Wednesday Coronavirus Q&A: Antibody tests and marriage licenses
Guidance on Michigan’s stay-at-home orders
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 order has since been revised.
The state of Michigan is updating a Frequently Asked Questions page about the order as they receive inquiries from the media and the public.
Bridge Magazine has reported on what it all means for business and statewide residents.
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?
- Clarifications on Michigan’s extended stay-at-home order
An archive summarizing many previous questions is at the bottom.
Due to significant decrease in the volume of reader questions, Bridge will mothball this feature after today’s edition.
Thanks to the many dozens of readers who sought help in this way over the past two months. Your questions helped inform and guide the stories Bridge reporters published in many ways.
Q: Where can I find antibody tests in Michigan?
Antibody tests for COVID-19 are offered in some urgent care facilities, especially in southeast Michigan. Hospital and medical systems across the state are also working to acquire these tests, so you may want to call your local physician or urgent care to inquire whether they have tests and the requirement for taking one. Furthermore, some large employers, particularly essential businesses, are offering testing on-site for their workers.
Bridge recently reported about the promise and limitations of antibody tests under rapid development in laboratories across the world.
Q: Can people who lay carpet and tile go back to work yet?
According to Michigan Executive Order 2020-70, "Effective at 12:01 am on May 7, 2020, workers in the construction industry, including workers in the building trades (plumbers, electricians, HVAC technicians, and similar workers), subject to the enhanced social-distancing rules described in section 11(i) of this order."
The Association Builders and Contractors of Michigan have additional information on their website about getting back to work on their website.
Q: Is it a HIPAA violation to ask my employees questions about their temperature or other COVID-19 symptoms?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act establishes security and privacy requirements around patient information. According to the CDC, employers are currently encouraged to “consider conducting daily in-person or virtual health checks (e.g., symptom and/or temperature screening) of employees before they enter the facility, in accordance with state and local public health authorities and, if available, your occupational health services:
- If implementing in-person health checks, conduct them safely and respectfully. Employers may use social distancing, barrier or partition controls, or personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect the screener. However, reliance on PPE alone is a less effective control and is more difficult to implement, given PPE shortages and training requirements.
See the “Should we be screening employees for COVID-19 symptoms?” section of General Business Frequently Asked Questions as a guide.
- Complete the health checks in a way that helps maintain social distancing guidelines, such as providing multiple screening entries into the building.
- Follow guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission external icon regarding confidentiality of medical records from health checks.
- To prevent stigma and discrimination in the workplace, make employee health screenings as private as possible. Do not make determinations of risk based on race or country of origin and be sure to maintain confidentiality of each individual’s medical status and history.”
Q: Does my employer have to pay me for work missed while waiting for results of a COVID-19 test?
Employers are not required to pay employees who are self-isolating at home, however employers are encouraged to allow employees to use earned sick time in this situation.
If an employee does not receive paid sick time or paid time off, they may apply for unemployment insurance benefits.
Employees may also be eligible for paid sick leave under a new federal law – Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). If an employee is eligible for emergency leave under the FFCRA, an employer may not require an employee to use other paid leave provided by the employer to the employee before the employee uses emergency paid leave under the FFCRA.
DAILY LIVING ANSWERS
Q: Will K-12 schools be open for in-person instruction this fall?
At this time, most school districts appear to be hopeful that K-12 schools will be open in September, however, no one is certain what the fall will look like.
Q: After the stay-at-home order is lifted, will I still be eligible for unemployment if I need to take care of a child at home?
At this time, workers who have an unanticipated family care responsibility, including those who have child care responsibilities due to school closures, are eligible to file for unemployment benefits. This will remain in effect until the governor removes the state of emergency (which is likely to be later than May 15).
Q: Can gyms and other membership-based businesses continue to charge customers while they are closed?
The Governor’s Executive Orders do not have any guidance or additional regulations specific to contract relations. However, a recent Detroit Free Press article addressing this subject noted that “whether the charges run afoul of Michigan consumer protection law may depend on the fine print of the gyms' membership contracts,” but that “the coronavirus pandemic could be considered an extraordinary event allowing such charges to be canceled, a legal term called force majeure, according to consumer attorneys.”
Legal experts told Detroit Free Press that if you are looking for a refund, first try asking for a refund or future credit. If the facility will not offer either, you may need to contact your credit card company to dispute the claim.
Q: Are children who were enrolled in pre-K eligible for food benefits from the state?
Children 5 and older are eligible. According to the Michigan Dept. of Health and Human Services, "The food assistance benefits will go to Michigan families with students ages 5-18 who are enrolled in the Michigan Department of Education program for students eligible for free or reduced-price school meals . . .This includes families currently receiving Food Assistance Program benefits as well as those not currently enrolled in the program."
More info about the program can be found here: https://www.michigan.gov/mdhhs/0,5885,7-339--525248--,00.html
Q: Can I order groceries online using EBT?
It appears that both Walmart's online pickup and Kroger's online pickup are accepting EBT.
Q: When can I apply for a marriage license?
Marriage licenses in Michigan must be applied for in-person, from the County Clerk of the county in which either applicant resides. Check the website for your county clerk's office to see when their offices will be open for in-person services.
Q: When will there be enough coronavirus test kits for everyone?
While test supplies are increasing, it may still be difficult to find a place to get tested, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC updated its guidelines on March 24 for who should be tested, saying clinicians should use their judgment to determine if a patient has signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19 and whether the patient should be tested.
Contact your local health department to find out where testing may be available near you.
Q: I had a family member test positive for COVID-19. How long do I need to stay home from work?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided guidelines for how best to care for someone at home who has coronavirus. The state of Michigan recommends staying home for 14 days and monitoring family members for symptoms. Refer to this chart for actions to take.
Q: Can I report a COVID19 death for someone who never made it to the hospital and went straight to a funeral home?
If the deceased was not tested prior to death, it is unlikely that he or she will be tested given the national shortage of tests. One exception is Oakland County. Funeral directors work with an attending physician to submit a death record to the state with a cause of death, and they have a limited time to do so after “becoming aware that the death resulted or is suspected to have resulted from COVID-19.”
Q: Do certain blood types have more susceptibility to coronavirus?
More study is needed before scientists will be able to provide reliable information on many aspects of COVID-19. One early study out of China that has not been peer-reviewed nor replicated suggests that blood type A individuals may be more likely to be infected and blood type O individuals less so.
Q: Do I need a prescription to get tested for coronavirus?
No, but you should contact a testing site’s patient screening telephone line or your health care provider before seeking testing. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced that individuals with mild symptoms now may be tested. The governor on Monday said the state’s testing capacity will increase by 40% with nine new drive-through testing sites opening and three expanding, along with a commercial lab added to process the tests. Find a testing site here.
Michigan’s testing priorities:
- Hospitalized patients.
- Symptomatic healthcare workers.
- Patients in congregate facilities with symptoms, including those at:
- Long-term care or elderly living facilities.
- Jails or prisons.
- Homeless shelters.
- Residential foster care facilities.
- Other group living settings.
- Patients age 65 and older with symptoms.
- Patients with underlying conditions with symptoms.
- First responders with symptoms.
- Critical infrastructure workers with symptoms.
- Individuals with mild symptoms.
Q: Wouldn’t it be useful to know who has developed antibodies to protect essential workers, work on a vaccine, etc.?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first antibody test kits. The tests are designed to determine who might have had the infection. The test, however, requires a blood draw and so may not be widely available until it is deemed safe to have that level of contact between people. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said an antibody test “that is available in a robust way” will help the state as it begins to identify workers who can return to public interaction.
Q: I have recovered from 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 healthcare workers. The cloth face mask “is to protect people around you if you are infected but do not have symptoms,” according to the CDC.
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: 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 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?
A “year or longer,” according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is working on it. Regulatory testing phases in the United States are lengthy.
Q. How to 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 mosquitos 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 forego 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 facemasks 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 handwashing, 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: 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: 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: I’m elderly and very worried about going to the grocery store. I rely on delivery services like Shipt or Instacart, but there are no deliveries available. I’m scared I will run out of food. What should I do?
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Aging and Adult Services Agency announced Wednesday that it is providing food boxes to seniors. Seniors over the age of 60 can sign up for assistance, including meal delivery, delivery of non-perishable food items, and daily wellness-check calls, through the MDHHS coronavirus website, or by contacting your local Area Agency on Aging.
Amazon grocery is offering delivery, and you also may consider contacting smaller, independent grocery stores near you to ask about delivery service. Nextdoor.com is a neighborhood-based news site that connects those in local areas, and some neighbors have been offering to help those in need, such as picking up groceries for the elderly.
If you have the resources, you may want to consider a subscription to a meal kit service for regular delivery. Some of the more well- known include Blue Apron, HelloFresh and Freshly.
Finally, some delivery services such as UberEats, DoorDash, GrubHub, and Postmates may be able to bring you noncontact carryout from local restaurants to tide you over.
Q: Is there any financial assistance for the funerals of those who have passed from COVID-19?
The Michigan Dept. of Health and Human Services State Emergency Relief program provides financial assistance to qualifying low-income residents for burial, cremation or the costs associated with donating a body to a medical school. Residents can apply through the MI Bridges online portal after the death has occurred, but must submit an application no later than 10 business days after the burial, cremation or donation takes place. Additional information can be found on the MDHHS website.
Q: Is moving still allowed under the extended stay-home order?
While moving has not been explicitly prohibited under the extended stay-home order, residents have been encouraged to “shelter-in-place” if possible and waiting until the order has lifted before moving.
Contact your current landlord to see if you can remain in your current apartment until the shelter-in-place requirement is over.
Additionally, many businesses associated with moving may be currently closed or unable to perform necessary functions due to the order, including realtors and leasing agents. In a Q&A posted on their website, Michigan Realtors® indicate that movers should be able to continue working though, “under the essential critical designation of “employees supporting or enabling transportation functions” or “shipping workers.””
Q: I've paid all my move-in costs for a new apartment, but the leasing office is saying I can't sign the lease until the shelter in place is lifted. Is that true? I thought securing a place to live would be essential.
According to an FAQ prepared for the Apartment Association of Michigan, leasing offices “should not be open to residents, vendors, or guests and, unless critical to get someone out of dangerous living conditions to safe residences, any renting of units should be extremely limited and not conducted face-to-face.”
Contact your current landlord to see if you can remain in your current apartment until the shelter-in-place requirement is over.
Q: The revised order prohibits travel between residences in Michigan. This means Michigan residents cannot travel to their summer homes. However, the order permits travel from a residence outside of the state. Does this mean that those with primary homes outside of Michigan can travel to their summer homes in Michigan?
Individuals may travel to return to a home or place of residence from outside this state, according to the state’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe'' order, though once they are there they are instructed self-quarantine for 14 days (including avoiding all grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations) and then to stay home unless strictly necessary, like the rest of Michigan’s residents.
Though if out-of-staters reach second homes, they may not be welcomed with open arms. Northern Michigan officials have begged out-of-towners to please stay away during the pandemic to stunt the transmission of COVID-19 to these rural communities.
Q: Are police officers complying with a 6-foot distance and wearing protective face masks when they pull people over? How would I handle safely retrieving my driver’s license?
Michigan State University MSU criminal justice professor Scott Wolfe suggests law enforcement agencies are “engaging in the best social distancing measures they can,” although many agencies are facing PPE shortages, similar to those experienced by other first-responders across the country. “The process of responding to calls for service has changed in some agencies,” Wolfe said. “The 911 call dispatchers now have lists of questions to ask callers regarding whether anyone at the address has COVID-19 symptoms. This information can then be relayed to the responding officers so they can take appropriate precautions.”
Q: Can my grandson travel to my home to do yard work for me without being fined?
While Governor Whitmer’s shelter-in-place order allows for Michiganders to tend “to their own yards as they see fit,” and to care for the “elderly, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons,” the goal is for people to stay at home as much as possible. Although yard work may abide by social distancing rules, the order urges individuals to “limit, to the maximum extent that is safe and feasible, the number of household members who leave the home for any errands.”
Q: I read that people who received food from schools will get food from March until June on a Bridge Card, and if you don’t have one, you get one. Is this true?
Families with students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch in their schools will receive EBT cards, also called Bridge Cards, in the mail, under the name of the oldest K-12 student in the household. Families do not need to sign up for the cards, including those who do not currently have an EBT card.
Families will receive $193.80 total for March and April for each eligible K-12 student, and another $182.40 total for May and June. The cards will arrive in early May, with instructions for how to activate and use them arriving before then. This Bridge report about the program provides additional information.
Q: I have a family member that lives in the multi-resident building and residents have come down with the coronavirus. Is it the responsibility of management to inform other residents of this epidemic in the building?
In Michigan, local health departments are overseeing investigations into COVID-19 cases and will follow up with people who may have been in contact with the patient and/or release any locations a patient visited, if they cannot fully account for all potential contacts.
The National Apartment Association recommends that landlords notify residents in a rental community where a COVID-19 case has been identified, but suggests that property managers should reach out to local health officials for guidance.
Those living in multi-resident buildings should follow CDC guidelines, including avoiding close contact with others, wearing a face mask when near others, and frequently washing their hands for at least 20 seconds, especially after coming into contact with high-touch surfaces, such as door handles.
Q: I have health insurance that is Medicare plus Medicaid. If and when I receive stimulus money, does it need to be reported to my caseworker for Medicaid?
According to the National Health Law Program, the stimulus checks ($1,200 tax rebate to people earning up to $75,000, and $2,400 to married persons filing jointly who make up to $150,000) are considered tax rebates do not need to be reported as income and should have no effect on Medicaid.
Q: Can I get some clarity on whether boating is allowed under the new order? Fishing? Painting? Mowing my lawn? Gardening?
The Michigan DNR has confirmed that fishing and “non-motorized boating, such as kayaking, canoeing and sailing,” fall within the outdoor activities permitted under the "Stay Home, Stay Safe" Executive Order,” as long as you are upholding social distancing guidelines and remaining at least 6 feet from people outside your household.
In a new FAQ answering questions about the new executive order, the state confirms that “the order does not prohibit homeowners from tending to their own yards as they see fit,” including gardening and mowing your own lawn.
Residents are still allowed to paint, however, stores larger than 50,000 sq. ft. must close certain areas of the store, including those selling paint. Bridge has also reported on the extended executive order and what the implications are for daily life.
Q: I see news clips of areas being sprayed/sanitized in Europe and Asia. Why is this not being done in American cities?
While some cities in Europe and Asia have used cleaning solutions to disinfect their streets and buildings, there are no studies on the effectiveness of this practice. In a viewer Q&A with WDIV-TV in Detroit, Dr. Frank McGeorge, an emergency medicine physician at Henry Ford Health, said that “based on what we know about survival of the virus on surfaces such as sidewalks, it’s not likely that it is either effective or necessary.”
Instead, experts recommend more targeted disinfection, focusing on hot spots such as emergency rooms and communal surfaces in hospitals. “Decontaminating frequently touched indoor surfaces, such handrails, counter tops and door handles, makes more sense,” said Dr. McGeorge.
Q: Are we permitted to go on car rides with our children/family members just to get out of the house?
While Governor Whitmer’s shelter-in-place order allows for Michiganders to engage in outdoor activity and drive when making necessary trips to grocery stores, pharmacies and essential workplaces. The goal is for people to stay at home as much as possible. Although recreational car rides may abide by social distancing rules, experts urge people to “ limit even necessary travel as much as possible.”
Q: Is moving to a new home allowed under the stay-home order?
Under Michigan’s current shelter-in-place order, Michigan residents are permitted to “travel between two residences in the state.” In a Q&A posted on their website, Michigan Realtors® indicate that movers should be able to continue working “under the essential critical designation of “employees supporting or enabling transportation functions” or “shipping workers.””
Q: We rely on a lawn care company to mow our lawn. Since they work outdoors and have little contact with homeowners, are they allowed to return to work?
Under Michigan’s shelter-in-place order lawn care and landscaping businesses are considered non-essential businesses and are not currently allowed to operate. State Rep. Jim Lower, R-Greenville, has argued that these companies should be allowed to return to work if they can follow social distancing guidelines, especially since many provide services to seniors.
Q: What do I do to obtain license plates for my vehicle now?
Some vehicle services, such as renewing license plates 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 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 6 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 6 months. This happens whether someone is receiving food assistance.
Q: Do you have any guidance for non-profit 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.
Virtual town halls and other census materials can be found at: facebook.com/MiCensus and michigan.gov/census2020.
Nonpartisan organizations like Nonprofit VOTE and Rock the Vote have provided resources and tools for virtual voter registration efforts.
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: I have a family member who wants to still hold a wedding in their home with 30+ people since their venue cancelled 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: 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. 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: 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.
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: I work for an essential company, but I have pre-existing conditions that put me at high risk for COVID-19. Do I qualify for sick pay? Or unemployment?
You first should seek paid family and medical leave from your employer, according to the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.
You will need to follow your employer’s sick leave plan if you want to use earned sick time. However, the state “encourage(s) all employers to allow the use of earned sick leave, accrued vacation time or other paid time off during this public health crisis” for those required to stay home by the state order. If you do not have paid sick leave and a medical professional or public health official has suggested you isolate or quarantine yourself, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits.
The governor’s order provides for unemployment if you leave work because you are:
- have symptoms of the disease,
- have had contact within the last 14 days with someone confirmed to have the virus,
- need to care for someone confirmed to have the virus, or
- have a family care responsibility as a result of a government directive.
Q: I quit my job in January of this year after 15 years at the company. I wanted to take a break and then get back into my field after a few months of taking time off. Well, talk about bad timing. Now there is no place hiring and I cannot claim unemployment from my previous employer because I quit, on good terms. Is there any help for someone in my situation?
Erica Quealy, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, responded:
“Under the federal CARES Act, individuals who may be eligible for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation include those who exhausted rights to a regular claim with respect to a benefit that ended on or after July 1, 2019. An individual is considered to have exhausted their rights when:
- The individual has received all available regular unemployment compensation based on employment or wages during their base period, or
- The individual’s right to regular unemployment compensation has been terminated by reason of expiration of the benefit year that ended prior to July 1, 2019.”
Additional guidance is available from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Q: If I live in Michigan but work in another state, am I allowed to travel for work under the new stay-home order?
According to the governor’s order, residents may enter or leave the state to go to their residence. You don’t say whether you are deemed an essential worker, i.e., a worker “necessary to sustain or protect life or to conduct minimum basic operations.” If you are not, the order indicates that you should stay at home and work remotely.
Q: There are rumors that a man in my workplace died from the virus. We have been told information can’t be disclosed because of HIPPA. Is this true?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act establishes security and privacy requirements around patient information. While your workplace may not identify an individual, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells employers they should inform employees if a co-worker is confirmed to have COVID-19. Employers also should have policies and procedures in place for workers to report when they are experiencing symptoms, according to Occupational Health and Safety Act guidelines.
Q: What about people who were terminated, appealed, and were given a rework requirement in order to become eligible for unemployment again? Are those people also included in the executive order to extend benefits and waive certain requirements, or are they out of luck?
Erica Quealy, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, said anyone who believes they may be eligible for unemployment 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.
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 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 up 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 — Wednesday 7 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. or Thursday — Friday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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: How and when do I file federal, state, and local tax returns?
Federal and state tax returns now are due on July 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.
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