December 30, 2020

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This week

Happy New Year's Eve, everyone! While I'm grateful for the quality time with my kids, Peter Rabbit followed by an 8 o'clock bedtime is not how I had wanted this evening to go. With the arrival of the vaccine, we can at least close the year on a hopeful note. I'll gleefully kick this one out the door.

For those of us who can still taste and smell, baking continues to be a source of comfort, as Ann Arbor's very own baking prodigy Nemo Tsai will attest. And if you want to make your year-end charitable contribution really count, the Song Foundation will match your donation to the United Way. 

Trilby MacDonald, editor 


Michigan Medicine’s vaccination campaign is off to a roaring start. As of Wednesday, December 30, Michigan Medicine had administered a staggering 6,055 vaccines, and opened a new site at Michigan Stadium today. MM Headlines. As of today, St. Joseph Mercy Hospital had administered 3,033 vaccines to frontline staff; the Washtenaw County Health Department provided its initial allocation of 1,950 vaccines to independent health-care groups and workers, and is expecting its second allocation this week. 

On Wednesday, the WCHD posted eighty-eight new confirmed cases, eight hospitalizations, and one death. The two-week snapshot, which repeatedly passed 2,000 cases in recent weeks, showed some improvement with 1,574 confirmed cases from December 9–22 and a 7.5 percent positivity rate, down from nine percent two weeks ago.

Has the pandemic peaked? Because daily counts continue to vary, “we're hesitant to really say it's declining,” says WCHD public information officer Susan Ringler-Cerniglia. The department’s epidemiologist instead characterizes the current infection level as a “high plateau.” 

With contact tracers still overwhelmed, Ringler-Cerniglia says, they can’t say for certain how the recent infections spread. But based on past patterns, it’s likely that most occured in unmasked social settings, and the impact of holiday gatherings is still unknown. Because the virus is already so widespread in the community, she says, infection rates may stay “pretty high through January and maybe even February.”

In the News

Federal funding will bring broadband service to parts of rural Washtenaw County. $3.7 million has been allocated to Washtenaw County from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Approximately 8,000 homes in Washtenaw County have low-speed or no internet service. Of those, 6,600 could gain access to broadband through the fund if internet providers are able to meet the program requirements. Washtenaw County’s Broadband Task Force meets online on the third Thursday of each month at 8 a.m.

U-M students seek to block a controversial professor’s assignment to teach a required computer engineering class. Assistant professor Jason Mars, a faculty member since 2013, resigned earlier this year as CEO of Clinc, an Ann Arbor artificial intelligence startup, after national website TheVerge reported allegations of sexual harassment and abusive behavior there. Clinc said an outside investigation didn’t support many of the allegations, but Mars apologized and told MLive that he had quit drinking; university officials noted that the class will be entirely remote. 

City Council met on December 22 to discuss water rates, short term rentals, and speaking rules, among other topics. Despite council members’ expressed desire to move beyond bickering and personal attacks, the tone of 2020’s last City Council meeting was not cordial. MLiveMichigan Daily. 

New senior living facility gets initial City Council approval. Council approved the 7.2-acre property at 2195 E. Ellsworth Road for rezoning and will vote on final approval of 154 unit facility after a public hearing on January 19. The developers are promising to reserve sixty-five units for households earning 60 percent or less of the area median income. MLive 

Song Foundation donates $100,000 matching gift to United Way of Washtenaw County’s Community Impact Fund, doubling the value of all donations received by midnight, December 31, 2020. The Fund supports local nonprofits serving critical needs in the areas of health, education, and financial stability.

Supporting a child through a mental health emergency is gut-wrenching under the best of circumstances, but one mother’s experience at U-M Psychiatric Emergency Room was truly a nightmare. “The pandemic made it worse, but didn't cause it,” she writes. “It happens to families there all the time.” The Observer’s Valerie Mates has our story. 

The Ride is updating its temporary service plan, beginning Sunday, January 17, 2021. Service will be restored in Ypsilanti and on-time performance improved on several routes. The Ride offers more frequent service to popular routes to reduce crowding. 

The 44th annual Folk Festival at the Ark released the lineup for its 2021 virtual event. Visit the Observer’s calendar for a list of performers on January 29 and 30 and information on an in-person watch party at Stoney Lake Brewing. 

If you are in need of a laugh and a bit of whimsy, Julie Weatherbee documents Ann Arbor’s oddball “lost” things - from a flight of stairs to baby groundhogs -on Twitter. Click on Detroit


Ban on indoor dining extended to January 15; bowling alleys, theaters, and other indoor venues are allowed to reopen, as well as high schools.

Briarwoods’ owners are floating a plan to demolish the vacant Sears store and replace it with offices, housing, and a grocery store. "I've been talking to Simon Properties to redevelop Briarwood for this kind of use the past four or five years," says commercial real estate broker Jim Chaconas. Denise Kearns has our story. 

Blue Llama Jazz Club will be “taking a break for a few months.” The posh jazz and supper club has been creative in adapting its food and music offerings to pandemic restrictions and shutdowns, but winter’s second wave is proving too much. “Our plan is to reopen the Blue LLama and Of Rice & Men as soon as we can operate at full capacity, safely and properly ... like our musicians, we’re playing this tune by ear.” Facebook

Target is coming to State Street. The retail giant will open a “small format” store in the former Urban Outfitters in the State Theatre building. In a fit of optimism, the Michigan Daily described it as a “grocery store,” but students hoping to do all their food shopping downtown are doomed to disappointment; there will be some groceries, but like other tiny Targets near college campuses, it will offer a scaled-down version of the chain’s full-sized stores, geared to the student market.

The Learning Express Toys and Gifts in the Westgate Mall is closing. In an email posted to the Ann Arbor Townies Facebook page, the owners write: “This was our 26th Christmas in the toy business and with sadness, we announce our retirement. Our stores are successful, but we haven't found the perfect buyer.” Gary and Molly Fitzpatrick bought the franchise in 2003; it was opened in 1997 by educational-games creator Jan Barney Newman. Remaining inventory is twenty-five percent off through the end of January. Facebook

Pinball Pete’s launches campaign to keep the arcade and restaurant afloat. The small, locally-owned business has been entertaining students and families in Ann Arbor and East Lansing for more than forty years. GoFundMe

Ready to get rid of your Christmas tree but don’t have the heart to throw it out? The city has four free drop off points, or have local high school students pick it up for a donation to Skyline High's Theatre & Band programs, or the Huron High Men's Cross-Country Team.

Photo of Nemo Tsai courtesy of The Food Network's Kids Baking Championship.

Young baker competes on national show

Ten-year-old Nemo Tsai is competing for a $25,000 prize on the Food Network’s Kids Baking Championship. The Forsythe 6th-grader’s family owns Tsai Grocery and Godaiko Japanese restaurant. A2view caught up with the Tsai family after they landed in West Palm Beach where Nemo would be competing in the Honda Classic golf tournament. “He’s kind of a crazy kid,” says his father, Paul Tsai. “He has his own interests and he just pursues them.” The Observer’s Trilby MacDonald has our story


By Ella Bourland

Thursday: Ring in the New Year with a livestream performance at Kerrytown Concert House, featuring veteran local drummer Pete Siers, clarinetist Dave Bennett, and pianist Cliff Monear (7:30 p.m.). Free, but donations accepted. Online at Kerrytown Concert House. 

Friday: Watch a new feature film or documentary via the Michigan Theater’s “Virtual Movie Palace” (anytime). $6-$12 per film, available for 2-10 days after you start watching. Full schedule online at 

Saturday: Tune in to “TriviaTime!” with local sisters Katie and Abbie and answer questions on today’s theme, “Saturday Morning Cartoons,” in the YouTube chat box (7–7:30 p.m.). Free online at Ann Arbor District Library. 

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

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