The state's death count rises to 5,595 as the health department reported Thursday that Michigan has added 25 deaths to its COVID-19 toll.
Thirteen of the deaths reported Thursday were not from the last 24 hours but from a periodic review of previous vital records.
The state reported an additional 206 confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, bringing the cumulative total to 58,241.
Ottawa County has 889 lab-confirmed cases and 44 deaths, the county health department reported Thursday. That's up by 13 cases and three additional deaths since Wednesday.
Muskegon County has 675 confirmed cases and 37 deaths, according to the state health department's Thursday report. That's up by 18 new cases and no additional deaths since Wednesday.
Epidemic of wipes and masks plague sewers, storm drains
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Mayor Jim Kenney kicked off a recent briefing on Philadelphia's coronavirus response with an unusual request for residents: Be careful what you flush.
Between mid-March, when the city's stay-at-home order was issued, and the end of April, most of the 19 sewer and storm water pumping stations in Philadelphia had experienced clogs from face masks, gloves and wipes residents had pitched into the potty, Kenney said.
"Please do not flush any of these items down the toilet," the mayor said.
Officials in other U.S. cities and rural communities — and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — have issued similar pleas as wastewater plant operators report a surge of stopped-up pipes and damage to equipment.
The problem has sharpened the longstanding clash over whether wipes are suitable for flushing.
While drain clogs aren't new, most of the more than 15 cities contacted by The Associated Press said they've become a more costly and time-consuming headache during the pandemic. Home-bound Americans are seeking alternatives to bathroom tissue because of occasional shortages, while stepping up efforts to sanitize their dwellings and themselves.
"When everyone rushed out to get toilet paper and there was none ... people were using whatever they could," said Pamela Mooring, spokeswoman for DC Water, the system in the nation's capital.
Sanitary sewer overflows jumped 33 percent between February and March in Houston because of clogs from rags, tissues, paper towels and wipes, said public works department spokeswoman Erin Jones.
In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, crews are cleaning sewage pumping stations a couple of times a week that previously needed it once a month, said John Strickland, manager of the treatment facility.
At Beale Air Force Base in Northern California, a squadron that usually deals with airfield maintenance and weaponry disposal has been yanking wipes from the base's plumbing.
"Our airmen are working 16-plus hours to unclog the pipe systems, and that takes them out of the mission and puts a strain on the rest of the team," Master Sgt. Destrey Robbins said in an article on the Beale website.
By flushing the wrong things, people are taxing infrastructure that's already deteriorating, said Darren Olson, vice chairman of the American Society of Civil Engineers' Committee for America's Infrastructure. "Your latex glove may not be the thing that causes a clog, but you are adding to the burden."
Hundreds of areas, like a portion of Philadelphia, have combined sewage and stormwater systems so sanitation officials say that means discarded masks and gloves that litter sidewalks and parking lots can also reach and help gum up treatment plants.
Olson said masks and gloves thrown in the street can travel through storm drains in separate systems to lakes and other waterways.
George Leonard, Ocean Conservancy's chief scientist, said he's concerned discarded personal protective equipment could wash out to sea and eventually add to "the plastics burden that the ocean is already suffering from."
Costs of clearing, cleaning and restarting equipment are mounting for utilities.
To reduce the likelihood of clogs, WSSC Water — a wastewater utility that serves nearly 1.8 million customers in Prince George's and Montgomery counties in Maryland — installed about 27 debris grinding pumps over the last decade at a cost of $1.5 million.
"At one wastewater pumping station alone, one that does not have grinder pumps, we have seen an increase of 37,000 pounds of wipes during January–March 2020 compared with the same time period in 2019," said utility spokeswoman Lyn Riggins.
Michigan's Macomb County spent $50,000 in 2018 removing a "fatberg" of debris, oils and grease that was 100 feet long and 11 feet wide, said Candice Miller, public works commissioner. The suburban Detroit community also spent millions to install screens that snag thousands of pounds of wipes weekly.
Municipal officials say the solution's simple: Put nothing in toilets but human waste and toilet paper.
"Don't be fooled by wipes packaging claims that these products are flushable," DC Water said in a March advisory. "They are not."
The Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, which represents hundreds of companies including major wipes producers, agrees most wet wipes are unsuitable for toilet disposal and says they're labeled as such.
But one type is designed to perform the same functions as toilet paper and merits the "flushable" label, said Dave Rousse, president of the industry group.
These cellulose wipes begin breaking down immediately and dissolve within hours, Rouse said.
"These wipes are incapable of causing the kinds of problems that wastewater operators are accusing them of," he said.
Critics contend "flushable" wipes don't biodegrade as manufacturers claim.
In Macomb County outside Detroit, maintenance workers are removing two tons of wipes per week from one pump station, and officials say some clearly are the "flushable" variety.
This month, the county sued wipe manufacturers, alleging voluntary flushability standards are based on testing that doesn't reflect actual conditions in a sewer system.
In March, Washington became the first state to adopt requirements for the size, placement and visibility of "Do Not Flush" warnings on wipes that manufacturers and local officials agree should not go down toilets. Similar legislation is under consideration in California.
Meanwhile, many cities are using public education campaigns to make their case against flushing pandemic debris.
The message may be getting through, says El Paso, Texas water utility spokesman Carlos Briano. Before the media blitz, emergency maintenance teams were dispatched about seven times a day to clear pipes. Now, it's once a day.
"It's slowed, but it's still not pre-pandemic," Briano said.
1.9 million seek jobless aid even as reopenings slow layoffs
WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly 1.9 million people applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week, evidence that many employers are still cutting jobs even as the gradual reopening of businesses has slowed the pace of layoffs.
The total number of people who are receiving jobless aid rose slightly to 21.5 million, down from a peak of nearly 25 million two weeks ago but still at a historically high level. It shows that scattered rehiring is offsetting only some of the ongoing layoffs with the economy mired in a recession.
Thursday's latest weekly number from the Labor Department is still more than double the record high that prevailed before the viral outbreak.
Still, the number of people who applied for benefits last week marked the ninth straight decline since applications spiked in mid-March. The job market meltdown that was triggered by the coronavirus may have bottomed out as more companies call at least some of their former employees back to work.
Economists said they were disappointed, though, that the number of first-time applications for jobless aid and the total number of people receiving benefits remain so high.
"While the drop in new claims is welcome news and more evidence that the worst of the job losses are behind us, the recovery in the labor market is expected to be painfully slow," said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. "We look for a two-phase recovery, with an initial burst in rehiring followed by a much slower retracement of job losses.
Fewer people sought jobless aid last week in 47 states and in Washington, D.C., while the number rose in just California, Florida and Mississippi. The total number of people receiving aid fell in 37 states and in D.C., and increased in 13 states.
Applications for jobless benefits are falling in states that had reopened their businesses early, such as Georgia and Texas, and are also declining in those that are still early in the reopening process, such as New York and Massachusetts.
Some businesses that have reopened have seen only a limited number of customers so far.
In Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nneka Ijeoma lost her job as a bartender at a whiskey bar when it closed in March. Though the bar has reopened, it has rehired only two of its 17 employees. Meanwhile, Ijeoma is receiving $275 in state unemployment benefits each week, plus $600 a week in federal benefits.
"We were honestly so blessed by that," she said of the federal aid, which will expire at the end of July. "I wouldn't have been able to get by on $275."
Still, she is eager to return to work and to go back to school in the fall to finish her college degree. Yet she always regarded bartending as a long-term opportunity.
"I always thought I could work in hospitality forever," she said. "I thought it was recession-proof."
In addition to the laid-off employees who applied for benefits last week, 623,000 others sought jobless aid under a new program for self-employed and gig workers, who now qualify for unemployment benefits for the first time. These figures aren't adjusted for seasonal variations, so the government doesn't include them in the overall data. And 15 states still aren't reporting the number of applicants under this program, meaning that the data is incomplete.
The figures come one day before the government's jobs report for May is expected to show that employers slashed 8 million jobs last month and that the unemployment rate jumped from 14.7 percent to 19.8 percent. If those forecasts prove accurate, it would mean that nearly 30 million people have lost jobs since the viral outbreak intensified in March and that joblessness has reached its highest point since the Great Depression.