MARQUETTE — To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, in partnership with the Michigan Department of Transportation and select Michigan airports, are piloting a Travel Points Testing program this spring.

The goal is to bring antigen COVID-19 testing to locations with high volumes of travel, the State Emergency Operations Center reported.

Quick and cost-free testing will be offered at several Michigan Welcome Centers and airports throughout the state, with results available in as little as 15 minutes. Walk-ups are taken as space allows, and an option to register online via a mobile device will also be available.

“I encourage all Michiganders to continue masking up, socially distancing and hand washing to slow the spread, and if you re-enter or travel across the state, get tested at one of the new sites being set up at key points,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. “Finally, I encourage you to get vaccinated, which is the most effective way to keep you and your family safe and put this pandemic behind us.”

State Transportation Director Paul C. Ajegba said in a statement, “Our welcome centers are a gateway to thousands of travelers coming into the state each day, making them ideal locations to help prevent the spread of this horrible virus. Just look out for the COVID testing signs before the appropriate centers along the freeways.”

Health insurance is not required, according to the State Emergency Operations Center, and results can be obtained via text, email or uploaded to the traveler’s patient portal.

“We are pleased to partner with MDOT and offer simple, quick COVID-19 testing for Michiganders and travelers to Michigan,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at the MDHHS, in a statement. “With growing concerns of new, more contagious variants, testing for COVID-19 is more important than ever. If you are engaging in any travel, we encourage you to take advantage of this testing when you re-enter or travel across the state.”

Testing trailers will be located on the grounds of Michigan Welcome Centers. Testing stations will be located at multiple locations inside Michigan airports.

Current pilot sites are:

≤ Dundee Welcome Center, U.S. 23 Mile Marker 8, Petersburg, open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Sunday.

≤ Monroe Welcome Center, open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Sunday.

≤ Cherry Capital Airport, 727 Fly Don’t Drive, Traverse City. Open 2 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays, noon to 8 p.m. Fridays and 3 to 11 p.m. Sundays.

Additional sites will be announced as they are confirmed.

As a result of Whitmer’s request of the federal government to help get more Michiganders vaccinated as quickly as possible, more than 200 federal personnel will arrive in the state this week to assist at three mass vaccination sites: DeVos Place in Grand Rapids and Ford Field and TCF, both in Detroit.

Personnel will serve both clinical and nonclinical roles at the vaccination sites. They are being deployed by the Department of Defense, U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Forest Service. Support is being provided to hire additional ambulance personnel for these sites. They began arriving Wednesday and are expected to be fully operational no later than next Wednesday.

Michiganders eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine can schedule appointments in several ways:

≤ Find a vaccination location and schedule an appointment with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Vaccine Finder at https://vaccinefinder. org/search/.

≤ Check the websites of local health departments or hospitals to find out their processes or get registration forms. The Marquette County Health Department’s link is at mqthealth.org.

≤ Check additional vaccination sites, such as Snyder Drugs for Upper Peninsula residents.

Individuals without internet access or who need assistance in navigating the vaccine scheduling process can call the COVID-19 Hotline at 888-535-6136 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday or from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Filing deadlines extended

Whitmer on Thursday signed two state House bills that will update state and city income tax filing and payment deadlines.

“I’m happy to sign both of these bipartisan bills that give Michiganders more time on their income taxes,” Whitmer said in a statement. “This has been a challenging time for both individuals and businesses. Moving these tax deadlines to align with changes at the federal level is simply the right thing to do, giving everyone a bit of a buffer and peace of mind as we navigate these extraordinary times.”

House Bill 4569 amends the Uniform City Income Tax Ordinance to extend the April 15 or April 30 city income tax return or payment deadlines given the Internal Revenue Service’s extension of the federal income tax filing or payment deadline, the governor’s office reported.

Within the tax year, the new deadline will follow the IRS or 15 days after, whichever is applicable for the city administering the income tax. Taxpayers will not be subject to interest and penalties during city income tax deadline extension periods.

House Bill 4571 codifies the state income tax deadline from April 15 to May 17. In addition, if the IRS again extends the federal income tax filing and payment due date for the 2020 tax year, the state income tax deadline will also be automatically extended to match the federal income tax deadline. Taxpayers will not be subject to interest and penalties during state income tax deadline extension periods.

On March 19, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer secured bipartisan support to give Michiganders more time to file their state income tax returns. Changes to city income tax deadlines required state legislation.

Whitmer attached a signing letter to HB 4569, noting a constitutional problem with automatically extending the city income tax deadline in future years. The problem does not affect this year’s deadline extension.

NMU numbers updated

Northern Michigan University’s COVID-19 reporting dashboard, found at https://nmu.edu/safe-on-campus/dashboard, shows 31 active positives for a positivity rate of 0.47{09c3c849cf64d23af04bfef51e68a1f749678453f0f72e4bb3c75fcb14e04d49} as of Thursday afternoon. This number includes 15 active off-campus students, 15 on-campus students and one employee.

During the winter semester from Jan. 4 to Thursday, the dashboard showed 144 total positives for a 2.21{09c3c849cf64d23af04bfef51e68a1f749678453f0f72e4bb3c75fcb14e04d49} positivity rate — 81 off-campus students, 52 on-campus students and 11 employees.

In a Wednesday letter to students, faculty and staff, President Fritz Erickson wrote, “The good news is that we are in the final week of classes of the winter semester and 2020-21 academic year. Good luck to all students and faculty as you prepare for next week’s final exams and final projects.

“The not-so-good news is that, while it looks like we’ll be able to close out the semester without having to pivot to remote learning, our COVID-19 positive cases are rising both on campus and off. Thus, it continues to be vitally important that everyone follow pandemic protocols: Wear your mask (properly over nose and mouth), social distance, avoid large gatherings (especially indoors), wash your hands frequently and monitor daily for symptoms. Please do not be lax about this.”

Erickson pointed out that the Marquette County Health Department has immediate vaccination appointments for NMU students, faculty and staff. The MCHD is administering mostly Moderna and Pfizer vaccinations, which have a three- or four-week period between the first and second shots, he said. Once students have completed the online registration form, they will be contacted so their vaccination times can be confirmed.

The MCHD, he said, has issued guidance to return to a 10-day quarantine process, down from 14 days. Fully vaccinated individuals — who are two weeks beyond their final vaccine shot — don’t need to quarantine when exposed to COVID-19.

The MDHHS extended its epidemic order to May 24, keeping in place the current mandates, Erickson said, plus the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration extended its order to Oct. 14, stating it would lift that earlier if conditions improve.

“MIOSHA came out with additional guidance for some mandates, and we are reviewing our protocols to ensure current measures meet the requirements,” Erickson wrote. “Any changes needed in light of the clarifications will be made after the semester has ended.

“Overall, the extension does not change our current approach of having offices open to the public during university business hours with supervisors and staff determining the best approach to make that happen in their areas.”

Erickson said NMU will make changes to its visitor restrictions in the summer months, possibly as early as June 15. However, people should keep in mind that visitors registered with Admissions’ campus visit program are approved to be on campus now. To do so, they must meet the conditions of the approved campus visit program safety plan.

“When you see these groups of visitors, please make them feel welcome with a socially distanced wave, nod or hello,” he wrote.

Task force recognizes anniversary

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, along with members of the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, on Thursday recognized the first anniversary of the task force.

To date, the task force has made “significant progress” toward reducing COVID-19 mortality rate disparities for Michiganders of color, the governor’s office reported.

Gilchrist is launching the Making Real Change Tour across Michigan to ensure that work continues and allows for direct community interactions. The tour will make stops in Flint, Saginaw, Grand Rapids and Detroit.

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, this virus has shined a light on the unique health, economic and educational challenges Black communities and communities of color face daily,” Gilchrist said in a statement. “When Gov. Whitmer and I observed how deadly these deadly trends presented themselves during COVID-19, we took immediate action to protect public health.

“With cases rising in communities across our state, it is more important than ever that we continue the work of the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities.”

The tour, the governor’s office said, will highlight continued efforts to flatten and eliminate racial disparities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, while Black residents make up only 13{09c3c849cf64d23af04bfef51e68a1f749678453f0f72e4bb3c75fcb14e04d49} of Michigan’s population, they represented 29.4{09c3c849cf64d23af04bfef51e68a1f749678453f0f72e4bb3c75fcb14e04d49} of the cases in the early days of tracking COVID-19 data based on race.

In the past two weeks of available data, the state has maintained progress in limiting the disparate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, with Black residents accounting for 10.9{09c3c849cf64d23af04bfef51e68a1f749678453f0f72e4bb3c75fcb14e04d49} of cases.

The governor’s office said that to date, the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force has focused on two goals: to reduce the disparities in the mortality rate of COVID-19 and to connect those interventions to more extended -term efforts. The task force also has worked to close the digital divide in telehealth and remote learning, launched a Get Covered campaign to make a coordinated push for every Michigander to sign up for health insurance, increased mobile testing infrastructure and provided guidance to health care professionals on avoiding implicit bias.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is [email protected]



Today’s breaking news and more in your inbox