Governor declares state of emergency; 8 Michigan universities suspend face-to-face classes; and trips to Israel have been cancelled.

This is a developing story. The Jewish News will be updating this piece as we receive more information.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and the Oakland County Health Division and Wayne County Health Department announced on March 10 that two Michigan residents tested presumptive positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19), the first confirmed cases in the state.

To maximize efforts and assist local governments and officials, Whitmer has declared a state of emergency to slow the spread of the virus.

“We are taking every step we can to mitigate the spread of the virus and keep Michiganders safe,” Whitmer said in a press release. “I have declared a state of emergency to harness all of our resources across state government to slow the spread of the virus and protect families. It’s crucial that all Michiganders continue to take preventative measures to lower their risk, and to share this information with their friends, family, and co-workers.”

One case is an adult female from Oakland County who has recently traveled internationally. The other is an adult male from Wayne County who has traveled domestically. The tests were sent to the MDHHS Bureau of Laboratories in Lansing and tested presumptive positive. They will now be sent to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for confirmatory testing.

According to Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS, both patients have been hospitalized.

Oakland County Executive David Coulter has directed the Emergency Operations Center to partially activate as part of the County’s COVID-19 preparedness efforts, according to a statement. In addition, Oakland County Health Division (OCHD) has released various toolkits to help community sectors prepare for and prevent the spread of COVID-19 throughout communities.

Local health departments are still trying to identify anyone who has come in close contact with both cases and recommend they be assessed for symptoms and monitored appropriately.

According to the MDHHS, symptoms for COVID-19 may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure to the virus and include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

To prevent the spread of the disease, health officials are asking the public to wash their hands with soap and water, avoid touching your face with unwashed hands, covering your mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing, avoid contact with people who are sick and to stay home and contact your doctor if you feel ill.

As of March 5, the MDHHS Bureau of Laboratories has increased its testing supplies to test more than 300 Michiganders for the virus, more than doubling its previous testing capacity. Those testing supplies are currently only available in Lansing.

According to their statement, the MDHHS state lab is in the process of surveying hospital labs across the state to determine which labs wish to begin providing testing. A Laboratory Leadership Service Fellow has been requested from CDC to help Michigan hospitals with the validation process.

Whitmer also announced in a press release on March 6 that the Michigan Medicaid Program will waive copays and cost-sharing for testing and health care treatment related to COVID-19. Several insurers, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Blue Care Network of Michigan, Priority Health, CVS Health, McLaren and Meridian, also announced they will fully cover the cost of medically necessary COVID-19 tests for members.

Eight Michigan Universities Suspend Face-to-Face Classes

As of noon March 11, Michigan State University (MSU) has suspended face-to-face instruction in lectures, seminars and classrooms until April 20, the last week of the school’s Spring 2020 semester. They are moving all coursework to virtual instruction.

“During this time period, students doing purely remote work can return to their permanent place of residence, and we strongly encourage this because there are advantages for social distancing,” read the statement. “But for those not able to go home, we will continue to fully support students in our residence halls and dining facilities.”

The university is also suspending all non-essential domestic and international travel from March 11 till April 20. MSU is additionally evaluating all large events that have already been scheduled and “will not be scheduling new events with more than 100 individuals in a confined space for a long period of time.”

Michigan Technological University will begin online courses March 16 and will last at least until April 17.

Central Michigan University students have been advised not to return to campus after spring break ends this week and classes will be taught online until March 20. The university will make a decision regarding classes for the following week on March 19.

Wayne State University has extended its spring break for students and has cancelled all classes until March 23. The university is planning on shifting to online instruction and will provide further instructions in 24-48 hours. Events with 100 or more people attending have also been cancelled.

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel announced that all three campuses – Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint – will be cancelling classes for the rest of the week and on Monday, March 16 all classes will resume remotely until the semester ends on April 21.

Oakland University has cancelled in-person classes for the rest of the semester, switching them out for online classes. The online classes will begin on Monday, March 16.

Local Jewish Trips Affected

All scheduled trips organized by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit (JFMD) through the end of April have been cancelled, and JFMD has put a hold on all its trips through June 1, according to Ted Cohen, Chief Marketing Officer at JFMD.

“The trips will be rescheduled when possible,” Cohen told the Jewish News. “We want to ensure the health and well-being of our participants. Going forward, we will continue to closely monitor all available information from our public health agencies as we determine the status of trips beyond that time frame.”

Affected trips include a planned spring interfaith mission to Israel.

Birthright Israel has also cancelled all remaining winter trips due to the spread of COVID-19.

“This change will impact only a handful of remaining scheduled trips. For the past 20 years, the safety and well-being of our more than 750,000 participants have remained our top priority,” a spokesperson for Birthright Israel told the JN. “We look forward to restarting trips for summer season in May and will be staying in close contact with the Israel Ministry of Health. Any changes to our program will be communicated with our trip organizers and participants on a timely basis.”

Other Jewish group trips to Israel have been cancelled, as well, including a March 12-26 trip with The Land and Spirit – Israel Experience, organized nationally through the Jewish Learning Initiative, the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and an initiative of Chabad. It was to include approximately 800 people, including a local contingent of more than two dozen local people organized by Rabbi Shneur Silberberg of the Bais Chabad Torah Center in West Bloomfield.

A separate trip to Poland through the same program was cancelled, as well. Participants may ask for a refund for their trip or use the money they have paid towards the rescheduled 2021 trip.

The Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity’s executive board was also scheduled to travel to Israel on May 2 through the Philos Foundation. That trip has been cancelled and is looking to reschedule for some time in the near future.

Limmud Michigan Postpones 2020 Event

Limmud Michigan, an annual Jewish learning event, has postponed its daylong conference from its planned date of March 22 to October 25 in response to the virus outbreak. The conference will still be held at Eastern Michigan University, the group said in a statement.

“Our highest priority is, and must be, the safety and health of our participants,” read the March 10 statement.

Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit Postpones Super Sunday

JFMD’s biggest community telethon of the year scheduled for Sunday, March 29 has been postponed to a later date.

All in-person group programming for the next three weeks has also been postponed.

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