Good news to share today as newly reported covid cases in the U.S. hit their lowest level in nearly four months. Locally, we’re below 5% on the rolling seven-day average for the first time since the middle of July. The bad news is the continuation of this snow globe we seem to be stuck in. We’ve had more than 10 inches of snow sitting on the ground for more than two weeks now.
Yesterday was arguably the beginning of President Joe Biden’s true start to office after the finalization of the Trump impeachment trial. Now with the trial conclusion, the President should be able to have the full attention of Congress and begin to advance his proposals. Tonight, he’ll be in Wisconsin for a CNN town hall, where he will no doubt make the case for his Covid relief bill. On Thursday he’ll do the same in Michigan while touring one of Pfizer’s vaccine manufacturing plants.
A lot of vaccine news today along with state funds, mortgage relief & foreclosure moratorium extension, CDC announcements, and is the virus in retreat?
*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital
Biden Increasing Vaccine Doses to States
States will receive 13.6 million doses per week starting this week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday. The current shipment is about 11 million doses. That marks a 57 percent increase over the amount states were getting when Biden first took office, Psaki said.
The increased shipment comes as the U.S. faces a more contagious COVID-19 variant. While case numbers have dipped in recent weeks, experts expect the drop to be temporary. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expects the variant to become the dominant strain in the U.S. by the end of March, making it critical as many people get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Nearly 53 million doses of the vaccines had been administered as of Sunday, according to the CDC. That number includes 14 million people who have received their second doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
Governors and Mayors Estimate $350 Billion Needed to Fight Covid
President Joe Biden met with a bipartisan group of governors and mayors at the White House on Friday as part of his push to give financial relief from the coronavirus pandemic to state and local governments – a clear source of division with Republican lawmakers who view the spending as wasteful.
As part of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus package, Biden wants to send $350 billion to state and local governments and tribal governments. While Republicans in Congress have largely objected to this initiative, Biden’s push has some GOP support among governors and mayors.
“You folks are all on the front lines and dealing with the crisis since day one,” Biden said at the start of the Oval Office meeting. “They’ve been working on their own in many cases.”
Republican lawmakers have stressed that some past aid to state and local governments remains unspent and revenues have rebounded after slumping when the coronavirus first hit. But state governments have shed 332,000 jobs since the outbreak began to spread last February, and local governments have cut nearly 1 million jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Republican Govs. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Larry Hogan of Maryland attended the Friday meeting, along with Democratic governors, including New York’s Andrew Cuomo and New Mexico’s Michelle Lujan Grisham. The mayors of Atlanta, Detroit, Miami and Arlington, Texas, also were at the meeting. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell was set to attend, but she could not because of White House health screening and safety protocols, according to her press secretary.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, a Republican, called the discussion spirited and said the past aid to local governments was insufficient, so more money was needed. “Our residents got a fraction of the help that they needed,” Suarez said at the White House briefing, adding that the city is “going to put the money to good use.”
Under the relief package being crafted in House committees this week, every state and the District of Columbia would get at least $500 million, but most of the money going to states would be distributed based on their share of unemployed workers nationally.
Hutchinson said he objected to the plan’s $1.9 trillion price tag and the strategy of using jobs figures to guide the flow of money to state and local governments. “That’s really a disincentive for economic growth and people working,” Hutchinson told The Associated Press. “I said the only fair way to do it is to distribute money to the states on a per capita basis. That’s fair, it’s undisputable and I think, by and large, most governors understand that and want that.”
Local governments would get $130.2 billion, and tribal governments would get $20 billion. The money could be used to cover costs incurred because of the pandemic and lost revenue and to address the negative economic impact of the disease.
Biden extending mortgage relief, moratorium on foreclosures through June
The White House on Monday announced a program to extend mortgage relief and a moratorium on home foreclosures through June as thousands of Americans continue to struggle to keep up with payments during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a housing affordability crisis,” the White House said in a statement. “Now, homeowners will receive urgently needed relief as we face this unprecedented national emergency. Today’s action builds on steps the President took on Day One to extend foreclosure moratoriums for federally guaranteed mortgages.”
The joint effort between the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, and Agriculture will extend the foreclosure moratorium for homeowners, keep open the mortgage payment forbearance enrollment window and provide up to six months of additional mortgage payment forbearance, in three-month increments, for borrowers who entered forbearance on or before June 30. Those protections were set to expire on March 30.
The Biden administration called on Congress to pass the American Rescue Plan, which would implement a Homeowners Assistance Fund of $10 billion to help struggling homeowners catch up on mortgage payments and utility bills. “This relief is critical for homeowners with mortgages in the private market who are not able to take advantage of today’s actions and may face longer term challenges,” the White House said.
Vaccine Focus Shifts to Second Doses for Near Future
Vaccine distribution throughout Illinois will focus on providing more second doses to residents starting this week for the next several weeks, meaning fewer people will be able to receive their first dose of the vaccine, the Illinois Department of Public Health said in a news release Sunday.
As more Illinois residents have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccines with the move to vaccinating Phase 1b populations, a greater number of residents now are due for their second dose, making this shift necessary, according to the release.
Yesterday was the beginning of vaccine providers receiving a larger share of second vaccine doses. As federal vaccine shipments to Illinois still are limited, this means fewer first doses will be included in each shipment that local health departments and other vaccine providers receive, according to the release.
IDPH has been working with vaccine providers throughout the state to prepare for this new focus as a way to balance the distribution of first and second doses, according to the release. They anticipate that this focus on providing second doses will continue for the next several weeks and that more first doses will be available again in March.
Melaney Arnold, spokesperson for the IDPH, said the state expects vaccine dose supply to slowly increase in the coming weeks. In the meantime, the state didn’t want to push out those vaccines for more patients’ first doses that could potentially not get the second one in time and, ultimately, could result in those patients having to get a third dose. “It’s going to be that continuing balancing act,” Arnold said.
Arnold said vaccine providers, including pharmacies, are going to have to get even more in the habit of planning out second doses corresponding with first doses. She said she understands it’s frustrating to not have the doses to meet the huge demand for the vaccine. “We continue to ask for patience, simply because there just isn’t the supply of vaccine that we all want,” Arnold said. “We’re trying to distribute it as equitably as possible and trying to get it out as quickly as possible.”
Will County Clinic Begins 65+ Vaccinations
The vaccination site at Joliet West High School has already begun vaccinating residents age 65 and over for COVID-19. AMITA Health and the Joliet Fire Department originally opened the site to vaccinate teachers in Joliet Township High School District 204 and other schools nearby. After workers there had already vaccinated more than 4,000 teachers and staff, they started taking appointments for older residents who are also eligible for vaccines under Phase 1B of the state’s distribution plan.
Joliet Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Carey said by the end of the second week the clinic had been vaccinating, he expected about 6,000 doses to have been administered without any wasted. That’s meant giving some doses to individuals who had not originally registered as required through the Will County Health Department. There have been times when the clinic has had a few extra doses which workers did not want to go to waste.
Clinic workers have taken advantage of some people waiting outside the site in hopes of receiving an extra dose. Some days, Carey said, they’ve had to give out those extra doses to those waiting, or else the vaccine would go to waste. But this only happens if the vaccines they receive on a particular day have a needle with a specific length which allows the paramedics to extract an extra dose out of a vile.
Still, Carey said they have had to turn down some wanting a shot because they hadn’t registered though the health department. Registration can be done at willcountyhealth.org. Carey added he still hopes the clinic can vaccinate about 1,000 people per day, or about 5,000 per week.
The Will County Health Department has also been vaccinating residents eligible under Phase 1B at its facility in Joliet. Silver Cross Hospital has vaccinated more than 1,000 teachers and educational staff in Will County earlier this month. Still, county officials said the possibility of establishing more vaccine sites and appointments will depend on more supplies coming from the state and federal governments.
County Health Department to Receive Additional Funds
The Will County Board Executive Committee gave the OK for about $3 million for staffing, supplies and more to enhance the county’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood, had asked the board to allocate about $5 million to aid the county’s health department.
The board already approved about $2 million for a contract to set up a call center to help the overwhelmed health department field questions. The full County Board will have to give final approval for the remaining $3 million in expenses at its meeting Thursday.
The health department requested about $80,000 to hire a public relations firm to handle communications about the vaccine rollout. The committee members voted to allocate that money to the county executive’s office. The rest of the $3 million will go directly to the health department which is in charge of administering shots. Sue Olenek, the executive director of the Will County Health Department, told board members Thursday the funding amounts were her best guess for what will be needed.
Her request included $100,000 to rent venues to set up vaccination sites. During another meeting, Olenek said she was unsure how much it would cost to secure physical spaces for vaccine sites because some entities have volunteered buildings for the effort.
There was another $125,000 requested for medical supplies such as personal protective equipment, EpiPens, and first aid kits. Another $150,000 would pay for non-medical supplies such as signage, traffic cones, flags, tents, heaters, and coolers, which can be used at eventual outdoor drive-thru vaccination sites. About $2 million would be used to hire personnel to staff clinics. Another $240,000 would be used for technology expenses like tablets and phones to check in residents.
The remaining money would be used for food, educational supplies, and other miscellaneous expenses. Still, Olenek said the health department may need more money allocated in the future.
“I don’t know if this will completely cover our costs,” Olenek said. “I highly doubt it.”
County Board Speaker Mimi Cowan, D-Naperville, encouraged Olenek to come back with whatever she needed. “We are going to do here in Will County what is necessary to fund a vaccine rollout,” Cowan said.
Olenek said she expects vaccinations to continue for many months, especially as more people, including eventually people under the age of 16, become eligible. “We’re all in here for the long haul,” she said.
Weather Causing Federal Vaccine Delivery Delays
The federal government has notified all states of COVID-19 vaccine delivery delays across the entire country due to adverse weather and road conditions. To help offset delayed vaccine deliveries, the State of Illinois proactively ordered vaccine to be delivered to its Strategic National Stockpile Receipt, Store, and Stage site in anticipation of adverse weather. Illinois is distributing that vaccine to many providers around the state today and tomorrow, as weather permits, to continue to support vaccination operations.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Operation Warp Speed (OWS) are projecting adverse weather impacts to operations at its partner and carrier facilities where vaccines and ancillary supply kits originate. HHS/OWS have advised that many regularly projected deliveries for Tuesday will be significantly impacted by adverse weather occurring across the U.S. These impacts could continue throughout the week and could be affected by additional adverse weather projected later in the week.
IDPH has been in close communication with local health department and other providers on potential delays. This has included webinars, weather situational updates, and a rapid electronic notification to all vaccine providers. IDPH will continue to communicate with our local partners and providers with any updates as we have them.
Other areas of the country where distribution hubs are located are experiencing delays due to weather. Anticipating this, Illinois proactively ordered vaccine that was pre-stationed in Illinois and would not be subject to delays due to weather in other parts of the country.
CDC Announces School Reopening Guidance
Schools should use masks and social distancing to safely resume in-person learning as soon as possible, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Friday. The agency outlined mitigation strategies that include the proper use of masks, social distancing of six feet, strict cleaning and maintenance of classrooms, and rapid contact tracing.
CDC chief Rochelle Walensky also urged states to make vaccinating teachers a priority, though she did not call it a prerequisite for reopening. Schools should also regularly test students and teachers, and do all they can to improve ventilation, she said. While the guidance doesn’t mandate schools be reopened, it notes that the data available show “in-person learning in schools has not been associated with substantial community transmission.”
“It is critical for schools to open as safely and as quickly as possible for in-person learning,” according to the guidance. “To enable schools to open and remain open, it is important to adopt and correctly and consistently implement actions to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, not only inside the school, but also in the community.”
At the same time, the guidelines urge school officials to closely monitor community transmission. In areas with low or moderate spread, all grades can be in classrooms with masking and social distancing in place, according to the CDC.
Meanwhile, in areas with substantial transmission, elementary schools should be in hybrid mode. Middle and high-school students could do the same, or come in with reduced attendance, the guidance suggests. Finally, in communities with exceedingly high transmission, middle and high-school students should stay with virtual learning unless all mitigation strategies are strictly maintained.
Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, called the recommendations “an informed, tactile plan that has the potential” to help school stay safe. “The CDC met fear of the pandemic with facts and evidence,” she said. “For the first time since the start of this pandemic, we have a rigorous road map, based on science, that our members can use to fight for a safe reopening.” Weingarten called on the U.S. Congress and Department of Education to “make this guidance real” by securing funding for districts nationwide.
CDC Says No Quarantine Needed if Received Both Doses of Vaccine
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that people who have been vaccinated are no longer required to quarantine after exposure to someone with the coronavirus, as long as they have received both doses of the vaccine and at least two weeks have passed since the second shot.
CDC officials also recommended double masking — a cloth mask over a disposable surgical mask — to improve protection from the threat of more contagious variants spreading across the United States.
Is it Safe to Say the Pandemic is in Retreat?
The number of new coronavirus cases continues to plummet, as does the number of Americans hospitalized with symptoms. Deaths have also begun to decline. And the number of daily vaccination shots has nearly tripled over the last month.
It’s been a long time since the virus news was as encouraging as it is right now. The overall situation is still bad. The virus is spreading more rapidly in the U.S. than in almost any other large country, and more than 2,500 Americans are dying daily. Newly contagious variants may create future outbreaks. For now, though, things are getting better — and a combination of vaccinations, mask wearing, and social distancing has the potential to sustain the recent progress.
Since reaching a peak on Jan. 8 — related to holiday gatherings — the number of confirmed new daily cases has fallen by almost 60 percent. The decline in actual cases is probably somewhat smaller, because the volume of testing has also fallen over the last few weeks. Fewer tests lead to fewer reported cases. The number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 symptoms is falling and most important, deaths have begun to decline. And deaths are likely to decline more.
The fatality trends typically trail behind the trends in diagnosed cases by about three weeks — which means the sharp recent drop in cases is only now starting to affect the death numbers. Over the next two weeks, the number of daily deaths will probably fall below 2,000, Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, predicts, and it could drop below 1,000 by next month.
The main cause of the decline appears to be that a significant share of people now have at least some immunity to the virus. That also helps explain the global decline in newly diagnosed cases. In the U.S., about 110 million people have likely had the virus (including unconfirmed cases), researchers say. Another 33 million have received at least one vaccine shot.
Combined, these two groups make up about 43 percent of all Americans, which appears to be enough to slow the spread. “Though it is difficult to know for sure,” Andrew Brouwer, a University of Michigan epidemiologist, told The Wall Street Journal, “we may be approaching herd protection.” Still, this protection does not ensure a continuing decline in cases. Most Americans still haven’t had the virus.
The first thing to watch in coming days is whether Super Bowl parties turned into super spreader events that have caused new outbreaks. The next question will be whether the recent decline causes Americans to become lax again, as happened both last summer and fall.
Adding to the risk is the possibility that some people who have already had the virus remain vulnerable to reinfection from one of the variants. If that turns out to be the case — as early research suggests — vaccination will become even more important.
The bottom line: The pandemic is in retreat. What happens next will depend mostly on three factors: 1) how many Americans wear masks and remain socially distant; 2) how contagious the new variants are; and 3) how quickly the vaccines — which have virtually eliminated the worst Covid symptoms — get into people’s arms.
Program Notices & Reminders
Upcoming Discussions with Illinois DCEO and SBA District Office
SBA Webinar with Stephen Konkle (SBA) and Joe McKeown (DCEO)
Please join the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s Office of Regional Economic Development and special guest Stephen Konkle with the US Small Business Administration for a webinar to learn more about the US Small Business Administration’s Federal Paycheck Protection Program and several others. This federal PPP forgivable COVID-19 Relief Loan Program will help Illinois small businesses keep their employees on payroll during this unprecedented time.
Date and time: Friday, February 19, 2021 1:00 PM / Register here:
Discussion with DCEO Director, Erin Guthrie & SBA on PPP
Join this webinar to be a part of the discussion with DCEO (Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity) Director, Erin Guthrie & the SBA (Small Business Administration) District Director, Robert Steiner on PPP (Payroll Protection Program) and other relevant topics.
Date and time: Wednesday, February 24, 2021 2:00 PM / Register here:
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
Finally, please join the Joliet Chamber for a virtual conference with Mayor Bob O’Dekirk as he delivers a review of 2020, updates on present City of Joliet projects, and what to expect in the future. On Tuesday, February 23rd, Mayor O’Dekirk will deliver the annual State of the City Address at 11 am. Click here to register: http://jolietchamber.chambermaster.com/events/details/2021-webinar-state-of-the-city-address-6015
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry