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COVID-19 in Grand Rapids: Wednesday, April 8 updates

Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency extends call center hours and adds staff, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park shares Virtual Visits series amid temporary closure, and more statements from area organizations issued April 8, 2020.
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park has been adapting to its temporary public closure through a daily video series.

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park has been adapting to its temporary public closure through a daily video series. /Frederik Meijer Gardens

Today, April 8, saw an increase of 20 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Kent County since yesterday, with two additional deaths. This brings Kent County’s confirmed total to 207 cases and eight deaths. Statewide, there are a confirmed 20,346 cases and 959 deaths. Local and state developments responses continue accordingly.

Shared in this Wednesday, April 8, update are statements relevant to local life from the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, and Blandford Nature Center.


Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency extends call center hours, adds staff

The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) has extended call center hours and is adding staff in response to an unprecedented increase in Michiganders filing unemployment claims, the UIA announced today, April 8. The increase in claims is a result of the ongoing physical distancing measures needed to slow the virus’ spread.

The UIA has extended call center hours by an hour every day, with the new hours being 8am–6pm, Monday–Friday. It remains open from 7am–2pm on Saturday. Residents in the call center and online chat queues before closing time will have their calls or chats resolved that day.

Thank you to Michigan’s working families for their patience as the UIA continues to provide emergency financial assistance during this unprecedented increase in unemployment claims,” said Michigan’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Jeff Donofrio. “We continue to ramp up our services to make sure every eligible Michigander receives their benefits as quickly as possible and we’re asking workers to please reserve the phone lines for those who cannot go online or are having trouble with their account."

The UIA says the best way to file a claim is through its website – – where the process takes “on average 20-25 minutes.”

Due to the unprecedented increase in Michigan unemployment claims, the UIA has set up an online filing schedule based on the first letter of the filers’ last name. Last names beginning with letters A–L can to file claims on Mondays, Wednesday, or Fridays. Last names beginning with letters M–Z can file claims on Sundays, Tuesdays, or Thursdays.

More information about the UIA’s efforts to adjust to the high amount of unemployment claims is available on its website.


Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs executive order temporarily suspending requirements regarding licensing and regulations of emergency medical services

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an additional executive order (EO 20-39) today, April 8, temporarily suspending licensing and regulations of emergency medical services. The order is effective immediately and will remain in place until the end of the Whitmer’s declared emergency or until otherwise rescinded.

Our paramedics are on the front lines every day helping us mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan, and we must do everything we can to help them do their jobs efficiently and effectively,” said Whitmer. “Given the rapid increase in Michiganders who require emergency medical treatment and the scarcity of medical supplies and PPE, it's important that we give emergency medical services the ability to respond flexibly to these new challenges.”

Resulting from the order, Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services will not be required to conduct annual random inspections of life support vehicles or annual inspections of life support agencies. Instead, a life support vehicle or agency will only be inspected when the department has reason to believe the vehicle or agency is out of compliance.

Additionally, the executive order allows the transport of a patient, in emergency or non-emergency situations, to any destination designated by the medical control authority or other regulatory authority, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the local health department.

More details about the executive order is available on the Executive Order page of the state’s website.


Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park shares Virtual Visits amid temporary closure

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park (FMG), one of Michigan’s most popular tourist attractions, has been adapting to its public closure during this time through a “Virtual Visits” video series on its Facebook and YouTube pages.

FMG has temporarily been closed to the public since Friday, March 13, due to the coronavirus outbreak and will “open again as soon as possible,” according to a statement on its website.

The Virtual Visits occur daily, Saturday and Sunday included, at 10am and 2pm. FMG staff members have been featured giving guided tours of the various gardens, artwork, and plant and animal species present at FMG.

FMG’s most recent Virtual Visit today, April 8, featured FMG Director of Horticulture, Steve LaWarre, who introduced viewers to the world of ant plants.

Ant plants have a symbiotic relationship with an ant colony that lives inside the plant,” FMG’s Facebook video shared. “Steve explains how this relationship works, and shows us a look inside the structure of these plants.”

Other recent Virtual Visits have featured FMG Curator of Arts Education Amber Oudsema, who gave guided tours of FMG’s Sculpture Park and Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden.

More information about FMG’s Virtual Visits and other online content at this time is available on its website.


Blandford Nature Center shares BNC Moments amid temporary closure of facilities

Also embracing online engagement at this time is Blandford Nature Center (BNC), who has been sharing a series of Facebook Live videos, dubbed “BNC Moments,” highlighting BNC’s trails, farms, plant and animal species, and staff.

BNC’s facilities – including the Mary Jane Dockeray Visitor Center, the surrounding buildings, and the Farm – are closed through Monday, May 11, due to the coronavirus outbreak. Its trails, however, remain open.

The BNC Moments have been featuring BNC’s wildlife and farm ambassadors, which are animals presents at its center. Such ambassadors include “Bob the Bobcat,” “Gimli the Nigerian Dwarf Goat,” and “Luna the Barn Owl.”

We know you are missing our wildlife ambassadors as much as we are as we stay at home,” BNC shared in a statement. “A Facebook Live virtual connection can be an excellent alternative to a visit, and what a great opportunity to learn more about the Michigan native wildlife we have all grown to love!”

Viewers have also been encouraged to ask questions of the BNC staff that care for the featured animals.

The BNC Moments series will conclude on Thursday, April 9, with a “Taste of Blandford” broadcast, which will feature a one-day glimpse and behind-the-scenes peek into some of BNC's visitor favorites, as well as an introduction from BNC President and CEO Jason Meyer. BNC visitor favorites include its “history, hikes, crafts, festivals, wildlife, and farm,” according to a recent post on its Facebook.

More information about BNC’s BNC Moments and other online content at this time is available on its website.


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