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Whitmer announces COVID recovery plan

MARQUETTE — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday announced the Michigan COVID Recovery Plan to grow Michigan’s economy and help end the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governor’s plan includes a focus on vaccine distribution, economic recovery, schools and more.

“To help grow and strengthen our economy, we must provide crucial support for our families, small businesses and frontline workers,” Whitmer said in a statement. “The MI COVID Recovery Plan will help small businesses get through the winter, help us put more shots in arms and ramp up vaccine distribution and get our kids back on track in school. It’s the right thing to do to protect public health and jump-start our economy, and I’m ready to work with the Legislature to get it done.”

State Treasurer Rachael Eubanks said the state’s economic recovery is “highly dependent” on getting the public health situation under control, and Whitmer’s actions to address the COVID-19 pandemic have improved the fiscal outlook.

“The MI COVID Recovery Plan will help us jump-start our economy,” she said in a statement. “Our economic recovery this year will continue to depend on the course of the pandemic and additional economic relief coming from Washington, D.C. This plan will direct dollars where they are needed most and will help us achieve the economic recovery we are all eagerly waiting for.”

One of the areas addressed is vaccine distribution, with the governor’s office noting that Michigan is ready to “ramp up” vaccination distribution. In December, Congress appropriated $90 million in additional resources for vaccine distribution in Michigan through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

The governor’s plan will use this federal funding to increase vaccine distribution in Michigan and bring the state closer to its goal of 50,000 shots in arms per day. This funding will help provide financial support to local health departments for vaccine administration costs, including staff augmentation, as well as provide equipment and supplies.

Michigan will also receive $575 million to expand COVID-19 testing, tracing and lab capacity in the state.

The governor will create an Office of Rural Development tasked with coordinating work across state government to address issues facing rural communities, including broadband, talent, infrastructure and more. The MI COVID Relief Plan will include grants to provide infrastructure and capacity support in rural communities and support for land-based industries.

Marquette County Board Chairman Gerald O. Corkin issued a statement regarding the establishment of the Office of Rural Affairs.

“We have continued to advocate that a one-size-fits-all model does not work and that rural Michigan has unique challenges and opportunities,” Corkin said on behalf of Marquette County. “Today is a big step forward in that recognition and we thank the governor for allowing Michigan to be a leader in the rise of rural (support). Marquette County looks forward to playing a role in the office’s success.”

Other local business leaders commended the office’s creation.

“This is the time for rural Michigan to shine with endless economic opportunities within reach,” said Lake Superior Community Partnership CEO Amy Clickner in a statement. “The pandemic has shed the light on our ability to work from where we choose to live, and in the case of rural, that means regions that provide a clean, safe environment with a low risk of natural disaster and incredible quality of life. We are grateful to Gov. Whitmer for raising up rural (issues) in Michigan.”

InvestUP CEO Marty Fittante also provided a statement:

“This is a big deal for the Upper Peninsula and rural Michigan,” he said. “We are grateful to Gov. Whitmer for her leadership in embracing this idea. Embedding an office that focuses on rural issues and opportunities within the administration is forward-thinking, and makes Michigan a national leader on advancing rural prosperity.”

Fittante said Whitmer’s timing in creating the office is especially opportune, as the pandemic, despite all its challenges, has also brought opportunity with it for the U.P. However, he acknowledged challenges stand in the way.

“So, the focus and resources that come through this office can be a difference-maker. That is why we look forward to working with the U.P. legislative delegation to ensure the office has the necessary resources to help the U.P. and rural Michigan prosper.”

Other issues part of plan

Unemployment benefits are another focus, with the recovery plan including a call on the Michigan Legislature to permanently extend unemployment benefits from 20 weeks to 26 weeks. This would bring Michigan in line with 40 other states.

Whitmer’s Michigan COVID Recovery Plan also will provide more support for families through food assistance so more Michiganders can afford to put food on the table for themselves and their families.

The federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program, established in the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021, will provide Michigan with funding to assist households that are unable to pay rent and utilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor’s plan will allocate this federal funding to help more Michiganders stay in their homes.

The plan also addressed property tax assistance, connecting unemployed and underemployed Michiganders with training and resources to become gainfully employed, support for single parents who participate in the Michigan Reconnect and Futures for Frontliners programs, support for small businesses and the Good Jobs for Michigan program.

Following Michigan being allocated nearly $1.7 billion through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, the MI COVID Recovery Plan will allocate this federal funding, along with an additional $300 million in state funds, to help schools meet Whitmer’s goal of providing every student with an in-person learning opportunity by March 1, and to help address the learning loss that has occurred due to the pandemic.

These one-time, flexible dollars will be distributed through a formula that recognizes the additional costs associated with supporting students in poverty and students with special education needs.

School guidance given

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday released new guidance encouraging colleges and universities to require COVID-19 testing of students who live in the immediate university community, even if the students do not live on campus.

“We know there have been outbreaks of COVID-19 on college campuses across the country, and it has an impact on disease spread beyond the campus community,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health, in a news release. “Colleges have stepped up throughout this pandemic to slow disease spread through testing and quarantine protocols. With the arrival of the new variant in Michigan and risk of virus spread both on- and off-campus, it is best practice to implement robust testing protocols in these settings. Colleges and universities have an important role to play in ending this pandemic.”

The guidance released on Tuesday, on which MDHHS has consulted with colleges and universities across the state, identifies numerous strategies they can use to test broadly within their communities. These include:

≤ Requiring weekly testing of all undergraduate students who reside on or near the campus and who participate in social activities associated with the campus community;

≤ If resources are more constrained, require testing for all students in the campus community on a regular but random basis; and

≤Target limited mandatory testing resources based on information about community spread, including information from wastewater testing, provided that the information and the potential for testing reach all students living on or near the campus.

The bounds of the university community will vary, but generally include a surrounding area with a significant concentration of students who socialize on or near the campus. Residential fraternities and sororities would be included.

Whatever testing strategy is used, results should lead to specific actions such as immediate isolation of those with a positive test or symptoms and exposure to someone with a positive test, robust contact tracing of roommates, classmates and social contacts once a case is identified, quarantining close contacts of cases, and reviewing and altering infection prevention and control practices and implementing mitigation strategies.

“We are grateful for all that colleges are doing so that there are fewer campus outbreaks this spring,” MDHHS Director Robert Gordon said in a news release. “Based on what we have seen, required testing for students around universities is critical to protecting lives and minimizing interruptions to learning.”

Northern Michigan University held a Passport to Campus Event earlier this month in which tests were given and face masks were distributed. NMU partnered with testing firm Tempus to administer 8,500 tests to all NMU employees and students for the winter semester. NMU covered the test costs.

NMU’s COVID-19 reporting dashboard, found at nmu.edu/safe-on-campus/dashboard, indicated there were 25 winter semester COVID-19 positive cases between Jan. 4 and Tuesday — 19 off-campus students, two on-campus students and four employees.

MDHHS launches campaign

The MDHHS has launched a statewide paid media campaign to inform Michiganders about the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine in response to research about attitudes toward the vaccine and to address what it called “vaccine hesitancy” among Michigan residents.

MDHHS said on Tuesday it is committed to accelerating vaccine delivery toward the goal of vaccinating 70% of Michiganders over age 16 as quickly as possible with the COVID-19 vaccine.

Vaccine is currently available to health care workers, long-term care residents and staff, Michiganders over age 65, pre-K-12, day care staff and other essential frontline workers.

The $1.5 million campaign was developed after conducting a statewide survey and six focus groups among key target audiences. It includes television, connected TV, radio, streaming audio, YouTube, search, print in minority publications, social media and digital media.

Digital ads with specific messaging and targeting parameters were also developed to connect with vaccine-hesitant segments.

The MDHHS said that according to research, 66% of Michiganders are likely or very likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine and 34% would like to get it as soon as possible. However, there are disparities when it comes to who is likely to get the vaccine, with 47% of white Michiganders very likely to get the vaccine versus 25% of black Michiganders.

Top reasons for not getting the vaccine as soon as possible include: concerns about side effects, 67%; not wanting to feel like a test subject, 66%; needing to know more about its safety, 65%; wanting to learn more about how the vaccine performs over time, 62%; needing to know more about its effectiveness, 61%; and concerns about politicians pushing out the vaccine before it’s safe, 58%.

Shipments impacted

The MDHHS has been notified by vaccine distributer McKesson that several shipments of Moderna vaccine shipped on Sunday had their temperature reported as going out of range and getting too cold. The cause of this is under investigation by McKesson.

Each vaccine shipment is equipped with a temperature-monitoring device used to monitor the vaccine temperature while in transport. McKesson is working quickly to repack additional vaccine to ship out as replacement doses for those that may be compromised and the majority of the 21 shipments were resent on Monday night with the rest being sent Tuesday. An additional six shipments were held back to check that there were no issues with the vaccine which may delay scheduled vaccinations at those six vaccine provider sites.

“We are committed to accelerating vaccine delivery as we work to reach our goal of vaccinating 70% of Michiganders over age 16 as quickly as possible with the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine,” said Khaldun. “Although it is unfortunate that this vaccine will not be able to be used, we are pleased that the safeguards (worked that were) put into place to ensure the integrity of the vaccine. This is the first report of vaccine potentially being compromised during shipment in Michigan and we are working quickly with the distributor to have replacement vaccine shipped out.”

Vaccines are shipped to vaccine providers across the state by the manufacturers and distributors. No vaccine is shipped or distributed by MDHHS.

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