Can you believe that we are staring the month of September today? This means 29 days until a potential federal government shutdown and 63 days until the elections. We are now entering the 7th month touched by the COVID pandemic. Here is today’s update with a reminder about our next virtual conference.
Senate Republicans Hope to Vote on Targeted Bill
Senate Republican leaders hope to vote next week on what they are calling a “focused” and “targeted” coronavirus relief bill, setting up what they hope will be a tough political vote for Democrats shortly before November’s elections. The legislation is “focused on getting people back to work, getting kids back to school.” It is supposed to leave out what was in the House version that was considered unrelated to the virus.
Any pared-down coronavirus relief bill would need 60 votes to pass the Senate, and Democrats are expected to block it, which could give Senate GOP candidates something to talk about on the campaign trail. Senate Republican leaders tentatively planned in July to hold a Senate vote on a Republican plan to enhance weekly state unemployment benefits, although at a level below the $600 per week federal boost included in the CARES Act, which passed in March. GOP leaders scrapped the vote, however, amidst disagreement within their conference over what kind of proposal to put forward.
New Action from our Neighbors
Facing a resurgence of the coronavirus in the suburbs around Chicago, Cook County officials are launching a digital ad campaign to push the necessity of wearing a mask, officials announced days after the region was placed on a state COVID-19 warning list.
The ads will appear on YouTube, Instagram, and Spotify throughout September. The reason for the emphasis on social media is because the county saw a leading rise in cases among 20- to 29-year-olds.
Dr. Rachel Rubin, a senior medical officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health, said as of Monday there was no indication the suburbs will see additional guidance beyond the Aug. 3 non-mandatory recommendations for restaurants and other businesses to curtail in-person services. But that could change in the coming weeks should the numbers worsen, she said.
“I can’t give you an exact date, but we are watching this, and we imagine the state may push us to put more guidance in place, potentially enforceable, over the next several weeks,” Rubin said.
For Chicago area bars and restaurants, guidelines have changed on a near-weekly basis, with outdoor-only dining quickly expanding to conditional indoor dining. Cocktails initially could not be ordered for pickup and delivery, but then they could. In July, the city abruptly rolled back indoor service for bars. Just last week, mask requirements changed.
How About Indiana?
Indiana may soon be added to Chicago’s COVID-19 travel quarantine list, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said today.
The state already meets the city’s threshold for its quarantine travel order—more than 15 cases per 100,000—but Arwady said that spike is driven in part by new data reporting in Indiana to include antigen tests. A rise in cases linked to universities like Notre Dame in South Bend and Ball State in Muncie are areas of concern.
They’re having problems, as many other Midwest states are, related to universities,” Arwady said. Notre Dame has so far had 577 confirmed COVID cases, the South Bend Tribune reported today. Ball State has had 234 cases, according to the university’s dashboard.
Update on Program to Cover Uninsured Covid-19 Patients
The program has drawn little attention since April, but a review by The New York Times of payments made through it, as well as interviews with hospital executives, patients and health policy researchers who have examined the payments, suggest the quickly concocted plan has not lived up to its promise. It has caused confusion at participating hospitals, which in some cases have mistakenly billed patients. Few patients seem to know the program exists, so they don’t question the charges. And some hospitals and other medical providers have chosen not to participate in the program, which bars them from seeking any payment from patients whose bills they submit to it.
Large numbers of patients have also been disqualified because Covid-19 must be the primary diagnosis for a case to be covered (unless the patient is pregnant). Since hospitalized Covid patients often have other serious medical conditions, many have other primary diagnoses.
The program has clearly paid what, in many cases, would be staggering and unaffordable bills for thousands of Covid-19 patients. In addition to hospital care, it covers outpatient visits, ambulance rides, medical equipment, skilled nursing home care and even future Covid vaccines for the uninsured, “subject to available funding.” It does not cover prescriptions once patients leave the hospital, or treatment of underlying chronic conditions that make many more vulnerable to the virus.
Health care providers in all 50 states had been reimbursed a total of $851 million from the fund as of last week — $267 million for testing and $584 million for treatment— with hospitals in Texas and New Jersey receiving the most. But the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan research organization, has estimated that hospital costs alone for uninsured coronavirus patients could reach between $13.9 billion and $41.8 billion, far more than what the program has paid out so far.
Answers to COVID Questions Moving Forward
This is the topic for our next Virtual Conference this Thursday morning at 11 AM. Please join the Joliet Chamber and Attorney Scott Cruz to discuss issues facing employers today and moving forward during the COVID pandemic. We will cover just about everything that you have questions on and if not, Scott will happily answer what he doesn’t cover.
Topics to be covered include but not limited to:
- Personal travel policies and when can you prohibit personal travel.
- Paid leave under FFCRA when parents do not feel comfortable sending their child to school for in-person learning, or the school is offering in-person and remote learning.
- Paid leave under FFCRA when parents claim to not have childcare options, for personal reasons, their child has been wait-listed at a daycare, etc.
- Should employers take employees’ temperatures or require they sign a daily COVID questionnaire each day before they come to work?
- Should employers require employees/visitors to sign a COVID release, and how valid are these releases?
- Accommodating employees who claim they cannot wear a mask based on a pre-existing medical condition. Are there FMLA considerations?
- Reclassifying exempt employees to non-exempt if there is not enough work to justify paying a full week’s salary
- Reducing exempt employee’s salary for similar reasons of lack of work.
- Are your outside sales employees still “outside sales employees” if no one is taking in-person meetings?
- Do employers have a duty to compensate non-exempt employees for time spent conducting temperature checks?
- What’s the National Labor Relations been up to? Let’s find out.
- CDC’s new Return to Work Guidance following a positive COVID test.
- Can we still require employees to provide a negative COVID test following quarantine? CDC says you shouldn’t, but what is the best practice?
Finally, are you finding yourself listless and unable to motivate yourself to get your work and other things done? That’s ‘acedia.’ Acedia is an Ancient Greek word for the specific kind of bad you’re feeling right now.
With communities in rebooted lockdown conditions and movement restricted everywhere else, no one is posting pictures of their sourdough. Zoom cocktail parties have lost their novelty, Netflix can only release so many new series. The news seems worse every day, yet we compulsively scroll through it. We get distracted by social media yet have a pile of books unread. We keep meaning to go outside but somehow never find the time. We are bored, listless, afraid, and uncertain.
Acedia might be a new word to us in the 21st century, but it was well known to those living in the Middle Ages. Derived from Greek roots that mean a seizing up or freezing of feelings, the experience was apparently fairly common among Medieval monks shut away in monasteries.
This might strike you as a piece of interesting but irrelevant trivia. But having precisely the right names for our emotion’s matters. One, you are less likely to feel there is something wrong with you if you know humans have been growing listless when confined since before the fall of Rome. But two, modern research shows that accurately naming your feelings helps you deal with them better.
So next time you’re wandering around your house yawning for no apparent reason and struggling to persuade yourself to do one of the many positive things you know you should do, don’t call yourself depressed or lazy. Tell yourself you have acedia and that it’s 100 percent natural for humans to respond to physical and social isolation this way. By feeling less defective and less alone, you just might gain an edge in actually beating your malaise.
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry