Well, the good news may have slowed down as it’s been predicted that we’re in for six more weeks of winter. Of course that comes from a groundhog and we certainly have many other issues to keep an eye on. Today we share a variety of vaccine related information as that dominates the news on the federal and state level.
Look as well for information on a restaurant grant program and continuing talks over the next stimulus checks and the larger aid package.
*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital
Biden Administration to Begin Shipping Vaccines Straight to Pharmacies
The Biden administration said Tuesday it will begin distributing a limited number of Covid-19 vaccine doses directly to retail pharmacies across the nation. Many pharmacies are already administering vaccine doses that have been allocated to states. Under the new program, the federal government would ship doses directly to pharmacies. The new pharmacy initiative — which is aimed at broadening access to vaccines generally — is separate from an ongoing federal program to have Walgreens and CVS vaccinate residents of long-term care facilities.
White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters that the government will ship only about 1 million doses per week to about 6,500 pharmacies through the new program at first. The vaccine sent directly to pharmacies starting next week will be in addition to the weekly shipments to states, which this week will total roughly 10.5 million doses.
Vaccinations through the federal partnership will start on Feb. 11, according to the White House. “The Centers for Disease Control, which has quite a bit of experience working with pharmacies, is making sure that we are picking pharmacies in that first phase that are located in areas that are harder to reach to ensure that we have equitable distribution of the pharmacy doses,” Zients said.
At least one participant, CVS Health, plans to begin offering vaccinations to “eligible populations” using doses from the federal program on the first day, Feb. 11. The pharmacy chain expects to receive about 250,000 doses that will be rolled out at approximately 330 stores across 11 states including California, Texas, Virginia, and New York. Another participant, Walgreens, will begin using its federal doses on Feb. 12.
The Biden administration is treating the first weeks of the program as a dry run to test if the federal pharmacy program will work before scaling it up, according to one source familiar with planning discussions. “Eventually, as we’re able to increase supply, up to 40,000 pharmacies nationwide could provide Covid-19 vaccinations,” Zients said.
The cautious approach comes as Biden’s team tries to speed up vaccine distribution while grappling with questions about how many doses are sitting unused in states, trying to help manufacturers increase supply and exploring options such as a federally run mass vaccination sites.
Illinois Diverts Vaccine Distribution
Illinois is stepping up to address the slow pace of the federal effort to vaccinate long-term care residents in the state. The state today announced plans to redirect roughly 97,000 doses that were earmarked for the federal pharmacy program managed by CVS and Walgreens to other health care providers.
Those doses will now be used to help inoculate the 3.2 million Illinoisans—including essential workers and people 65 and older—covered under Phase 1B of the vaccination campaign. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has criticized the rate of shots administered under the federal program, which is giving out 36,000 doses per week, the state says. As of Feb. 2, about 35 percent of the total 496,100 doses allocated for the program had been administered, state data shows.
“The federal government pulled out of the doses sent to state of Illinois the number they thought would be necessary for long-term care sites,” Pritzker said at a news conference regarding the redistribution of doses. “As it turns out, they counted every bed and not every person—the facilities aren’t full. In addition, they assumed every person offered a vaccine—including staff—would take the vaccine. That also has not been the case.”
The program will have about 110,000 doses left to vaccinate long-term care residents. Of the doses being redistributed, 80,000 are from CVS’ allotment. The 17,000 from Walgreens will go to the chain’s retail stores, the state says.
The Illinois Department of Public Health “will continue to closely monitor the program and additional doses will be directed to the program if needed or if the rate of vaccination accelerates,” according to a statement.
In addition, to speed up inoculations at nursing homes and other congregate living settings, the Illinois Department of Human Services is sending at least eight teams of nurses, volunteers, and support staff to help administer vaccines. “Facilities that are in the final stages of the federal program have been offered the opportunity to have a state team visit their site in place of the federal teams,” the statement says.
The move to redirect doses and provide additional support comes one day after state health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike testified before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy & Commerce. During the hearing, committee member Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., criticized states like Illinois for complaining about the lack of vaccine coming from the federal government, given the pace at which shots are being administered.
McKinley praised the rollout in West Virginia, which is among the fastest in the nation. The state opted out of the federal pharmacy program, meaning that state is not relying on pharmacy giants like CVS and Walgreens to inoculate residents and staff at long-term care facilities.
Illinois Lawmakers Eligible for Vaccine
Illinois legislators just received a big boost amid the statewide scramble to receive one of those hard-to-get COVID-19 vaccine shots.
At the request of legislative leaders, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration today moved the 177 members of the Illinois General Assembly into Phase 1B status. That means they’re immediately eligible to get shots, along with some essential workers such as teachers and anyone over age 65.
House Speaker Chris Welch hailed the decision, even though lawmakers in both chambers are mostly meeting remotely so far this year. “I commend the governor’s decision to allow state legislators to get the COVID-19 vaccine in the 1B phase,” Welch said in a statement. “While part of my job as speaker is to relay the range of opinions among all House members, it was important that this decision rest with the governor and his team of health experts.”
Added Welch, “The issues and challenges facing the General Assembly are enormous, so this is a welcomed step in the interest of government functionality and safety. Whether or not to get a vaccine is a personal choice for every member, but I encourage those who are at risk or have vulnerable family members to strongly consider it.”
Pritzker’s office in statement emphasized the decision was made “at the request of members of the General Assembly.” The governor agreed because the state “has urgent and vital business that must be addressed, and we hope that the General Assembly will engage in a robust and productive schedule in coming weeks and months.”
There was no immediate indication whether now-eligible lawmakers will get priority in actually obtaining shots that are in short supply. One of the issues in the potential teachers strike against Chicago Public Schools is that the city has balked at guaranteeing teachers they’ll go to the head of the vaccine line, even though they’re eligible to get vaccinated now.
Biden Presses Case for Large Covid Aid Package
President Biden rallied Senate Democrats to pass a large Covid-19 relief package as party lawmakers pushed forward with a legislative process that would allow them to pass a $1.9 trillion package without Republican votes.
During a virtual meeting Tuesday with Senate Democrats, which Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen joined, Mr. Biden argued that providing too little aid presents a greater risk to the economy than offering too much, according to people familiar with the call. Mr. Biden told Democrats that the U.S. hasn’t provided enough support to the economy during previous recessions.
Democrats on Capitol Hill are working on translating Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan, which bolsters unemployment aid, provides funds for vaccine distribution, and sends $1,400 checks to many Americans, among other measures, into legislation. “President Biden spoke about the need for the Congress to respond boldly and quickly,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said Tuesday after the meeting.
Mr. Biden’s meeting with Democrats comes a day after a group of 10 Republicans pitched Mr. Biden on a $618 billion proposal during a White House meeting, calling for the administration to quickly pass a bipartisan package. Mr. Biden, who didn’t take questions during Tuesday’s meeting, told Democrats that he thinks the GOP proposal is too small.
On Tuesday, Democrats took early procedural steps in a process called reconciliation, which will allow the Democrats to skirt the 60-vote threshold in the Senate and pass the package instead with a simple majority. In the Senate, all 50 Democrats voted to proceed to the budget resolution necessary to reconciliation, overcoming 49 Republican votes with one GOP absence, and the House approved a procedural step later Tuesday.
The Republican group’s counterproposal is less than a third of the size of Mr. Biden’s plan, leaving out Democratic priorities like aid to state and local governments and an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. The Republicans want to scale back the $1,400 per person checks to $1,000 per adult and $500 per dependent. The GOP plan would provide $300 a week in supplemental unemployment benefits through June, a cut from the $400 a week through September in the Biden plan.
White House open to narrowing who qualifies for stimulus checks
The White House is open to narrowing eligibility for the next round of stimulus payments but not lowering those payments below $1,400 per person, according to a White House spokeswoman. Congressional Republicans and even some centrist Democrats have in recent days raised concerns that President Biden’s proposal to send another round of stimulus checks would give government aid to affluent Americans who do not need it.
Biden has publicly expressed willingness to negotiate the stimulus payments, which under Democrats’ current plans would begin to diminish at $75,000 for individuals and couples making $150,000 a year. Biden is also aiming to provide $1,400 per every adult and child under that threshold, on top of the $600 per adult and child approved by Congress in December.
One proposal discussed by senior Democrats includes lowering the threshold for the payments to begin phasing out above $50,000 for single taxpayers, $75,000 for people who file as the heads of households, and $100,000 for married couples, according to two people granted anonymity to discuss internal planning. These people stress that the conversations are fluid and legislation has not been finalized.
A group of 10 Senate Republicans trying to strike a bipartisan compromise on a stimulus plan has proposed both lowering the income thresholds on the payments — to $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for couples — and reducing the size of the checks from $1,400 to $1,000.
During the bipartisan meeting at the White House on Monday, White House officials expressed openness to lowering the income threshold on the payments but will not accept reducing the size of the checks, two people briefed on the discussions said. These people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations with White House staff.
“The President remains committed to finishing the job on delivering $2,000 in direct relief to Americans who are struggling to make ends meet during this crisis,” Rosemary G. Boeglin, a White House spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Still, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki added at her press briefing on Tuesday that Biden is wary of limiting the income thresholds on the payments too dramatically. For instance, she said Biden believes a nurse and a teacher jointly earning $120,000 a year in Biden’s hometown of Scranton, Pa., still “should get a check.” Biden reiterated this commitment in a meeting with White House aides on Tuesday, she said.
The dispute over how to structure the checks reflects a broader disagreement among economists about whether they represent the best form of fiscal relief to the current economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. John Friedman, an economics professor at Brown University, recently argued that the checks should be targeted for those further down the income distribution, finding that the pandemic had most clearly hurt lower-income groups.
“Targeting the stimulus payments to lower-income households would both better support the households most in need and provide a large boost to the economy in the short-run,” Friedman previously told The Washington Post. “Low-income households have suffered by far the biggest economic shock. They need the help the most.”
Update on Federal Grant Program for Restaurants
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer outlined the framework of the COVID stimulus bill they hope to unveil later this month. The framework includes a reference to a “dedicated grant relief program for restaurants”, and Sen. Schumer has suggested that this program will receive $25 billion in funding.
The language is still be drafted, and the Illinois Restaurant Association and National Restaurant Association has been working with congressional leaders on how best to structure a program that will benefit the entire restaurant sector.
More details are needed, particularly whether the plan will eliminate the tip credit and institute a $15 wage, but it is encouraging news for the 10-month efforts to secure restaurant-specific relief for the industry.
Research Shows Executives Are Split on Whether to Require a Covid Vaccine Before Returning to the Office
Executives are almost evenly divided over whether to require employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19 before returning to the office. According to the survey, 51 percent say they’re leaning toward requiring vaccines for returning workers, and 49 percent say they’re leaning toward not.
The split could stem in part from basic differences in workplace dynamics. In settings where employees can’t remain socially distant (e.g., on certain factory floors or food-production lines), requiring vaccinations could be the only way to ensure workers can safely return — and getting workers back onsite could be the only way to resume full production. But in many other workplaces, it’s possible to protect workers with masks, social distancing, and effective contact tracing.
The preference for requiring vaccines could also relate to executives’ broader plans for a return to work. Nearly half (47 percent) of respondents say their teams will be either mostly (38 percent) or fully (9 percent) onsite once it’s safe to return to work. That might indicate that they intend to wait until vaccines have been administered to enough Americans to make conditions generally safe for most of the population — at which point requiring vaccinations would be unnecessary.
The Return to the Office
Only 1 percent of C-suite executives say their companies intend to fully shift to remote workforces even after the pandemic subsides. The near-universal determination to get workers back into offices is likely related to another finding: 34 percent of respondents say remote work is the greatest hindrance to their teams’ productivity; another 45 percent say social distancing restrictions are the greatest hindrance.
While most businesses have long since adapted to remote workforces, business leaders have also seen the critical role that in-person interaction plays not only in ensuring productivity but also in creating the bonds among team members that underpin corporate culture.
Relocation? 1 in 4 Are Considering It
The pandemic has caused 25 percent of C-level executives to consider moving their business operations this year. Of those who are considering relocation, 39 percent say cost of talent or living is propelling the move. Another 21 percent cite taxes as the driver, and 16 percent point to regulation.
Not surprisingly, the top five destinations for respondents looking to relocate are Texas, Florida, Ohio, Tennessee, and Colorado. Each of those states has established a reputation for relatively low taxes and less regulation while featuring housing and other costs well below major population centers on the coasts.
Program Notices & Reminders
Illinois DCEO’s Office of Regional Economic Development
Join DCEO for a webinar to learn more about the US Small Business Administration’s Federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This federal forgivable COVID-19 Relief Loan Program will help Illinois small businesses keep their employees on payroll during this unprecedented time.
Date: February 5, 2021
Time: 10:00 am
Presenters: Jacqui Bevelheimer, West Central Regional Economic Development, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
Registration Link: https://illinois.webex.com/illinois/onstage/g.php?MTID=e7bfb7c60ada7f7a37a90e00da70e3d0f
Date: February 9, 2021
Time: 2:00 pm
Presenters: Kala Lambert, Southeast Regional Manager of Regional Economic Development, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
Aly Grady, Central Regional Manager of Regional Economic Development, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
Registration Link: https://illinois.webex.com/illinois/onstage/g.php?MTID=ece784409dbfe8e2ff55a7a1253ba9088
Date: February 10, 2021
Time: 10:00 am
Presenter: Tracey Glenn, Southwest Regional Manager for Regional Economic Development, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
Registration Link: https://illinois.webex.com/illinois/onstage/g.php?MTID=edf5666e7f568ba6b693af980d224e132
Date: February 11, 2021
Time: 2:00 pm
Presenter: Joe McKeown, Northeast Senior Account Manager for Regional Economic Development, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
Registration Link: https://illinois.webex.com/illinois/onstage/g.php?MTID=ed0fa7b16a8d5532fecc820656415fd48
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
SBDC at JJC Update
Quick Books (with Annette Szobar)
February 10th 2pm
Learn why keeping track of your finances is important, what information can you get from QuickBooks, and which version should you get! Join independent entrepreneur and small business expert Annette Szobar who will help you solve your QuickBooks problems.
SEO (with Jason McCoy)
February 17 at 2pm
More consumers are doing research and shopping online than ever before due to circumstance, convenience, and cost. Businesses that wish to remain relevant and profitable need to adapt to the shift in consumer behavior. Creating optimized content for your website that will deliver interested consumers is critical now more than ever. Crafting a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) plan is imperative and second only to building a website in ‘getting your business online’.
Starting Your Business in Illinois
February 23rd at 11am
Thinking about starting a business in Illinois? This informative workshop helps entrepreneurs understand many of the steps and requirements. In this no-cost overview of Starting Your Business in Illinois, we will touch on many aspects of your business plan, including legal, accounting, banking, marketing, and sales.
Starting Your Business in Illinois Webinar (ecenterdirect.com)
Finally, we would like to ask that you take a few minutes to fill out a new survey that we’ve put together. This member survey is intended to gather feedback on the continuing issues, opportunities, and perceptions based around covid, the economy, and your business.
As we move forward during the pandemic and shifting political landscapes, please share your feedback so that we can best serve our membership.
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry