UAW lifting mask restrictions, Michigan gas prices near $4, local gun store sending gear to Ukraine

Two years ago this month, Detroit's big three shuttered their plants indefinitely as COVID-19 cases began to trickle then pour into auto factories as the pandemic widened in Michigan and the U.S.

Today marks a big step for the United Auto Workers Union and its employees at Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis: masks will no longer be required for workers as long as the facilities they travel to aren't in high risk areas.

The decision to scale back masking regardless of vaccination was made after the UAW's task force reviewed reports from medical experts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. 

Many workers admitted it felt a little weird to see a mask optional policy.

"Kind of mixed feelings," said Sierra Pearson, who got off during a shift change Friday morning. "It's kind of good since we'll be free again, but kind of bad because everybody not going to get their vaccination which is their choice, but everybody's gonna want to throw their mask off."

Pearson said she'd be keeping hers on "until Corona leaves Planet Earth."

Last week, the CDC released new guidance for companies and local governments as the pandemic pendulum swings toward fewer cases and eases off the health care infrastructure that saw its worst surge earlier this winter. 

The new recommendations from the CDC cover about 70% of the country's population, which are now in medium or low risk areas. Individuals in low or medium risk areas can stop wearing masks. However, students in schools and employees at work in places where the risk is still high, masks are still strongly recommended. 

LINK: Interactive county-by-county COVID risk map

That goes for people at UAW plants as well.

"While masks are now optional at sites not in high-risk counties, they will still be available for those who choose to wear one based on personal preference," read a release from the UAW. "In addition, the CDC recommends that those who are immunocompromised or high risk for severe disease wear a mask or respirator that provides greater protection. People with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 also should wear a mask and not report to work."

Huron Valley Guns sending defensive gear to Ukraine

Ukraine's call for help as it continues under siege from Russian invasion forces is starting to get results. In New Hudson, a gun store says it has outfitted some 40-50 soldiers with defensive equipment that could protect them during an attack. Anything from bulletproof vests, armor, helmets, "basically any of these things could really save a life," said Ed Swadish, owner of Huron Valley Guns.

"Our customers have probably bought $5,000 to $10,000 worth of product to help these people," he said. While Ukraine as an army, it's increasingly relying on civilian soldiers with little to no combat experience for help. The supplies is being shipped to Poland, and then given to soldiers fighting in Ukraine. 

"This is a war to destroy Ukrainian culture, the Ukrainian language. And the only sin only thing they did wrong was to have a democracy next to a dictatorship," said Ukrainian American Stephen Pobutsky, who was encouraged by the rescue kits. 

"Slava Ukraine," Pobutsky said. "Glory to Ukraine glory to the heroes."

Ex-Hamtramck cop ensnared in Detroit towing probe

A former Hamtramck police officer is facing a federal bribery charge as the latest ex-cop arrested as part of an ongoing federal investigation into the local towing industry. Mike Stout was indicted in federal court on a bribery charge which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Right now he is at home on a $10,000 unsecured bond.

Stout of St. Clair Shores, is an ex-cop who was indicted for allegedly accepting bribes from a towing company operator, including a 2013 Chevrolet Equinox and $1,500 in cash. He was arrested Thursday.

Investigators say in exchange for the cash and SUV that Stout provided the towing operator with information from the state Law Enforcement Information Network or LEIN. That network is a restricted police database. He first came onto the feds radar when he told a tow truck operator working with he FBI that he was joining Highland Park's auto theft unit and he could "take care" of the operator, but needed a car.

Officers from Detroit Police, as well as former Detroit councilman Andre Spivey, have been caught up in the feds' Operation Northern Hook. It is an investigation into the local towing industry and public corruption in Detroit.

Michigan nears $4 a gallon

If it seems like every time you pass a gas station, the price is getting higher, you're not alone. The war with Ukraine is responsible for a price hike unlike anything we've seen in a long time. In just a week since Russia's invasion began, gas prices have climbed $0.40 more per gallon of gas. That's unlikely to change.

"We’ve seen crude oil go to a spot now that we haven’t seen in 10 years. Gas prices right now are the highest they’ve been since 2014," said Gary Bubar from AAA Michigan. In Southfield, we found gas that was close to $4 per gallon. Rick Eaton said driving from the city out to the suburbs, it seems to get higher and higher.

With the climbing of gas prices, there are a few ways to conserve. Start by grouping all of your trips together and run as many errands as possible in one trip. Second, make sure your tires are properly inflated. If they're too low, it will take more gas to power your engine. Third, make sure your car is running properly.

The bottom line is this: as crude oil prices go, so do gas prices and, at last check, crude oil was $111 per barrel. For comparison, when the barrel prices are around $55, the price is more like $2 to $2.50 per gallon. With spring break and the summer holidays coming soon, experts expect that to continue to rise.

Michigan joins nationwide investigation against TikTok

Michigan has joined a nationwide investigation into TikTok, how it could harm mental health -- particularly in youth. The social media app has everything from pranks to pets - and it’s taken over screens of kids and teens.  

"I think it tends to make people feel more bad - than good," said Eric Herman, Children's Hospital of Michigan. Almost every child that the clinical psychologist sees, has too much time spent on social media.  "I have kids that would rather stay home than go out. rather be online than go play," he said.

Herman is weighing in a new investigation into TikTok – to see whether or not the company violated state consumer protection laws, when it comes to targeting kids and teens – to keep them on the app longer. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has joined dozens of other attorney generals in this bi-partisan investigation that will look into the psychological harms using TikTok may cause, and what TikTok knew about those harms. 

TikTok said in a statement it limits features by age, provides tools and resources to parents, and designs its policies with the well-being of young people in mind. 

What else we're watching

  1. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has restructured the state health department with an emphasis on better access to behavioral health services schools, residential areas, and other community-based locations. Mental health issues have become more widespread since the pandemic started.
  2. Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities plan to release the final report that outlines recommendations for short and longterm goals on how the state can better improve livelihoods for all. 
  3. Russian forces have captured Europe's largest nuclear power plant following a battle Thursday night that saw invasion forces shelling the facility and sparking a fire. It was extinguished hours later.
  4. Airbnb says it is suspending all operations in Russia and Belarus while its nonprofit would provide temporary housing for up to 100,000 refugees fleeing the beleaguered country.
  5. Are drivers ready for another round of construction on I-75 this weekend? MDOT crews will be demolishing two bridges, which means both directions of the highway will be closed in southern Oakland County until Monday.

Live on FOX 2

Daily Forecast

Ready for spring? Because Southeast Michigan will get its first dose of unseasonably warm weather this weekend with temperatures in the 50s Saturday and the 60s on Sunday. It won't last for long as accumulating snow is expected Monday. 

Katie Meyer, Stanford soccer star, dies by suicide

The coroner's office on Thursday determined that the death of Stanford women's soccer player Katie Meyer was suicide.

The County of Santa Clara Medical Examiner-Coroner said there is no foul play related to Meyer's death.

"We are exceedingly saddened to hear about the death of Katie Meyer, a beloved, talented, and respected Stanford student, athlete, and Santa Clara County resident," the coroner's office said in a statement. "The Medical Examiner-Coroner extends sincerest condolences to the family, friends, and fans of Katie Meyer."

The Stanford University's women's soccer team captain and goalkeeper was found dead in a campus residence earlier this week.