’re facing. 

“COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on our state budget,” Whitmer said in a statement released jointly with state House speaker Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey. “In this time of crisis, it is our responsibility to come together and build a budget that reflects a bipartisan commitment to the things we value most as Michiganders. This agreement provides crucial funding for Michigan families, schools, and communities grappling with costs incurred as a result of the virus.”

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The state had been facing a shortfall of more than $2 billion for the 2020 fiscal year (which ends Sept. 30). Projections had the hole in the budget projected to grow close to $6 billion, including Fiscal 2021.

Other items in the budget plan include:

  • $490 million in state budget savings from a freeze on hiring and promotions, as well as other cuts to discretionary spending.
  • Using $475 million in federal coronavirus relief money for public safety expenses.
  • $256 million in state aid reduction to schools and $200 million in reductions to colleges and universities. Those cuts will be partially balanced by $512 million in federal funding for schools and another $200 million in federal coronavirus funding for colleges and universities.
  • $97 million in reductions in state aid to local governments, also offset by major infusions of federal coronavirus relief cash.  

“Our collective priority is a healthy state and a healthy economy,” the leaders said in their statement. “We are committed to working together to address the remaining shortfalls in next year’s budget and we are looking to our partners in Congress for support to help maintain the essential services relied upon by our families and small businesses.”

Whitmer Releases Four-Point Plan for Police Reforms

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is proposing additional police reform policies she believes will strengthen police-community relations and ensure that all Michiganders are treated with dignity and respect under the law.

The four-pronged plan, developed in partnership with community leaders and law enforcement organizations, makes significant reforms in policy, personnel, participation and community engagement and prevention and accountability to address racial disparities in how law enforcement is applied toward communities of color.   

“All Michiganders, no matter their community or the color of their skin, deserve equal treatment under the law,” Whitmer said. “This proposal will help us ensure that law enforcement officials treat all Michiganders with humanity and respect, and will help us keep our communities safe. I will continue working with leaders in law enforcement to make public safety more just and equitable in Michigan.”

Lt. Gov. Garlin Cilchrist noted that people have “been calling for changes” to police practices.

“These actions are clear steps in the direction of needed reform,” Gilchrist said. “These reforms will help us build a more just and equitable law enforcement system and ensure the safety of Black Michiganders across the state. ”  

Over the last several weeks, the governor added four seats to The Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES), including the Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, to bring more community voices to the table as the commission considers police reforms for our state.

The governor also requested that MCOLES provide guidance to law enforcement agencies on continuing education that will help officers keep up with the ever-changing landscape of new laws and issues facing the community, including diversity and implicit bias training.   

Additionally, the governor has encouraged police departments to participate in efforts that are underway on comprehensive reporting on the use of force by police departments and urged law enforcement agencies to implement duty to intervene policies.  

Among the governor’s proposed reforms:

The Whitmer Administration supports legislation that makes the following reforms to law enforcement policies:  

  • Ban chokeholds/windpipe blockage.  
  • Further limit the use of no-knock warrants.  
  • Require “duty to intervene” policies.  
  • Classify false, racially motivated 911 calls as a hate crime.   
  • Require in-service training for all licensed law enforcement officers to maintain licensure.
  • Authorize MCOLES to do the following:  
  • Audit law enforcement agencies to ensure they are accurately reporting violations of law or improper use of force.  
  • Establish penalties for agencies who don’t comply with reporting.   
  • Direct the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Mental Health Diversion Council to make recommendations on best practices and training for police departments when responding to situations involving persons with mental illnesses.  


  • Provide incentive programs for law enforcement agencies to hire/retain officers who live where they work.  
  • Require retention of disciplinary records resulting from violations of law or improper use of force.   

Partnership/Community Engagement

  • Invest in programming in communities around the state that connect local police and community leaders to build relationships.  
  • Invest in expanding existing community relationship programs to break down barriers between police and communities around the state.   

Prevention and accountability

  • Require independent investigations of all shootings and use of force that resulted in the death of unarmed civilians at the hands of law enforcement.  

“Law enforcement derives its authority from the public who entrusts us to protect and serve them, and I am fully committed to working with Governor Whitmer and her administration to increase accountability and improve transparency in order to build community support and trust,” said Col. Joe Gasper, Director of the Michigan State Police.

Sen. Marshall Bullock, chairman of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus, said the caucus “stands with” Whitmer … “on this next step in addressing the issues of police brutality and accountability.

“As members of the Senate and House we continue to work on bicameral legislation to place these and other reforms into statute and look forward to continued collaboration with her, the community and the departments,” Bullock said.

Better Made Takes Top Honors in Country-Wide Chip Contest

Two Better Made Snack Food products were recently named tops in the country by www.thekitchn.com, a web-based daily food magazine. Better Made’s Original chips won Best Classic Potato Chip and Krinkle Cut took top honors for best Wavy Potato Chip.

In all, the editors tried over 40 brands of chips from all over the country.

“This is a great honor, considering the competition we were up against,” says David Jones, President of Better Made Snack Foods. “We strive to make the best products possible and are always adding new, tasty flavors to our line up. We have people from all around the United States that grew up on Better Made or who have tried them and now buy them on-line. We’re very pleased with winning two categories.”

Founded in 1930 in Detroit as Cross and Peters, and now in its 90th year, Better Made continues to develop and provide a wide variety of award-winning snack foods, including assorted regular and flavored potato chips and potato sticks, gourmet popcorn, pretzels, tortilla chips, pork rinds, and more. The family owned company uses locally grown potatoes and trans fat-free cottonseed oil.

For more information, please visit www.bettermade.com.

Davenport offers free workshop to help teachers enhance online instruction

Davenport University announced today that it is offering Michigan PreK through 12 teachers a free virtual workshop, based on a graduate-level course, to support the creation of online coursework for their students. The program addresses barriers and challenges teachers face when providing instruction online as well as helps them create a Virtual Learning Map for effective online PreK-12 instruction.

“The pandemic has exposed a key opportunity for teachers in our primary schools to utilize online education to support student learning,” said Dr. Richard J. Pappas, president of Davenport University. “Online teaching poses unique challenges for teachers and we have the tools and resources to aid PreK-12 learning and keep students on track in their educational journey.”

The workshop will walk teachers through digital platform options for learning and assessment as well as facilitate development of instructional practices to engage and assist learners to connect with course content. The program will offer three 2-hour sessions covering three specific topics:

· July, 21, 2020, 10 a.m. to Noon, Session 1: Tools of the Trade-Interact with digital tools that foster immersive and diverse online learning experiences.  Pre-K-12 teachers will tour tools for collaboration and discussion; assessment and feedback; and captivation and creation. Digital Tools of the Trade within this workshop include, but are not limited to, Google Drive, Seesaw, Kahoot!, Pear Deck, GooseChase EDU, and Popplet.

· July 22, 10 a.m. to noon, Session 2: Culturally Responsive Teaching in the Virtual Space – Learn strategies to optimize student engagement online by incorporating cultural context.

· July 23, 10 a.m. to noon, Session 3: Virtual Learning Maps Supporting Student Success – Learn how to apply digital tools and strategies for lesson planning through the creation of Virtual Learning Maps.

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“We are leveraging graduate-level course work from our College of Urban Education to offer a free workshop to support Michigan educators in providing effective online and blended learning experiences for their students,” said Dr. Susan Gunn, Dean of the College of Urban Education for Davenport University. “We can help teachers identify and deploy key strategies that ensure students are making progress outside the traditional classroom.” 

Davenport’s College of Urban Education specifically focuses on the preparation and development of professionals serving urban schools. Its programs foster the development of relationships, knowledge and skills that lead to highly effective teaching and leadership. The college’s intensively supported “on-the-job” training method prepares teachers to differentiate their instruction to reach all children, especially those from underrepresented and underserved communities.

Teachers or school administrators interested in participating in the workshop can register at davenport.edu/K12online. Everyone who participates will receive a Certificate of Completion and two SCECHs for each session completed, and six SCECHs awarded for completing the entire workshop. Participants must register for the class by July 17.

Former Corp! editor remembered for his humor, talent

When Sue Voyles was named the editor of Corp! Magazine back in 2006, the first call she made was to freelance writer J.D. Booth.

J.D. Booth

Booth, who graduated from Eastern Michigan University with majors in political science and journalism and first started writing for Corp! in 1998 under a previous owner, returned her call in less than a minute, and an endearing, long-lasting partnership was born.

John David “JD” Booth, who wrote and edited copy for Corp! Magazine off and on for more than 20 years, lost his long fight against cancer Thursday at the age of 67. Following news of his passing, Voyles recalled that initial conversation.

“We always joked that it was one of the fastest callbacks ever,” said Voyles, who left Corp! in March. “J.D. was a hard worker, a wonderful writer, had a great sense of humor and loved being part of the Corp! team. I will always treasure the friendship that we developed over 14 years.”

In addition to writing for Corp! Magazine, Booth also founded and ran the local news site and magazine Lambton Shield, a locally focused site serving the Sarnia-Lambton area in Canada. The Lambton Shield became a popular site and drew strong support from local businesses and the chamber of commerce in Sarnia.

“J.D. made significant contributions to the success of Corp! with his writing and his innate ability to tell a story,” said Jennifer Kluge, CEO and Publisher of Corp! Magazine. “He was a great writer, and an even better person, and he will be terribly missed by everyone on our team.”

Booth is survived by his wife, Lynne (Sheridan); sons James (Chantal) Booth and John (Sherri) Booth; sister Deborah (Tim) and brother Peter (Doris); grandchildren Ainslie, Callum, Bria, Chloe and Chase. He was preceded in death by his parents, John and Jeanne.

A memorial service will be announced at a later date. Memorial donations in memory of J.D. may be made to Prostate Cancer Canada and Lighthouse Community Church.

Healthcare Workers Worked Through Fear, Frustration in Dealing With a Brand New Virus

Jason Pagaduan has seen victory and loss during the COVID-19 crisis, sometimes in the same coronavirus patient.

Respiratory therapist Jason Pagaduan checks on a COVID-19 patient at Beaumont Hospital Farmington Hills.

Take the 67-year-old man upset because doctors wanted to take a blood sample as they tried to determine his exposure to the virus. According to Pagaduan, a respiratory therapist at Beaumont Hospital Farmington Hills, the man complained to his wife about the request.

Within 12 hours, the man had to be intubated, and was still that way three weeks later.

“It’s draining to watch (patients) deteriorate,” said Pagaduan, who’s been a respiratory therapist for 12 years. “We watched him for 18 days and thought we’d lost him. Doctors at one point called his wife and said there wasn’t anything to do.”

Then came the victory. Two days after that call to the patient’s wife, his lungs started improving. Not long after that, Pagaduan said, he was waking up “and we were able to pull the tube out.”

“There’s more downhill than uphill,” Pagaduan said. “There’s victory at the same time.”

Pagaduan has seen his share of both. Because of the nature of the virus, Pagaduan has been working directly with COVID-19 patients from the beginning – “If there’s a COVID-19 patient, right next to him is going to be a respiratory therapist,” Pagaduan said.

The fact they’re having trouble breathing – it’s one of the key symptoms of the disease – is what Pagaduan says typically brings patients in. RTs have to determine patients’ needs as fast as possible. The RT is responsible for determining what level of oxygen or type of medication can be used.

But there are always questions.

“We’re right there ready from the first second we see them,” Pagaduan said. “But that’s where some of the challenges started right from Day 1. We were unsure at first how the virus was transmissible, droplets or airborne. We had to figure out how to contain and not spread the virus as quick as possible.”

The job has its professional challenges. Before COVID-19, Pagaduan said he’d see 20-40 patients a day, normally, but once Beaumont started taking COVID-19 patients, Pagaduan said the patient volume ratcheted up – he figures he’s treated more than 300 himself – in the 170-bed hospital.

The hospital’s intensive care unit has 20 beds, Pagaduan said, and the entire hospital only had 35 ventilators – “We’ve managed this far without having to use all of them,” he said – and the staff in the early days was “quickly running out” of gowns and masks, “so that was a challenge from Day 1.”

But it also has its personal – often incredibly emotional – challenges. The front-line workers – doctors, nurses, the RTs – are “right in the face” of patients, who generally are coughing in very close proximity to the staff.

“Respiratory really gets dirty, with intubation, and we’re right there with the doctors,” Pagaduan said. “Our face is right there, near their mouth. That’s why proper PPE (shields, gowns, caps, etc.) are all necessary.

“It’s like a machine gun coming right at you,” Pagaduan added. “You’re hoping your little ‘bunker’ is going to stop the bullets.”

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And there are emotional challenges on several levels for these frontline workers. One of the biggest for Pagaduan was the risk he may have been causing to his family. His wife, Jennifer, is a nurse currently in the CNRA program at Macomb Community College.

Because she’s focusing on school, Jennifer hasn’t been exposed to the virus the way her husband has. But it’s still a big concern for Pagaduan.

“I just don’t know if I bring it home or not,” he said. “(Jennifer) kind of feels she dodged a bullet in the sense that she doesn’t have to be in front of the virus, but there’s a pull that she should be helping.”

The disease really hit home when the Beaumont Farmington Hills staff lost one of its own in phlebotomist Deborah Gatewood, who worked at Beaumont for more than 25 years. Pagaduan called Gatewood “well-known and likeable,” and said her passing was a “sad weekend at our hospital.”

And then, of course, there’s the inevitable suffering he sees in his patients, many of whom Pagaduan says don’t “feel like they’re sick” when they come in, but then begin deteriorating. Then doctors see the bloodwork and it turns out they have the virus.

Pagaduan said the sickest patients they’ve seen run in age from the early 30s to the late 80s. Nearly 900 COVID-19 patients had died in the Beaumont Health System hospitals at press time, the toughest part of the job for Pagaduan largely because many of them died without family beside them due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“The ones we know are going to pass away, the nurses and the doctors have to call them and the families have to make that decision while their loved ones die alone,” Pagaduan said. “That’s the hardest part. There’s a ton of suffering.”

When Imana Minard saw the coronavirus creeping in, and saw the pressure begin to load up on the nursing staff at Beaumont Hospital Farmington Hills, she asked herself the question she figured any good leader would ask.

Imana Minard (center) with Lauren Tierney, the ER manager at Beaumont Hospital Farmington Hills and Jessica Wolf, the ER nurse coordinator.

“How can I help lighten their load?”

Minard – everyone calls her Mo – realized dealing with the families of an ever-increasing load of patients was an emotional burden the staff didn’t need. So Minard, the director of nursing at Beaumont Farmington Hills, came out of her office and took on that responsibility.

“When I saw the amount of patients we were getting, I knew I’d no longer be the nursing director,” said Minard, in charge of the emergency and trauma care unit, the CCU/ICU and respiratory care. “I had to figure out how I could serve the team. What can I do to ease the load off of them?”

The answer came to her pretty quickly: Families. With the patient load growing by the day, and knowing that dealing with family members can be a difficult, emotional and often time-consuming process, particularly with this disease, because family members weren’t allowed into the hospital with their loved ones.

“(Nurses) are wearing PPE all day, their workload has changed, we had patients everywhere with this horrific illness,” Minard added. “We had patients passing away, their loved ones couldn’t be there for them, so I started talking to the families.”

Luckily, she had the training for it. Minard was an EMS paramedic for the Detroit Fire Department (her husband, Charles Minard Jr., is a lieutenant in the department now) for 11 years before she got into nursing. That’s a role that brings a paramedic into nearly constant contact with family members, whom Minard began to view as “partners” in the treatment of their loved ones.

“To go into someone’s home and be in their most intimate space … it lets you know no matter how bad you think you’ve got it, there’s always someone worse off. That job taught me so much about life, about people.”

She went into nursing at the Detroit Medical Center, where she spent 10 years. She’s been at Beaumont Farmington Hills the last two, working herself from staff nurse to director of nursing.

Her EMS training, and subsequent nursing career, taught her the value of working with family members of the patients they were treating. It was tough because family members couldn’t be with their loved ones, even those who were passing away.

Those conversations are tough for nurses and other medical professionals. That’s why Minard felt she needed to step into that void.

“When I became a nurse, I was already prepared to deal with families because of my EMS training … Families didn’t really get to me like that, because I was used to dealing with them,” she said. “Patients are sick, families don’t always understand what’s going on medically, you have to make sure they’re comfortable after your conversation. You don’t want them to walk away lost, or having questions.

“I was in the department all the time … I became the emotional support,” Minard added. “That job taught me so much about life and about people.”

While Minard has thrown herself into helping co-workers get through it all, COVID-19 has stripped Minard of one thing she cherishes: Her radio show.,

Minard hosts “MO-Tivation Nation,” from 10 p.m. to midnight Mondays on WHFR 89.3-FM. The show, housed at Henry Ford Community College, plays music to uplift, inspire and encourage others and includes interviews with local business owners or “anyone who has a story that uplifts or inspires someone else.”

Because of the stay-at-home orders, the college has been closed and Minard can’t get in to do the show. The plan is to resume as soon as they can.

“I love it … I always crack a joke that I’d leave nursing if the radio show could provide the compensation,” she said. “I miss it very much; as soon as we can get back in I’m running with it.”

Her positive attitude has attracted attention. Minard was part of a television report on frontline workers in the pandemic, and her forthrightness caught the attention of state officials. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services asked her to do a 30-second public service announcement, and Minard was happy to do it.

In the PSA Minard, lamenting the deadliness of the virus, said it “separates patients and families where loved ones don’t have a chance to say goodbye,” and talks of holding phones and playing recordings to give patients a chance to hear their loved ones’ voices.

When she calls family members, the caller ID function shows the call coming from Beaumont Health, and families immediately think it’s the “call of death.”

“I was talking to the wife of a patient and she started crying, so I started crying,” Minard recalled. “I told her, ‘I hate that you can’t see your husband.’ Families are important for healing. When you remove the support system you’re delaying the healing process.”

Minard recalls one husband sending a recording to play, and she played it “several times” in the patient’s room.

“Her husband called me to let me know she had ‘transitioned,’” Minard said. “It meant a lot to me that her husband trusted me to do that for her.”

Dr. Zafar Shamoon saw this coming.

Dr. Zafar Shamoon, medical director for the emergency department, checks on a patient at Beaumont Hospital Dearborn.

The medical director for the emergency department at Beaumont Hospital Dearborn, Shamoon – who graduated from medical school at Michigan State University – had been keenly observing the events surrounding the coronavirus from their beginnings in Wuhan, China.

Sure the virus would eventually hit the United States – “I didn’t think there was any way to avoid it,” he says now – Shamoon began studying everything he could find about it. When the NBA suspended its season on March 11 – the day after the first two cases were reported in Michigan – Shamoon and his colleagues started getting ready.

“The day they cancelled the NBA season was the day I knew this was going to be bad,” Shamoon said. “If they were willing to cancel that, somewhere along the way someone told a billion-dollar industry you need to cancel your season. I started researching and studying it as best I could.”

“Going to be bad” turned out to be a huge understatement. In Michigan alone, there had been more than 55,000 cases and nearly 5,300 deaths from COVID-19. Nationally, the U.S. had seen more than 1.7   million cases at press time and, on May 27, passed a tragic milestone:  More than 100,000 deaths.

Not long after the 45-year-old Shamoon saw the virus coming, it came in a very real way. Shamoon says he treated the very first COVID-19 patient Beaumont Health saw and, without much knowledge about how the virus presents, Shamoon saw her without the right protective equipment, and paid for it.

“I was the doctor that day, and this girl comes in and didn’t look very sick,” Shamoon recalled. “This was at the very infancy of all of this, and I walked in without a mask, and immediately got sick.”

But he, like all the frontline workers, has been trained to deal with the virus. As chief of the emergency department, Shamoon’s the one who sets up protocols and procedures and helps with everday operations of patient flow (for good measure he’s also the corporate sepsis team leader and the associate residency director for Beaumont Dearborn and Trenton).

As part of his daily responsibilities, Shamoon does a little bit of everything, spending a third of his time on administrative duties, another third seeing patients and the other third teaching.

All of that experience came in handy once got here. At press time, Beaumont Dearborn had seen more than 1,500 patients (the number surely has climbed) and discharged nearly 1,400 (that number has climbed, too). In one 12-hour stretch, he admitted 10 COVID-19 patients.

As the pandemic grew, Shamoon said, Beaumont Dearborn staffers began securing medical equipment, figuring out processes for the floor, and determining how to separate COVID patients from other patients – “Obviously, you don’t want to expose the two,” he said — in the emergency room.

“I think we were a little ahead of the game compared to most systems and most sites, because we had a lot of it ready to go,” Shamoon said. “That doesn’t mean we were 100% ready, I don’t think anybody was. But the way we adapted at Beaumont Dearborn … I’ve never seen this.”

The one thing he wasn’t necessarily ready for was the fear, particularly when he got the virus himself, with a pregnant wife and 6- and 3-year-old children at home. His wife, Nadia Yusaf, is a radiologist for St. John Macomb and Oakland, was in her third trimester.

“That was the one thing that really scared me,” Shamoon says now. “I wasn’t really worried about me, but I was worried about my pregnant wife, because we don’t know how (COVID-19) interacts with pregnancy.”

Throughout the pandemic, the frontline workers have had a lot to deal with.  While much of the attention had gone to COVID-19 patients, other patients still needed care. The medical staff often careened from one situation to another.

“I can vividly remember one patient who died in one room, and then I had to run to the next room to deliver a baby,” Shamoon said. “That’s the beauty of our profession. We can handle anything.”

The other source of anxiety – aside from watching patients struggle with the virus day after day – came from watching his colleagues deal with the pressure of the moment, with the possibility of getting the virus themselves or even taking it home with them.

Shamoon knows that ER staffs are like family, and takes great pride in watching his “family” deal so professionally with the pressure.

“What I find the most pride in is when I take a second to look back and see our team doing phenomenal work, staying over shifts knowing they could be exposed and bring it back to their families,” Shamoon said. “When you see family members sacrificing for the better, that’s a source of pride. The pride I see on a daily basis is what really pumps me up to get back in there the next day.

“That’s what drives me to keep going,” he added.

Justin McWherter’s temperature soared, his heart rate was high, there was tightness in his chest with shortness of breath and he was dizzy. A lot.

RNs Justin McWherter and Rebecca Kramer review charts at Ascension St. John Hospital in Detroit.

Like many frontline healthcare workers on duty caring for patients with the coronavirus McWherter, a registered nurse with Ascension St. John Hospital in Grosse Pointe Woods, became a COVID-19 patient himself.

But, like many others, he stayed in quarantine for about 10 days, missed only three days of work and was right back at his station, fighting the disease.

“I was sick myself, and it wasn’t fun,” said McWherter, the hospital’s clinical leader on cardiology. “I’m just (recently) starting to feel myself all the way back.”

McWherter and his colleagues got an early start in treating COVID-19. His floor was one of the first to switch to being a COVID-19 floor. The 36-bed unit, he said, was “full every day” in the beginning. Other floors were also taking patients.

But it hasn’t always been easy. At the beginning, when testing wasn’t “quite as good as it is now,” McWherter said, there was a learning curve, “like with everything.”

“It was pretty busy,” McWherter said. “We were full every day. We’re still busy, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

One of the hardest parts was making sure his family stayed safe. In quarantine, he obviously stayed separated from his wife, Heather, a teacher for Warren Consolidated Schools, an 18-year-old son and a niece and nephew for whom he cares.

He set himself up in a separate bedroom, and when at home practices social distancing, sitting on another couch while watching TV.

“I wanted to be certain I wasn’t bringing it home,” said McWherter, who’s been a nurse the last eight years after two years as a tech on the trauma unit. “It’s tough, but it’ll all be worth it when this is all over.”

That likely won’t be for awhile. While the state’s numbers of both cases and deaths are slowing, there’s no real end of the pandemic in sight.

Because McWherter’s floor can take more patients, he and his colleagues are likely to be dealing with COVID-19 patients for the foreseeable future.

“I think our floor will be in it for the long haul,” McWherter said. “We can handle more than the other floors can handle, so they’re probably going to keep us a COVID floor for the duration.”

McWherter was a tool-and-die designer in the automotive industry “until it crashed in 2008.” That’s when a few family members recommended he take up nursing.

“I would never have thought of it,” he said. “I took a few classes at Macomb (Community College), and I fell in love with it.”

He’s even more in love with it now, watching the nursing community deal with all of the sickness and death of the pandemic. People have lost loved ones, he acknowledged, but he’s been impressed with how supportive people are being of each other.

“All we can do is be there for each other, and be there for the patients,” McWherter said. “The patients not being able to see loved ones has been the toughest part. We’re doing everything we can to make it possible so they can talk to their loved ones — personal cell phones, iPads, holding hands, sitting with patients.

“That’s nursing in a nutshell, being there for someone when others can’t,” McWherter said. “It’s one of the rewards of the job. It’s just second nature, just trying to be a decent human being. It’s just second nature, just trying to be a decent human being.

“Emotionally it can be tough,” he added. “But it’s also rewarding.”

U.S. Army veteran Dr. Joel Fishbain was working in infectious diseases at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. (it later moved to Bethesda, Md., and was renamed the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center), when the SARS outbreak came in the early 2000s.

Dr. Joel Fishbain is medical director of Infectious Disease and Epidemiology at Beaumont Hospital Grosse Pointe.

So Fishbain, a retired Army colonel now serving as the medical director of infectious disease and epidemiology at Beaumont Hospital Grosse Pointe, understands why planning to corral and treat the coronavirus earlier this year was so difficult.

His biggest SARS lesson? You can’t plan for it.

“When SARS came out in 2003 while we were in the midst of a war, we had to plan for this,” said Fishbain, who graduated from St. Louis University medical school in 1987. “It was interesting, if you look at this and ask, ‘how do you plan for this?’ The universal answer was, ‘you cant.’

“How do you truly pretend to plan for something like this? It’s really not possible,” he added. “That became really evident in 2003.”

Fishbain, who went to college on an ROTC scholarship, did his internal medicine residency at Madigan Army Medical Center and a fellowship at Walter Reid from 1993-1996. He retired as a colonel in 2008.

“We had a lot of fun the last few years,” Fishbain said. “The Army was very good to me.”

Fishbain said life began to change, professionally, when the first COVID-19 cases began appearing in early March. His job, he said, is 90% clinical, which means his patient load can be heavy. It got heavier when COVID-19 started showing up.

A normal patient load for him and his partner, Fishbain said, is perhaps 20 patients a day. Since COVID, that number sometimes exceeded 60.

“That’s double, sometimes triple the daily work we would have to do,” Fishbain said. “That’s busy, but I actually like being busy.”

There was some early frustration, Fishbain said, because no one knew exactly what they were dealing with or how to treat it.

“The frustration is starting with a new disease that has no scientific basis for diagnoses or treatment, and you start to hear dribbles of information, and you try all these things,” Fishbain said. “It’s the frustration, unlike bacterial pneumonia or a good old-fashioned urinary tract infection where we can give them antibiotics … (with COVID) you’re just watching people.”

He said a Beaumont officials convened a meeting about possible treatments early on that was helpful in producing “some standardized guidelines.”

“That was useful,” Fishbain said. “There were people 10 times smarter than I hope to be.”

With COVID. Fishbain said, it “isn’t so much the virus, it’s the inflammation the virus causes.”

“You have to treat it a different way,” he said. “That’s why you’re going to read about drugs that shut down viral replication, but also those that affect the immune response. We do what we can. This is really a disease managed by pulmonary and critical care teams.”

Like medical facilities everywhere when COVID-19 was really gathering steam, Beaumont Grosse Pointe had concerns about acquiring enough personal protection equipment – masks, gowns, gloves, face shields, etc.

The hospital had enough equipment for normal operations, Fishbain said, but that changed with COVID-19. What really changed, at least for awhile, was the length of time PPE had to be used. Frontline workers used to using a mask for one patient and then discarding it suddenly found themselves having to use it over and over for multiple patients.

“We always had equipment, but then the rules sort of changed, when we talk about using some of the PPE over and over again, that’s new, that’s different,” he said. “Most of what we’re used to doing for the patients in the hospital that need it, you’re talking one-and-done. When you’re talking 100 patients with 10-20 contacts per day, you can’t afford to be one-and-done.

“The challenges for the user … use (PPE) as long as you can,” he added. “That’s a little weird. Of course there’s angst.”

Frontline healthcare workers have frequently become victims of the disease, leading to some anxiety among them about either contracting it themselves, or carrying it home to their families.

Fishbain said that hasn’t necessarily been a concern for him, although he allows as how his wife has been concerned with how the disease spreads. At a healthy 58 years old, Fishbain isn’t in one of the high-risk categories, although he admits he has a bit of high blood pressure.

“I don’t worry about that as much,” he said. “I have a lot of faith in the PPE, the hand hygiene, I’m not a big worrier about the inanimate object carriage. If you looked at the numbers early on, there is a very significant risk population. Those are the people we worry about.

“I take it in stride,” he added. “You can spend all day worrying about it, but that doesn’t get the work done. I don’t think there’s any utility in spending your energy worrying.”

Not everyone in the hospital feels the same way, Fishbain knows. Although he said “there’s very good data to show when you put someone in isolation, the amount of contact time and exposure decreases.”

“But everyone who goes in has to spend time putting (PPE) on, and that adds time. It changes the whole work environment,” he said. “The fear – lots of people are afraid. A nurse was crying, I’ve never seen that before. You see things that you don’t usually see.

“Nobody likes the unknown.”

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