April 15, 2021

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This week

Vaccine rollout hits a snag over Johnson & Johnson safety concerns, but universities remain determined to get everyone vaxxed up and ready for a more normal fall. Even if we had a surfeit of doses it's unlikely we could vax our way out of the current surge, so our continued vigilance is necessary for a little while longer. 

Even though the numbers look bad, spring and all its beauty have brought forth a palpable sense of optimism. More people are in the streets and bars and restaurants are buzzing. The Blue Llama reopens with two in-person concerts this weekend, and two tech companies announce expansions. 

Inspired by National Pet Day and an Observer staff member's flying squirrel, we are launching an unusual pet contest. 

Trilby MacDonald, editor 

Covid-19 Updates

On Wednesday morning, the Washtenaw County Health Department reported 327 new infections, twenty-three hospitalizations, and one death in the previous twenty-four hours, the highest daily tally since the pandemic began. Last week’s positivity shot up to 6.2 percent. 

Vaccine clinics relying on the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine are paused until more is known about possible health risks. The health department, the U-M, EMU, and Concordia College all cancelled J&J clinics or switched to other vaccines. Office of the President

Geoffrey Barnes, a cardiologist and vascular medicine specialist at Michigan Medicine notes that “The risk of blood clots in patients with COVID is far higher than the very small risk of a blood clot following a COVID-19 vaccine. Overall, the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination greatly outweigh the very small risks.” Michigan Health Blog

On Friday, Governor Whitmer made a series of recommendations to reduce the spread, including delayed return to in-person instruction for high schools, suspension of youth sports, and avoidance of indoor dining and gatherings. But Bridge Magazine reports that  people aren’t listening, and Whitmer’s request for more vaccines from the federal government was denied. Even if vaccines were available, they wouldn’t act quickly enough to stem the tide, according to CDC director Rochelle Walensky. Instead, she called on Whitmer  “to really close things down.” Bridge 

Washtenaw County Health Department spokesperson Susan Ringler-Cerniglia acknowledged that shutdowns and restrictions would be “extremely helpful right now,” however “It’s not clear additional orders would be effective in the current climate, and enforcement becomes a huge challenge.” 

Anyone sixteen and older is now eligible for a vaccine, but it continues to be difficult for younger people to get an appointment locally—even as shots are going unclaimed elsewhere in Michigan. Ringler-Cerniglia says that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services allocates doses based on “several factors, including population and the social vulnerability index.” The core problem remains supply and demand: vaccine production worldwide is still far short of the need. 

Western-Washtenaw Area Value Express (WAVE) public transit is offering free rides to county residents and employees to Pierce Lake School mass vaccine site in Chelsea, in collaboration with Washtenaw County Health Department. Visit Ride the Wave or call dispatch at 734-475-9494 for details.

The News...briefly

The Housing Commission's recommendations for downtown affordable housing developments go to city council on Monday. City-owned parking lots under consideration for redevelopment include three on William, at Ashley, Main, and Fourth-Fifth Aves.

County commissioners approve $15 hour minimum wage for all regular full time county staff—though the vast majority were already making more. Some seasonal positions will continue to make less.

City council’s administrative committee recommends temporarily stripping council member Jeff Hayner for an offensive Facebook post. Hayner shared a quote from the late Hunter S. Thompson that denigrated journalists and homosexuals. Hayner at first defended his use of the quote but later apologized. MLive (subscriber exclusive)

Ann Arbor Public Schools superintendent Jeanice Swift delayed the return to hybrid learning a second time for grades four through high school, but is allowing high school sports to continue. Third grade returns today, fourth grade through high school are now scheduled to return May 3.

Thousands of parents took their students out of public school in 2020-21. County public K-12 school districts saw combined enrollment decrease by 5.4 percent. AAPS is down 3 percent overall, with  preK and kindergarten enrollment taking the biggest hit as parents chose to wait for a more normal year. MLive (subscriber exclusive) 

U-M researchers discover subatomic particles dancing to their own beat. In a paper published in the Physical Review of Letters, U-M physicists working with muons created at the Fermi National Accelerator found that the subatomic particles wobble in unpredictable ways, opening up the possibility of groundbreaking new physics. Michigan News

Two Ann Arbor-area tech businesses expand. Michigan Strategic Fund grants totalling $27.9 million will support the expansion of virtual addiction treatment company Workit Health, based in Ann Arbor, and California-based software company Nexient. Workit Health has committed to creating 179 jobs; Nexient, which has 300 employees in Scio Township, will add 100 more. Ann Arbor Spark 

The American Center for Innovation (ACI) lays plans for a new STEM magnet school in Ypsilanti. Former Ypsilanti Community Schools STEM teacher and southeast regional director for the MiSTEM Network Scott Heister is the driving force behind the new school, which he hopes can utilize the former Willow Run high school and middle school campus. The school would center on a makerspace, and collaborate with local businesses to provide career training. Concentrate

Huron High School boys basketball team fell one win short of a title, ending its previously unbeaten season in its 45-36 loss to Grand Blanc in the state championship game. The River Rats held the Bobcats to their lowest point total of the season. MLive (subscriber exclusive)

Marketplace Changes

Bee Joyful shop opens in Dexter with sustainably sourced home and body products. Owner Jessica Thompson brings her personal experience to her business. “I was raised in a cabin deep in the forest near Allegan, Michigan. I was ‘off the grid,’ meaning no electricity, no indoor plumbing and no running water. I learned a lot about being resourceful.” The shop also takes hard-to-recycle items like plastic packaging and coffee capsules.

Blue Llama reopens with two in-person ticketed events this weekend. Brendon Davis Trio plays on Friday, and the Kris Kurzowa Quartet plays on Saturday accompanied by a seven course meal prepared by chef Louis Goral. Blue Llama

The Michigan Ladder Co. will hold a liquidation auction this weekend. The sale, which starts on Saturday, includes the 120-year-company’s inventory, machinery, and intellectual property. 

Left: Red, a heritage breed Silkie chicken, lives with Susan of @chickouttawater
Right: Bucky, a flying squirrel, lives with LR. 

Odd Pet Contest

In honor of National Pet Day, which was on Sunday, April 11, we would like to invite you to submit photos of your unusual pets for our next issue. We feature a couple of adorable examples above for inspiration. Please send submissions including pet names and photo credits to Let us know if it’s OK to post your photos to social media!

Things to Do 

By Ella Bourland

Thursday: Hear Katherine Heiny read from and discuss her new novel, Early Morning Riser (8 p.m.), about a woman who moves to Boyne City (MI) to teach second grade and becomes enmeshed in a most unconventional family when she falls head over heels for the local Lothario. Bestselling novelist Elin Hilderbrand calls it "a charming, witty and heartwarming novel about life and love in a small town." Q&A. Free online, At Home with Literati Bookstore. 

Friday: Livestream U-M sports, which remain in “no fans'' mode per Big Ten Conference policy. Every spring sport competes this month, plus traditional fall sports including soccer, volleyball, field hockey, and more. See complete list of teams, and ways to view free online, at

Saturday: Visit Thurston Nature Center between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. to see U-M music grad student Akari Komura’s thesis project, Breathe with the Wind: Sound Ceremonies. The site-specific sound installation features wind chimes and wooden disks accompanied by written instructions encouraging meditative breathing and awareness of the wind and the rest of nature. Also, Sunday from 2–3 p.m., ten student and alumni musicians perform Komura's original acoustic composition while strolling the green. Bring a blanket or chair, if you'd like. Masks required. Free, Thurston Nature Center, 2398 Yorktown Dr. 

See the Observer’s online calendar for many more local events. 


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