It’s Thursday so that means the latest jobs report is out. We’ll also look at the latest vaccine announcement from the state and how Will County will proceed with those eligible for the vaccine currently. Finally, news about a do-it-yourself covid test from Walgreens.
*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital
Illinois Begins Offering Vaccine to Those with Health Conditions
Building on efforts to equitably distribute the COVID-19 vaccine, Governor Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Health today announced that Illinoisans with serious medical conditions can be vaccinated, in line with federal guidance. With significantly increased supply on the way from the federal government and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine poised for approval, the Pritzker administration launched Phase 1B+ and has asked all local health departments and providers to begin vaccinating this medically vulnerable population as soon as possible.
The expansion includes residents 16 and older with disabilities or underlying conditions who aren’t otherwise covered in previous eligibility categories, in accordance with CDC guidelines. At the same time, the state has made substantial progress toward vaccinating health care workers, seniors in long-term care facilities and others who are already eligible for the vaccine.
“As states and cities across the country expand eligibility for the vaccine, it’s vital that the most medically vulnerable like those with heart disease, lung disease and cancer have access to the vaccine, regardless of their age,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “I’m thrilled to see that we can effectively administer more than 100,000 doses a day, and with the federal supply projected to hit 100,000 doses delivered daily in mid-March, we must be prepared to vaccinate this population as quickly as possible.”
In accordance with the CDC guidelines, the expanded list of eligible conditions will include:
- chronic kidney disease
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- heart conditions
- immunosuppressed states from a solid organ transplant
- pulmonary diseases
- sickle cell disease
Effective today, state-supported sites outside of Cook County will begin taking appointments for the 1B+ phase. A complete list of these sites can be found at https://coronavirus.illinois.gov/s/. Appointments will remain limited as federal supply continues to steadily ramp up.
Beginning in mid-March, an additional 100,000 doses of vaccine per day on average are expected to be allocated to the state by the federal government. Also, when the FDA Emergency Use Authorization is granted for the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, another 100 million doses are expected to be delivered nationwide.
Will County Won’t Expand Vaccine Eligibility Under Phase 1B
The Will County Health Department will not expand its COVID-19 vaccine eligibility under Phase 1B. Health Department spokesperson Steve Brandy said the department must “hold to the original 1B, serving mostly those 65 and older, due to vaccine supplies.”
Ever since the first vaccine delivery in December, arrivals of both Pfizer and Moderna vaccine have been very sporadic, with little information about how much is coming and when. The health department said that it has been receiving a scant more than 2,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine incrementally which is making vaccinating its nearly 700,000 residents a great challenge. “We do not have adequate vaccine supplies to expand to what is now referred to as 1B-plus at the present time,” Brandy said.
There has also been a steep decrease in the number of vaccines that are being doled out in Will County. Currently, daily average of doses administered is 2,822, whereas a week earlier, it was 2,973. As of Tuesday, 3.64 percent of the total county population has been fully vaccinated against the virus, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The decision made by WCHD was echoed by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle who said in a joint statement that at this time, “we are not being supplied with enough doses that would allow us to expand eligibility in these phases.”
“Doing so in Chicago and Cook County would add well over one million additional people to 1b, and the result would be that those currently eligible, including seniors, frontline essential workers and those in our most heavily COVID-burdened communities, would have an even harder time getting a vaccine,” the release said.
Weekly Jobs Report
The jobs market appears to be returning to growth, with new applications for unemployment benefits falling to the lowest level since November amid other signs hiring is picking up.
Initial weekly unemployment claims decreased by 111,000 to a seasonally adjusted 730,000 last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was also the biggest drop in new applications for regular state programs since last summer.
The latest figures came as storms disrupted business in parts of the country and at least one state is adjusting for attempted fraud filings, factors that could have affected the totals. Still, weekly claims have dropped significantly since an early January peak above 900,000 and the four-week moving average, which smooths out volatility in the weekly figures, dropped to 807,750.
If the latest data signal a renewed descent, weekly claims could fall below the pre-pandemic weekly record of 695,000 set in 1982 in the coming weeks. That would suggest the economic recovery is poised to accelerate after a winter chill, during which hiring stalled.
The number of job openings at the end of January exceeded year-earlier levels, according to job search site Indeed.com. Aided by a fresh round of stimulus, retail spending accelerated in January.
In addition to regular state benefits, the Labor Department reports the number of people enrolled in two special pandemic programs: one for self-employed and gig workers, and another for those who exhausted other forms of benefits.
The combined number of ongoing claims filed for those two programs rose for the week ended Feb. 6, and the total number people estimated to be receiving benefits was more than 19 million, the Labor Department said. A year earlier, the figure was 2.1 million.
Will County Gets $20 Million for Rent & Utility Assistance
The Will County Board announced it will use $20.6 million to assist residents struggling to pay for rent and utilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The board voted to begin negotiations with the Illinois Housing Development Authority to coordinate Emergency Rental Assistance for individuals and families struggling to pay rent.
The U.S. Treasury granted $20.6 million to Will County for rental assistance. The county will work with the IHDA, which also received a grant from the federal government so services are not duplicated and maximum relief is provided for residents, according to a news release.
The ERA will provide direct financial assistance for rent and utilities. “Countless residents have suffered great financial hardship during the COVID pandemic, and this type of direct housing aid can go a long way towards returning them to a sound financial footing,” Mimi Cowan, speaker of the Will County Board, said in the release.
The assistance will pay for up to nine months of back rent as well as three months of future rental expense. Minority Leader Mike Fricilone said the money is needed by landlords, as well as tenants. “Although renters owe the money to landlords, in many cases, it is the landlords who suffer most financially as they struggle to make mortgage payments and pay property taxes,” Fricilone said in the release.
The assistance will be targeted to households under 80% of the area median income, for example, a family of four making $72,800 or less.
State Struggling to Track New Coronavirus Variants
Weeks after novel coronavirus variants first appeared locally, Illinois trails even the slow pace of most other states in tracking new forms of the COVID-19 virus. Ranking 28th among states and Washington, D.C., Illinois has genetically sequenced only 0.164 percent of its COVID cases—a total of 1,899—according to the latest Centers for Disease Control & Prevention data. Nationally, the average is 0.5 percent, well below what experts say should be the minimum standard: sequencing at least 5 percent of all positive cases.
Without more sequencing, Illinois—and the U.S.—are flying blind: unable to quickly detect mutations that could dictate how fast the virus spreads, the effectiveness of existing vaccines and, ultimately, how long the pandemic lasts.
There’s evidence that a variant first detected in the United Kingdom spreads faster than previous versions of the virus and that strains first identified in Brazil and South Africa could evade immune systems, regardless of previous infections or vaccinations. So far, 43 cases of the U.K. variant and one case of the South African variant have been detected in Illinois, CDC data shows. But experts say such cases are likely far more widespread.
At its current infection rate, Illinois would need to sequence roughly 800 positive cases per week to reach that 5 percent minimum standard—not to mention the backlog of cases dating back months.
What’s standing in the way? The state’s major academic research centers—Northwestern University, the University of Illinois, and the University of Chicago—have access to machines that can sequence the virus, as do private labs. University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory already are part of a national genomics consortium to coordinate sequencing across the U.S. But it takes more than technology to ramp up a high-volume sequencing operation. It takes money—sequencing just one sample can cost anywhere from $25 to $400, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health Security. Sequencing labs also need coordination with epidemiologists who can help make sense of the data and get it into the hands of policymakers. Even Washington state, a national leader in sequencing, last month said a lack of national coordination and funding is hampering its efforts.
Illinois Department of Public Health representatives offer no explanation for Illinois’ lagging pace. They say the state is sending specimens to the CDC, Southern Illinois University “and various reference labs to coordinate testing efforts, determine sampling strategies and consolidate data into a centralized source for monitoring and studying movement of variants.”
Walgreens Will Begin to Sell Do-It-Yourself Covid Tests
Walgreens plans to start selling its first do-it-yourself COVID-19 test kits in stores this spring. The kits will be for sale in up to 6,000 stores nationwide, Walgreens said in a news release. The rollout will supplement stores that do not have COVID testing on-site.
The Pixel by Labcorp COVID-19 PCR Test Home Collection Kits will be for sale at the pharmacy counter without a prescription. Customers use a short nasal swab to self-administer the test, according to the release. They send their samples back to Labcorp via pre-paid FedEx Express Overnight. Customers can then access results online. Labcorp physicians may also contact customers if the result is positive. Even amid an expanding vaccine rollout, experts continue to stress testing as a way to help end the pandemic.
“This is yet another convenient way for consumers to learn if they are infected with COVID-19, which can help communities continue the fight against this global pandemic,” said Dr. Brian Caveney, chief medical officer, and president at Labcorp Diagnostics.
The kits are for those 18 years and older. A Walgreens spokeswoman said pricing will be announced closer to the start of sales. Additionally, she could not comment on how many Illinois locations will carry the kits, as the company is still planning the rollout. Last fall, Jewel-Osco started selling an at-home test that requires patients to collect a saliva sample, becoming the first retail pharmacy in Chicago to offer the do-it-yourself testing option.
Program Notices & Reminders
SBA Page Links for Direction and Questions on PPP
1st draw info: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program/first-draw-ppp-loans
First draw app: https://www.sba.gov/document/sba-form-2483-paycheck-protection-program-borrower-application-form?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
2nd draw info: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program/second-draw-ppp-loans
Second draw app: https://www.sba.gov/document/sba-form-2483-sd-ppp-second-draw-borrower-application-form?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
A Chance to Win $50,000 for Your Small Business – FedEx Grant Contest
The 2021 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest is now open. Entries close March 9, 2021. Before you enter, have your FedEx account number handy. Or create an account if you don’t have one. Now you have a chance to win $50,000 to help you continue growing your business. Enter the 9th annual FedEx Small Business Grant Contest today.
Enter here: https://smallbusinessgrant.fedex.com/enter-now
More info: https://www.fedex.com/en-us/small-business/grant-contest.html?CMP=SOC-1006521-1-16-1003-1111000-US-US-EN-FXALISBGCKIT200&LINK=LEARNGCLI315120
Finally, following up on the article above with the economic outlook news, we would like to announce our next virtual conference. It will take place on March 11th at 11 AM with John Ferguson, Senior Vice President & Senior Portfolio Manager with Northern Trust.
Economic Trends & Reopening of the Economy
- History: Economic and Market Review through the Pandemic
- Current Events: Market and Economic Signs that we are at an inflection point
- Outlook for the Future: Is this a remake of the roaring 20’s?
Thursday, March 11, 2021 at 11:00 a.m. Register here: http://jolietchamber.chambermaster.com/events/details/2021-webinar-march-11-economic-trends-reopening-of-the-economy-6016
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry