We’re patiently awaiting details from the Governor, reported to be this week, as to what changes we can expect in his reopening plans. After months of numerous groups pressing for an update on what can be realistic for capacity between now and a full reopening, it seems as if we’ll finally receive some answers by the end of the week.
Additionally, today’s update will touch on child vaccine testing, a vaccine pause overseas, an update on the travel industry, and some good news on state finances.
A few reminders first –
We have a busy end of the month as far as our calendar goes. Our State of the City Address with Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk is back on the calendar for Monday, March 22 at 11 AM. Make sure to sign up here.
Please add the Women’s Empowerment Forum on Wednesday, March 24th. In honor of National Women’s History month the chamber has partnered with Lewis University and invites you to join an interactive, virtual, open forum with women educators and leaders from our community. Join us at 2:30 PM by registering here: http://jolietchamber.chambermaster.com/events/details/2021-webinar-march-24th-women-s-empowerment-forum-6018
Also, you can now register to join us for a Joliet City Council Candidate forum to take place on Thursday, March 25th. We’ll have an in-person event that will be taped and released immediately as well as a published questionnaire before the 3/25 event. This event will run from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM. You can register here: http://jolietchamber.chambermaster.com/events/details/2021-member-lunch-march-25-joliet-city-council-at-large-candidates-6027
*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital
Governor Expected to Announce Reopening Update
Another change to Governor Pritzker’s COVID-19 reopening plan is expected this week, but it won’t be the full reopening initially laid out in May 2020. The state is in Phase 4 of the governor’s plan, with a 50-person on the size of gatherings. Phase 5 would be full reopening and is triggered when “either a vaccine is developed to prevent additional spread of COVID-19, a treatment option is readily available that ensures health care capacity is no longer a concern, or there are no new cases over a sustained period.”
During a Senate Health Committee hearing Monday, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said she thinks the state is “getting close” to reopening more, but not all the way. “I think from where we are now to Phase 5 maybe not just an on/off switch, but maybe a dial,” Ezike said. “So there may be one more phase before we get to Phase 5. I think the governor is going to release a plan that we have been working on later this week.”
A lot of the benchmarks she said will rely on the vaccination rates of the most vulnerable population, the state’s seniors. “So once we see like a greater majority of our seniors vaccinated, that should get us to another level and then we can start having at least larger-sized gatherings like everything open up with some kind of capacity,” Ezike said. “We’re not getting rid of masks. We think masks have to be a mainstay.” So far, roughly 57 percent of Illinois seniors have received their first dose, and 34 percent are fully vaccinated. In the past week, the state has averaged about 27 deaths per day.
For a full Phase 5 reopening, she said that will depend on how much of the general population has been vaccinated while health officials monitor COVID-19-related deaths and hospitalizations. As of Monday, nearly 12 percent of the state’s total population has been fully vaccinated.
Pritzker has hinted that the hard-hit hospitality and convention industries will be getting some relief, saying that leaders of both have been pushing him hard to act fast. The Governor said he will not change his stance and force local grade and high school districts to reopen for in-person education, although he believes that it now can be safely done. But he emphasized that he’s “done things” that point local districts in the direction of reopening, such as last week’s announcement that recommended social distancing in some settings can be halved to three feet from the previous six.
As the state now moves into a much fuller recover phase, Pritzker said he hopes to boost recovery aid for business using part of the $7.5 billion the state will get from the latest federal stimulus bill. Paying off state debt is the first priority, but after that, “I think we will be able to use some money to expand” help to struggling companies.
Moderna Is Testing Its Covid-19 Vaccine on Young Children
Moderna Inc. has begun studying its Covid-19 vaccine in children aged six months to 11 years in the U.S. and Canada, the latest effort to widen the mass-vaccination campaign beyond adults. The Cambridge, Mass. company said Tuesday that the first children have received doses in the study, which Moderna is conducting in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a division of the Department of Health and Human Services.
“This pediatric study will help us assess the potential safety and immunogenicity of our COVID-19 vaccine candidate in this important younger age population,” Moderna Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel said.
The bulk of the U.S. Covid-19 vaccination campaign so far has focused on protecting adults, who are at higher risk of severe disease caused by the coronavirus than children. Moderna’s and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines are authorized for use in adults 18 and older, while the vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE is cleared for use in people 16 and older.
Efforts have begun to test the Covid-19 vaccines in children, who can still become infected, both to protect them from the virus and further build the population-level immunity to move past pandemic restrictions.
Federal health officials have suggested that if studies are positive, junior-high and senior-high students could get access to vaccines in the fall, followed by children of elementary-school age in early 2022. Both Pfizer and Moderna last year started clinical trials testing their vaccines in adolescents aged 12 years and older. Both trials have fully enrolled subjects and the results are pending. J&J is planning to start pediatric testing of its vaccine.
The new Moderna study, which is a combined Phase 2 and 3 trial, will aim to enroll about 6,750 children and will be conducted in two parts, according to the company. The first part of the trial will test different dose levels of the vaccine in children. Researchers will examine the safety and immune response to the various doses to determine which to carry into the second part of the study.
In the study’s second part, other study subjects will be randomly assigned to receive two doses of either Moderna’s vaccine or a placebo, 28 days apart. Researchers will track the safety, tolerability, and effectiveness of the vaccine. They will determine effectiveness of the vaccine in children either by using an immune-response marker known as a correlate of protection—if one is determined—or by comparing their immune responses to those seen in young adults, Moderna said.
Oxford / AstraZeneca Vaccine Pause
A wave of EU countries moved yesterday to suspend use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, ignoring the advice of the bloc’s medicines regulator as investigations continue into cases of blood clots.
Within hours this afternoon, France suspended use of the vaccine until at least Tuesday afternoon and Germany did the same indefinitely after newly reported cases of blood clots. Italy made a U-turn decision after its drugs regulator said Sunday the vaccine is safe, and Spain’s health minister announced a pause while waiting for an assessment by the European Medicines Agency, possibly for up to two weeks. Cyprus also followed suit.
Countries face a dilemma over whether the proven benefits of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab outweigh any as-yet-unproven link to blood clots — and the growing consensus is to wait for firmer scientific evidence.
Is Travel Coming Back?
Airline executives said they are starting to see a path out of the coronavirus pandemic as more passengers resume travel, following a weekend when airport volumes hit their highest levels in a year.
Delta Air Lines Inc. bookings began picking up five or six weeks ago as people have begun making plans for spring and summer, Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian said at an industry conference Monday. “We’ve seen some glimmers of hope over the last year, but they’ve been false hope,” Mr. Bastian said. “But this seems like it’s real.”
Airline stocks climbed Monday. Shares of United Airlines Holdings rose 8.3%, while shares of American Airlines Group climbed 7.7% and Delta shares rose 2.3%. U.S. airlines carried 60% fewer passengers in 2020 than in 2019, bringing passenger traffic to the lowest level since the mid-1980s, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Major U.S. airlines lost about $35 billion in 2020. But on Monday, United and Delta said they could stop bleeding cash this month. That was hard to imagine at the beginning of this year. Airline executives said January and February were even weaker than they expected, as a high number of cases, the rise of more contagious variants, and new Covid-19 testing requirements for people arriving from abroad had a chilling effect.
Executives said they remain cautious. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still advises against travel, and the number of people passing through U.S. airports is still half—or less—of what it was for most days in 2019, according to the Transportation Security Administration. But the numbers are climbing. Airports screened nearly 1.36 million people Friday and more than 1.34 million people on Sunday, two of the busiest days since March 2020.
Southwest Airlines Co. and JetBlue Airways Corp. also said Monday that more people are making plans to travel, booking vacations or trips to visit friends and family, helping to pare expected revenue declines this quarter.
Bookings to destinations such as Florida and Hawaii, while still down from 2019 levels, are holding up better than other areas, according to data from ForwardKeys, a travel-analytics company. Domestic bookings were 42% of 2019 levels in the first week of January but were at 64% of 2019 levels in the first week of March, according to its data. “There has been progressive growth in U.S. domestic bookings every week since the beginning of the year,” said Olivier Ponti, vice president of insights at ForwardKeys.
The recent uptick in flight bookings is helping to stem the amount of cash the carriers have been losing daily, executives said Monday. Airlines have been on track to burn through $150 million in cash a day during the first three months of this year, according to trade group Airlines for America.
State Treasurer Touts $1 Billion in Earnings
State government has been able to earn more than $1 billion on its investments since 2015, State Treasurer Michael Frerichs said Monday in announcing what he called a milestone. The last time a treasurer earned that amount for the state while in office was Judy Baar Topinka in 1999. Topinka reached the $1 billion mark in about four years but had the benefit of higher interest rates that helped the state earn more money off investments, Frerichs said.
A Democrat who is midway through his second four-year term, Frerichs said at a Statehouse news conference that earnings off the state’s investment portfolio of $17 billion can avoid the need for tax increases and budget cuts.
The state was able to compensate for interest rates averaging less than 1% — compared with 5% during Topinka’s tenure — by broadening the state’s legally allowed investments to those that earn higher rates of return, Frerichs said. State laws enacted in 2016 and 2019 with support of Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly paved the way for the investment changes with a relatively low risk for taxpayers, said Frerichs, a former state senator from Champaign County.
“These common-sense changes include the new ability to invest in highly rated corporate bonds issued by such well-known titans as Caterpillar, Deere and Pfizer,” he said. The changes also allowed investments in “secure, public-sector bonds such as those issued by school districts to purchase land or erect buildings,” he said.
Frerichs, who took office in 2015, said he and his staff also have worked closely with the governor’s and comptroller’s offices on cash flow so that the treasurer’s office, when possible, can invest money as long as possible to maximize interest earnings.
Despite the state’s budget struggles with structural deficits that result in billions of dollars in unpaid bills to state vendors and more than $130 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, Frerichs said the investment news “is evidence that not everything in Illinois is broken.”
“It also shows that when there’s a willingness to work together, we can achieve great things for our state,” he said. One billion dollars “builds 330 miles of new roads in Illinois,” he said. “Think of the number of jobs that means. The lunches and dinners and gas tanks being filled. … Government can and does work to help its citizens.”
Investment earnings help the state pay down its backlog of bills but aren’t a long-term solution to the state’s struggles with its credit rating, which is just above junk-bond status, Frerichs said. The credit rating affects the interest rate the state must pay when it borrows money. That rating doesn’t affect the state’s ability to invest its own money in other entities, the treasurer said.
Program Notices & Reminders
Hollywood Casino Joliet Partnering with Illinois Dept. of Public Health to Host Covid Mobile Testing Program
Hollywood Casino Joliet announced that it is partnering with the Illinois Department of Public Health (“IDPH”) to host a COVID-19 mobile testing program in the casino’s parking lot. The IDPH will set up and operate the mobile testing program at Hollywood Casino every Sunday in March and the first Sunday in April.
“We are incredibly proud to be partnering with the Illinois Department of Public Health to provide our parking lot as a COVID-19 testing site to help fight the spread of COVID-19,” said Lydia Garvey, Vice President and General Manager at Hollywood Casino Joliet. “Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our community as we all work together towards ending the pandemic.”
The IDPH’s mobile testing program in Hollywood Casino’s parking lot will take place from 8:00am to 4:00pm on March 20, March 27, and April 3. Individuals seeking COVID-19
tests will not need a photo ID nor need to be showing signs of symptoms to receive a test. The
mobile testing program accepts insurance, however an insurance card is not necessary to be
tested. For the uninsured or if insurance does not cover the cost of the test, the state of Illinois will cover the cost.
The COVID-19 mobile testing program will use anterior nares swabs to test patients, with specimens being shipped to a lab to run on a polymerase chain reaction (“PCR”) testing machine which makes it possible to detect COVID-19 with a very high degree of accuracy. Individuals tested will receive a phone call between 4-7 days from the date of their test from the number 888-297-7208. Patients who miss the call will be requested to call back in order to receive results as they cannot be left via voicemail.
Paycheck Protection Program Office Hours This Week Hosted by the SBA Illinois District Office
The SBA Illinois District Office is here to help you navigate the Paycheck Protection Program! Join them this week for office hours and get your questions about PPP answered. They will be hosting office hours daily until PPP closes on March 31. Sign up for office hours this week below!
Office hours this week
- Wednesday, March 17, 11:00a.m., Click here to sign up.
- Wednesday, March 17, 7:00p.m., Click here to sign up.
- Thursday, March 18, 12:00p.m., Click here to sign up.
- Friday, March 19, 11:00a.m., Click here to sign up.
Browse other events hosted by the SBA Illinois District Office www.sba.gov/il.
Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Joliet Junior College
Here are our upcoming no-cost webinars:
Starting Your Business in Illinois on March 24th at 2pm
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)
Social Media – Stop Posting! Start Marketing (with Joe Sanders) on April 1 at 11am
Are you taking advantage of the opportunities and changes in Social Media? Learn the five-step process: Find the Right Audience; Create the Right Content; Promote Your Business as a Brand; Use Ample Resources; and Analyze the Results. Digital Marketing expert, podcast host and author Joe Sanders, from Relevant Elephant, will share a powerful overview of how to improve your social media strategy and WHY you need to take action.
Social Media – Stop Posting! Start Marketing! (with Joe Sanders) (ecenterdirect.com)
Video Marketing for Small Business (with Mike at Acclaim Media) on April 8 at 11am
Video production once meant bringing in a full production crew to produce a television commercial. Now, a child can produce a quality video on their phone. And that video is a very important component to your website, social media pages, product information, as well as your local advertising. Learn the benefits of video marketing and hear from Mike Poglitsch at Acclaim Media about how easy the process can be.
Video Marketing for Small Business (ecenterdirect.com)
Funding Your Business (with Nancy Kuzma) on April 14th at 2pm
Funding your business is critical for start-ups as well as companies who are looking to expand. Establishing business credit is the first step. Get a basic understanding of what banks look for to qualify for a loan from Nancy Kuzma of Old Plank Trail Community Bank/Wintrust Community Bank.
Funding Your Business Webinar (ecenterdirect.com)
Government Certification Process (with Rita Haake at COD) on April 27th at 1pm
Certifications: Interpreting the alphabet to pursue profits! Which small business certification is the best one for you?
• Federal: 8(a), EDWOSB, HUBZone, SDB, SDVOSB, WOSB, VOSB
• State: DBE, FBE, FMBE, MBE, PBE, VBE
• Local: DBE, MBE, WBE, VBE
You will learn the details of the application process, documentation requirements, certification options, and how to market and leverage certifications for the growth of your business.
Webinar: The Certification Process (ecenterdirect.com)
Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity Updates and Offerings
DCEO Veterans Series Presents Illinois Joining Forces
Event Date and time: Thursday, March 18, 2021 at 10:00 am
About this Event:
Join DCEO’s Office of Regional Economic Development and the Office of Minority Economic Empowerment who will host a webinar with Illinois Joining Forces Executive Director Brig. General (Ret.) Steve Curda, Ph.D. and Jim Dolan, Sr. Director of Development with Illinois Joining Forces. Illinois Joining Forces serves as a statewide public-private partnership that promotes the efficient delivery of Growth and Wellness initiatives for Service Members, Veterans, and their Families at the community level throughout the State of Illinois.
Registration Link: https://illinois.webex.com/illinois/onstage/g.php?MTID=e517ad4416d49bac22381e4c3629b01e1
DCEO Angel Investment Tax Credit and Other Assistance Programs
Event Date and Time: Thursday, March 18, 2021 at 2:00 pm
About this Event:
The Illinois Angel Investment Tax Credit Program encourages investment in innovative, early-stage companies to help obtain the working capital needed to further the growth of their company in Illinois. Investors in companies that are certified as Qualified New Business Ventures (QNBVs) can receive a state tax credit equal to 25% of their investment (up to $2 million).
Registration Link: https://illinois.webex.com/illinois/onstage/g.php?MTID=ef818d7e51b16aacb5cc1cedb429010c7
Illinois Department of Transportation
The Illinois Department of Transportation is hosting free virtual workshops in February as part of its Building Blocks of Success series for firms interested in participating in the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program strengthening their skills and bidding on state projects. The workshops are open to all, but some are tailored to specific districts/regions of the state.
The workshop dates and topics are:
• March 18: Prime Contractors’ Perspective, 10 a.m. to noon
• March 23: Getting Paid, 10 a.m. to noon
• March 25: Required Documents, 10 a.m. to noon
• March 29: Quick Books Part 1, 10 a.m. to noon
• March 30: Quick Books Part 2, 10 a.m. to noon
• March 31: Quick Books Part 3, 10 a.m. to noon
Building Blocks of Success will be conducted through April. Workshop information, including dates and times, will be made available through Eventbrite at bit.ly/DBEworkshops. Advance registration is required. Questions can be directed to the DBE resource center at (312) 939-1100.
Finally, please consider taking a few minutes to fill out the 2021 Small Business Needs Assessment. The Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Illinois SBDC at Joliet Junior College asks for your assistance in our effort to best serve small business. Your input is extremely valuable and we thank you for your time in completing this survey.
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry