Whitmer Extends Stay-at-Home Order Through April 30, Says State Faces Health, Economic Crises

Michigan residents and businesses hoping to re-engage sooner rather than later were dealt a blow Thursday when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced she was extending the state’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order through April 30.

The order, which she signed March 23, was originally scheduled to end Monday. But Whitmer, in announcing the extension, said any slight improvement in the pace of the disease is not reason to shift gears.

Quoting Dr. Anthony Fauci, the scientist on the White House’s coronavirus task force, Whitmer agreed with him that states “need to keep pushing mitigation strategies.

“There’s no doubt they are having an impact on the outbreak,” Whitmer said. “Now is not the time to pull back at all, it’s a time to intensify. That’s what we’re doing.”

Whitmer’s new order more specifically identifies the mitigation effort:

  • Workers who can leave the home include, among others, those in health care, public safety, law enforcement, grocery store workers, public health and more (the full list is available at Michigan.gov/coronavirus).
  • Public and private gatherings of any size are prohibited.
  • Outdoor activities such as jogging, canoeing and other forms of recreation are permitted – in fact, Whitmer encouraged them – as long as the six-foot social distancing recommendations are followed.

The new order also adds restrictions to retail outlets:

  • Large stores must limit the number of shoppers to four customers per 1,000 square feet of space. Smaller stores must limit shoppers to 25% of their occupancy limit.
  • Stores must establish entry and exit lines and other markers to help shoppers maintain the six-foot social distancing protocol.
  • Families are encouraged to severely limit the number of members who run errands. Whitmer’s recommendation: One family member per trip. “The fewer the people the better,” she said.
  • Shoppers are limited to buying essential items like groceries and medicines. Stores, she said, will be asked to rope off other areas of non-essential items.

“If you’re not buying food, medicine or other essential items, you should not be going to the store,” Whitmer said.

Re-engaging economy
Whitmer was asked about opening up parts of the economy. Recent discussions have centered around opening businesses such as golf courses and landscaping companies, for instance.

But Whitmer was adamant that such a move could have negative consequences, at least not yet. In the last three days, she pointed out, 116 people per day have died from the virus. Opening up such businesses would make more deaths more likely, she pointed out.

“These are not just numbers on a screen, these are husbands and wives and daughters and sons and grandparents who’ve lost a battle with a disease that’s incredibly … deady,” Whitmer said. “Golf, landscaping … that’s not crucial infrastructure. It’ s just not. It’s additional opportunity for exposure.

“You could come up with all sorts of scenarios that someone is safe in whatever activity,” she added. “For the sake of the health of our state, it’s important we remember we’re all in this together.”

TCF Center ready
Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, also said the TCF Center in Detroit, converted into a field hospital by the Army Corp of Engineers and the Michigan National Guard, will accept its first 25 COVID-19 patients Friday.

The temporary hospital will be run in partnership, Whitmer said, with Henry Ford Health System, McLaren Health Care, Beaumont Health and the Detroit Medical Center.

“It’s a truly remarkable thing,” Whitmer said. “I appreciate them stepping up to make this possible.”

A second site, the Suburban Collection Showplace, has been chosen as a field hospital. Khaldun said that facility should be ready to accept patients “in the next few weeks.”

All of this comes as numbers continue to rise in Michigan. Whitmer and Khaldun pointed out the state now has 21,504 positive COVID-19 cases, with 1,076 deaths.

And, in the light of statistics that show the disease is hitting a disproportionate number of minority patients – 33% of the cases and 40% of the deaths are among African-Americans, Whitmer announced the formation of a Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities to be chaired by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist.

“We continue to see high numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths,” Khaldun said. “We are seeing some very early data that suggests the growth rate for positive cases may be slowing, but there still isn’t enough testing around our state.

“Too many people are getting sick, and too many people are dying,” she added. “All model projections are clear that without sustained social distancing measures – if we loosen up too soon – more people will die.”

Unemployment Rates Continue to Surge as Crisis Continues

Another week of the coronavirus pandemic brought another record-setting week for unemployment claims around the United States.

Another week of the coronavirus pandemic brought another record-setting week for unemployment claims around the United States.

According to data released by the Labor Department, some 6.6 million Americans filed first-time unemployment claims as the country continues to lose jobs at a rapid pace amid the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That brings the total over the last three weeks to some 17 million claims.

Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said in a statement the Labor Department had provided states with “essential guidance” they needed to start distributing the enhanced $600 weekly benefit approved in the CARES Act. He also commended the spirit of American workers.

“(The) report continues to reflect the purposeful sacrifice being made by America’s workers and their families to slow the spread of the coronavirus,” Scalia said in a statement.

Last week’s total claims was more than double the previous week of 3.28 million.  For historical perspective, the 3.28 million was nearly five times the previous record from 1982.

  • In Michigan, more than 384,000 people filed last week. That tops the more than 304,000 who filed the week before. Those numbers have jumped significantly from the 128,006 who filed between March 15-21.

Those numbers have far eclipsed state filings for all of 2019. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has called those numbers “staggering.”

“These numbers are staggering, and they will continue to climb,” Whitmer said recently. “We’ve had almost as many people in one day file for unemployment as any of the longest weeks of the great recession.”

Michigan recently shut its unemployment site down to make some upgrades, which Whitmer said should help ease the pain for workers trying to file.

“I understand how frustrating this can be … I’ve talked to a number of people who are trying to navigate the unemployment system,” she said, vowing to be one of the people rolling up their sleeves to fix the problem.

  • In Ohio, 226,007 claims were filed for the week that ended Saturday, according to state and federal jobs data released Thursday. In the last three weeks, according to the Columbus Dispatch, more than 696,000 claims have been filed.
  • In Illinois, unemployment claims topped 200,000, setting a state record, according to the Chicago Tribune.
  • In Maryland, 108,508 people have filed for unemployment, meaning the state’s total number of jobless claims since the coronavirus pandemic reached the state last month has surpassed its total for all of 2019, according to the Baltimore Sun. In all, more than 234,000 people filed for unemployment in Maryland from March 15 through April 3, while the state says it received about 215,000 jobless claims in all of 2019, and 232,000 in 2018.

With 43 states operating under some form of stay-at-home order (most of them until at least April 30) which has shuttered all but essential businesses amid the spread of the coronavirus, things aren’t likely to look up any time soon.

Economist Jesse Edgerton of JPMorgan Chase made that point to media outlets.

“There are reasons to think this is only the beginning,” Edgerton told USA Today.

Cybersecurity Threats Demand Companies Review Policies and Risk During Crisis

Cybersecurity is a daily concern for business owners of every size – but the wholesale shift to working from home because of the coronavirus will test how secure your company is as well as the behavior of your newly remote employees, experts say.

Every institution that has people online to work right now needs to step up its security, review its policies with workers, check on its disaster-response plan and look ahead to what might be coming next as cyber criminals step up their games going forward, cybersecurity officials agree.

“This probably won’t be the last time this (kind of quarantine) happens and you need to be better prepared next time,” said Jeffrey A. May, an attorney who specializes in cybersecurity at Kerr, Russell and Weber PLC in Detroit.

Data collected from a variety of organizations shows just how much remote work has increased since Michigan and the rest of the nation began the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” and related programs. For example, NordVPN Teams found that working hours have gone up by an average of three hours a day from 8 to 11 hours, and mass-remote working has pushed computer work up 94 percent among Americans as a whole.

All of this extra time at home and working remotely has had its positive sides, as more companies are likely to consider telecommuting for employees post-coronavirus quarantine. On the negative side, security breaches such as the ones during some Zoom meetings where people busted into what the participants thought was a private online group has caused alarms and rapid-fire fixes from the software companies.

“People tend not to use strong passwords. If a hacker is able to easily guess a password, they’re in. If people don’t have that second authentication, it’s that much easier for hackers to get in,” said Jessica Dore, principal in charge of technology risk management for Rehmann.

Disaster-response plans
Every business should have some sort of plan in place for cybersecurity. IT planners and lawyers knew this and most companies understood this, May said. Companies need to put better controls in place to avoid security risks. And no one can say they were shocked by the changes in remote work if they had a part of their security plan that considered what the business would do if its building were out of commission or destroyed – a common part of a cybersecurity risk or disaster-response plan, he noted.

“In the next few months, IT budgets for disaster planning will go up,” May predicted.

For the most part, the United States is better equipped in terms of technology for such a pandemic to send us home to work than it would have been 25 years ago or even more recent, noted Dr. Marcus Rogers, Professor/Exec Director of Cybersecurity Programs in the Computer & Information Technology department at Purdue Polytechnic, a part of Purdue University.

“We had dipped our toes into telecommuting, but never in this way,” Rogers said. “We’ve been pushed off of the end of the diving board and now we have to learn to swim.”

Cybersecurity starts with employee mindset, Rogers said. Your employees need to remember they are doing work that involves sensitive or secure documents, both physically and virtually. So having a security mindset will keep them from opening unsecure emails, wandering around cyber space or failing to put security guards on their laptops or smartphones.

Employers should review their computer and security policies with workers to ensure everyone knows what they should be doing right now, especially as networks tighten back up and people are getting used to working from home. If your company doesn’t have a document, you should check with a reputable source for such a template, he suggested.

Close it down
Next, companies should go through and lock down internally where employees can roam virtually when they are in your network. At first, IT might have opened up systems to get everyone online and working. But as life returns to this new normal, it’s time to review all of that and update.

“Does everyone need to be connected to certain systems, like databases and financials? You should lock down critical systems to only those who need them. It’s not sustainable long term to let everyone be a part of those systems,” Rogers said.

Employees working from home also need to put virus and other kinds of protection on their laptops and smartphones, especially if they use their personal devices to log into your computer network or check company email. That also is where they may use Zoom or Skype, so this is important because of the challenges some of these programs have experienced in the past month, Rogers said.

Another suggestion is to create multi-factor authentication for logging in, setting up tokens or one-time codes to ensure there are layers to go through to get into your networks, Rogers said. Cybersecurity attacks have increased since COVID-19 sent everyone home, and these attackers are opportunistic. They’ll look for holes in smaller companies so they can go up the chain and attack larger ones. Everyone needs to get their heads back in the game now that some of the original chaos has settled.

Finally, back up your systems so the information you cannot live without is protected. But also increase your security on these important files – companies that get hacked may see criminals going for those backups to learn everything they need to learn to put your company out of business. That information needs to be protected just as much as everything else, Rogers said.

The bottom line? People become forgetful. Talk to your employees often and remind them to pay attention to your security and risk, Rogers and Dore said.

“Organizations need to be training employees on things to watch for, not clicking on links in emails. If you think you’re getting something suspicious, don’t click on it,” Dore said.

Credit Union pauses loan due dates for all members for 90 days in response to global health crisis

Chief Financial Credit Union, headquartered in Rochester Hills, Mich., has spent decades becoming a true community partner. During this global health crisis, Chief is taking the lead to assist more than 13,000 individuals by pausing all loan payment due dates for the next 90 days.

Dingell: Stimulus Checks Likely to Start Coming Next Week

Taxpayers in Michigan can expect the checks promised in the federal coronavirus stimulus package – the CARES Act — to begin arriving soon, possibly as early as next week, according to U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell.

The CARES Act, signed into law March 27, provides payments of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child. Individuals making up to $75,000 ($150,000 for married workers) will receive payments of $1,200 with an additional $500 payment per minor child. The payments decrease and stop altogether for single workers making more than $99,000 ($198,000 for married workers and $218,000 for a family of four.)

According to information provided by Dingle, a Democrat from Dearborn:

  • The IRS is expected to make approximately 60 million payments to Americans through direct deposit for people who used direct deposit on their 2018 or 2019 tax returns, starting in mid-April (likely next week). This will include Social Security beneficiaries who filed federal tax returns that included direct deposit information.
  • Shortly after that (hopefully within 10 days) after the first round of payments are made in mid-April, the IRS plans to make a second round of payments. These payments will be made to Social Security beneficiaries who did not file tax returns in 2018 or 2019 and receive their Social Security benefits via direct deposit. The estimates are that nearly 99 percent of Social Security beneficiaries who do not file a return receive their benefits through direct deposit.
  • Approximately three weeks after the first round of payments are made (the week of May 4), the IRS is expected to begin issuing paper checks to individuals. The checks will be issued in reverse “adjusted gross income” order — starting with people with the lowest income first.

“Families and workers in Michigan are feeling deeply the direct impacts of the COVID-19 crisis,” Dingell said in a statement. “They, along with front-line healthcare workers, must be our immediate priority in our response. It is critical that the federal government work in an urgent manner to get these payments to individuals.”

Dingle urged anyone having issues getting their payment to contact her office. Dingell can be reached via her website (debbiedingell.house.gov), by phone in Washington, D.C., at 202-226-0371 or at her Dearborn office, 313-278-2936.

Crisis Forces Higher Education to Take Virtual Learning to the Next Level

Phase one of COVID-19 prep at area colleges and universities was relatively easy: These higher-education institutions largely were teaching classes online, so the pivot to 100 percent virtual learning took hours to complete.

Phase two, now is progress at many of Michigan’s schools, is more complex. This step includes developing students’ soft skills, communicating in new ways, establishing virtual meeting spaces and developing online experts who can interview, work and thrive in this new environment, local higher-ed specialists say.

Cleary University, Davenport University and Walsh College all are in the midst of responding to the changes that came about because of coronavirus, mass quarantines and the new needs of students. Each one is coming to this situation in different ways, but one thing is common: Students, faculty and staff are working together to make the best of a challenging situation and this group will be uniquely situated to take on tomorrow’s workforce challenges as a result.

“We’re helping students navigate and understand that we can still get things done,” said Patti Swanson, vice president and chief marketing and enrollment officer at Walsh College.

Cleary University
Cleary University describes itself as a business school that is the only four-year degree-granting institution in Livingston County. Based in Howell, Cleary also has a Detroit-based education center on Woodward Avenue. The private university was founded in 1883.

Emily Barnes, provost and Interim President, said Cleary was able to shift to all online learning with one meeting and within two hours primarily because it designs and develops all of its courses to be taught online as well as “on the ground,” or in the classroom. These classes had a thoughtful selection of videos, texts and resources that were available virtually and offered inclusive information and images, Barnes said.

Cleary’s instructors were ready to teach online, as well, because of this preparation, Barnes said. She added that she was proud of Cleary’s “amazing” faculty for this nimbleness and ability to quickly create additional content for students learning online, some for the first time.

“We don’t want our students to have to choose (between online and on the ground). It was important to me as an adult student in the past; I know what it is like to juggle,” Barnes said. “We don’t need barrier to learning when we have every technology at our fingertips.”

With this new system, Cleary wants to produce students who are “independent thinkers who can self-teach,” Barnes said, creating the kind of employees who are self-starters and able to figure things out on their own. “This is critical to everyday life and work,” Barnes said.

Davenport University
Founded in 1866, Davenport University says it has grown to become the second-largest private, non-profit institution of higher education in Michigan. The Grand Rapids-based university has 11 campuses serving nearly 8,000 students across Michigan.

Brian Miller, dean of the global campus at Davenport, said online learning has been a core part of the university for the past two decades. Because it has campuses across the state, students are able to quickly convert to all-virtual learning.

“We’ve prioritized the student experience so they can get what they’ve come to get, which is preparation for a career using the tools and the type of work you’ll do in your career,” Miller said.

One thing that was needed additionally was a kind of virtual experience where online students felt connected to not only Davenport itself but to one another. To develop this, Davenport created VirBELA, a software platform that mimics a traditional college campus classroom experience through an online community.

VirBELA lets students create a personal avatar to walk around the online world, participate in virtual learning or job fairs, watch a presenter using a slide presentation, hang sticky notes on the virtual wall and interact with fellow students. The pilot program is expanding beyond its first use and will be rolled out further, especially in light of these new COVID-19 related changes, Miller said.

Davenport also is working on soft skills for its students who learn online, helping them learn the best practices for video conferences and the like. “We’re proud of what we’re doing,” Miller said.

Walsh College
Established in 1922, Walsh College describes itself as a leading, all-business college and Michigan’s third largest business school. Walsh is based in Troy and has locations in Novi, Clinton Township and Port Huron.

Walsh had a well-established online learning routine, said Patti Swanson, vice president and chief marketing and enrollment officer. But now the world has jumped on board, showing how important it is to have experienced online instructors and classroom management.

To prepare for the impact of the coronavirus, Swanson said Walsh flipped its spring semester classes from on the ground and virtual to completely online. Once those classes were ready to go, the whole college was prepared to start learning and moving forward.

Walsh also has made a point to reach out to students and highlight the online support services it offers, such as Zoom meetings with instructors, online tutoring labs and one-on-one virtual tutoring as well as email and telephone support. Walsh also is doing online recruiting for future students as well as boosting emergency assistance in terms of funding for those who need it, she said.

“We know we have a lot of adult learners who are also parents, and they’re trying to navigate work, school and kids,” Swanson said. “We are working with everyone to say engaged and connected.”

Ultimately, these kinds of experiences will strengthen students and higher-educational institutions. Moreover, it is the kind of lessons, training and resourcefulness these students will show as they enter the workforce, which needs these talents more than ever, Swanson added.

“This is a real case study on how to navigate a crisis,” Swanson said.

State Senate Task Force Eyes ‘Safe’ Return to Workplace

With the coronavirus running rampant through Michigan and the state’s top doctor saying the apex might still be weeks away, the state Senate announced Tuesday it’s forming a task force whose aim is to develop a way to safely transition Michiganders back to work.

Mike Shirkey

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Republican from Clarklake, and Frankenmuth Republican Sen. Ken Horn announced the formation of the “Safe Behavior for Safe Workplaces” workgroup on the same day the state’s totals rose to nearly 19,000 cases and 845 deaths from COVID-19.

In a release posted to Shirkey’s website Tuesday, he acknowledged efforts to find ways to “support workers and families” since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a statewide “Stay Safe, Stay Home” order March 24.

“Our willingness to embrace handwashing, social distancing, and the use of masks is the key to transitioning back to a more typical daily life,” Shirkey said. “We believe citizens who can maintain these behaviors within their homes can also maintain strict health and safety measures in the workplace.”

The Senate bipartisan workgroup will be led by Horn, and will include Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City; Sen. Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington; Detroit Democrats Sen. Stephanie Chang and Sen. Sylvia Santana; and Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield.

Michigan Manufacturers Association President and CEO John Walsh commended the effort to prepare to transition Michigan’s employers and workers back to work “as soon as it is safe to do so.”

“Our top priority … is the health, safety and well-being of our members and their employees,” Walsh said in a statement. “While we recognize that Michigan has not yet surpassed the apex of the infection curve, we believe it is reasonable and wise to begin planning for a time when it will be safe to bring more workplaces back online.”

Horn agreed with the importance of getting people back to work so long as proper social distancing measures can be met.

“Michigan families, especially those who own a small business, have been forced to make some incredibly difficult decisions during the last few weeks,” Horn said. “Businesses across the state will be feeling the negative effects of the mandatory closures for months to come. As soon as we can safely do so, we need to get people back to work and get our economy back on track.”

Shirkey said there are “tremendous” financial and psychological impacts to people from beng out of work.

“Without the option to maintain employment, many of our citizens will experience extreme mental stress and that in turn can manifest itself as physical ailments, a weakened immune system, and tense domestic environments,” Shirkey said. “The more prepared we are to bring workplaces back online, the quicker we can return financial stability, reduce stress levels and provide hope for our citizens.”

The workgroup will gather information from businesses, medical professionals, and citizens across Michigan to create recommendations for best practices in the workplace in preparation for the transition back to work. The group hopes to have recommendations to Whitmer by April 17.

The workgroup will utilize various communication tools to interact with businesses, citizens, and members of the medical community, remotely.

GM Gets $489 Million Federal Contract to Make Ventilators

General Motors has already begun production of ventilators at its plant in Kokomo, Ind., in partnership with Ventec Life Systems.

Now, the automaker has a government contract to fill.

GM has been awarded a $489 million contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to build 30,000 ventilators by summer’s end.

It is reportedly the first contract for ventilator production under the Defense Production Act, enacted recently by President Donald Trump. GM will produce the 30,000 ventilators by the end of August, but its production schedule should have the first 6,000 by June 1.

Ventilators produced under the contract will be delivered to the Strategic National Stockpile.

“GM and Ventec Life Systems are working with speed and urgency to arm front-line medical professionals with the critical care ventilators they need to treat seriously ill patients,” GM officials said in a statement. “GM is proud to deploy its purchasing and manufacturing capability alongside the respiratory care expertise of Ventec. We remain dedicated to working with the Administration to ensure American innovation and manufacturing meet the needs of the country during this global pandemic.”

More: Businesses Pivot to Take Care of Essential Workers, Restaurants During Crisis

More: Virus Wreaking Havoc On Unemployment Numbers

More: Experts: Retail, Hospitality Industries Will See Significant Closures Because of Virus

GM and Ventec had already unveiled a plan to ramp up production at the Kokomo plant to produce 10,000 ventilators a month.

“We are proud to stand with other American companies and our skilled employees to meet the needs of this global pandemic,” Mary Barra, GM chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “This partnership has rallied the GM enterprise and our global supply base to support Ventec, and the teams are working together with incredible passion and commitment. I am proud of this partnership as we work together to address urgent and life-saving needs.”

Ventec Life Systems CEO Chris Kiple said the “unique partnership” combines Ventec’s “respiratory care expertise” with GM’s “manufacturing might” to produce the ventilators.

“This pandemic is unprecedented and so is this response, with incredible support from GM and their suppliers,” Kiple said. “Healthcare professionals on the front lines deserve the best tools to treat patients and precision critical care ventilators … are what is necessary to save lives.”

GM is also using its Warren plant to build Level 1 surgical masks. Production will … ramp up to 50,000 masks per day, with the potential to increase to 100,000 per day. Daily mask production will be influenced by the availability of materials to build the masks.

Businesses Pivot to Take Care of Essential Workers, Restaurants During Crisis

Whether it is a small business pivoting to offer online classes or take-home art kits to huge Fortune 100 companies coming up with creative new product lines or retooling to make vital healthcare products, businesses across the nation are adapting and helping their communities through the COVID-19 crisis.

Detroit Sewn, a Pontiac-based sewing program and business, has shifted to producing both hospital-grade masks and coordinating volunteers who are making these masks at home for distribution in local communities.

Recently, Detroit Sewn reported it has a 75,000-unit order from Livonia-based Trinity Health that operates in 22 states. Detroit Sewn can currently produce about 10,000 masks in a week but is working to double its production capacity. Corporate and individual sponsors are being recruited to allow rapid nationwide rollout.

Karen Buscemi, CEO of Detroit Sewn, said the work is huge but they are getting the job done safely and with community support.

“The first week is intense, as we are ramping up, getting in supplies, machines, you name it,” Buscemi said.

Plus, Detroit Sewn recently opened its volunteer command center next door to accept homemade masks that small groups can come in and pick up for free and deliver to those in need. The volunteer masks will be shared with first responders, senior centers and other non-medical operations. The kits are delivered curbside by volunteers in proper safety gear.

Energy efficiencies
Across Michigan, DTE Energy is working with its business customers to ensure these important companies are aware of programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program, also known as PPP, and other financial lifelines now available. DTE also is helping these companies lower their costs by showing them how to reduce their energy usage, which will lower their energy bills during the pandemic.

“We want businesses to know that DTE cares about them at this critical time, and we want them to stay safe throughout the crisis, as well as weather the financial challenges it has brought,” Jerry Norcia, president and CEO of DTE Energy, said in a statement. “We’ll get through this crisis together as strong partners ready to power growth and prosperity as Michigan recovers.”

Carryout crusaders
In Detroit, Ford Motor Co. and the Southwest Detroit Business Association created a pilot program that provides support to participating area restaurants through free delivery service to local customers. Ford and the SDBA is coordinating the delivery to people’s doorsteps, keeping those restaurants cooking and maintaining a food lifeline as well. Pilot restaurants include El Asador Steakhouse, Flowers of Vietnam, Hygrade Deli and Rincon Tropical.

“We appreciate Ford Motor Company for stepping up to assist our restaurants in Southwest Detroit whose business is limited to carryout and delivery services under the current COVID-19 lockdown,” SDBA President Robert Dewaelsche said in a statement.

“The SDBA has identified many restaurants that do not have relationships with the well-known independent delivery services. And Ford’s offer of its idled shuttle vehicles and drivers fills an immediate need and helps our businesses keep their staff working and able to serve their customers in a safe and efficient way,” Dewaelsche said.

Essential workers
Grand Rapids-based Meijer is also communicating with consumers and team members to ensure everyone stays safe and healthy during essential shopping trips. The retail chain is asking its customers to limit the number of shoppers who come on each grocery trip to as few as possible. Each Meijer store also is limiting how many people can shop at one time in its locations to support social-distancing practices.

Moreover, Meijer and other stores such as Kroger are adding protective plexiglass shields at all checkout lanes and in its pharmacies. Chains such as Target have said as well that it is limiting customers to a certain number per square feet of space in the store.

Additionally, Meijer officials said there is new signage to show the proper six-foot distance between customers and staff. Meijer said it is doing daily health screening and temperature checks on its employees as they arrive at the store for their protection and for the public.

“We continue to look for additional ways to ensure the safety of our customers and team members in the face of this difficult challenge,” Meijer President & Chief Executive Officer Rick Keyes said in a statement. “By working together, we can reduce the spread of this virus and help keep our communities safe.”

Experts: Retail, Hospitality Industries Will See Significant Closures Because of Virus

Big-box retailers, classic enclosed shopping centers and co-working spaces likely will be among those permanently affected by the long-term impacts of COVID-19, says one CEO and real-estate entrepreneur.

In other words, don’t be surprised when you start to see wholesale closure of chains and even malls across the country, according to housing investor Richard Rubin. And he’s not alone in this prediction. Many organizations are watching the retail and hospitality sectors carefully as coronavirus tests all players.

In recent weeks, retailers such as Macy’s and JC Penney have announced they were furloughing workers because of the coronavirus shutdown. An estimated one-fifth of Americans or about 32 million people work in retail and hospitality in businesses such as stores, bars, restaurants and tourism.

In late March, Newmark Knight Frank (NKF) released its first quarter 2020 office trends data for the Detroit region. NKF found Metro Detroit’s office vacancy rate climbed 20 basis points to 15.1% during the first quarter of 2020, as net vacancies totaling just over 157,000 square feet were added to the market.

“The first quarter 2020 stats showed us there are strong segments and weak segments in the metro Detroit’s office market,” Fred Liesveld, Managing Director of NKF’s Detroit office, said in a statement. “However, both the CBD and suburban areas are going to see challenges in the coming months as COVID-19 slows the market. Landlords will have to be creative in maintaining and attracting new tenants.”

Substantial impacts
Rubin is the CEO of Repvblik, a company that is turning old malls and distressed real estate into affordable housing. The former advertising and marketing executive switched over to real estate in 2004 when he started taking high-rise commercial office buildings and turning them into large-scale affordable housing in his native South Africa.

Rubin moved to the United States in 2015 and founded Repvblik with Chris Potterpin of PK Housing in Okemos. Repvblik focuses on the adaptive reuse of all classes of real estate into workforce, student and 55-plus housing without the reliance on federally funding programs like Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. Since moving to America, Rubin has spent time in Michigan and throughout the Midwest, so he knows the lay of the land, so to speak.

Like many, Rubin said the economic, environmental and geopolitical impacts of COVID-19 will be substantial in the months and years to come, especially for small businesses. But big businesses, particularly those invested in real estate, are going to be hurt as consumers avoid spaces such as malls and other kinds of shopping centers.

REITs or real estate investment trusts were heavily invested in commercial real estate such as offices, apartment buildings, shopping centers and hotels, Rubin said. These REITs may have been working diligently to update their properties to more modern standards for shopping, such as open-air centers or more experiential destinations, but it may be too little, too late in light of COVID-19.

Rubin believes that online retailers and shopping services such as Shipt, Amazon Fresh or Instacart will forever change the way people shop after the quarantines have been lifted. Consumers, wary of large or public spaces, likely will continue their behavior through online shopping both for groceries and other household items, Rubin predicts.

“Amazon and other retailers have done such an amazing job in terms of serving their customers. There’s just not competition,” Rubin said. “In some states, you can go online and order all of your groceries for the week and have them delivered to your home in two hours or less. After that, do you really want to go back to the store to shop?”

Cutting budgets
The result? Stores will have to pivot, change their delivery methods to more online shopping or shutter completely. That will leave a large array of big box stores empty across cities and states, giving rise to the need to convert them to other uses. That’s good for Rubin’s business, but it’s not good for the economy or the environment, he notes.

“Consumer behavior will be geared toward working from home,” Rubin said. “Companies (with large real estate holdings) won’t be able to afford the overhead. Some will realize even if they could, they won’t want the overhead or the exposure.”

People also will want to lower their overall costs, especially when it comes to apartment rent, Rubin predicts. That will result in pricy rentals losing their tenants as people look to drop their overall costs so they can afford to live in places like big cities, Rubin said.

“People will start shopping down,” Rubin said. “People in Los Angeles or Manhattan who are paying $2,200 in rent will instead want to spent $1,200.”

Moreover, Rubin predicts that coworking spaces also will feel that pinch as people will prefer working from home rather than in large, open spaces. Because people got good at products such as Zoom, they won’t need office space so much and will want to avoid groups. Even banks are likely to see a downsizing as well as people avoid branches and stick to online services.

“Things just aren’t going to spring back,” Rubin predicts.

Grocers Make Safety Adjustments as Virus Deaths Reach Their Ranks

Hailed by government officials and customers alike as “unsung heroes” during the COVID-19 crisis, grocery store employees are now beginning to pay a price for being on duty as essential workers.

According to published reports, at least four grocery chain employees – one from a Trader Joe’s in New York, one at a Giant store in Largo, Maryland, and two from the same Chicago-area Walmart – have died in recent days.

As the pandemic continue to spread through the U.S. – where there were more than 368,000 cases and nearly 11,000 deaths as of Tuesday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University – nearly every state issued some form of stay-at-home order.

However, most grocery store chains and other retailers who provide “life-sustaining” services were exempted, meaning thousands of their employees were still reporting to work.

And some chains want to put more people to work. Walmart has said it wants to add some 150,000 employees, while Kroger has said it would add about 10,000. Some experts think, though, that those hiring goals might be hindered as cases of the virus rise.

Finding people willing to work under those circumstances might be tough, supermarket analyst Phil Lempert told the Washington Post.

“One of the biggest mistakes supermarkets made early on was not allowing employees to wear masks and gloves the way they wanted to,” Lempert told the Post. “They’re starting to become proactive now, but it’s still going to be much tougher to hire hundreds of thousands of new workers. We’re going to start seeing people say, ‘I’ll just stay unemployed instead of risking my life for a temporary job.’ “

Indeed, Walmart announced last week several precautions they are now (or will be) taking for the “health and well-being” of their associates. In a memo written by Dacona Smith, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Walmart has, among other things, expanded paid leave policies, closed its stores overnight for cleaning and restocking, installed sneeze guards and social distance markers and begun making masks and gloves available.

Walmart – and other retailers – also began restricting the number of shoppers in stores at any given time and limiting movement in aisles to one-way traffic in some stores.

“As the COVID-19 situation continues to develop, our leaders and operations teams will continue to listen to advice from medical experts, associates and customers, and consider how we can best serve people while helping slow the spread of the virus,” Smith wrote. “The health and safety of our associates and customers is what matters the most.” Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer, which has stores in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin, is also communicating with consumers and team members to ensure everyone stays safe and healthy during essential shopping trips. The retail chain is asking its customers to limit the number of shoppers who come on each grocery trip to as few as possible. Each Meijer store also is limiting how many people can shop at one time in its locations to support social-distancing practices.

Moreover, Meijer and other stores such as Kroger are adding protective plexiglass shields at checkout lanes and in pharmacies. Chains such as Target have said, as well, they are limiting customers to a certain number per square feet of space in the store.

Additionally, Meijer officials said there is new signage to show the proper six-foot distance between customers and staff. Meijer said it is doing daily health screening and temperature checks on its employees as they arrive at the store for their protection and for the public.

“We continue to look for additional ways to ensure the safety of our customers and team members in the face of this difficult challenge,” Meijer President & Chief Executive Officer Rick Keyes said in a statement. “By working together, we can reduce the spread of this virus and help keep our communities safe.”

Virus Wreaking Havoc On Unemployment Numbers

To virtually no one’s surprise, the continued spread of COVID-19 appears to be having a major effect on employment figures in the U.S. With a monthly jump that was the largest in 45 years, the United States Bureau of Labor announced Friday that the national unemployment rate had increased to 4.4 percent in March.

It was the first unemployment rate increase since September 2010. The spread of the coronavirus had such an impact on the numbers the Bureau of Labor included a statement detailing it at the top of its release.

“The COVID-19 virus continues to impact the number of initial claims. Nearly every state providing comments cited the COVID-19 virus,” the government said in the statement. “States continued to identify increases related to the services industries broadly, again led by accommodation and food services.

“However, state comments indicated a wider impact across industries,” the Labor Department added. “Many states continued to cite the health care and social assistance, and manufacturing industries, while an increasing number of states identified the retail and wholesale trade and construction industries.”

According to the bureau of labor’s release, the U.S. lost more than 701,000 jobs in March. That represents a 0.9-percentage-point leap, the highest since January 1975. The number of people unemployed rose to 7.1 million in March, up by some 1.4 million.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia said in a statement the report reflects the “initial impact on U.S. jobs of the public health measures being taken to contain the coronavirus.” The report reflects surveys the pay period that includes March 12, and that April’s report is likely to be much more grim.

“We know that our report next month will show more extensive job losses, based on the high number of state unemployment claims reported yesterday and the week before,” Scalia said. “America’s workers and their families are making purposeful sacrifices to help save lives. This administration will continue its vigorous efforts to protect the health, safety, and security of the American people as we defeat the coronavirus.”

Other statistics contained in the Bureau of Labor’s release:

  • In March, unemployment rates rose among all major worker groups. The rate was 4.0 percent for adult men, 4.0 percent for adult women, 14.3 percent for teenagers, 4.0 percent for whites, 6.7 percent for blacks, 4.1 percent for Asians, and 6.0 percent for Hispanics.
  • The number of unemployed persons who reported being on temporary layoff more than doubled in March to 1.8 million. The number of permanent job losers increased by 177,000 to 1.5 million.
  • The number of unemployed persons who were jobless less than 5 weeks increased by 1.5 million in March to 3.5 million, accounting for almost half of the unemployed.
  • The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more), at 1.2 million, was little changed in March and represented 15.9 percent of the unemployed.
  • The labor force participation rate, at 62.7 percent, decreased by 0.7 percentage point over the month. Total employment, as measured by the household survey, fell by 3 million to 155.8 million, and the employment-population ratio, at 60 percent, dropped by 1.1 percentage points over the month.
  • The labor force participation rate, at 62.7 percent, decreased by 0.7 percentage point over the month. Total employment, as measured by the household survey, fell by 3 million to 155.8 million, and the employment-population ratio, at 60 percent, dropped by 1.1 percentage points over the month.

Claims for state unemployment benefits were heavy in Hawaii, Michigan and Pennsylvania. According to information published by CNBC, Hawaii (73 claims per 1,000 workers), Michigan (63) and Pennsylvania (62) had the country’s highest number of unemployment claims for the week ending March 28.

The high number of claims was causing trouble for beleaguered state labor departments around the country. In Hawaii, for instance, Gov. David Ige was reassuring residents the state was fixing problems.

“Please be assured that we are taking the actions necessary to ensure that all unemployment benefits claims will be filed and paid as quickly as possible,” Ige recently told the Hawaii Tribune Herald. “Please bear with us as we develop capacity and expand points of entry for filing claims.”

Michigan’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity faces the same challenge. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Monday the state has seen more unemployment claims in the last two weeks than it did in the entirety of 2019.

“These numbers are staggering, and they will continue to climb,” Whitmer said. “We’ve had almost as many people in one day file for unemployment as any of the longest weeks of the great recession.

She said she’s cut red tape – eliminating paperwork and the date-certain requirement – and quadrupled the number of people working on getting the unemployment website functional. The site was shut down over the weekend while the state made adjustments to it.

“I understand how frustrating this can be … I’ve talked to a number of people who are trying to navigate the unemployment system,” Whitmer said. “This is hard, but we cannot proceed until we’ve got the guidance from the federal government, and until we have the ability to get everyone into the queue.”

The impact the coronavirus is having on unemployment numbers and claims prompted the labor department last week to implement the paid leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, according to Scalia, along with the unemployment enhancements in the CARES Act, signed into law March 27. That act provides an additional $600 per week in uemployment benefits, among other things.

The report, Scalia said in a statement, reflects “the sacrifices American workers are making for their families, neighbors and country in order to ‘slow the spread.’”

“The administration continues to act quickly to address this impact on American workers,” Scalia added.

Whitmer: State’s unemployment numbers ‘staggering,’ stay-at-home order likely to be extended

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to march through Michigan – with more than 1,000 new cases a day and a rising death toll – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called the mark the disease is having on the state’s unemployment system is “staggering.”

At her Monday coronavirus briefing, Whitmer said more workers have filed for unemployment in the last two weeks than during all of 2019.

The volume, she said, outpaces any “even in the toughest week during the Great Recession.” The highest number of claims in a given week then was 77,000 claims. During the week ending March 21, Michigan saw 127,000 new claims. The week after that, it was a staggering 300,000 claims.

For perspective, Whitmer pointed out, in the two weeks prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the state averaged around 5,000 claims per week.

“These numbers are staggering, and they will continue to climb,” Whitmer said. “We’ve had almost as many people in one day file for unemployment as any of the longest weeks of the great recession.”

Whitmer said the state is still waiting on guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor before being able to get an additional $600 per week for 1099 employees and workers, independent contractors and gig workers.

She said she’s cut red tape – eliminating paperwork and the date-certain requirement – and quadrupled the number of people working on getting the unemployment website functional. The site was shut down over the weekend while the state made adjustments to it.

“I understand how frustrating this can be … I’ve talked to a number of people who are trying to navigate the unemployment system,” Whitmer said. “This is hard, but we cannot proceed until we’ve got the guidance from the federal government, and until we have the ability to get everyone into the queue.”

Extending the order
Meanwhile, Whitmer acknowledges she’s likely to extend her original “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order to at least mirror federal guidelines.

Whitmer’s original order, signed March 24, was essentially a stay-at-home order that followed similar orders in other states, such as California, Illinois and New York. It was originally supposed to expire April 13. In the wake of President Donald Trump extending similar federal guidelines through April 30, Whitmer has been widely expected to follow suit.

On Monday, she said she’d likely do so “within a week.” She said it would take “a few weeks” to realize the benefits the state has gotten from the first period of the order.

More: Paycheck loan program getting off to stilted start for small businesses

More: Bedrock, other Detroit landlords light up buildings to honor essential workers

More: Whitmer signs order protecting workers who stay home fearing COVID-19 exposure

“We know people are taking it seriously, and I think that’s a good thing,” Whitmer said. “We do know the most effective tool we have right now as our hospitals are overwhelmed and we don’t have enough (personal protective equipment) is to slow the spread of the virus.

No apex yet
“We are not close to the apex yet, we haven’t hit that yet, and until we do I think it’s absolutely essential that we are continuing to be aggressive.”

She’s considering extending the order as the disease continues its march through Michigan. As of Sunday afternoon, Michigan had seen 15,718 cases and 617 deaths from the virus. More than 80% of those cases, Whitmer said, are in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said the state continues to see more than 1,000 cases per day. She also said the state is starting to see preliminary data that suggests the virus is hitting minority populations hard.

Khaldun pointed out, for instance, that 33% of the cases and 40% of the deaths have come in the African-American community.

“We do not fully understand the scope of how COVID-19 is impacting every community, and we will continue to track and analyze this data. That will be incredibly important,” Khaldun said. “What we do know is that every Michigander regardless of their race, regardless of where they live, must have the resources and tools available to be able to fight this disease.”

Ross Mortgage adds new vice president of mortgage operations

Len Wilczewski has joined Ross Mortgage Corp., as its vice president of mortgage operations. Wilczewski is responsible for increasing efficiencies and decreasing expenses by evaluating systems and process flows. He will assist with overseeing and supporting the operations team, while working with departments companywide to maintain quality control.

Bedrock, other Detroit landlords light up buildings to honor essential workers

With the massive shifts occurring daily with COVID-19, businesses of all sizes are learning to adjust, to change how they work, how they give back to their communities and to offer hope as well as inspiration to the cities around them.

In Metro Detroit, real-estate company Bedrock said Friday it has partnered with local Detroit property owners to illuminate the city’s skyline. This special event will begin April 3 and continue until Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order is lifted, company officials said.

The special light show in red, white and blue is aimed at honoring the state’s essential workers, who are keeping stores, hospitals and other work going during the coronavirus, Bedrock said in a statement. It also invites all homeowners and businesses to join its efforts by turning lights to red or blue. They also could use candles, Christmas lights or shining flashlights.

Bedrock’s buildings will include the Ally Detroit Center, One Woodward, One Campus Martius, the Z lot, David Stott and the Federal Reserve Building. Its efforts are joined by the TCF Center, the Penobscot Building, Ford Field, Ernst & Young and 150 West Jefferson to illuminate Detroit’s buildings in the nation’s colors.

Whitmer signs order protecting workers who stay home fearing COVID-19 exposure

Employees who stay home because they or someone close to them either tests positive for or displays symptoms of COVID-19 no longer have to worry about losing their jobs.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Thursday signed an executive order prohibiting employees from firing, disciplining or taking any other form of retaliation against such employees. The executive order (EO 2020-36) also strengthens the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order by making it the state’s policy that all Michiganders who test positive or show symptoms, or who live with someone who does, should not leave their homes unless absolutely necessary.

The order takes effect immediately and remains in place until she lifts the emergency or rescinds the order.

“People who are prioritizing the health and safety of their families, neighbors, and loved ones during this crisis should not be punished by their workplace,” Whitmer said. “Staying home and staying safe is one of the most important things we can do to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan, and this executive order will ensure more people can do so without facing discrimination from their workplace.

“We have taken aggressive measures to protect our communities, but it’s on all of us to work together to fight this virus,” she added.

More: Whitmer closes schools for remainder of the year

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More: Here are 10 tips for working from home with children during emergencies

Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, said the order will help fight the spread of the disease.

“Ensuring those who experience symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 and the people they live with remain in their homes will help mitigate community spread,” Khaldun said. “It’s crucial that anyone experiencing symptoms, and those they live with, stay home and stay safe.”

Under the order, any and all individuals who test positive for COVID-19 or who display one or more of the principal symptoms, such as fever, atypical cough, and atypical shortness of breath, must remain in their home or place of residence.

It includes Michiganders who are otherwise free to leave their homes under the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order. People who test positive or who are experiencing symptoms must wait to leave their homes until three days have passed since their symptoms have resolved and seven days have passed since symptoms first appeared, or since they were swabbed for the test that yielded the positive result.

In addition, any and all close contacts of a symptomatic individual or of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 should remain in their home until 14 days have passed or the symptomatic individual receives a negative COVID-19 test.

Health-care professionals, workers at a health-care facility, first responders (e.g., police officers, fire fighters, paramedics), child protective service employees, workers at child caring institutions and correctional officers are exempt from staying at home if a member of their household tests positive for COVID-19 or displays one or more of the principal symptoms provided that their employers’ rules governing occupational health allow them to go to work.

Individuals and household members who test positive for COVID-19 or who display one or more of the principal symptoms may leave their home or place of residence when necessary to obtain food, medicine, or supplies that are needed to sustain or protect life and when those items cannot be obtained via delivery. People may also engage in outdoor activities, including walking, hiking, running, cycling, or any other recreational activity consistent while remaining at least six feet from people from outside the individual’s household.

When symptomatic people or their close contacts leave the home, they should wear some form of covering over their nose and mouth, such as a homemade mask, scarf, bandana, or handkerchief. For now, however, supplies of N95 masks and surgical masks should generally be reserved to health-care professionals, first responders (e.g., police officers, fire fighters, paramedics), and other critical workers.

Information around this outbreak is changing rapidly. The latest information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.

Paycheck loan program getting off to stilted start for small businesses

With some large banks balking at the rollout of the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, the loan program got off to a stilted beginning Friday.

Various news outlets were reporting Thursday and Friday morning that some of the nation’s biggest banks are pushing back against the program. According to the AP banks like JPMorgan Chase said they wouldn’t accept applications on Friday, citing lack of guidance from the Treasury Department.

And an email from Fifth-Third Bank published in the Wall Street Journal said they’d made the decision not to launch their platform.

“It’s critically important to us at Fifth Third Bank … that we do not roll out a platform whereby the borrower completes the application only to either have to re-apply later and/or that application sits in a stagnant queue due to the lack of process guidance from the SBA for this particular program,” the memo read, according to the WSJ.

 “We feel it would be inappropriate to launch without the necessary information that our customers need to provide in addition to what the bank needs to process these specific loan applications.

 “Most, if not all, of our peer banks will join us in delaying their programs tomorrow due to the same reasons I mentioned above. I predict there will be a lot of misinformation in the coming day or two, but rest assured the clients of America’s largest banking institutions will have full and appropriate access to these funds.”

More: Whitmer closes schools for remainder of the year

More: Grocery, other essential retailers bulking up supplies, safety gear

More: Here are 10 tips for working from home with children during emergencies

Millions of small businesses around the country are expected to apply for the loans, which come from the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program put in place to help companies keep workers and pay bills during the coronavirus pandemic.

The program was designed as a way to help local businesses remain solvent. It will give businesses low-interest loans of about 2.5 times their average monthly payroll. The loans will be fully or partially forgiven if businesses show that the money was used to retain or rehire employees and pay some overhead expenses through June 30.

The problem is that many experts believe the pool of money will dry up fast. And the smallest of businesses – independent contractors and the self-employed – can’t even apply until April 10 under the Treasury Department’s guidelines.

If delays like these are severe enough, the money could be gone by the time many small businesses can apply.

The Associated Press report said that roughly 2,300 loans valued at $889 million had already been processed Friday morning.

The application for borrower is available at https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/Paycheck-Protection-Program-Application-3-30-2020-v3.pdf

A fact sheet about the program is available at https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/PPP–Fact-Sheet.pdf For more details, go to https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/top-priorities/cares-act/assistance-for-small-businesses

Grocery, other essential retailers bulking up supplies, safety gear

Essential retailers such as grocery, pharmacy and hardware stores are open, but they need customers to think deliberately about how, when and where they shop during these challenging weeks and months ahead, retail industry experts say.

Following Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s recent order for non-essential businesses to close amid the COVID-19 public-health crisis, many small businesses that sell groceries, medicine and household goods are allowed to remain open. Big chains such as Kroger, Meijer and Walmart are busy alongside the many small businesses around the nation.

For these stores to stay stocked, clean and safe, consumers should plan ahead and focus on long-term purchases, said Meegan Holland, Vice President of Communications and Marketing for the Lansing-based Michigan Retailers Association.

“People may be feeling cabin fever and they want to get out of the house. But (consumers) cannot use the grocery store as an excuse to do that,” Holland said. “It cannot be a leisure-time activity. This is a place where you need to get organized before you go. Only one person (in your household) should go. You should get what you need and then leave.”

This strategy not only protects your family, but it protects those important, frontline and essential workers, Holland said. The more they are exposed to the coronavirus, the worse it can be for them and everyone else around them.

“More and more, you will see grocery workers wearing masks and gloves,” Holland said, noting that stores such as Walmart are checking employees’ temperatures before allowing them to go to work. “These are ways for stores to reassure customers they’re taking it seriously (but) it also protects workers.”

In her press conference Thursday, Gov. Whitmer specifically thanked grocery store chains as well as their employees for staying open, staying calm and helping everyone get through these first weeks of a new normal with COVID-19.

Holland said she has heard of fights in grocery stores as people argue over items – she said that is completely unnecessary given the restocking of shelves in a timely manner. She also wants consumers to understand that they should limit the items they touch when they are in a store, especially at the meat and produce counters, and to maintain social distancing while in the aisles.

In Southwest Detroit, the Southwest Detroit Business Association (SDBA) is keeping an active list on its website of grocery stores that are open. SDBA also is encouraging customers to get take-out food as well as groceries at these stores.

“Our grocery stores and mercados are well-stocked with many items currently in high-demand across metro Detroit,” Southwest Detroit Business Association President Robert Dewaelsche said in a statement.

“In addition to traditional staples like meats, fish, eggs and dairy products, customers also can purchase marinated fajitas, tamales, freshly-baked tortillas and other authentic Mexican food products,” Dewaelsche added. “We also hope local residents and visitors will remember to place their carry-out food orders from one of our many wonderful restaurants located within the community.”

Some food retailers and producers also are doing fund-raising activities as customers buy their products. For example, Baobab Fare is making a donation with every purchase of its coffee to a fund that supports undocumented immigrants, who are financially challenged during the COVID-19 shutdown because they may be ineligible for grants, loans or other economic benefits.

The winners of the 2017 Hatch Detroit contest, Baobab Fare will be a restaurant, market, and juice bar, offering an array of prepared menu items, groceries, juices, and other retail products from Africa. Baobab Fare is owned and operated by Nadia Nijimbere andHamissi Mamba, a wife and husband team, that came to the United States from Burundi.


Here are 10 tips for working from home with children during emergencies

With social distancing helping to slow the spread of coronavirus, many families are suddenly finding that not only are they working from home, but their kids are at home, too.

Sara Sutton is founder and CEO of FlexJobs, which provides telecommuting, part-time, and freelance job search services. She says whether you’ve worked from home for years or if you’re completely new to remote work, these circumstances are incredibly challenging. Of all the distractions that may affect emergency remote working, children are likely going to be the most persistent and insistent.

“As a working mom myself whose kids will be home for a period of time, too, I know we are all doing the best we can right now to juggle all of our important responsibilities,” Sutton said.

Here are some tips for finding a way to create that work-life balance during COVID-19.

  1. Communication and expectations: First of all, proactively communicate with your employer that your children are at home, so, unfortunately, you cannot guarantee your work or work calls will be interruption-free.
  2. Assess your virtual resources for childcare help: Think of friends, aunts, uncles, grandparents, babysitters, teachers. These people are amazing resources because you can use them to arrange virtual playdates for your kids. They can talk, read, play games, sing, do dances and much more.
  3. Prioritize your schedule: Aim to schedule your most engaging/reliable activities for the kids to be on their own during the time you need to be most productive. If you have a partner, and if your work allows, you may consider split shift work. So one person watches the kids in the morning while the other works, and visa versa in the afternoon. This can better guarantee at least some hours where your focus is purely on work. If you’re a single parent, clearly communicate expectations to both your kids and your employer. Carve out hours of the day when you’re available for calls or virtual meetings, and be sure to let children know what to expect from you, as well.
  4. Set boundaries: Try explaining to your children that working-from-home means you really are trying to do work. While it may seem like a regular weekend or a vacation day because you are all at home, these are highly unusual circumstances.
  5. Reward good behavior: Working from home with kids in an emergency means maintaining harmony however possible, and this includes setting up a reward system for them when they follow directions.
  6. Take mini-breaks: Consider temporarily changing your style of working. Instead of tackling a project for three hours, you will need to break up the day more to give your children the attention they need. Honor the fact that their attention spans are short, so your work will likely need to be done in chunks. Expect that you may need to continue working after they’ve gone to bed or wake up earlier in the morning to get more uninterrupted hours in.
  7. Plan activities: If you can find the time, try to create activity boxes that contain games, puzzles, etc., that require minimal adult supervision. This could help keep them occupied.
  8. Have a Plan B: Have a back-up activity jar ready to go for when the activity boxes become boring.
  9. Stress less: Under normal conditions, many parents may limit screen time. It is worth considering adding to their daily screen time allotment to buy you more work time. Just explain to them, though, that it is a temporary adjustment.
  10. Get creative with office space: Any place in the house with Internet access can act as an office during an emergency, especially for when you have to ensure calls are uninterrupted. If at all possible, try to find a space with a door that can be closed. Creating physical boundaries can help reinforce the message that you need to be working.

Michigan’s camps, summer rec areas hoping for the best but preparing for refunds

As Michigan schools struggle with online learning and whether the academic year will go entirely virtual as a result of COVID-19, another statewide institution is facing the same social-distancing dilemma: How will recreation areas, day camps and residential camps be affected by the shutdown?

Some already have an answer – recreational or sports centers are deemed non-essential businesses, so things like sports leagues and athletic facilities are closed alongside gyms and related companies. These facilities closed in March as the state government hoped to slow the coronavirus spread.

These closures included many popular sites operated by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, ski areas and shooting ranges. Other tourist locations such as Sleeping Bear Dunes or Belle Isle are open to the public with social distancing but events and related activities are canceled for now.

Camping, especially for kids, also may be affected soon enough. Michigan is known as a “camp-rich state,” said Michael Perry, president of the popular SpringHill day and overnight camps, which operate in Michigan and Indiana. These camps are a rite of passage for kids from multiple generations, and planning for them has been going since August 2019, Perry said.

Perry said he hopes to be open for the thousands of kids that look forward to SpringHill camps just as much as their parents do. But he will follow the state’s lead for safety and health of all of his campers and counselors.

“If we get the all clear, we’re ready to go,” Perry said.

But whether camps will close temporarily remains up in the air. These nonprofits and businesses are not directly tied to the school districts, but many use the end of the school year as their starting dates. Moreover, most plan their activities year around, and hiring has to be done now to be open by June 1 or shortly thereafter, officials said.

Moreover, families have had to pay deposits to get a spot in these beloved camps, some as early as February. Parents who are now looking at cutbacks, job loss or other financial impacts because of COVID-19 may be wondering about each camp’s refund policy or whether they can delay a camper’s registration until 2020.

Each camp is handling things individually but most are saying via platforms such as Facebook they will offer refunds if camps do not go forward.

The key is being open to parents’ concerns, listening to campers and maintaining a back-and-forth discussion with families, camp officials say.

In a statement, Camp Tanuga of Kalkaska said its staff and ownership will not speculate on what the camping season ahead will look like but that they are “hopeful.”

“We remain hopeful that we will be able to continue to provide such an important part of people’s lives. What makes it hard to make any type of ‘public’ comment is the unknown. … Our hearts and prayers go out to all those on the front lines, jeopardizing their lives, in trying to preserve life as we know it. Those of us that are fortunate enough to be a part of summer camping know that it is a place we’d really like to be this summer. Only time will tell.”

For example, Camp Daggett is utilizing Facebook and its website to communicate with all of its camp families.

“Moving forward, we recognize that the situation surrounding COVID-19 is fluid and changes by the hour some days,” said Nathan Fleshman, summer camp director for the Walloon Lake camp. “Currently, we are planning to operate summer camp as normal and welcome almost 1,000 campers to the shores of Walloon for our 95th year.”

Fleshman said Camp Daggett will use the guidance provided by local, state and national experts to help guide its decisions relating to its summer programs.

“Camp Daggett prides itself on its dedication to camper safety, and this is no different,” Fleshman said. “The Camp Daggett staff and board continually monitor the latest developments, and will adhere to all guidelines that are established to help keep each other, our campers, and our community safe.

Should summer camp have to be canceled, full refunds will be issued to impacted families, Fleshman added.

“Most importantly during this time, we want to remind all of our motto ‘The Other Fellow First’ and encourage everyone to think of others as we navigate these unprecedented times,” Fleshman said.

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