Capitol News

December 6, 2020

COVID-19’s spread topped the news this month along with post-election news (see separate article).

COVID-19 UPDATE

Twenty million doses of Pfizer and Moderna’s MNRA COVID-19 vaccines are on their way to Michigan now or by year’s end, we are told. AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson’s vaccines are not far behind. The vaccine likely will provide 95 percent effectiveness from getting sick. That is the good news. The bad news is that nationally, COVID-19 displaced heart disease as the leading cause of death in the United States during the first week of December 2020 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

New Highs — That same week there were new highs in reported COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, with Intensive Care Unit bed availability severely taxed. According to a Pew Research study, more than half of Americans know someone personally who’s been hospitalized or died due to COVID. The University of Washington Health Institute’s metrics team projects that a half million more deaths from COVID will occur between now and April given the current trends.

The surge from Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, MLK Day, and President’s Day travel where people are socializing indoors with people outside their immediate household without masks or social distancing for 15 minutes or more are among the challenges ahead of us. Infections are reportedly occurring not only from these gatherings but in a few locations restaurants, bars, gyms, and similar indoor locations in locales that still permit them. About 50 percent of those testing positive have no symptoms, which means all of us are potential carriers without even knowing that we are putting other people at risk.

Michigan — The State’s hospitalizations, case numbers, and deaths have increased dramatically over the last several months. From September 25 through October 1, the State reported 87 total deaths from COVID-19, about 12 per day. From October 25 through October 31, the State reported 201 probable or confirmed deaths from COVID-19, about 28 per day. The State saw 563 confirmed or probable COVID deaths, about 80 per day, from November 25 through December 1. The positivity rate of those tested is very high at about 14 percent on December 3.

The three-week closures announced by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for dine-in at restaurants and bars, indoor entertainment venues, and in-person high school and higher education ends on December 8 at midnight. From the above numbers it appears likely that all or some of the closures will continue.

COVID VACCINE

There are over 330 million people in the U.S., but Pfizer says it expects to send the U.S. 25 million doses, or enough to vaccinate about 12.5 million Americans, by the end of 2020 (two per person - a prime and a booster 28 days later are needed).

Moderna says it will be able to make about 15 million vaccine doses at first, which can treat 7.5 million people (again, a series of two shots per person).

Ultimately, the decision on who gets the first COVID-19 vaccine belongs to state governors in consultation with their own public health experts, but states typically follow CDC guidelines, the New York Times reported.

The CDC says that though there will be a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines in December 2020, supply will continually increase in the weeks and months that follow. The plan is to have several thousand vaccination providers available, including doctors’ offices, retail pharmacies, hospitals, and federally qualified health centers. The vaccine will be taxpayer-financed but injection administration costs will be covered by people’s individual insurance programs.

First In Line — Because of limited supply, some groups will get a COVID-19 vaccine first. Healthcare personnel and long-term care facility (LTCF) residents will be offered COVID-19 vaccination in the initial phase of the U.S. COVID-19 vaccination program.

Health care personnel are defined as paid and unpaid persons serving in health care settings who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials. Health care personnel comprise clinical staff members, including nursing or medical assistants and support staff members (e.g., those who work in food, environmental, and administrative services). Approximately 21 million U.S. health care personnel work in settings such as hospitals, LTCFs, outpatient clinics, home health care, public health clinical services, emergency medical services, and pharmacies.

LTCF residents are defined as adults who reside in facilities that provide a range of services, including medical and personal care, to persons who are unable to live independently. Approximately 3 million adults reside in LTCFs nationally, which include skilled nursing facilities, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities.

Robert Gordon, Director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, testified before a legislative committee that vaccinating health care personnel and residents of LTCFs in Michigan could go into January as there are some issues around delivery to nursing homes working in partnership with area pharmacies. The State is working with the National Guard on this roll out as they have been throughout the pandemic.

Others In Line — Though not yet finalized or announced by federal and state authorities officially, the second in line may include essential workers, those with co-morbidities, and seniors.

  1. Essential workers: Approximately 87 million U.S. workers provide the basic goods and services we need to survive. Most can’t work from home and many jobs require interacting with the public, so guarding against COVID-19 among this population would have a ripple effect across the whole country while also reducing critical service interruptions.
  2. People with underlying medical conditions: There are 100 million or so people with conditions putting them at high risk for illness or death from COVID-19. Any disease affecting the lungs, but also anything that could compromise a person’s immune system, like cancer or HIV, would be included.
  3. Older adults: It’s widely accepted that the risk of severe complications from COVID-19 increases with age. There are approximately 53 million U.S. adults age 65 and over that may be among the second tier of those vaccinated.

Children, Pregnant Women — At first, COVID-19 vaccines are not recommended for children or pregnant women. In early clinical trials for various COVID-19 vaccines, only non-pregnant adults participated. However, clinical trials continue to expand those recruited to participate. The groups recommended to receive the vaccines could change in the future.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC’s Good Morning America in November that he expects “the ordinary citizen” should be able to get a vaccine by April, May, or June 2021.

In the interim, everyone, vaccinated and non-vaccinated alike, is still expected to adhere to pandemic safety practices like universal masking, avoiding crowds, maintaining social distancing, and washing hands.

COVID RELIEF BILL

While the Congress and the President have spent months negotiating a federal COVID relief bill, Michigan can’t wait. Governor Whitmer has asked the Legislature to approve $100 million to provide direct financial support to families and small businesses hit hardest by the pandemic. Expiration of some COVID-related measures must pass before the Legislature adjourns for this session on December 17.

Additionally, the Governor has recently proposed a 2020-21 Fiscal Year supplemental appropriations bill that contains $300 million General Fund for coronavirus response. It would continue what the Whitmer administration described as “critical Coronavirus response activities that can no longer be funded with Coronavirus Relief Funds after December 30 under federal law.”

The biggest item is $617.3 million in the Department of Health and Human Services:

  • $419 million in federal funds for pandemic food assistance benefits targeted at children who would otherwise receive free or reduced price meals at school but for the coronavirus emergency;
  • $196.1 million to continue Department of Health and Human Services response efforts for COVID-19 into the second quarter of the fiscal year through testing and contact tracing of vulnerable populations, purchasing of supplies and equipment to support those efforts, and supporting expansion of health system capacity to allow for COVID vaccine distribution; and
  • $5.9 million for local public health departments to support immunization activities.

For the Department of Corrections, the Governor proposes $67.6 million to support the estimated 90-day coronavirus response costs of the Department of Corrections starting December 31, such as weekly testing of all prisoners and prison staff, providing non-congregate housing to department employees with known close contact with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases, reimbursements to counties for suspended prisoner intake, non-Medicaid inpatient hospitalization costs for infected prisoners, and protective measures at correctional facilities.

Another $25 million is proposed to continue wastewater testing for the virus at more than 270 locations throughout the State like prisons, dormitories, child care facilities, K-12 schools, and LTCFs.

Additionally there is:

  • $6 million for the State’s COVID-19 Office of Accountability and $5 million to demobilize the field hospital sites in southeast Michigan at the TCF Center and Suburban Collection Showplace;
  • $10 million for the Department of Education for school-age children in child care while engaged in virtual learning;
  • $2.9 million to prevent and respond to COVID-19 infections at State veterans’ homes and continue coronavirus-related National Guard activities; and
  • $1 million to provide for three employees to conduct inspections and plan approvals at migrant labor housing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the 2021 and 2022 growing seasons.
MICHIGAN INVESTMENT BOARD NEWS

Governor Whitmer announced the re-appointment of Dina L. Richard of Northville to the Michigan Investment Board. She is the Senior Vice President, Treasury and Chief Investment Officer for Trinity Health. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Michigan-Dearborn and a Master of Business Administration in Finance and International Business from Wayne State University. She is reappointed for a term commencing November 27, 2020, and expiring November 26, 2024. The appointment is not subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.

The State of Michigan Investment Board is the investment fiduciary with respect to the investment and management of the assets of the retirement funds that comprise the State of Michigan Retirement System (SMRS), including the State Employees Retirement System defined benefit investments and the 401(k) defined contribution program for State employees in accordance with the standards set forth in Act 314 of 1965. The Board is comprised of the State Treasurer as chairperson, the State Budget Director, and three individuals appointed by the Governor who have extensive public pension investment or other such similar experience.

The Board’s meeting schedule is December 10, 2020, and March 25, June 10, September 16, and December 9, 2021. Michigan SERA monitors the activities of the Michigan Investment Board.

Editor’s note: Mary Pollock is the Lansing SERA Chapter and SERA Council’s Legislative Representative. She may be contacted at 1200 Prescott Drive, East Lansing, MI 48823-2446; Phone 517-351-7292; E-mail michigansera@comcast.net.

Michigan SERA Recent News, a compilation of links to articles of interest to state employees, is no longer produced.

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