334 cases, 3 deaths in Michigan

DETROIT — Michigan signed off on $20 million in grants and loans to more than 1,000 small businesses harmed by the coronavirus while the number of reported cases rose dramatically Thursday to 334 in the state, including three deaths.

The Michigan Strategic Fund board took steps to help bars, movie theaters, fitness centers and restaurants, which are closed or under major restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus.

Board members said it wasn’t enough aid, but Michigan Economic Development Corp. officials said it’s just a start made possible by shifting money from other programs.

Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 cases jumped to more than 300 from 110 a day earlier, according to the state health department. Two-thirds are in Wayne and Oakland counties. The state said it’s now able to combine numbers from its own lab with statistics from hospitals and private labs.

Three people died Wednesday: a man and a woman in their 50s who also had other health problems and an 81-year-old man.

Oakland County has at least 105 cases, including five people who are in critical condition, said county Executive David Coulter.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she’s asking President Donald Trump to allow Michigan to use the National Guard to run mobile screening sites, disinfect public spaces and distribute medical supplies.

Separately, about 117,000 businesses have been directly impacted by the governor’s order to limit crowds at popular gathering spots. Those with 50 employees or fewer now could qualify for grants of up to $10,000. At least 1,100 businesses will get grants or loans, officials said.

“The catastrophic disaster both for the employees and the area in Traverse City is palpable,” said Cindy Warner, a northern Michigan tech executive and member of the Michigan Strategic Fund board.

“Ten thousand dollars in a downtown district where rents are $25 to $35 a square foot will last them about three weeks. If this lasts a long period of time, this will do nothing,” said Warner, who added that she still was appreciative.

Amtrak said it canceled trains between Grand Rapids and Chicago due to a drop in demand. Dearborn-based Ford Motor said it’s suspending dividends to stockholders to conserve cash, a day after it closed factories.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan wants more city employees to work from home while he keeps certain buildings staffed to provide vital services.

The Michigan Supreme Court ordered only “essential functions” in all courtrooms and a 10-person limit. Critics said a lack of consistency up and down the state was creating health risks.

Chief Justice Bridget McCormack said it makes sense for local officials to look at jails as they assess risks of spreading the virus. She told The Associated Press “there’s an awful lot of people” locked up for very minor offenses who wouldn’t be a threat to public safety if released.


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