Spring is officially here and so is a busy week here with programs. Today, we welcomed Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk for his State of the City Address. A link will be available soon to view for those that were not able to participate earlier. In our update below look for information on a debate about the use of government funds from the American Rescue Plan, a new national vaccine target, AstraZeneca news, a possible oral vaccine, suggestion of an extended school year, and Illinois expands eligibility today.
Some reminders for this week –
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 still 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 in partnership with WJOL 1340 AM 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
States’ Rights from Coronavirus Relief Becomes Issue of Debate
Republicans are aiming to stir up a legal battle over Biden’s pandemic relief bill, targeting a provision in the American Rescue Plan they say is an unconstitutional infringement on states’ ability to devise their own tax policies.
A provision in the bill that forbids states from using billions in aid to offset any tax cuts they might implement has sparked a backlash from Republican lawmakers and state attorneys general. Their criticisms could lay the groundwork for a court battle over states’ rights and government overreach akin to the Supreme Court case over the fate of Obamacare. This time, the GOP appears to be framing the issue as the Biden administration getting in the way of state and local leaders cutting taxes for their own residents.
On Tuesday, a group of 21 Republican state attorneys general sent a letter to the Treasury Department threatening legal action if the administration intends to prevent states from cutting taxes. “This language could be read to deny States the ability to cut taxes in any manner whatsoever – even if they would have provided such tax relief with or without the prospect of COVID-19 relief funds,” the letter reads.
“Absent a more sensible interpretation from your department, this provision would amount to an unprecedented and unconstitutional intrusion on the separate sovereignty of the State through federal usurpation of essentially one half of the State’s fiscal ledgers. Indeed, such federal usurpation of state tax policy would represent the greatest attempted invasion of state sovereignty by Congress in the history of our Republic,” they wrote.
Another Republican state attorney general, Dave Yost of Ohio, went a step further this week, filing a federal lawsuit against the administration and asking a judge to declare the provision unconstitutional, arguing that it would effectively prevent the state from implementing any tax cuts. “The Tax Mandate thus gives the States a choice: they can have either the badly needed federal funds or their sovereign authority to set state tax policy,” Yost’s office said in the court filing. “But they cannot have both. In our current economic crisis, that is no choice at all.”
The moves could potentially set up one of the Biden administration’s first major court battles over the new president’s policy agenda. The Biden administration has so far stood by the provision, saying conditions on federal money to states is not unusual. “The law does not say that states cannot cut taxes at all, and it does not say that if a state cut taxes, it must pay back all of the federal funding it received,” a Treasury Department spokesperson said this week in response to the Republican attorneys general letter. “It simply instructed them not to use that money to offset net revenues lost if the state chooses to cut taxes. So if a state does cut taxes without replacing that revenue in some other way, then the state must pay back to the federal government pandemic relief funds up to the amount of the lost revenue.”
“In other words, states are free to make policy decisions to cut taxes – they just cannot use the pandemic relief funds to pay for those tax cuts,” the spokesperson added. But while the Republicans’ rhetoric about invasions on state sovereignty has prompted some eye-rolling from experts, some legal scholars believe that there may be some merit behind their potential arguments in court.
Mitchell Berman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania law school, says that because the law is open to interpretation, it could be read by the conservative Supreme Court in a way that would impose impermissible conditions or is not sufficiently clear about what is required of the states.
Biden Hints at New Vaccination Target
President Joe Biden on Friday said he’s setting his sights higher on the pace of vaccinating Americans, one day after he announced that the United States is on track to well surpass his goal of administering 100 million doses during his first 100 days in office. Now the administration “may be able to double it,” Biden told reporters.
At the onset of his tenure, Biden frequently defended the ambitiousness of the 100-million-dose milestone and criticized the media for trying to have it both ways after his goal was met by skepticism in some corners when it was first announced.
Including shots administered during the tail end of former President Donald Trump’s tenure, roughly 116 million doses have gone out to people across the country, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 30 percent of all adults have received at least one dose.
The country is now administering nearly 2.5 million doses per day, according to recent federal data. That figure is expected to continue to increase as a third vaccine, a one-dose version manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, becomes more widely available.
The federal government has placed orders for roughly 800 million doses, split between Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Enough doses to inoculate every American adult are expected to arrive by the end of May, though it will take additional time to get those shots into people’s arms.
AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 Vaccine Is Safe, 79% Effective in Late-Stage U.S. Trials
AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine was shown to be safe and 79% effective in preventing symptomatic disease in widely anticipated U.S. clinical trials, providing a vote of confidence for the shot and a pathway for its authorization in the U.S.
The interim trial data showed the vaccine, developed in partnership with the University of Oxford, was 80% effective in participants aged 65 and over, a group previous AstraZeneca trials lacked in large numbers. The shot was also found to be 100% effective in preventing serious illness and hospitalization across ages and ethnicities.
The company said it would continue to analyze the data and plans to request emergency authorization in the U.S. by mid-April. If authorized by the Food and Drug Administration, the vaccine could be available in May, joining three other authorized shots in America’s accelerating vaccine drive. AstraZeneca said it will have 30 million doses available immediately in the U.S., and another 20 million doses soon after.
The shot is already widely used elsewhere. The U.S. trials provide the largest-scale clinical tests yet of the vaccine amid widespread scrutiny of its efficacy and reports of serious blood-clotting issues in a very small number of people in Europe who received the shot. The U.S. trials identified no increased risk of serious blood clotting.
The summary of the U.S. trial results, released Monday, didn’t break out efficacy against Covid-19 variants. All of the so-called “variants of concern” were present in the study, said Mene Pangalos, AstraZeneca’s executive vice president for biopharmaceuticals research and development, and Prof. Ann Falsey of the University of Rochester School of Medicine, a principal investigator on the trial. They said the strong results are encouraging evidence that the vaccine holds up against newer strains—and especially as protection against severe disease. They will provide more information soon with full results, they said.
The interim results haven’t yet been reviewed by independent researchers. AstraZeneca said the analysis will be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
Blood clotting concerns led more than a dozen European countries, including Germany and Italy, to temporarily halt use of the vaccine this month. Most resumed administering the vaccine after European and U.K. medicine regulators again endorsed the shot’s use despite the rare clotting issues. The cases weren’t proven to be linked to the vaccine, but regulators said they couldn’t rule out a connection, either.
They said the vaccine is an important weapon in preventing death and serious illness resulting from Covid-19 and that its benefits outweigh potential risks. The U.K. alone has administered more than 11 million doses of the vaccine.
AstraZeneca said Monday that independent U.S. safety monitors ran a specific review of severe blood clotting, or serious thrombotic events, based on the trial data, including a severe condition known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, or CVST, that has been reported to be linked to a very small number of deaths in Europe among people who received the vaccine. It found no increased risk of thrombosis among 21,583 participants who received at least one dose of the vaccine, and no cases of CVST, AstraZeneca said.
The blood-clotting issues that have arisen in Europe’s rollout of the vaccine in recent weeks are so rare, however, researchers say they are unlikely to show up in clinical trials, even ones as large as the U.S. trial
Much is riding on global acceptance of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot, which is the most widely used in many parts of the globe, and the cheapest.
The vaccine has been authorized for use in more than 70 countries and is core to plans to supply hundreds of millions of doses to poor and middle-income countries this year. The vaccine can be stored and transported using normal refrigeration and can last for more than six months at that temperature.
AstraZeneca has promised to supply 3 billion doses this year at no profit. Public-health experts have worried the complex trial results last year, tensions between AstraZeneca and European officials over production shortfalls and the blood clotting concerns could do lasting damage to the vaccine’s reputation.
Israeli Company Claims Oral COVID-19 Vaccine is Near
An Israeli-American pharmaceutical company is preparing to launch a Phase I clinical trial for what could become the world’s first oral COVID-19 vaccine. Oramed Pharmaceuticals Inc., a clinical-stage pharmaceutical company based on technology developed by Hadassah-University Medical Center, announced over the weekend a joint venture with India-based Premas Biotech to develop a novel oral vaccine. Together they formed the company Oravax Medical Inc. The vaccine is based on Oramed’s “POD” oral delivery technology and Premas’s vaccine technology.
Oramed’s technology can be used to orally administer a number of protein-based therapies, which would otherwise be delivered by injection. Oramed is in the midst of a Phase III clinical trial through the US Food and Drug Administration of an oral insulin capsule for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Premas has been working on developing a vaccine against the novel coronavirus since March.
The companies connected earlier this year and quickly realized they could revolutionize the marketplace, according to Oramed CEO Nadav Kidron. “An oral COVID-19 vaccine would eliminate several barriers to rapid, wide-scale distribution, potentially enabling people to take the vaccine themselves at home,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “While ease of administration is critical today to accelerate inoculation rates, an oral vaccine could become even more valuable in the case that a COVID-19 vaccine may be recommended annually like the standard flu shot.”
The advantages of an oral vaccine go beyond safety and efficacy, Kidron said. Oral medications tend to have fewer side effects. In addition, the vaccine can be shipped at refrigerator temperatures and even stored at room temperature, “making it logistically easier to get it anywhere around the world,” Kidron said.
Finally, an oral vaccine would not require professional administration. Oravax anticipates commencing a clinical study during the second quarter of 2021. It is applying for trials in multiple countries, including the United States, Israel, Europe, and Mexico, Kidron said. It hopes to also target Africa, where such an oral vaccine could prove essential. Kidron said he expects Phase I human trial data to be available within three months.
Governor Suggest Extending School Year
While thousands of Illinois students have yet to return to the classroom because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Friday that summer school may be a way to address learning loss from remote classes.
More than 460 Illinois school districts are still using some form of remote learning for students. Pritzker says his administration is suggesting school districts consider extending the school year. “This is going to take a comprehensive effort,” Pritzker said. “We are encouraging schools to think about summer as a time when they could have those kids still in class and expand their learning opportunity in class.”
Illinois to Expand Vaccine Eligibility Before April 12 Universal Rollout
The Illinois Department of Public Health announced Friday that more groups of people will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations ahead of April 12 when everyone over age 16 will become eligible.
Starting Monday, March 22, higher education staff, government workers and members of the media will be eligible to receive shots. A week later, on March 29, Restaurant staff, construction trade workers and religious leaders will become eligible.
“As more vaccine becomes available in the coming weeks and months, we will continue to make sure we are reaching people who are at greater risk of exposure to the virus or from suffering severe illness due to COVID-19,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a news release. “While we will continue to prioritize individuals who are 65 years and older, as well as health care workers and individuals with underlying medical conditions, we want to maintain our momentum going forward and continue to increase our march towards herd immunity.”
During a news conference in Belleville on Friday, Gov. JB Pritzker said a little more than 60 percent of seniors age 65 and over had received at least one vaccine dose. Under a plan announced earlier in the week, when that number reaches 70 percent, and as long as certain other metrics are met, the state will enter what he is calling a “bridge phase” to full reopening of the economy that will allow for larger capacity limits in public gatherings.
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 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
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 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 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, for those residing in the City of Joliet, here is the link to view the answers to our city council candidate questionnaire. Remember that in person voting takes place on Tuesday, April 6 and view www.thewillcountyclerk.com for information pertaining to deadlines for vote by mail ballots and early voting locations.
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry