Guidance on Michigan’s stay-at-home order
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order March 24, temporarily suspending all activities that aren’t required to protect or sustain life.
This executive order, which you can read in full here, outlined the activities and businesses that are allowed to continue in-person operations under the order, as well as requirements for protecting employees and patrons of these businesses.
The state of Michigan is updating a Frequently Asked Questions page about the order as they receive inquiries from the media and the public.
If you seek clarification call the COVID-19 Hotline at 1-888-535-6136 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, or email email@example.com.
If you believe you have witnessed a violation of the order, the state advises contacting local law enforcement.
Quick links to most-asked reader questions:
- How do I pursue coronavirus testing?
- How do I pursue unemployment benefits?
- Where can I get various forms of help?
An archive summarizing many previous questions is at the bottom. Your questions help inform and guide the stories Bridge reporters publish daily. When sending a question (firstname.lastname@example.org) please provide an email address and phone number in case we need to follow up.
Q: For the pandemic, are nonprofit organizations considered small businesses for benefits provided?
Nonprofit organizations are considered small businesses when applying for disaster loans from the federal Small Business Association. SBA disaster loans are available to businesses, regardless of size, and nonprofits, including charitable organizations such as churches and private universities. Currently, these organizations can apply for a COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan of up to $10,000.
Q: I worked for several years for the same company and I received another job offer. I put in and completed my two-week notice. My new job start date was supposed to be April 6 but was moved to April 20. I have documentation showing the original start date and the delay being related to the virus. Can I receive unemployment for this period?
You may be eligible under the federal CARES act, according to Erica Quealy, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. She said those who believe they may be eligible should apply online during the allotted schedule (by first letter of your last name) and/or during off-peak hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The state is awaiting guidance and clarification from the U.S. Department of Labor to determine who will receive the federal benefits. “I know it’s frustrating for people, but I encourage people to be patient while we figure it out,” Quealy said. “We’re working 24/7 to try to get them help.”
Q: What about all of the Census workers, like me, who were hired then laid off due to the virus? Can we draw unemployment? We were hired but never actually started working.
In general, those who typically wouldn’t qualify and are unemployed likely will be covered under the federal CARES Act, said Erica Quealy, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.
Those who are self-employed, are 1099 workers, or are low-wage should wait to apply until the state system has been updated to include those not typically eligible. Monitor the state unemployment application webpage for announcements.
Q: I work for a small business with less than 50 employees. As a non-essential employee, I've been instructed to stay home and be safe. Can my employer make me use my personal/vacation time while I've been furloughed due to the coronavirus epidemic? Or do I qualify for Michigan unemployment benefits?
You may want to consult a labor attorney for this specific situation. Also see the above response from Erica Quealy, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, who encouraged those who believe they may be eligible for unemployment to apply.
Generally, an employer must follow a contract, written policy, or law to require that employees use fringe benefits like sick time and vacation, Quealy said, adding that if the furlough is due to lack of work, the employer must abide by their written contract or policy.
Q: I work for an essential business, but I do work that could be done remotely. I asked if I could work from home for my safety, but my employer declined. Are employers obligated to require remote work options?
The governor provided guidance for businesses when she issued Executive Order 2020-21, which says a business cannot require workers to leave their homes unless the workers are “necessary to sustain or protect life or to conduct minimum basic operations.” These workers may be designated to come to work “IF they cannot do their work remotely” (emphasis the government’s). The government’s web page states that “the order must be construed broadly to prohibit in-person work that is not necessary to sustain or protect life. In close or doubtful cases, employers should not designate workers for in-person work.”
Q: Are students employed by colleges eligible for unemployment benefits?
Students who work 30 hours a week or less for the school they are attending are not eligible for unemployment (p. 18). Federal work-study students may continue to receive their pay “even if they are unable to work their scheduled hours or must perform their work in a different way (such as online rather than at a facility) as a result of COVID-19 interruptions.”
Some universities, however, are responding to student needs. The University of Michigan is offering part-time and temporary employees, including student employees, paid time off for a specified number of hours.
Q: I made a mistake on my application for unemployment benefits. What do I do?
If you have a problem with your claim, call the Labor and Economic Opportunity toll free customer service line at 1-866-500-0017; TTY customers call 1-866-366-0004 Monday to Wednesday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. or Thursday — Friday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Q: What role does full personal protection equipment play for emergency room hospital workers? When do you doff the isolation gowns? Can you wear it throughout your shift including in the break room? Does it really matter what trash can you put it in?
With the COVID-19 outbreak, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has guidelines to optimize supplies of isolation gowns in health care settings. Since disposable gowns typically are not amenable to being doffed and re-used because the ties and fasteners may break during doffing, the CDC says health care workers may need to wear the same gown to visit multiple patients, if necessary due to supply shortages. Guidelines for how to remove and discard personal protection equipment are here.
Q: My doctor’s office is closed until April 16 and I have pre-existing health issues. They didn’t leave an alternate number for health care other than calling 911. What does a person like me do to get a medical note to stay home? I am considered essential and have to work.
Your local health department may be able to help you find help with health care in your area.
Q: I have recovered from the coronavirus. What do I need to do? I’ve self-isolated for 14 days. Can I be re-infected or infect others? Do I need to wear a mask in public, or am I immune?
Scientists still are working to understand more about the virus that causes COVID-19, including whether someone who has had it may be able to get it a second time. There so far have been few studies of recovered patients. Anecdotal cases have cropped up in other countries in which the same person has been re-infected. One study, which included just 16 patients, found that patients remained contagious after the end of their symptoms for between one and eight days. One of the authors of this study recommended an extended quarantine of two weeks after the end of symptoms. Another paper involving four patients showed similar results. A study published in The Lancet of 191 patients showed “viral shedding” from people who recovered from the illness even up to 37 days.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has changed its recommendation on face masks to advising the public to wear “cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain,” such as grocery stores, while reserving surgical masks and N95 respirators for health care workers. The cloth face mask “is to protect people around you if you are infected but do not have symptoms,” according to the CDC.
DAILY LIVING QUESTIONS
Q: What do I do to obtain license plates for my vehicle now?
Some vehicle services, such as renewing license plates or ordering a new one, can be accessed online at Michigan.Gov/ExpressSOS. For questions about specific situations, you can contact the Michigan’s Secretary of State at Michigan.Gov/ContactSOS or calling 888-SOS-MICH, though the department cannot address every inquiry due to how many people are reaching out.
Q: Do I have to send my kids to the other parent’s house if they live in a county with an outbreak, if that’s what is in our custody agreement?
According to a state FAQ regarding the Governor’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order, you are allowed to “travel as required by law enforcement or a court order, including the transportation of children pursuant to a Friend of the Court custody agreement...Court ordered parent child visits related to a child custody arrangement continue but these visits need not always be in person. Alternatives including telephone and videoconference are acceptable.”
Q: I realize lots of snowbirds will soon want to come home and once they get home, they will be having interactions with Michigan essential workers. What is Michigan doing to address this potential influx of the virus from other states?
Out-of-state residents are permitted to return to their Michigan homes, according to the state’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe'' order, though once they are there they are instructed to stay home unless strictly necessary, like the rest of Michigan’s residents.
Q: If my child’s parent files for unemployment benefits, will my kids continue to receive child support through unemployment?
For an answer on your arrangement specifically, it is always best to contact a lawyer.
As a general rule, child support is due even when unemployed —though your child’s other parent can apply for the payment amount to be adjusted citing a “change in circumstances.” Unemployment compensation is eligible for income withholding if payments are not made, according to an online brochure about child support payments from Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services.
Q: My spouse owes back child support and we filed taxes jointly. Will the state just take his portion out of our stimulus check, or take the entire check for the household as they did with the federal taxes already? Secondly, if the state intercepts the entire amount, will they hold it for six months before disbursement as they do with the federal taxes if the custodial parent is receiving food assistance?
According to Bob Wheaton, a public information officer at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, "the MDHHS Office of Child Support is waiting for direction from the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement to understand how the stimulus checks will technically be processed by the IRS. The child support program currently intercepts tax returns to pay past-due support. Without additional guidance and assistance from the federal government, the stimulus payments will be offset if someone owes past due child support. We are weighing our options for how we can distribute the funds once they are intercepted. With regard to the initial specific question, we expect the back child support will work just as it did for federal taxes, meaning it will come out of the household tax return and will be held for six months. This happens whether or not someone is receiving food assistance.
Q: Why is Michigan doing less testing than other states?
Michigan ranks in the bottom fifth of the country in the number of residents tested per million people, based on public data from states’ websites.
Lynn Sutfin, public information officer for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said the state has “experienced delays in obtaining collection and testing supplies” and so has targeted testing to higher risk groups likely exposed to the virus. She also acknowledged an undercount as the state is challenged to provide accurate totals of commercial lab tests. She added that the state is confident reported numbers of positive tests are accurate but do not represent “the full scope of testing.”
Q: We are still not seeing any significant effect of the stay-at-home order. Hospitals and other treatment venues soon could be swamped. Has the state created a list of medical staff, residents, medical students, nursing students and so on who could be called to service?
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an order relaxing some regulations to allow more health care workers, such as physician assistants and nurses, flexibility in treating coronavirus patients and supporting doctors. She also publicly appealed to retired health care providers to help. The state set up a website for health workers to volunteer. The order also temporarily authorized medical students, physical therapists, and emergency medical technicians to volunteer or work within health care facilities under supervision.
A state-level workgroup also is compiling information about students who might be able assist, according to Lynn Sutfin, public information officer at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Q: My family has been staying home and self-isolating from one another, keeping a 6-foot distance, because one of us may have been exposed to the coronavirus. How long do we need to do this?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend waiting 14 days after last exposure. The CDC also recommends checking temperature twice a day.
Q: Where can I get information about cases in my county?
Use this list to find your local health department website.
Q: What is the latest update on the development of a vaccine for the virus?
Q. How can you be healthy and manage your body if you have the virus?
Some cases of COVID-19 are mild, particularly for younger people. If you think you have the illness, call your doctor for advice. Meanwhile, if you are self-quarantined, follow the same protocols you would for other viral illnesses: Stay home. Monitor your symptoms. Get plenty of rest. Stay hydrated. The CDC urges those who believe they may have the coronavirus to call ahead before visiting a doctor or emergency room. And, as always, follow doctors’ orders.
Q: Can mosquitoes spread coronavirus?
According to the World Health Organization, there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread by mosquitoes.
Q: Can my son-in-law be present at his child's birth?
Many Michigan hospitals are changing their labor and delivery policies to limit the number of people a mother can have with her in the delivery room. Check with your local hospital(s) to confirm if their labor and delivery policies have changed.
Q: How long should we let groceries sit before consuming to ensure the possible virus contamination is dead on them? Do we have to be concerned about the COVID-19 virus contamination on fresh produce in sealed plastic bags?
According to the CDC, “current evidence suggests that novel coronavirus may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials,” although there is no current evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food.
Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen, a family doctor with Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, suggests leaving groceries outside, or in your garage or car for three days, if possible. VanWingen has a video showing how to disinfect groceries safely in your home.
Q: I just turned 65. Is it better to forgo the pneumonia vaccine, for now, rather than risk infection at the allergist’s office or a drugstore?
Answered by Dr. Aron Sousa, dean of the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine: I’d get the vaccine. While the virus that causes COVID-19 does cause a pneumonia that can kill people, people with this virus can also get a secondary infection from bacteria like those covered by the pneumonia vaccines. I would call your physician’s office or pharmacy to find a quiet time to get the vaccine.
Q: When a person tests positive for the coronavirus, how do you protect others in the household?
The CDC offers detailed guidance, including: The sick person should stay in one room, away from others, as much as possible, including using a separate bathroom, if possible. Avoid sharing personal household items, like dishes, towels, and bedding. Use face masks if the household has them, especially when in proximity with the sick person. Wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds. Avoid touching faces. Daily cleaning of all heavily used household surfaces. Launder often. Avoid unnecessary visitors.
Q. Does it make a difference if you use antibacterial soap or regular hand soap?
No. COVID-19 is a virus, and there is no added value to antibacterial soap. Wash hands with soap for at least 20 seconds. If that’s not available, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. There are a lot of myths but garlic, onion, hair dryers, vodka, bleach and saline don’t work.
Q: What pain relievers are recommended for people with coronavirus?
A number of doctors, based on research, advise not using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, saying they can prolong the illness by “damping down” the patient’s immune system and could worsen kidney injuries in an ill person. They recommend acetaminophen, the main ingredient in Tylenol, to relieve pain and reduce fever.
Q: I’m responsible for caring for elderly family members. What precautions should I take?
Older adults risk developing serious complications from the coronavirus if they contract the illness. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus. In caring for vulnerable family members, it is important to practice six feet of social distancing, frequent hand-washing, and avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth.
The CDC also recommends: separating yourself as much as physically possible from people in your house and your pets, (ideally with your own bedroom, bathroom, and personal items like food, towels, and a trash can that nobody else touches unless strictly necessary for disposal or disinfecting); disinfecting household surfaces frequently; washing your hands often with soap for at least 20 seconds.”
Dr. Marcus Zervos, an infectious disease specialist at the Henry Ford Health System told Bridge, “Yes, you should wear a mask to protect anyone you are caring for if you have a cough or sneeze.” The CDC has instructions online about how to properly wear and dispose of masks.
The CDC advises having extra medications on hand for your family members if possible, monitoring food and other medical supplies needed and creating a back-up plan in case of emergencies, and minimizing trips to the store by stocking up on non-perishable food items.
Q: What if I think I already had coronavirus but have recovered? Should I still seek testing?
If you think you have recovered, there is no reason to seek testing, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services advises. “In a perfect world, we'd test everybody,” Dr. Jim Larkin, a physician at McLaren in Macomb County, told Bridge. “But we are trying to try to reserve [the tests] more for patients that are seriously ill.”
Q: Can people be tested more than once? If people are not re-tested, how can we have an accurate count of how many people have the virus?
Answered by Dr. Daniel Havlichek, infectious disease specialist and chief, Division of Infectious Diseases, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine:
COVID-19 will go on for many weeks/months. People will get re-exposed over time (especially health care workers) and retesting will be appropriate in some settings. Testing negative once is helpful, but people always need to be cautious.
Q: If we isolate ourselves and the coronavirus returns later and a vaccine isn’t developed, are we being counterproductive? Why not isolate those with higher risk instead of shutting down our infrastructure?
Answered by Dr. Daniel Havlichek, MSU infectious disease specialist:
Antibodies take several weeks or even months to develop and not all antibodies are protective. For example, people with HIV or hepatitis C antibodies are not protected. Some vaccines need a different part of the immune system for protection. Vaccine development is a complex and a somewhat inexact science for SARSCOV-2. I suspect the isolation decisions were based on a large amount of national and international data that was reviewed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prior to decisions made. The virus is very transmissible and, I suspect, the countries that tried sectional isolation did not fare as well.
Q: What about vulnerable older populations in rural parts of Michigan?
Rural hospitals across the country and in Michigan have merged with larger systems or cut back services in the face of financial pressures; a quarter of Michigan’s rural hospitals in 2019 (18 of 70) were considered high-risk for closures.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services told Bridge that “Michigan’s Regional Healthcare Coalitions, located in each of Michigan’s eight emergency preparedness regions, provide a central point of coordination for emergency preparedness and response for healthcare providers across the spectrum of care.?
If you believe you have coronavirus but do not have a medical facility nearby, MDHSS recommends contacting your personal doctor or urgent care or local health department about testing.
Q: Should I continue with my regular doctor’s appointments?
Answered by Dr. Aron Sousa, internist and dean, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine:
If patients have chronic or acute conditions that they are struggling with, they should go to their doctor. If they have a lump in their breast or their heart failure is not well controlled, they should continue their care as though there was no crisis. Put off your bi-annual mammogram, cataract surgery, or knee replacement for a couple of months. The same goes for regular dental cleanings. But if you have diabetes and you have been having trouble with your feet, go to the podiatrist. Continue to get care that clearly will prevent a health problem in the next few weeks. Parents should still take their kids to their 1-,2-,4- and 6-month well-baby checks, but you can probably delay the well-child visit of your 12-year-old for a couple of months. People still need to get their flu shots. There is a lot of flu going around and keeping flu under control will help our health system better deal with COVID-19.
Q: I’m pregnant. What are the coronavirus implications?
Answered by Dr. Nigel Paneth, epidemiology and pediatrics professor and pediatrics at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine:
The information we have about effects on pregnancy are sketchy, but the fact that very few deaths from COVID-19 have been in people under 50 suggests (but does not prove) that pregnancy is not an especially severe risk factor for severe illness. Based on small samples from China, the virus does not appear to be transmitted to the baby, nor appear in breast milk.
We generally think pregnancy makes a woman a bit more susceptible to infections of all kinds. We have not heard of reports from either China or Italy about increases in pre-term birth or miscarriage. The advice now being offered to just about everyone — avoid even small group gatherings, be careful with handwashing, stay at home as much as possible — applies especially to pregnant women.
Q. How do I safely drink out of beverage containers, cups and glasses?
Asaf Bitton, a Harvard doctor, told CNN there may be evidence the virus can live on plastic and metal for as long as nine days. If you are buying bottled water, consider sanitizing the container or use a glass from home. If you are the only person drinking from your container and you are not infected, you are not likely to be at risk. If you do have COVID-19, you’re already infected. You should have your own glass or cup to drink from, and not share anything with family members, including the same bathroom if possible.
Q. Is there a body temperature range the virus operates in?
A healthy person has a body temperature that averages 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. An adult who has a temperature of 100.4 degrees is considered to have a fever. Even those who develop mild cases of the COVID-19 typically develop a fever (almost nine in 10 cases) and have some respiratory symptoms such as a dry cough (seven in 10). It takes between two and 10 days for an infected person to develop symptoms, including a fever, according to the World Health Organization.
Q: How long does it take to get a COVID-19 test result?
Original tests took 72 hours. Henry Ford and Beaumont health systems recently developed tests that return same-day results.
Q: If I’ve had pneumonia recently, am I more likely to get coronavirus?
COVID-19 is a new disease and there is limited information regarding risk factors for severe disease. Data from China suggest adults aged 65 years and older and people of any age with underlying medical conditions risk more severe illness and poorer outcomes from COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists high-risk conditions as chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma, serious heart conditions, immunocompromised, undergoing cancer treatment, severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] >40), and certain underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, renal failure, or liver disease, particularly if not well controlled.
The CDC says it is collecting and analyzing data regularly and will update the list of underlying conditions as more is learned. People with underlying medical conditions not on the list might also be at higher risk and should consult with their healthcare provider if they are concerned.
Q: My husband was in the hospital on a ventilator last July due to COPD. I work in the grocery industry. Should I self-quarantine to protect him?
Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and follow CDC-recommended precautions.
Q: Last night I watched a report that said in South Korea they alerted people by phone if there was someone in their neighborhood who tested positive for coronavirus. We still can't even know if there are people in our own city who have tested positive.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services currently is providing information gathered from county health department reports. Detroit is the only city so far that we have found providing more localized data, and that is a heat map that does not show street names.
Public health officers in each state are making decisions about what information is made public, with officials worried about individuals’ privacy and public stigmatizing of areas with outbreaks.
Q: How are the virus county counts tracked — where the virus was detected or the person’s home address?
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services confirms that virus counts are based on individuals’ home addresses.
Q: Considering there are so many people testing positive, does that mean those positive cases will have an immunity to this disease as it changes and progresses?
Scientists don’t have enough information to say definitively whether or how long a person who has recovered may be immune to COVID-19. Those who have become ill from other strains of coronavirus have shown short-term immunity, from a few months to a few years. Until a vaccine is available, we could see repeated rounds of this new coronavirus.
DAILY LIVING ANSWERS
Q: Is there going to be a ban on traveling to vacation homes or short-term rentals? It seems this could spread the virus to counties in Michigan where there are few cases and few medical facilities.
The state’s “stay-at-home” order does not permit residents to leave their home for cross-state vacations. It does, however, allow residents to visit second homes in or out of the state, such as a cottage Up North. Be prepared for some local residents in tourism areas to be temporarily less than thrilled with your arrival.
Q: How long should we prepare for social distancing to last? Should I be cancelling plans into the summer? The fall?
Nobody is sure quite how long this will last. Governor Whitmer just announced schools will not reopen this traditional school year. Social distancing is the best defense against the virus until a cure or vaccine is found, which is considered to be at least a year away.
Government officials have said that the situation remains fluid and that it is yet unclear when social distancing guidelines will no longer be mandated. The White House has already extended social distancing guidelines until April 30, and the Governor of Virginia instated a shelter-in-place order earlier this week until June 10. Many possible timelines presented by health experts suggest that social distancing measures could be in place for at least another eight to twelve weeks, but could extend longer.
Q: Do you have any guidance for nonprofit boards trying to manage business under the current restrictions?
The Michigan Nonprofit Association collected resources for nonprofits navigating COVID-19, such as funding opportunities and ongoing advocacy. The Michigan Council of Foundations’ website offers a webinar calendar and other resources for nonprofit leaders.
Q: How we can help promote the vote and the Census in the absence of voter registration drives and in-person community outreach?
“Given our new reality of social distancing and limited person-to-person interactions under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ executive order, we are asking Michiganders to make phone calls, send text messages and post to their personal social media networks to encourage their friends, family members and acquaintances to complete the census,” Kerry Ebersole Sign, Michigan’s Census Director, said in an email to Bridge Magazine.
Q: I am a behavioral health therapist serving uninsured and underinsured individuals. On behalf of my clients (and others), how to put in place health care and financial powers of attorney in case the worst happens?
The State Bar of Michigan recommends reaching out to a licensed Michigan lawyer for individual legal advice, such as establishing powers of attorney, with a directory available at directory.michbar.org.
Q. Is it safe to get the mail from my mailbox?
Coronavirus can remain on cardboard for 24 hours and up to two or three days on plastic or stainless steel, but researchers say it is likely far less than that after a sneeze. “You don’t get it from the mail,” Henry Ford health System infectious disease specialist Marcus Zervos told Bridge. “Someone would have to be sick, cough directly on it and then you would have to [immediately] touch your face or eyes. Getting a package is not a risk. But you should be careful always about washing your hands.”
Q: Can I get relief from house, utility and credit card payments during the crisis?
Here is a list of credit card companies taking steps to help consumers. Some banks also are putting help in place. Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mark Calabria said hardship forbearances are an option for borrowers with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans. He urged borrowers to reach out to their mortgage holders. Some temporary help with utilities is available through the state. Consumers Energy and DTE announced they will not shut off utilities to low-income customers for now. You can find more about companies offering utility relief here.
Q: Is there relief for renters?
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer banned new evictions through April 17 by executive order on March 20. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is suspending evictions and foreclosures through April.
Q: Is there a chance that the Mackinac Bridge is going to close? Will there be special circumstances, such as caring for an ill family member, that will allow for travel across?
As Bridge reported, closing the bridge would bring many critical industries on both sides to a halt, such as transporting food, propane, lumber and other bulk items. Many residents also use the bridge to commute to work. Others rely on the bridge to access healthcare on both peninsulas. Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman Jeff Cranson told Bridge Magazine that closing the bridge “would be very extreme” and the economic impact “would be significant.”
Q: I have a family member who wants to still hold a wedding in their home with 30+ people since their venue canceled on them. Is this legal? Both to host and to attend?
Governor Whitmer’s “stay-at-home order” requires all residents to remain in their place of residence with a few exceptions like leaving for solitary exercise and obtaining groceries. Weddings are not listed as an exception, and it prohibits “all public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring among persons not part of a single household...”
Q: How does the governor’s stay-home order impact custody agreements?
The governor’s executive order permits the “transportation of children pursuant to a custody agreement.” You may also “attend legal proceedings or hearings for essential or emergency purposes as ordered by a court.”
Q: Does the current ban on evictions for renters apply to landlords applying fees for late payment?
No. Landlords may not evict tenants, the order explicitly states that tenants still owe payment and landlords retain the right to receive it per the lease agreement.
Q: How do I buy/lease a car if all dealerships and the Secretary of State are closed?
Your car must be titled and registered and according to a Secretary of State Coronavirus FAQ, residents should expect branches to remain closed through April 23rd. "Our online services remain available,” Jake Rollow, Director of Communications and external Affairs for the Secretary of State told Bridge.
Q: Do hospitals want homemade masks? I can help.
Bridge recently reported that some Michigan hospitals are accepting homemade masks, while others are not. Checking the websites of hospitals near your home may indicate whether they are accepting such masks.
Q: My daughter and I have been homeless/renting a motel room by the week. We can no longer pay. Can they kick us out?
Individuals at risk of homelessness can contact their local Housing Assessment and Resource Agency (HARA). Each HARA works with individuals to gather information to determine both need and eligibility and then connect them to services.
Q: Why are restaurants allowed to offer carry out during the stay at home mandate? How can we know if food preparers don’t have the virus?
According to the CDC, “Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food.” The FDA does note that while it “may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or possibly eyes”, “is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.” While the food service industry follows strict local public health guidelines, FDA guidelines instruct food facilities to be vigilant in their monitoring of employees and hygiene practices, including frequent and proper hand-washing and routine cleaning of all surfaces.
Q: I use a sleep apnea machine (CPAP). I must use distilled water in the machine, and I am almost out. I went out twice and cannot find any. What do I do?
It may be worth trying to call grocery stores to see when they may have more in stock or attempting to order from online retailers. Additionally, it is possible to make your own distilled water and instruction videos for doing so can be found online.
Q: I’m a snowbird. How do I return to Michigan?
Be mindful of the increasing number of shelter in place advisories across the country. Michigan’s order allows returning home from outside the state. While interstate travel has not been restricted, the CDC suggests people consider a number of factors before deciding whether it is safe to travel, noting that “crowded travel settings, like airports, may increase chances of getting COVID-19, if there are other travelers with coronavirus infection.” If you plan to drive, AARP has published a short guide for how to stay safe while road tripping during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Q. How is Michigan addressing hoarding?
Michigan urges giving time to stores to re-stock and reassures the “supply chain is intact, and the food and items are available, but giving time for the stores to take and replenish inventory is critical to ensure everyone has access to what they need at the store.” Michigan grocers have also taken matters into their own hands, limiting the number of essential items each customer may purchase.
Q: How do we receive our money back from airplane tickets for cancelled travel inside the United States?
Airlines are changing their policies as the pandemic spreads. A list of airline policies, last updated March 19, is available here. The U.S. Department of Transportation requires that airlines refund you if your flight departing from, arriving into or transiting the United States is cancelled by the airline. In that case, you can choose to cancel your trip, even for nonrefundable tickets. The department suggests that if the airline offers a voucher, ask about restrictions, such as blackout and expiration dates, advanced booking requirements, and limits on the number of seats before you accept it. As more airlines cancel routes, you may want to wait until closer to the time of your trip to find out if your flight is cancelled.
Q. How does the coronavirus impact meetings of government bodies like city councils and school boards?
On March 18 Gov. Whitmer issued an executive order relaxing provisions of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act. Thru April 15, public bodies:
- Need not meet in person.
- Can meet electronically by two-way phone or video conference, though the public must be allowed to participate and be heard during a public comment period.
- Public bodies with websites must post meeting notices to the public.
Read the governor’s executive order for more details on the new temporary rules.
Q. How do I keep my home disinfected?
The CDC advises thoroughly disinfecting hard surfaces like “tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, remotes, handles, desks, toilets, and sinks.” The American Chemistry Council suggests products like Clorox Disinfecting Bathroom Cleaner, Lysol Bleach multi-purpose cleaner, and Simple Green Clean Fresh. The CDC says products must have 70 percent or more alcohol to kill coronavirus, and if pre-prepared products are not available to you, a home mix of 5 tablespoons (one-third cup) bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water as a stand-in.
If your home does not have a bathroom exclusively for ill or vulnerable residents, the CDC recommends it is cleaned after each use, and that any cleaning or laundry involving items used by the ill resident are handled with disposable plastic gloves. Hands should be thoroughly washed after cleaning, whether gloves were worn. If disposable gloves are unavailable in your area and you are using reusable gloves, they should be used purely for handling possibly infected surfaces/items and not for any other household purpose. If doing laundry, the CDC says you should avoid shaking the cloth as much as possible to avoid dispersing the virus into the air on the way to the wash.
Q. Is swimming dangerous? Can the virus be transmitted through water?
“There is no risk for coronavirus. There is no association with water. The way it is spread is by coming within 6 feet of someone who is coughing or sneezing,” Henry Ford health System infectious disease specialist Marcus Zervos told Bridge.
The virus doesn’t survive in water. It spreads when someone with coronavirus sneezes or coughs and spreads droplets on another person who then wipes their eyes or mouth.
Q. Why do we have to keep our windows closed?
You don’t! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends increasing ventilation to prevent the spread of COVID-19. That includes opening windows.
Q: What assistance is available for those who can’t pay student loans now?
Student loans come from a variety of sources. Some options for addressing student debt include requesting deferment or forbearance or exploring an income-driven repayment option. The president said Friday that interest on federal student loans will be frozen, but details of that action are still to come.
Meanwhile, if you are relying on work-study, contact your supervisor and ask about flexible options. Since universities have closed and many are working from home, there may be a way for you to work remotely. If that is unsuccessful, contact your school’s financial aid office.
Q: Can utilities, cable, hospital bills and car insurance be extended or waived during the virus difficulties?
Some temporary help with utilities is available through the state. Consumers Energy and DTE announced they will not shut off utilities to low-income customers for now. You can find more about companies offering utility relief here. Comcast is pledging not to disconnect customers’ internet service or assess late fees if they contact the company and let them know that they can’t pay their bills at this time. Hospitals are generally not charging to test patients for COVID-19, but there may be other costs associated with testing. Assistance in payment of other hospital bills, car insurance, and other household bills during the coronavirus outbreak may be available on a company-by-company basis. Calling the provider’s customer service hotline may be the best way to inquire.
Q: Will there be COVID-19 relief for nonprofits?
The National Council of Nonprofits said it expects “new challenges” coming for nonprofit organizations. The Council recommends that organizations:
- Have a staff meeting to discuss preventing the virus’ spread and allow staff to work remotely.
- Review the organization’s business and recovery plan.
- Participate in public decision-making.
- Be a voice for civility and healing.
It also includes links for fundraising advice and insurance questions. Some nonprofits have turned to online fundraising sites, such as GoFundMe.
The Council of Michigan Foundations has a list of frequently asked questions.
The Small Business Administration is working with state governors to provide low-interest disaster recovery loans to nonprofits affected by the pandemic. SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans offer up to $2 million in assistance at an interest rate of 2.75 percent to “pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact.” Repayment terms are up to 30 years.
Q. What is being done for those experiencing homelessness?
Bridge published this report on coronavirus and homelessness March 20.
Q: Has Michigan exempted mortgage payments temporarily for any amount of time until the coronavirus subsides in Michigan??
Many mortgage holders may be eligible to reduce or pause mortgage payments if loans are guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. This applies to about half of home loans in the U.S. Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mark Calabria told NPR people should contact their individual lender to find out terms, and that they could explain their situations and provide documentation later in order to get relief more quickly. For example, Bank of America is allowing financially troubled home owners to pause mortgage payments.
Q: We need help finding a plumber. We have been out of water since last week.
The International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials advises plumbers “working on a sanitary drainage system (should assume) that the virus is present” and advises plumbers to wear personal protective equipment, “including a full face shield that is worn over safety glasses, and gloves,” all of which are in short supply nationally, even for health care providers. Consider calling Michigan’s 211 help line.
Q: Why are motels staying open?
Michigan has roughly 2,000 hotels and motels. Many across the country are reporting occupancy rates in the single digits because of the coronavirus. Some in Michigan have closed. Many are relaxing cancellation policies. Airbnb revised its “extenuating circumstances” policy. For those who must stay in a hotel, tips include making sure to disinfect frequently touched surfaces in the room and bathroom.
Q: I work for an essential business staying open during this pandemic, but I am in a high-risk population for COVID-19. Am I allowed to leave my job and collect unemployment?
Answered by Deborah Gordon, civil rights and employment attorney, Deborah Gordon Law:
You may qualify under the expanded unemployment benefits. Per the new law:
You are considered to have left work involuntarily for medical reasons and thus qualified for unemployment benefits if you had to leave work because of self-isolation or self-quarantine in response to an elevated risk from COVID-19 due to being immunocompromised.
A person may be deemed laid off from employment and thus qualified for unemployment benefits if they become unemployed because of self-isolation or self-quarantine in response to an elevated risk from COVID-10 due to being immunocompromised.”
Q: I was laid off from my job and my health insurance was cancelled. Is this legal? Do I have any recourse?
Answered by attorney Deborah Gordon:
For employees who are terminated, benefits usually end with your job and you’ll have to pay for health insurance yourself. You can keep your employer plan for up to three years, under a federal program known as COBRA, but now you’ll have to foot the entire bill. If you have a high-deductible plan and health savings account, or HSA, you can use those funds to pay for COBRA premiums and for your medical costs. If you have a Flexible Savings Account, or FSA, you can only use those funds for medical costs.
In some instances, employers offer to subsidize COBRA coverage for a period of time, so employees should ask if that is a possibility. But monthly COBRA premiums on employer plans can be very expensive, so it may not be the best option. Plus, if your employer has gone out of business, the health plan is usually terminated, so COBRA won’t be available.
In general, laid-off employees may be better off buying insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchanges. An employee’s drop in income could mean they’ll qualify for a premium tax credit, which could bring their premiums down substantially.
Q: I pay into an FSA for childcare. Because of the pandemic, our daycare is closed. Currently, there is no way to access that fund, can't make changes to the account, and it does not roll over into the next year. What do I do?
Answered by attorney Deborah Gordon:
From a very practical standpoint, if childcare is the only thing you’re using the FSA for, I would recommend you exhaust all possible opportunities to cut off future contributions to the FSA. Aside from that, you should seek other ways to use the FSA funds you’ve already contributed so the funds don’t go to waste.
Q: What do I do if my employer is staying open but I think they should be closed per the governor’s executive order? And… My employer closed for safety reasons but is calling employees back now. I am scared to go back to work, but if I don’t go back I will lose my job permanently. What can I do?
Answered by attorney Deborah Gordon:
Determine if your employer is specifically exempted from the in-person operational restrictions.
This Order went into effect on March 24 and remains in effect until April 13, 2020 at 11:59pm (subject to change).
If your employer IS exempted, your employer was obligated to determine which of its workers are necessary to conduct minimum basic operations and inform such workers of that designation in writing by March 31 and also obligated to:
- Restrict number of workers on premises to those strictly necessary;
- Promote remote work to the extent possible;
- Enforce social distancing to the extent possible;
- Increase cleaning standards and disinfecting protocols;
- Adopt policies to prevent workers from entering the premises if they display respiratory symptoms or have had contact with someone known or suspected to have COVID-19;
If your employer has NOT taken the necessary steps OR if your employer’s business is not necessary to sustain or protect life or conduct minimum basic operations, contact your local law enforcement.
If the employer is permitted to remain open and is taking the necessary steps to protect employees, and you still don’t want to go to work, then you can be at risk of being terminated.
Q: I work in food service and have been laid off. My employer didn’t report our wages correctly and now none of us are eligible for unemployment. Do I have any recourse?
Answered by attorney Deborah Gordon:
I recommend you gather as much documentation as possible on wages actually earned and apply for unemployment benefits anyway. Make sure to carefully document the discrepancy in the reported wages versus your actual earnings on the application. If you are denied benefits because of an error by your employer, use Unemployment Insurance’s automated process to protest the determination or appeal the re-determination. Contact the State Office of Labor and Economic Opportunities for information on reporting wages: https://www.michigan.gov/leo/0,5863,7-336-78421_94422_59886---,00.html
Q: Is there any assistance available for self-employed people? (There is an update about this—unemployment as a result of CARES act and SBA loans)
Under the federal CARES Act, individuals who are not already eligible for Michigan’s unemployment programs will receive $600 a week for up to four months, including self-employed workers and independent contractors.
Small businesses also have new access to low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration.
Q: Will the federal stimulus relief fund give any checks to immigrants living and working here on green cards or work permits?
If you are a resident alien, have a social security number, and earn less than $75,000 as a single individual, or less than $150,000 married filing jointly, you may qualify to receive the 2020 recovery rebate. If you filed jointly, your spouse also must have a social security in order for you to receive a check, as must your child(ren) to receive the qualifying amount. See page 144 of the legislation.
Q: Will hospitals relax "no visitors" rules for patients with disabilities or dementia—conditions that make it difficult to understand what is happening to them and make decisions?
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the National Institute on Aging offered guidelines for helping those with dementia or Alzheimer’s through a hospital experience, such as asking for a private room and developing a care team. Some of the advice still pertains in this special circumstance, such as including a personal information sheet to include with the patient’s chart.
The Alzheimer’s Association also provides tips, which include asking the care setting how you can have contact with your family member by phone, video chats or email. If your family member can’t take a call, ask the care setting how you can keep in touch with facility staff in order to get updates.
Q: My daughter works in a nursing home. She is still working and she lives in our home. I have an autoimmune disease and am at a higher risk. We are all very worried that she may bring the virus home. If she chooses to self-isolate, is there anything in place to help her keep her job when this is all over?
She might consider discussing a leave of absence with her employer. The two recently passed pieces of legislation, the CARES Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, address situations in which a worker or family member have COVID-19 or have symptoms of the disease. The Center for Law and Social Policy provides an overview of paid sick days and paid leave provisions.
In addition, the state made eligible for unemployment workers who are self-isolating or self-quarantining because they are immunocompromised, have COVID-19 symptoms, have had contact in the last 14 days with someone confirmed to have the virus, need to care for someone who has the virus, or need to take care of family as the result of a government directive (such as caring for their children).
Q: I'm an international student with F-1 visa. I'm a grad student at a public university in Michigan. I've been in the U.S. since September 2019 and I've been paying my tax and benefits since I arrived, and I also filed 2019 tax return. Am I eligible for the temporary coronavirus outbreak cash assistance?
Nonresident aliens are not eligible for the 2020 recovery rebate. See page 144 of the legislation. Those on an F-1 visa facing financial hardship may be able to get a work authorization. Contact your school financial aid office for additional assistance.
Q: I live in Michigan but work in another state. In which state do I apply for unemployment benefits?
“As a general rule, you file your claim for benefits with the state in which you worked,” said Erica Quealy, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. For example, “I live in Ohio, but work in Michigan. If my employer reported my wages to Michigan, then I would file in Michigan.”
Q: Is there any help for people who are underemployed? My hours have dropped dramatically but I still have a job?
“Financially distressed employers providing critical infrastructure services are encouraged to use [Unemployment Insurance Agency]’s Work Share program,” says Erica Quealy, a spokesperson for Michigan’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.
Work Share lets employees work reduced hours while collecting “partial unemployment benefits to make up a portion of the lost wages,” according to the state’s informational literature about the program.
For additional support, Bridge is tracking Michigan organizations providing COVID assistance such as mental health counseling, mortgage assistance, and food.
Q: My workplace is open because we are “essential,” but I don’t believe our company is protecting workers and customers. How can this be addressed?
Michigan’s Occupational Health and Safety Act provides for workers to file complaints about workplace safety and health hazards. Complainants have the right to ask that their names not be revealed to their employers. You can call 800-866-4674 to discuss your situation with state safety regulators or file a complaint online, or download and mail or fax it to the state.
Q: How do I know if my employer is supposed to be closed during the stay at home order?
The state has posted frequently asked questions with some details about what types of businesses should be closed here and here. If you need further clarification, questions can be emailed to the attorney general’s office at MIAG@Michigan.gov or LEO-Coronavirus@Michigan.gov.
Q: My employer is not able to provide health insurance for employees right now. How do I get health insurance?
You can apply for federal COBRA coverage for eligible employees, their spouses and dependent children. COBRA offers coverage for up to 18 months.
You can apply for Medicaid if you meet age, income and a few other guidelines.
You also can find insurance through the state health insurance marketplace, commonly called Obamacare. Although the general enrollment period has ended, your change in circumstances should make you eligible.
Q: Are wage garnishments on hold now?
Michigan Legal Help is offering an online chat service from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, to help those with questions about how the pandemic may affect certain legal issues, such as wage garnishment.
Q: What support is there for businesses?
The situation is changing daily. As of this writing (March 19), Congress is working on a $1 trillion relief plan with a variety of business implications.
Michigan is rushing to provide emergency grants and low-interest loans to at least some of the small businesses forced to close or scale back operations during the global coronavirus pandemic. A $20 million program approved Thursday by the Michigan Strategic Fund board will bring "extremely near-term" relief to companies "hardest hit" by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's recent closure order, Joshua Hundt of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
Working through local agencies, the state will offer grants of up to $10,000 and loans of up to $200,000 small businesses losing income because of the COVID-19 outbreak and need money to support " payroll expenses, rent, mortgage payments, utility expenses, or other similar expenses."
The state hopes to deploy grants and loans by April 1 and will focus on companies in "downtown and commercial corridors," Hundt told Bridge Magazine. Officials anticipate the new program, which supplements other federal and state assistance programs coming online, will benefit at least 1,100 companies.
That would be just a small share of the 117,000 businesses that may have been directly affected by Whitmer's Monday order prohibiting in-person service or closures at restaurants, bars, fitness centers and related industries, according to the MEDC. Those companies collectively employ more than 593,000 Michigan residents.
MEDC is paying for the grants and loans by redirecting funding from other programs, including business attraction and community development. Small business owners interested in learning more can find information at michiganbusiness.org/covid19.
The Small Business Administration is working with state governors to provide low-interest disaster recovery loans to nonprofits affected by the pandemic. SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans offer up to $2 million in assistance at an interest rate of 2.75% to “pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact.” Repayment terms are up to 30 years.
Q: How and when do I file federal, state, and local tax returns?
Federal tax returns now are due on July 15. State personal income tax returns remain due on April 15. You can find forms and instructions here. On Monday, the city of East Lansing pushed its local tax deadline to July 30. Other municipalities may follow suit. Check with local authorities. Relief is available to small businesses regarding monthly sales, use and withholding tax payments.
Q: Do essential workers have to pay for childcare that is set up in school during COVID-19? If so, how much is it per week?
Bridge reported Governor Whitmer issued an executive order on March 18, to allow relaxing some regulations around providing child care service for workers in industries deemed essential while coronavirus is spreading, including: health care workers, home health workers, direct care workers, emergency medical service providers, first responders, law enforcement personnel, sanitation workers, child care workers, personnel providing correctional services, postal workers, public health employees, key government employees, court personnel, and “those working in Michigan utilities, manufacturing, mass transit, grocery stores and “other essential supplies, goods or equipment.”
Cost of the program and how it will be paid for was not included in the executive order. You can read the executive order here.
Those who qualify as essential workers can go to www.helpmegrow-mi.org/essential and your information will be routed to someone in your community who can help you find care.
Q: Is there any information on help for landlords if their tenants are not able to pay rent?
If your ability to pay your mortgage is impinged, it is advisable to call your lender to discuss the situation with them directly.
There are several emergency loans and grants available small businesses in Michigan may apply for if your operations are harmed by coronavirus. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation is distributing $20 million in grants to small businesses across the state, and their website also has information about federal aid for small businesses. If you own a multi-family property with a loan from Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, the agencies began mortgage forbearance on March 23rd for landlords who do not evict tenants unable to pay because of COVID-19.
Q: I am on a scheduled monthly payment plan for my back taxes. I have been laid off from work with no income. Do I still have to make those scheduled payments during this quarantine with no job and no income?
Visit www.michigan.gov/oic to see if you qualify for a compromise on tax debt.
For questions about a delinquent account, call the Treasury Collection Services Bureau at 517-636-5265. The state contracts with a for-profit debt collection agency, GC Services, which operates under the name Michigan Accounts Receivable Collection System, for those who have made payment arrangements. You can contact GC Services LLP at 1-800-950-6227.
If you have exhausted these avenues, contact the Michigan Taxpayer Advocate.
Finally, Michigan Legal Help is offering an online chat service from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, to help those with questions about how the pandemic may affect certain legal issues.