January 14, 2021

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This week

Although the vaccine rollout is slower than we might have hoped, by now many of us know someone who has gotten the jab. Thanks to the shutdown, new infection rates are half of what they were last week. At this rate it's possible some in-person classes may resume at Ann Arbor public schools as soon as March. And more government assistance is showing up to help small businesses get through.

As promised, we have a feature on the election certification and audit processes, as well as an invitation from the County Clerk's office for the public to watch the risk assessment audit.

Local law enforcement is on alert for signs of unrest around next week's inauguration, but I think we can expect little of that around here. Eyes forward everyoneis that a light at the end of the tunnel?

Trilby MacDonald, editor 


As of January 13 at 9:30 am, there were forty-three confirmed cases, nine hospitalizations, and one death in Washtenaw County. The weekly positivity rate is 8.7%. 

Eighty thousand county residents became eligible for vaccination on Monday as the state entered Phase 1B. But just because people over sixty-five and essential workers, including police and teachers, are now eligible doesn’t mean they will be getting the shots immediately. “We need everyone’s patience,” says Washtenaw County health officer Jimena Loveluck in a statement. The state’s goal is to vaccinate 70 percent of all residents by the end of 2021, but the county’s busiest vaccinator, Michigan Medicine, has paused Phase 1B to be sure that everyone from Phase 1A gets the second dose. “We currently have established capacity to administer up to 12,000 vaccines per week, and will resume scheduling new first-dose appointments as soon as sufficient supply is available,” a statement reads. As for January 13, St. Joseph Mercy Hospital had administered 5,698 first vaccines and 902 second vaccines, and asks patients to check the website for updates on Phase 1B vaccinations. 

The Washtenaw County Health Department has a sign up form on its website, but limited supplies: according to health information officer Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, they requested 3,000 doses this week, but only got 2,000. And they’ve yet to get clear guidance on who will be responsible for vaccinating the general population. Till then, Loveluck stresses, “we need to keep doing everything possible we can to prevent the spread of illness – including wearing face masks, social distancing and isolating or quarantining when needed.” 

The good news is that vaccines are getting to the most vulnerable. In a separate federal program, Walgreens and CVS are supplying long-term care facilities. Glacier Hills president Craig Courts says staff and nursing-care residents got their first shots on December 29, followed last Friday by people in memory care. “Thursday and Friday we are going to be able to vaccinate residents in both assisted and independent living.” 

Nearly all residents want to participate, but among staff “there is more hesitation,” says Courts. He is confident more will sign up. “We’re doing a lot to encourage and educate people to address concerns.” 

In the News

A grant will provide respite to Washtenaw County individuals caring for people with dementia. A $50,000 grant from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation provides up to two weeks of out-of-home care for dementia patients at Memory Lane assisted living. “I am so happy to be a part of it,” says company founder Joanna LaFleur. “We are in a six bedroom house with one staff person per three residents.” LaFleur's facilities have remained Covid-free, but she admits visitor restrictions take a heavy toll. “We work really hard to maintain life as usual for the residents. But It’s been really hard without family in the house.” For more information call the Area Agency on Aging 1-B at 800-852-7795.

Property owners may sue the city over short-term rental ban. City Council voted 7-4 in September to ban dedicated short-term rental properties that aren’t owner-occupied. The ban takes effect in March, and would affect between 100 and 200 housing units. Concerned that property owners may sue the city, the new council majority is looking at revising the rules. MLive

On Monday, Ypsilanti Community Schools opened a free, in-person Learning Lab at Parkridge Community Center. The lab offers academic support for qualifying K-12 students who attend online school. Groups of three to six students are led by educators affiliated with several community partners. YCS hopes to open ten or more free Learning Labs this year, with financial support from the county. Concentrate

Ann Arbor Public Schools announces plans to transition students to hybrid in-person learning. In-person classes would commence in early March 2021, pending “significant progress in vaccination of school personnel and a reduction in the overall level of community COVID infection,” according to an AAPS statement. Pre-K, Young 5’s, Kindergarten, and students with specialized learning needs will be the first groups to return.

A state program to aid restaurants, event venues, gyms, and other small businesses suffering during the pandemic was quickly overwhelmed. The $10 million Pure Michigan Small Business Relief Initiative received more than 22,000 applications, but could fund just 650. “Some businesses have been successful in receiving CARES Act and PPP funding, but not the majority nor enough in aggregate,” says Andy LaBarre of the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce. “The programs are well intended but they are not enough and they are hard to get to.” The Michigan Small Business Development Center has a complete listing of Covid-19 business relief programs. 

Wolverine coach Jim Harbaugh agreed to a contract extension to 2025, lowering his base pay to $4 million per year with a buyout clause in case U-M fires him. He needs the job security to attract new assistant coaches and high-level recruits. If the Wolverines perform well, Harborough can recoup the additional $4 million he was set to earn in 2021 under his previous deal. MLive 

EMU biology prof uses 15,000 hand-painted Legos to create Martin Luther King Jr. mosaic. Aaron Liepman has been creating Lego murals since 2013. Inspired by 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests, his largest project yet portrays King as he addressed the Los Angeles Freedom Rally on May 26, 1963, where he famously declared, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” 

“These words still resonate,” Liepman says. “There is no time better than now to highlight this Civil Rights revolutionary and to work peacefully and creatively to combat injustices and work towards equity.”

Before the Civil Rights movement, there was Abolition. Learn about Michigan’s role in the fight to end slavery in Dave McCormick’s history of Ann Arbor’s abolitionist newspaper, The Signal of Liberty. 

For MLK Day observances, see Events, below.


Ferne Boutique is the third location for owner Laura Horwath’s small women’s-fashion chain (after Bay City and Detroit). Howarth joins Today Clothing, Dear Golden, and Real Irish (which sells clothing as well as Irish-themed gifts and tours) in what’s developed into a compact fashion district on S. Fourth Ave. 

Saginaw's sprint: With a slew of help from Ann Arbor, Zingerman’s co-founder Paul Saginaw opened a deli in Las Vegas. Then he got Covid-19. The Observer’s Micheline Maynard has our story. 

A technical glitch blocked holiday sales of Dale Fisher’s book Washtenaw County: Visions of the Eagle. Our apologies to heliphotographer Fisher, and to all those frustrated by a balky “buy on paypal” button. We’ve fixed the problem and are extending our $10 holiday discount.

Have you ordered “family meal” packages from local restaurants or stores? The Observer’s food writers want to try some and are looking for suggestions. Email your tips to

Wendell Pierce and Charlie Robinson co-star in Some Old Black Men, a James Anthony play directed by Joe Cacaci. Photo by Doug Coombe courtesy of UMS. 


By Ella Bourland

Friday: Watch NYC playwright James Anthony Tyler’s drama Some Old Black Man, directed by Wesleyan University film professor Joe Cacaci, about a coolly intellectual college professor who moves his ailing but independent blue-collar father into his Harlem penthouse. Stars Wendell Pierce and Charlie Robinson. Recorded in November without an audience at the Jam Handy event venue in Detroit. Online for free, anytime from 7 p.m. tonight through Monday at University Musical Society Digital Performances.

Saturday: Join a frank conversation about the end of life at the virtual Death Café, hosted by the Dying Year owner Merilynne Rush, Diana Cramer, and Rachel Briggs (10:30 a.m.–noon). Free; for URL, email 

Virtually attend an MLK celebration, featuring a keynote talk by Ypsilanti Township District Court judge-elect Erane Washington on “Crossroads of a Dream: What Now?”, performance by youth from the School of Performing Arts (Flint), and more (3 p.m.). Free; for URL preregister at National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women. For more MLK Day observances, including the U-M and EMU events, see Monday January 18. 

Saturday: Hear Ann Flesor Beck, co-owner of multi-generational Flesor's Candy Kitchen (Tuscola, IL), discusses her new book—part memoir, part history—Sweet Greeks: First Generation Immigrant Confectioners in the Heartland (4–5 p.m.). Free; for URL preregister at Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor.

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

How do we know elections are fair? 

Although no evidence of widespread fraud has been found by bipartisan election officials across the country, President Trump's insistence that the election was "stolen" has cast doubt on the fairness of our elections process. Many republicans including Tim Walberg have called for an "emergency audit" of election results in battleground states such as Michigan. It turns out elections are always audited, and in Michigan they're audited twice. But what is an election audit, and how does that differ from the canvass and certification process in Washtenaw County? The Observer's Trilby MacDonald has our story

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