Michigan lawmakers approve $125 million for virus outbreak

Mar 18, 2020

Michigan Capitol building
Credit Smpage09 via Wikimedia | CC BY 3.0 / wikimedia.org

Michigan lawmakers late Tuesday approved $125 million in emergency relief to fight the coronavirus outbreak, including $50 million to help expand the health care system’s capacity amid rising cases during the pandemic. 

The spending would be on top of $25 million the Legislature OK’d last week. The bill cleared both the Senate and House unanimously and was sent to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for her signature.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said the money is designed to help slow the spread of COVID-19 by addressing “immediate and pressing needs.” Much of the funding was put in reserve or not specified to give legislators and the Whitmer administration flexibility depending on federal aid to the state.

K-12 superintendents, school boards, unions and Democrats expressed frustration that the GOP-led Legislature did not move to ensure school employees are paid during a statewide three-week shutdown, which may be extended.

“They deserve nothing less, given the immense efforts overtaken ... to continue engaging students in learning where possible and to ensure meals and other critical supports continue to flow to our students with the greatest need,” the education groups said in a joint statement.

Republicans said they needed more time to assess the situation, including potential additional funding if the school closures last longer than anticipated.

The mayor of Detroit, meanwhile, pledged to hire more people to clean city buses and said rides will be free during the crisis after residents suddenly were stranded Tuesday because drivers anxious about catching the disease did not report to work.

“Every day brings new challenges. Nerves are on edge all the way around,” Mayor Mike Duggan said when announcing a deal with unions.

Bus service was canceled shortly after 8 a.m. due to a shortage of drivers. Workers coming off overnight shifts were puzzled when buses didn’t arrive. People heading to jobs across the city were confused, too.

“How am I going to get to work?” a maintenance man, Amadou Sanders, 24, asked an Associated Press reporter.

Service will resume Wednesday and the city is waiving the typical $1.50 fare. Besides extra cleaning crews and no fares, the mayor said passengers will be asked to board and exit buses through their side-rear doors. An average of 85,000 people ride Detroit buses daily.

Glenn Tolbert, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26, apologized to riders for the “unfortunate situation.” He said drivers felt “they weren’t being heard.”

“I’d be mad, too,” said rider Roshun Holloway, 27, who worked an overnight shift and waited more than two hours on Jefferson Avenue before learning that buses were canceled. “People get on the bus without a mask, coughing.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a sweeping order Monday banning dine-in customers at restaurants and closing all bars, movie theaters, gyms and other sports facilities to reduce the spread of the virus. But public transit is exempt from the crowd limits.

The state reported 11 new COVID-19 cases, raising the number to 65 in 15 counties.

People ages 60 to 69 make up 28% of cases. Among the infected are two state Corrections Department employees and a Detroit-area woman who was at AMC Fairlane 21 theaters in Dearborn on March 10. She had not traveled anywhere.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

“The best practices are if you think you’re sick, then stay home,” said Whitmer, who issued an order relaxing regulations so hospitals can add beds, mobile facilities and use non-nurses to help feed and transport patients. “If you’re a medically vulnerable person who thinks you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, you do need to get in touch with your health care provider and make a plan to get tested.”

Munson Healthcare, which operates hospitals in northern Michigan, said it had a patient in Traverse City and another in Gaylord, both with mild symptoms.

In Detroit’s public schools, all central office staff, administrators, cafeteria employees, police and security officers were told to report to work during the weeks-long classroom shutdown. All school buildings will be closed for cleaning.

The 51,000-student district will begin distributing carry-out breakfast and lunch Wednesday.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.