Chamber Members:

Halfway through the week as we look today at some issues brewing in the state. First of all, the Republicans have sued the Democrats on the redistricting process. This was pretty much expected. Out in Washington, D.C. there emerged yet another proposal for infrastructure and it is now almost too much to keep straight.

There is some information on automation and the impact on the jobs market, news that vaccines may be expiring soon, and efforts are ramped up to approve vaccinations for those younger than 12 in the near future.

*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital

GOP sues Democrats over Illinois remap
Republican lawmakers in Illinois filed a federal lawsuit accusing Democrats who control the state legislature of illegally using population estimates to craft a new legislative map instead of waiting for the delayed results of the 2020 U.S. census.

The Republicans claim the Illinois State Board of Elections and state Democrats including Emanuel Christopher Welch, who this year became the state’s first Black speaker of the House, used a redistricting process that will “undercount minority, rural and growing communities” and violate the constitutional principal of “one person, one vote.”

“The tone-deaf Democratic party of Illinois has robbed citizens of a fair and transparent legislative map-making process, and I plan to be a conduit for Illinois citizens who demand honesty by ensuring they also have their day in court,” Jim Durkin, minority leader of the Illinois House, said in a statement.

The legislative redistricting plan was passed by the state lawmakers on May 28 and signed into law by Governor J.B. Pritzker on June 4. The Republicans note that state officials spent millions of dollars to encourage people to participate in the census in order to get an accurate count, and that the U.S. Census Bureau has previously said that estimates “are not appropriate for drawing legislative boundaries.”

Officials in Welch’s office and the board of elections didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Chicago.

Bipartisan House caucus offers alternative infrastructure plan after Senate GOP talks collapse
The 58-member bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus has put together a $1.25 trillion infrastructure spending framework, including $761.8 billion in new spending over eight years, to help salvage faltering bipartisan negotiations.

The caucus’s proposal comes as President Joe Biden ended his negotiations with a group of Senate Republicans led by West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito. That Senate GOP group had offered a nearly $1 trillion infrastructure plan, roughly a third of which was new spending above the “baseline” amount the government would normally spend to sustain current infrastructure.

Biden initially proposed a more than $2 trillion plan, which Republicans said went far beyond their definition of core, physical infrastructure. In negotiations with Capito’s group, the president was willing to go as low as $1 trillion, but he wanted that to be all new spending — although Republicans said Biden told them the $1 trillion could include baseline spending before his staff walked that back.

The Problem Solvers Caucus framework gets much closer to Biden’s demand on new spending. And unlike the offer from Capito’s group, it has buy-in from congressional Democrats. However, the bipartisan caucus has not yet included any provisions to offset the cost of its proposal.

The caucus’s framework includes $518 billion for highways, roads and safety; $64 billion for bridges; $155 billion for transit; $120 billion for Amtrak and passenger rail; $41 billion for airports; $26 billion for waters and ports; and $25 billion for electric vehicle infrastructure.

The transit, passenger rail and electric vehicle funding is significantly higher than in the Capito group’s plan.

The Problem Solvers framework, however, includes less money for broadband internet access — $45 billion, compared to $65 billion in the last public offer Capito’s group made. It also includes less money for drinking and wastewater — $60 billion, compared to Capito’s $72 billion.

The caucus also proposes funding for several areas that weren’t part of the Senate Republican plan, including $25 billion for connecting green energy sources to the electric grid, $10 billion for nuclear energy, $5 billion for hydrogen hubs, $5 billion for carbon capture and storage, $5 billion for direct air capture and $10 billion for veterans’ housing.

Covid Brings Automation to the Workplace, Killing Some Jobs
Unable to find enough workers, Chuck Cooper, CEO of Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken, installed an automated voice system in many locations to take orders. The system, developed by Intel and Hi Auto, a voice recognition firm, never fails to upsell customers on fries or a drink, which Cooper says has boosted sales. At outlets with the voice system, there’s no longer a need for a person to take orders at the drive-thru window. “It also never calls in sick,” Cooper says.

Cooper says he thinks enhanced unemployment checks have kept some potential workers away, but he says concerns about exposure to Covid and difficulty getting childcare because of the pandemic may also be factors. Still, he says, “There’s no way we’re going back.”

Other employers, too, are deploying automation in place of workers during the pandemic. Some restaurants and supermarkets say they cannot find enough new workers to open new locations. Many businesses are keen to rehire workers as quickly as they can, but economists say the technology will remain, replacing employees in some cases.

History suggests “automation takes place faster during recessions and sticks thereafter,” says Daron Acemoglu, an economist at MIT. “It should be doubly true today.” Acemoglu says companies are adopting more automation partly due to staff shortages but also because it can help with new safety measures, and to improve efficiency.

That’s true of many meat processors, which adopted technology at the start of the pandemic to enable social distancing between workers, says Jonathan Van Wyck, a partner at Boston Consulting Group. Now a labor shortage that is driving up wages is prompting one processor he works with to deploy more machines. It recently installed a camera system that uses AI algorithms to look for foreign objects, such as a stray glove in freshly cut meat; the system will replace at least one worker. “A lot of companies start with an automation process and realize there are lots of opportunities in the digital space that aren’t robotics but can move the needle on labor,” he says.

David Autor, another MIT economist who studies computerization and its impact on the labor market, believes Covid has accelerated changes that almost surely would eventually have occurred. Now they’ll no longer be considered something for “the future,” he says.

Robots get a lot of hype, but they are not yet clever enough to take over from humans in food-processing plants, kitchens, or restaurants. Still, large fast-food chains such as McDonald’s were investing in tools such as ordering kiosks and new machines to automate more aspects of cooking before the pandemic.

Hudson Riehle, senior vice president for the National Restaurant Association, says Covid undoubtedly accelerated this trend. He says many restaurants are using technology to reshuffle workers, part of a long-term move toward more use of automation.

“During the course of the pandemic more operators stepped up their investments in technology” that automates specific tasks, Riehle says. “The top one is ordering and payment.”

A massive shift to delivery and virtual kitchens triggered by the pandemic may mean that some restaurants and some customers will be more willing to use technology that once seemed unfamiliar. Using an app to order at a restaurant table could mean that, eventually, fewer servers will be needed.

Other industries, including retail and hotels, have also been turned upside down by the pandemic. But tracking the use of AI across the economy is difficult because the technology cannot simply step in for workers in most cases, and because different jobs, in different industries, tend to be automatable in different ways.

Sam Ransbotham, a professor at Boston College, has been studying corporate adoption of AI during the pandemic. In a report to be released later this year, Ransbotham says he and colleagues found widespread adoption of technology in response to the pandemic. Typically, he says, this involves automating specific tasks rather than the wholesale replacement of workers.

Ransbotham notes that during the pandemic Home Depot developed a more sophisticated search tool for its app to offer advice on home projects. With many people unable to visit stores, he says, the company sought to replicate the kind of experience people can get in person. (Home Depot did not respond to a request for comment.)

Ransbotham says the way AI and automation affect employment is rarely simple. He says some businesses are likely to see technology as a poor substitute for real workers and will want to restaff quickly.

The effects of increased automation will be felt unevenly. In a paper last June, economists Casey Warman of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, and Alex Chernoff of the Bank of Canada, looked at job data from O*Net, a US Department of Labor database of occupation tasks. They considered roles that seemed to be both at high risk from Covid and subject to automation. They found that these are most commonly done by less-educated women.

Warman says it isn’t yet clear how the pandemic is affecting jobs, but recent job data shows that women remain disproportionately affected by unemployment through the past year. Automation may be a factor, Warman says, adding “it is nonetheless consistent with our finding that females are more likely than males to experience job losses from automation during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Millions of J&J Covid-19 Vaccines Are at Risk of Expiring in June
Hospitals, state health departments and the federal government are racing to decide how to use up millions of Johnson & Johnson’s JNJ 1.35% Covid-19 vaccine doses that are set to expire this month.

The prospect of so many doses going to waste in the U.S. when developing nations are desperate for shots would add pressure on the Biden administration to share stockpiled vaccines. But there are few practical solutions to administering them quickly in the U.S. or distributing them in time to foreign countries, according to those involved in the vaccination drive.

The stockpile is, in part, an unintended consequence of the U.S.’s decision in April to temporarily suspend administration of J&J doses to assess a rare blood-clot risk. The pause forced states and providers to cancel large blocks of appointments that were never rescheduled, leaving a surplus of supply, and in some areas increasing hesitancy over the J&J vaccine’s safety, according to industry officials.

Some hospitals and states say that vaccines from Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech SE, as well as Moderna Inc., are due to expire later this summer, but the stockpiles so far are largely of J&J doses. Pfizer’s vaccine expires six months after manufacture. Moderna’s vaccine can remain frozen for up to six months, during which it can be refrigerated for one month.

Philadelphia has 42,000 J&J doses set to expire, most of which came from a Federal Emergency Management Agency clinic at the city’s convention center a few days before the pause, a city spokesman said. Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Ohio and Arkansas are among states that report having thousands of J&J doses set to expire this month and have been unable to redistribute them.

“There’s no way at the end of June that we’re not going to have a couple thousand expiring,” said Danielle Hilborn, who helps oversee Covid-19 vaccines for McLaren Health Care Corp. The hospital system based outside Flint, Mich., has more than 3,500 J&J doses set to expire this month, despite having moved doses among its hospitals. The hospital system also shipped 1,100 Pfizer doses to a county health department.

While it is the responsibility of states to order vaccines to match demand, states and healthcare providers say the pause in the J&J vaccine rollout left them with far more unused doses than they had planned for. They are seeking federal guidance to redistribute the expiring doses and meanwhile have had to improvise, with some offering lottery tickets or gift certificates to entice people to get vaccinated. Some health systems have redistributed the J&J doses inside and outside their networks, and some states have rerouted them to physician offices, pharmacies or other states.

The efforts have had limited success because of the nation’s slowdown in overall vaccinations and because many states and vaccination sites also have expiring J&J supply and don’t see demand for more doses. Just over half of the 21.4 million J&J shots distributed to providers have been administered, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared with 83% for shots from Moderna as well as Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech.

Even with the setbacks specific to J&J, the federal government could have begun more effective messaging about vaccination benefits earlier and managed vaccine inventory better to mitigate the issue of expiring doses, said Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health.

“We were hit with an immunization delivery program in December without any preparation,” Dr. Omer said. “Why did we not prepare for the microplanning?”

J&J stores doses frozen until shipment by the government, at which point they are refrigerated. Doses can be refrigerated for three months, and the drugmaker is studying whether the shelf life can be extended, a company spokesman said.

Many drugs and vaccines can remain effective for years, but all eventually start to lose potency. Typically, expiring prescription drugs and vaccines for other diseases are sent to other healthcare facilities, overseas or back to manufacturers, hospital officials said.

Covid-19 vaccines come with expiration information, which is determined by manufacturers based on testing data that is later cleared by regulators. Vaccines might still work after the expiration dates, according to manufacturing experts, but data was limited when the vaccines were authorized.

The issue of expiring doses is the latest setback for J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine effort. An accident at a contract manufacturer’s plant led to the contamination of material that could have yielded up to 15 million doses and led to a halt in production of the J&J vaccine there.

White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt said during a media briefing Tuesday, in response to questions about expiring J&J vaccine doses, that just a small amount of the authorized vaccines distributed in the U.S. will go unused and that it is unrealistic to expect none to be wasted in the vaccination campaign. He said states ordered the doses, which “should end up in people’s arms,” and suggested that governors with expiring stockpiles work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is reviewing whether J&J doses might have longer shelf lives.

An administration official said recalling doses that have already been shipped out to vaccination sites to potentially redistribute them would be logistically and legally challenging.

State health departments and hospital officials say the guidance from states and the CDC is to destroy or discard expired doses. Michigan, additionally, has worked with the CDC to try to redistribute vaccines to other states. The CDC didn’t respond to requests for comment.

In early April, U.S. regulators paused the use of J&J’s vaccine after reports of rare but severe blood clots. In response, vaccination sites across the country canceled thousands of appointments and instead offered people Pfizer or Moderna doses. Regulators lifted the pause 10 days later, with J&J and regulators adding language to the vaccine’s label warning of a risk of blood clots.

By then, patient demand for Covid-19 vaccines shifted from mass vaccination to smaller community settings amid lingering concerns about the rare clots, according to industry and state officials.

The regulatory pause and overall slowdown in vaccinations has left UofL Health in Louisville, Ky., with more than 6,000 J&J doses that expire this month, after having administered about 2,600 since early April, said Dr. Jason Smith, chief medical officer. “My bet is that we will wind up wasting some of that, unfortunately,” he said.

To use them, the health system is trying to reach physician offices outside its network, Dr. Smith said.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Health said it worked with the CDC and Chester County to try to transfer the county’s 50,000 expiring J&J doses to Oregon. The deal fell through when Oregon experienced a decline in demand and no longer wanted them, a Pennsylvania health department spokesman said.

The full extent of expiring Covid-19 vaccines is unknown because providers aren’t required to report it to the federal government, said Jessica Daley, a pharmacist and executive at Premier Inc., a large group-purchasing organization for hospitals.

Premier is asking members whether they have expiring vaccines, and at least a dozen have said they have expiring J&J doses, Ms. Daley said. “It’s not as simple as just moving the vaccine somewhere else,” she said.

Some states say they have asked the U.S. government whether doses can be shipped to developing nations. Doing so faces significant logistical and legal hurdles, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, because those countries are wary of using vaccines after expiration dates and may not be able to administer them quickly.

In the U.S., vaccines for the youngest are expected this fall
Coronavirus vaccines may be available in the fall for U.S. children as young as 6 months, drugmakers say. Pfizer and Moderna are testing their vaccines in children under 12 years and are expected to have results in hand for children aged 5 through 11 by September.

Compared with adults, children are much less likely to develop severe illness following infection with the coronavirus. But nearly four million children in the United States have tested positive for the virus since the start of the pandemic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Doctors continue to see rare cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, a condition linked to Covid-19 that can affect multiple organs, including the heart. Vaccinating children should further contribute to containment of the virus by decreasing its spread in communities.

Pfizer announced on Tuesday that it was moving to test its vaccine in children aged 5 through 12 years. It will begin testing the vaccine in infants as young as six months in the next few weeks. The company hopes to apply to the Food and Drug Administration in September for emergency authorization of the vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. Results for children aged 2 through 5 could be available soon after that, according to Kit Longley, a spokesman for Pfizer.

Data from the trial for children between 6 months old and 2 years old could arrive in October or November, followed by a potential submission to the F.D.A. shortly thereafter, Mr. Longley added. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was authorized last month for use in children 12 through 15.

Based on data from an earlier study that assessed safety, Pfizer will give two doses of 10 micrograms each — a third of the dose given to adolescents and adults — to children ages 5 to 11 years, and two doses of three micrograms each to children 6 months to 5 years. “We take a deliberate and careful approach to help us understand the safety and how well the vaccine can be tolerated in younger children,” said Dr. Bill Gruber, a senior vice president at Pfizer.

The study will enroll up to 4,500 children at more than 90 clinical sites in the United States, Finland, Poland and Spain. Pfizer’s researchers plan to submit the full data from the trials this summer for publication in a peer reviewed journal.

In March, Moderna began testing varying doses of its vaccine in younger children. That trial aimed to enroll 6,750 healthy children in the United States and Canada. Results are not expected till the end of the summer, and the vaccine’s authorization by the F.D.A. will take longer.

“I think it’s going to be early fall, just because we have to go down in age very slowly and carefully,” Moderna’s chief executive, Stéphane Bancel, said on Monday.

The company announced late last month that its vaccine was powerfully effective in 12- to 17-year-olds and plans to apply to the F.D.A. for authorization in that age group. Last week, Moderna also asked the agency for full approval of its vaccine, rather than the emergency use for which it is currently authorized.

The United States will not be the first country in the world to authorize a coronavirus vaccine for young children. China has approved Sinovac’s vaccine for children as young as 3 years old, according to the company’s chairman. The approval has not been officially announced.

Program Notices & Reminders – Expanded Information

Small Business Tax Credit Programs
Did you know that the American Rescue Plan extends a number of critical tax benefits, particularly the Employee Retention Credit and Paid Leave Credit, to small businesses?
Learn more
Small Disadvantaged Business Contracting Goal News
On June 1, 2021, the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, the Biden-Harris Administration announced new steps to help narrow the racial wealth gap and reinvest in communities that have been left behind by failed policies. Specifically, the Administration is expanding access to two key wealth-creators – small business ownership and homeownership – in communities of color and disadvantaged communities.

  • Use the federal government’s purchasing power to grow federal contracting with small disadvantaged businesses by 50 percent, translating to an additional $100 billion over five years, and helping more Americans realize their entrepreneurial dreams.
  • Take action to address racial discrimination in the housing market, including by launching a first-of-its-kind interagency effort to address inequity in home appraisals, and conducting rulemaking to aggressively combat housing discrimination.

Learn more

Federal Contracting Webinar Series
Do you need help with federal contracting? The ChallengeHER webinar series offers education and training on the federal contracting system. Below is a list of upcoming webinars.

  • Government Contract Reporting – What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You!
    June 24 | 2:00 p.m. ET
  • Tips for GSA Schedule Compliance and Success
    July 22 | 2:00 p.m. ET

8(a) Orientation Workshop/SAM Registration
This webinar will provide an overview of the 8(a) Business Development program, eligibility requirements, program benefits and training, steps to registering in the System for Award Management (SAM) database in order to do business with the federal government. Wednesday, June 16, 9:30 a.m. 

CDC Mask Guidance
The CDC still recommends that unvaccinated people continue to take preventive measures, such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing. In their latest guidance, the CDC now reports that indoor and outdoor activities pose minimal risk to fully vaccinated people and that fully vaccinated people have a reduced risk of transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to unvaccinated people.

Fully vaccinated people can:
• Resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance
• Resume domestic travel and refrain from testing before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel
• Refrain from testing before leaving the United States for international travel (unless required by the destination) and refrain from self-quarantine after arriving back in the United States
• Refrain from testing following a known exposure, if asymptomatic, with some exceptions for specific settings
• Refrain from quarantine following a known exposure if asymptomatic
• Refrain from routine screening testing if feasible

For now, fully vaccinated people should continue to:
• Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms
• Follow CDC and health department travel requirements and recommendations

Governor Pritzker Mask Changes:

Finally, join us in June for our re-scheduled luncheon with Police Chief Dawn Malec and Fire Chief Greg Blaskey on Wednesday, June 16 at Harrah’s Joliet Casino & Hotel. You may make reservations here:

Stay well,

Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors

Mike Paone
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry
815.727.5371 main
815.727.5373 direct