Coronavirus in Michigan: Day 77

Lansing cuts work week amid COVID-19 budget shortfall

Whitmer expands statewide access to coronavirus testing

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TUESDAY, May 26 — About 500 city employees in Lansing are about to enjoy shorter work weeks, longer weekends and more money in their paychecks amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

City officials announced today that about 500 employees will shift to a four-day work week, Monday through Thursday, throughout the month of June and July. The move is expected to save $1.5 million in payroll expenses, and the employees themselves will also reap benefits.

On Fridays, employees can collect unemployment to compensate for the mandatory time off. With a state cap of $362 in benefits for a typical work week, that’ll max out at about $72 for some employees — in addition to an extra $600 from federally mandated COVID-19 funding.

And by paying staff one day of each week through the state’s Work Share program from June 1 through July 25, staff will work 20% less, continue to collect enhanced unemployment benefits and edge off millions from the city’s payroll while officials continue to battle budget constraints.

In most cases, city officials have said previously, employees will actually make more cash than they did before they collected unemployment. Staff at the Lansing Police and Fire departments, the 54-A District Court and elected officials will not be participating in the Work Share program.

Mayor Andy Schor said the upcoming staffing adjustments were just “another step” the city must take to address budgetary challenges and economic uncertainty as a result of the coronavirus. As a result of the reduced work week, some services may experience some delays, he added.

All employees will retain their health insurance and other benefits and will be automatically enrolled into the unemployment process to help ensure paychecks continue without disruption. The city — except emergency services like police, fire and paramedic assistance and other emergency public works services — will otherwise be entirely closed on Fridays through July.

The move follows an annual budget that was passed earlier this month that plans to drain millions from the city’s rainy-day reserve funds over the next year. With income taxes declining by nearly $8 million, among other financial hurdles, revenues could drop by nearly $12.5 million.

Schor and the City Council have already tapped the brakes on all nonessential hiring, slashing budgets for temporary personnel and saving about $1.4 million by doubling the number of unfilled positions that will be left vacant across several departments compared to last year.

Another $80,000 was slashed from staff training and travel across nearly all departments. The City Council also trimmed $30,000 in temporary staff in the City Attorney’s Office, among other departments. Schor and the City Council have also voiced willingness to trim their own salaries, should it ever become necessary, but have yet to pursue any financial cutbacks of their own.

“If we ask employees to take pay cuts, I will certainly take them as well,” Schor said earlier this month. “It’s all on the table. If there’s ever a time where we have pay cuts, I’ll do that as well.”

Across Michigan…

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order today that expands the types of medical personnel that can order a COVID-19 test, and creates a new category of community testing sites that can offer free testing to anyone with reason to be tested without an advance order.

“It is crucial that Michiganders who have COVID-19 symptoms, even mild ones, or have been in contact with someone who has the virus can get tested,” Whitmer said in a press release, noting officials hope to ramp up testing to eventually administer up to 15,000 tests daily in Michigan.

Under the order, anyone who leaves their home for work, or has even mild symptoms of COVID-19 may receive a test at a community testing location. And all medical personnel, including pharmacists, can now conduct those tests without securing any doctor’s orders.

Those eligible for testing now include someone who…

  • Exhibits any symptom of COVID-19, including mild symptoms.
  • Has been exposed to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Has been working outside their home for at least 10 days.
  • Resides in any congregate setting, like nursing homes, prisons and homeless shelters.

The order also outlines procedures and protocols testing sites are required to follow. Call the Michigan coronavirus hotline at 1-888-535-6136 or visit michigan.gov/coronavirustest to search for a testing location. Medical personnel on site will be available to order testing upon arrival.

A new, online dashboard launched today also visually illustrates COVID-19 risks and trends in Michigan, providing residents with location-specific information about the pandemic statewide.

***

Whitmer responded this afternoon to claims that her husband tried to convince a Northern Michigan dock company to put their family boat in the water ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

According to reports in The Detroit News, those claims — which have not been independently verified — have since drawn the attention of Republican lawmakers, who said the Democratic governor's family may not be following Whitmer’s own state guidance on Up North travel.

Whitmer said today that her husband made a “failed attempt at humor” by jokingly attempting to use his status as Michigan’s First Man to jump the queue at the dock at her northern residence.

“I knew how it would be perceived,” Whitmer explained to reporters at a press briefing today. “He regrets it. I wish it wouldn’t have happened, and that’s really all I have to say about it.”

Whitmer’s husband drove north this weekend after the reports were published, where he spent time alone “raking leaves” before returning to Lansing, she said. Whitmer’s revised orders allow travel between residences and gatherings of 10 or more people for social purposes.

***

Fair and Equal Michigan, a gay rights group seeking to add nondiscrimination protections to Michigan law, is suing the state, alleging COVID-19 social distancing restrictions made it “impossible” to collect enough petition signatures to qualify for the November ballot, reports Bridge Magazine. The group is projected to fall short by well more than 100,000 signatures.

***

Attorney General Dana Nessel has continued to crack down on retailers that charge excessively high prices for products amid the pandemic. Since early March, her office has received more than 4,200 price-gouging complaints statewide, many of which have led to enforcement action.

Among the more recent investigations: Reports of price-gouging on hand sanitizer at A.M. Cleaning & Supplies in Ann Arbor; overpriced protective equipment at BioMed Wellness Center and reports of $18 surgical masks sold by Smokehouse Distribution in Commerce Township.

Nessel has also cracked down on sales with several digital storefronts through Amazon.

“This public emergency is not an excuse to rip people off, and my office will remain vigilant in our efforts to protect consumers from being taken advantage of,” Nessel said in a press release.

***

Calls made to the Michigan child abuse hotline have dropped by more than a third compared with last year, according to reports in the Lansing State Journal. Part of that has to do with school officials not having access to children, officials said. But it also stems from the stay-home order because neighbors, family members and doctors don’t see children as often as usual.

***

About 350,000 Michigan families will continue to have access to additional food assistance benefits in May in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced earlier today.

The additional food assistance was initially approved for March and April — and now that is being extended. In April nearly 1.5 million Michiganders received food benefits. Eligible families do not need to reapply to receive the additional benefits. Click here for more details.

***

A group of independently owned gyms and fitness centers is suing Whitmer and the state’s top health official in a bid to overturn the state’s stay-at-home order and allow them to reopen, reports MLive. Lawyers for more than 120 gyms argue the executive order is unconstitutional.

***

PlanetM, the state’s mobility initiative, awarded a round of its technology activation grant program to companies addressing the challenges presented by the spread of COVID-19.

Five companies — GHSP, Gatik, Penske Vehicle Services, RCO Engineering and Pratt Miller – received more than $280,000 in funding to aid in solving mobility challenges COVID-19 presents in Michigan, including contactless automated delivery within the statewide retail supply chain, disinfecting technologies in West Michigan and barriers to protect transit workers in Detroit.

***

The city of East Lansing, which will continue to hold its public meetings virtually through the end of the month, has three meetings scheduled for this week. The City Council will meet at 7 tonight. The Downtown Management Board meets at 2 p.m. tomorrow, followed by a Downtown Development Authority meeting at noon Thursday. Click here for more agendas and details.

In the numbers…

At least six new cases of COVID-19 were recorded in Ingham and Clinton counties today, with no additional cases or deaths tracked across Greater Lansing since yesterday. The regional death toll stands at 41 with 1,022 cases reported across Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties.

Statistics show daily case spikes in Greater Lansing have been gradually diminishing — a sign that the coronavirus curve is flattening locally and across Michigan. And whether a second viral spike eventually arrives depends largely on how people handle social distancing, officials said.

Michigan tracked at least another 223 coronavirus statewide cases this afternoon with another 26 virus-related deaths, edging up the case count past 55,000 with nearly 5,300 reported dead.

Ingham County                     

Cases — 706 (+5)

Recovered Cases — 368

Recovery Rate — 52.1%

Deaths — 25 (No change)

Fatality Rate — 3.5%

As of Sunday, zip code 48911 tracks 211-220 cases. Zip code 48910 tracks 81-90 cases. Zip code 48823 tracks 61-70 cases. Zip code 48854 and 48906 tracks 51-60 cases. Zip code 48864 tracks 41-50 cases. Zip codes 48842 and 48912 each track 31-40 cases. Zip code 48915 tracks 21-30 cases. Zip codes 48917, 48840, and 48895 each track 11-20 cases. Zip codes 48285, 48819, 48827, 48892, 48933, 49251, 49264 and 49285 each track 10 cases or fewer.

Eaton County                 

Cases — 178 (No change)

Recovered Cases — 153

Recovery Rate — 86%

Deaths — 6 (No change)   

Fatality Rate — 3.4%

Clinton County                                                                                            

Cases — 139 (+1)

Deaths — 10 (No change)

Fatality Rate — 7.2%

The Mid-Michigan County Health Department does not report recovery statistics.                   

Michigan                        

Cases — 55,104 (+223)

Recoveries — 33,168 (as of 5/22/20)                

Recovery Rate — 60.2%

Deaths — 5,266 (+26)

Fatality Rate — 9.6%

U.S.                  

Cases — 1,672,714

Deaths — 98,636

Fatality Rate — 5.9%

Source: CNN   

As of today, Michigan reports the eighth most cases of any state, behind New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, California, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Texas. Michigan for weeks has ranked fourth in the country in virus-related deaths, behind New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

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