Whitmer: Announcement on relaxed restrictions to come; United Way, DIGS to hold ‘Mask-erade’ contest; online educational resources available in Marquette County
United Way, DIGS to hold ’Mask-erade’ contest; online educational resources available in Marquette County
MARQUETTE — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday her administration will announce the further relaxation in Michigan’s COVID-19 restrictions in the coming days.
Whitmer did not go into much detail in her news conference, but she urged the Republican-controlled Legislature to deploy a multibillion-dollar COVID-19 relief funding plan.
“These dollars are crucial for success on all these fronts — getting kids back in school, opening up additional ability to visit a loved one in a nursing home,” Whitmer said. “Antigen tests are crucial, and we are running out. There’s a two-week lead time, and we will be out in the coming weeks if we don’t get more resources.”
However, shortly after Whitmer’s update, a GOP-led Senate panel approved $2.5 billion-plus in federal and state coronavirus-related funding, less than half of what would be provided under her $5.6 billion proposal, with remaining federal aid approved by Congress and former President Donald Trump held in reserve, The Associated Press reported.
Whitmer said her administration is watching COVID-19 data to determine the next steps.
“We know the biggest places of spread this fall were in homes, right?” Whitmer said. “They were gatherings that were happening where people were dropping their guard, and we know that it happens.”
She said steps will be incremental, as has been all the state’s re-engagements.
“The gatherings order is one component of the possible areas that we may make some possible changes in the coming days,” Whitmer said.
A current Michigan health department order limits indoor restaurant capacity to 25%, imposes a 10 p.m. curfew and restricts the size of inside residential gatherings to no more than 10 people from two households through March 29.
Whitmer addressed the restaurant limitations.
“They want to go to 50%, and they think that it can be done safely, and I get that,” she said. “That’s what I expect to hear and I’m hopeful that eventually we get to that point, but at this juncture — and we’ve been at it just a couple of weeks — we’ve got to keep watching the data. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got antigen tests that are available.”
‘Mask-erade’ contest planned
There will be at least one way to make face masks fun.
The United Way of Marquette County is collaborating with DIGS Spirits & Streetfood and Double Trouble Entertainment to hold a “Winter Mask-erade” Contest, a face mask-decorating contest.
This is a free and virtual event. Individuals may use a plain, unadorned face mask, such as a pleated disposable or plain black or white face mask, and decorate it anyway they wish long as it’s still wearable.
“We see this as a great way to have some fun while encouraging the community to stay safe,” said Andrew Rickauer, executive director of the United Way of Marquette County, in a news release. “Anyone can enter the contest. it’s free and gives you an outlet from the winter and the pandemic.”
Rickauer said there are free masks sealed in plastic available at DIGS or by contacting the United Way.
Prize categories include: Most Unique, Best Mask for Formal Attire, Youth and People’s Choice.
To enter the contest, submit a photo of someone wearing the mask, name and an indication of the submission is for the youth category. Submissions, which are due by March 14, can be sent to email@example.com or on the Facebook event page.
For more information or to donate to the United Way, visit uwmqt.org.
Since online learning necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has posed challenges to many people, TruNorth Federal Credit Union is trying to make partial or full remote learning easier.
Over 6,660 students and teachers at 29 schools in Marquette County will have free access to Banzai, an online financial literacy program and content library of articles, calculators and “personalizable coaches.”
All of these resources are available to students at home or in the classroom using any device that can access the internet.
“Banzai is a web-based financial literacy program. Kids get their own accounts, and they work through assignments that are based on real life,” said Morgan Vandagriff, co-founder of Banzai, in a news release.” But because TruNorth Federal Credit Union is sponsoring it, local schools get it for free.
“More than ever, it’s important that kids develop sound financial skills to prepare them for the real world, and TruNorth Federal Credit Union realizes that and they’re doing something about it.”
While students learn through Banzi, teachers can easily monitor and grade their progress remotely. After completing the program, students will know how to track where their money is and what it’s for, recognize financial trade-offs, build a budget and more.
The Banzai resources are available at trunorth.teachbanzai.com.
For eight years, TruNorth Federal Credit Union has worked with Banzai to build financial literacy in the Marquette County community by investing time, money, industry experience and a variety of credit union resources. The credit union also offers virtual or in-classroom presentations from local experts on timely topics.
Banzai courses align withMichigan’s state curriculum requirements.
Teachers interested in using the Banzai program with their class can visit trunorth.teachbanzai.com or call 888-8-BANZAI. For more information about Banzai, visit teachbanzai.com.
Nessel supports web
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel recently joined 29 other attorneys general in urging the Federal Communications Commission to fund internet connectivity and internet-enabled devices to K-12 students whose schools are closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and who are learning online at home or other locations.
This month, the FCC asked for comment on petitions urging the commission to temporarily waive some restrictions on its E-Rate program. This would allow schools to extend their broadband internet networks to students’ homes and to allow E-Rate funds to support Wi-Fi hotspots or other broadband connections for students who lack adequate internet connectivity to participate in remote schooling.
In their comment letter to the FCC, the attorneys general urge the commission to promptly take action to unlock the doors of the virtual classroom while physical schools remain closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic has underscored the critical need for adequate internet connectivity for millions of Americans–including students,” Nessel said in a statement. “Remote learning has quickly become a way of life across the state of Michigan and this nation but it comes with a cost. My colleagues and I are urging the FCC to use its power to reduce some of that cost by using funds that sit unused and unallocated to support remote learning.”
The E-Rate program provides funding to better connect schools and libraries in all parts of the nation — urban, suburban and rural. Now, all parts of the nation are struggling with the best means to educating K-12 students during the pandemic.
At least 55 million K-12 students in the U.S. have, at one time or another, been forced to rely on online learning when their classrooms were closed. When schools are closed, the living room, bedroom or basement becomes the classroom and deserves the same E-Rate support.
School districts stand ready to use E-Rate funded services to rapidly connect their students to high-speed internet. In a recent survey of more than 2,000 E-Rate program participants, 93% reported that they would use E-Rate funds to connect students at home for virtual schooling, if allowed by the FCC.
The attorneys general also state in their letter that, given the special circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FCC is authorized to amend or waive E-Rate program rules as necessary to provide broadband connectivity for remote schooling.
Governor addresses transportation
Whitmer on Wednesday spoke at a virtual hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, mentioning infrastructure in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our focus and investment on improving critical infrastructure has not waned during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, and I welcome all to the table, like this committee and all our federal partners, who can help us achieve our goals,” Whitmer said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on Michigan’s transportation revenues, she said.
“Our state lost 7.4% of expected state Michigan Transportation Fund revenue in fiscal year 2020 and anticipates it will lose another 5.1 and 4.8% in revenue in both fiscal year 2021 and 2022, respectively,” Whitmer said. “Michigan, like so many states, desperately needs federal assistance to support its transportation and infrastructure goals and needs.
“That is why it is imperative for Congress to enact a timely reauthorization of long-term federal surface transportation legislation with funding that is both predictable and sustainable. Funding stability provided by federal transportation programs is crucial for Michigan’s extensive capital investment needs, the needs which take multiple years to plan and construct, especially during a time of financial duress.”
Short-term program extensions are damaging, she said, because they can cause unnecessary program disruptions and delay essential safety and mobility benefits to Michigan communities.
Whitmer suggested a key feature of reauthorization should be shoring up and stabilizing the Highway Trust Fund.
“Now how to get there has been debated for years as we all know, and I am not before you today with the answer, but we know that for too long, the trust fund has been kept artificially solvent by the transfer of general funds,” she said. “While often necessary and helpful to stave off crisis, that is not sound budgeting or good policy.”
Whitmer asked the committee to support “bold” action to reduce carbon pollution from transportation and prepare the transportation system for climate change impacts that she noted are unavoidable.
“We welcome efforts that can incentivize climate mitigation and resilience in formula and competitive grant funding and support the full transition to electric,” Whitmer said. “With domestic automakers in my state pledging billions to develop and sell more electric vehicles in the coming years, the effort made by this committee in 2019 to create new competitive grants for alternative fuel infrastructure — a $1 billion program for states and localities to build alternative fueling infrastructure along designated highway corridors — is especially relevant, important and needed.”
Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.