January 28, 2021

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This week

Washtenaw County is ahead of the pack in terms of vaccine turnaround and delivery, but the news may not mean much to the majority of us who are still waiting for our shots. In the meantime, Covid B.1.1.7. seems eager to make our acquaintance.  

On the upside, crime rates are at their lowest in decades, and the Ann Arbor Folk Festival is happening (remotely) this weekend.

For the first time in weeks, the fitness instructor in the gym across my street is not staring out the window. The patrons have returned, and he is helping them get back into shape. 

Trilby MacDonald, editor 


On Thursday morning, the Washtenaw County Health Department reported ninety-two new infections, five hospitalizations, and one death in the previous twenty-four hours. The positivity rate is 4.1 percent, the lowest it’s been for months. 

Locally, we are not aware of any vaccines being held back by us or other providers,” says health department spokesperson Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, responding to concerns that doses were sitting on shelves or going to waste. Governor Gretchen Whitmer said Monday,  “We are not holding back any vaccines at all” and that the percentage of vaccines scheduled and administered per week has gone up from 40 percent to 67 percent. “We are giving as much vaccine as we have available each week,” says Ringler-Cerniglia, “and the reported discrepancies are likely due to lags in posting administered doses to statewide tracking.”  The goal for hospitals is 90 percent, and the U-M is already administering more than 90 percent of its vaccine allocation in the week it’s received, according to Michigan Medicine spokesperson Mary Masson. 

Whitmer appointed State Rep Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield) to the new, bi-partisan Protect Michigan Commission, whose mission is to identify and overcome blockages to vaccine delivery and ensure that everyone understands the safety and importance of getting vaccinated against Covid-19. A November survey for the MDHHS found that fewer than half of all state residentsand only 25 percent of black residents and 28 percent of Latinossaid they were “very likely” to get the vaccine. 

Open skating, lessons, hockey, and special events are offered at Veterans Memorial Park Indoor Ice Arena, featured here, and Buhr Park Outdoor Ice Arena. Both arenas have reopened to the public with limited hours. 

In the News

Several cases of Covid B.1.1.7. on campus prompts U-M to issue a stay-at-home order, days after the athletics department shuts down for two weeks. The decisions were made by the university based on the recommendation of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services after several people linked to the university tested positive for the highly-contagious strain of the virus. MLive 

Ann Arbor is seeing the lowest crime rates in decades. Ann Arbor police chief Michael Cox says that because of the pandemic, the “opportunity just went away” for many common crimes. County sheriff Jerry Clayton also attributes crime reduction to programs diverting offenders away from prison and towards social services. Both men want to work with new county prosecutor Eli Savit to keep the numbers trending downwards, but not at the expense of public safety. The Observer’s James Leonard has our story. 

Toyota Research Institute will collaborate with U-M on a major artificial intelligence initiative. The research will incorporate traditionally underrepresented voices in the tech industry to develop new applications for AI, including automated driving, robotics, and machine assisted cognition. U-M is one of sixteen universities that will partner in the five-year, $75 million project. 

More than 20 “smart intersections” will come to the City of Ann Arbor. These intersections will be capable of collecting and sending information to connected cars in real time. U-M was awarded $9.95 million for the effort by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. An additional $10 million was contributed toward the project from in-kind funding from corporate partners. Click on Detroit

Jonathan Overpeck, climate professor at U-M, debuts “In This Climate” newsletter on Click on Detroit. How is climate change felt in Michigan? More precipitation and flooding; warmer climate leading to more algal blooms. 

Ann Arbor sustainability forums begin Thursday. Discussions will be held monthly for the next five months and will focus on food, green infrastructure, circular economy, waste reduction, and energy production. Each forum relates to the city’s A2ZERO sustainability framework to get to carbon neutrality by 2030. Click on Detroit. The next forum is on February 24. 

Get your skate on at Veteran’s Memorial Park and Buhr Park! Both rinks reopened last week for instruction and limited free skate hours. Instructional programs cost $55 and run through March 6, and equipment is included. Click here to register for lessons and free skating times. 

Trevor Zhou is making a feature film about Ann Arbor, and he wants your stories. Zhou, an L.A. actor and filmmaker who immigrated with his family from China as a young child, will be “exploring themes of growing up poor, racial identity, and privilege” and his invitation to share related stories kicked off an eye-opening conversation on Reddit. Follow the film’s progress on Facebook. 

Restaurants can open February 1. Restaurants and bars will be allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity and must close by 10 p.m. Contact information must be collected from diners for contact tracing purposes. 


A new direction for Four Directions. One of Main Street’s most iconic and beloved stores is changing hands. Alan and Karen Freedman opened their eclectic gemstone and jewelry store in 1994. They have sold the store and its ground floor location to a young couple. The Freedmans will retire to Florida to be closer to family. Click on Detroit

Three big names at the Briarwood Mall, H&M, Williams-Sonoma, and Godiva are the latest Covid casualties in Ann Arbor’s increasingly fragile retail ecosystem. Williams-Sonoma was one of the mall’s oldest tenants, opening in 1992. They had been running sales since December, but neither store management nor corporate headquarters would confirm plans to close. And then they quietly packed up and were gone. 

H&M announced last year that it would close 250 stores across the country in 2021, and focus on improving its online shopping experience. In a statement, they announced that customers “are making it clear that they value a convenient and inspiring experience in which stores and online interact and strengthen each other.” MLive.

Godiva is closing all 128 of its U.S. stores, citing declining in-person sales since the pandemic. The brand has seen online and grocery store sales increase, and will expand these options. Fox News Detroit 

New program will award $250,000 in relief for restaurant owners and workers. The state of Michigan will partner with One Fair Wage to distribute grants to restaurants that pay the state minimum wage of $9.65 an hour in addition to tips, and provide free meals to community members in need. Apply here.


By Ella Bourland

Friday: Listen to Harvard African and African American Studies professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Civil War historian Eric Foner discuss U.S. Reconstruction post-Civil War, the country’s first effort to become an interracial democracy, as well as Gates’ forthcoming PBS TV series The Black Church (8 p.m.). Gates has made several PBS documentaries on history and genealogy, highlighted by his Emmy-winning The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2013), leveraging what Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik calls “the inherent entertainment capacity of the medium to educate millions of Americans about the histories and cultures of our nation and the world.” The live talk can be found free online at U-M School of Art & Design Penny Stamps Speaker Series. 

Tune in to the 44th Annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival (Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m.), a major highlight of the local musical year with established and rising stars representing a wide spectrum of vernacular musical idioms. Friday’s headliner is Raul Malo, the former lead singer of the Mavericks, with an eclectic repertoire ranging from rock and country to big-band jazz who sings in an impossibly clean vibrato. Saturday, Bruce Cockburn headlines. Cockburn is an acclaimed veteran Toronto-based singer-songwriter known for his varied folk-to-rock guitar stylings and for his articulate, imaginatively impressionistic songs that blend leftist politics, Christian mysticism, and a barbed erotic intensity. Emcee is the renowned movie actor, singer-songwriter, and Purple Rose Theatre founder Jeff Daniels. For URL and tickets ($25 per night, $45 for both nights), see 

Sunday: Follow along with Ann Arbor Art Center instructor Payton Cook as she leads a directed drawing activity for kids in grades 1–5 (1 p.m.). Past themes include “Magical Animal Kingdom” and “Realistic Rainbow Lollipop.” Online for free at

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

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