With the major announcement of the J&J vaccine entering the mix, projections on when the majority of adults could be vaccinated has jumped tremendously. A usual competitor will be jumping in to assist in the vaccine rollout, a saliva test has been given emergency approval, and additional business aid is on the horizon on the local level. Read below for more on these items.
*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital
President Announces All Adults Able to Receive Vaccine by End of May
President Biden on Tuesday said that the United States will have enough vaccine supply to vaccinate all American adults for coronavirus by the end of May, crediting a “stepped up process” under his administration. Biden made the announcement while outlining a partnership between Merck and Johnson & Johnson to produce the latter’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine.
“We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” Biden said in remarks Tuesday afternoon at the White House. “When we came into office the prior administration had contracted for not nearly enough vaccine to cover adults in America. We rectified that.”
The new timeline is more condensed than Biden’s previous prediction that the U.S. would have enough vaccines for all American adults — 600 million doses — by the end of July. Biden stressed that Tuesday’s developments marked a significant milestone in the fight against the virus, but he cautioned that more work needs to be done in order to distribute the vaccine and inoculate much of the U.S. population.
He highlighted his administration’s efforts to boost the number of vaccinators and locations where Americans can receive doses. “That is progress, important progress,” Biden said. “But it’s not enough to have the vaccine supply.” He also reiterated calls for Congress to swiftly pass his $1.9 trillion relief proposal.
Merck to Help Make Johnson &Johnson’s Vaccine
Pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. will help produce rival Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine as part of an effort to ramp up supplies across the U.S., a Biden administration official confirmed. President Biden announced the partnership Tuesday afternoon in a speech on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
It comes as the White House looks to speed the production of the single-dose vaccine. Officials have said J&J faced unexpected production issues with its vaccine and produced only 3.9 million doses ahead of its emergency use authorization on Saturday. The company has said it’s on pace to deliver 20 million doses by the end of March, and 100 million doses by the end of June. The assistance from Merck was expected to help J&J meet its production commitments and expand supply even further, but the administration did not immediately provide specifics.
University of Illinois Wins FDA Approval for Covid Saliva Test
The saliva-based COVID-19 test developed by University of Illinois researchers has obtained federal emergency use authorization, a highly anticipated stamp of approval that confirms its accuracy and enables broader distribution across the state.
The test, known as covidSHIELD, appeared on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s online list of approved molecular diagnostic tests on Monday. U. of I. has relied on the test to keep its three campuses open for in-person learning since the fall, garnering national attention for the innovation and running more than 1.5 million samples to date.
In a statement, Governor Pritzker hailed the test as “groundbreaking work” and said he is “wasting no time in deploying this technology throughout the state.” Pritzker has already allocated $20 million in federal relief funding to expand the saliva test to the state’s nine other public universities and 48 community colleges. The money will cover the purchase of 1 million tests to be divided among schools by the Illinois Board of Higher Education.
“Each university has determined how it will handle COVID-19 testing for the spring semester, as was the case during the fall, but (the saliva test) provides a proven option,” according to a U. of I. news release. The U. of I. saliva test is praised for its simplicity: Participants fill a test tube with saliva, monitored by “trained observers,” but don’t need to see a medical professional for a nasal swab. The saliva sample is then analyzed at a lab, with results available on a phone app in about 24 hours.
The test is sensitive enough to detect even small amounts of genetic material, including mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that originated in other countries, according to university officials. In its Feb. 24 approval letter, the FDA said it “considered the totality of scientific information available” and found the test “may be effective in diagnosing COVID-19.” The eight-page document also states that “negative results do not preclude SARS-CoV-2 infection” and “must be combined with clinical observations, patient history, and epidemiological information.”
Jay Walsh, U. of I.’s interim vice president for economic development and innovation, said emergency use approval allows the university to authorize labs across the country to conduct and process the tests, Walsh said. He said he expects to resume conversations with local school districts, companies and other state entities that are interested in procuring tests. The test is already in use at some out-of-state universities and companies.
“There is a huge need for accurate, fast and affordable testing to combat the pandemic, and we have invested in the ability to expand our covidSHIELD testing program beyond our campus communities — an investment that demonstrates the U of I’s commitment to the public good and to saving lives,” he said in a statement.
The tests also cost less than many alternatives. Shield Illinois, the university organization tasked with expanding the operation, said it will sell the tests for $20 to public school districts and public universities, $25 to private universities and $30 to companies.
Will County Getting Ready for Next Round of Small Business Grants
The Will County Board approved the creation of another program that would provide financial assistance to small businesses in the county. A special meeting was held on Friday where the approval came to start preparing for the program that would build off of their successful program from the CARES Act funds.
The Board took the pro-active steps to authorize the County Executive to create the Small Business Stimulus Grant Program. “Our Will County community has been impacted on many levels and this is one of our efforts that we continue to advance to help all our residents,” Speaker Mimi Cowan said. “Working together we are aggressively seeking to help those throughout our diverse community that still need relief from the COVID crisis. I am confident we will offer help to those in the underserved areas of Will County.”
The grant program will be designed with a particular focus on those businesses that have not received prior aid from the County as well as businesses in the hardest hit areas of the County.
“Our small businesses and working families hit hard by the economic impacts of COVID-19 need continued assistance, and this framework approved by the Board today will ensure that disproportionately impacted communities and businesses receive their fair share of support,” said County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant.
Final details about the grant to businesses will have to wait on the final approval of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan that is currently in the Senate. States, counties, cities, and townships have each been marked for a specific amount of aid, but that may change before final passage.
Pension Funding and COBRA Coverage Survive Aid Bill’s “Byrd Bath”
Senate Democrats won two procedural battles Monday on a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package they hope to pass by week’s end. The chamber’s parliamentarian said funding to shore up failing union pension plans and to subsidize health insurance for jobless workers do not violate the “Byrd rule,” which limits what can be considered under budget reconciliation procedures, according to Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
The guidance virtually ensures that two key provisions sought by Democrats can pass as part of the massive aid package that emerged from the House over the weekend, despite solid Republican opposition.
Using reconciliation enables lawmakers to pass legislation with a simple majority in the Senate, and there’s always a process known as a “Byrd bath” before it reaches the floor to ensure the legislation complies with the law named for former Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. Among other requirements, the Byrd rule requires provisions to have a direct budgetary impact, and the deficit impact can’t be considered “merely incidental” to what is a broader policy change.
The pensions measure, which would cost about $82 billion over a decade, would provide a financial lifeline to multiemployer pension plans that risk insolvency. Republicans have opposed what they call a “bailout” of union plans.
The Congressional Budget Office said the new “special financial assistance” program would benefit on average about 185 pension plans, including the 360,000-member Teamsters Central States plan, enabling them to pay full benefits for about three decades. “This economic crisis has hit already struggling pension plans like a wrecking ball, and the retirement security of millions of American workers depends on getting this package across the finish line,” Wyden said after Monday’s procedural ruling.
The second provision would provide subsidies to make health insurance more affordable under the federal law known as COBRA, which offers continuing employer-sponsored coverage after workers leave their jobs. The measure would fund 85 percent of workers’ premiums through September at a net cost of about $7.8 billion over a decade, according to a CBO estimate of the House bill. The CBO estimated that 2.2 million individuals would obtain COBRA coverage as a result, on a full-year equivalent basis, with 600,000 of those likely to have been uninsured otherwise.
The House late Monday struck a provision from its version of the measure that passed early Saturday morning that would have set up a process for individuals to seek an expedited review of COBRA claims denied by their insurer. That provision may have raised Byrd rule concerns since it didn’t involve a direct budgetary impact.
The House’s enrollment correction also would strip a provision that would deem longshoremen diagnosed with COVID-19 during a three-year period starting Jan. 27, 2020, to have contracted the illness on the job, making them eligible for special benefits. The Congressional Budget Office said that provision in the underlying bill would have cost $224 million.
Those tweaks were adopted, 218-207, late Monday as part of the rule for floor debate on unrelated legislation.
State & Local Aid “Guardrails” and Unemployment Benefit Discussions
Democrats said the final shape of $350 billion in aid to state and local governments could still be tweaked. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said the formula for distributing aid could be adjusted because “different states have been affected differently.” He said it might be based on a combination of population size and employment losses, with a minimum amount guaranteed for smaller states.
Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said he wanted to see “guardrails” on the state aid to ensure states don’t use federal funding to replace state money they would be spending anyway.
Another battle centers on the size and shape of expanded unemployment benefits. The bill calls for an extra $400 per week through the end of August. Manchin said he’d prefer to see a $300 benefit in response to criticism that some laid-off workers could end up making more money on unemployment than they would on the job.
Wyden said he would fight to extend the benefits through the end of September, to avoid a lapse during the congressional August recess. “Creating another cliff in the middle of August is a prescription for trouble,” he said.
Kaine, however, said he was not troubled by an August expiration. He said Congress was likely to take up a second reconciliation bill before August anyway, possibly containing infrastructure spending, and any needed unemployment extension could be inserted then.
Senators were drafting a substitute amendment to the House bill, spanning more than 600 pages, that was sure to be filled with minor provisions escaping much public notice.
Program Notices & Reminders
SBA Page Links for Direction and Questions on PPP
Webinar Series: PPP Updates for Your Small Business
The Small Business Administration has some key changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) which will be available for a limited amount of time to ensure America’s smallest businesses get exclusive access. If you are a small business owner with 20 employees or less or are self-employed; there is new information for you. Please join a series of webinars hosted by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Public Private Strategies Institute, & other stakeholders to hear about:
- What steps you can take now to take advantage of this special opportunity, which closes at 5:00 P.M. EST, Tuesday, March 9th, 2021.
- Additional changes and recent policy announcements made by Biden-Harris Administration
- Have your questions answered by SBA Leadership
Mar. 3, 12:30 p.m. ET, Women Business Owners, Click here to register.
Mar. 4, 3:00 p.m. ET, Asian-American + Pacific Islander, Native American + Tribal Small Business Owners; Click here to register.
Mar. 5, 1:00 p.m. ET, Black + African-American Small Business Owners, Click here to register.
Mar. 5, 3:00 p.m. ET, Hispanic Small Business Owners, Click here to register.
Mar. 6, 2:00 p.m. ET, Veterans, Self-Employed Business Owners, Click here to register.
Mar. 8, 3:00 p.m. ET, LGTBQ Business Owners, Youth Entrepreneurs, Restaurant Owners, Click here to register.
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