Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Dr. Ngozi Ezike are holding daily COVID-19 press briefings as cases and hospitalizations in Illinois reach record highs. Read and listen to the latest update from the governor’s office on new cases, phased re-opening and closings of different regions and the state’s ongoing pandemic response. You can watch the most recent press briefings at 2:30pm every day here on Illinois Newsroom.
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noon everyone and welcome to the COVID-19 update for Monday, November the 23rd. Dr. z k and I are joined today by Illinois Department of Employment Security, Acting Director Kristen Richards, and Illinois Attorney General kuami role to provide an update on our Employment Assistance Programs. We’re going to start today by having Dr. z k, kick us off with today’s medical update.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike
Thank you, Governor. Good afternoon, everyone. In the last 24 hours more than 91,000 COVID-19 tests have been reported for a total of almost 9.8 million tests here in Illinois. Today, we are reporting 8322 new cases and 47 additional lives lost to COVID-19. This brings the total number of cases in Illinois to 664,620, including 11,552 lives lost overnight in the hospitals across the state 6171 individuals were in the hospital was COVID-19. And of those 1206 were in the ICU and 635. Were on ventilators. Last week, we communicated with hospitals that we wanted to make sure that we had a fully accurate picture of how many patients could actually be cared for in hospitals across the state. And to do this we work with hospitals to fine tune just how we’re defining hospital availability and hospital capacity to appropriately captured staffing capabilities.
As the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 rises, and healthcare workers themselves are unable to come to work, either because they themselves are infected or because they’re in quarantine from being exposed. We can’t look only at the number of empty beds, but also the ability of the hospital to staff those empty beds. But without doctors or nurses or respiratory therapists or other health care workers that can actually care for the patients. It really doesn’t matter how many beds you have. So we’re therefore defining Bed Availability as the number of inpatient beds available and not currently in use that a hospital a test can be staffed and ready for patient use within four hours. And similarly, hospital capacity is the number of inpatient beds available and currently in use that the hospital a test can be staffed and ready for patient use within four hours. Both the availability and the capacity, which we’ve made clear to hospital now needs to include staffing, are to be reviewed at least daily.
Throughout this pandemic, the hospitals have been our great partners and allies. idph is currently working with the hospitals the medical centers, doctors, nurses and others in the health care profession to capture best practices and share them across the board as we continue to battle this pandemic. idph just recently hosted a webinar with Pulmonary and Critical Care experts from Rush University Medical Center to share information about mechanical ventilation strategies as it relates to COVID-19 patients. idph has hosted many webinars during the response to COVID-19 to share lessons learned and best practices with medical practitioners across the state to ensure that we have the best care for all patients. I want to thank our hospital partners for their continued dedication for those doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, all of our health care workers who are on the frontlines providing direct patient care, but also for those who work behind the scenes so that the hospitals can continue to function during this difficult time, including our food service workers, environmental and sanitation engineers, let’s lessen the burden on all of our hospital team. And we can do this by not spreading infection over the Thanksgiving holiday by wearing our mask by watching our distance by washing our hands and by getting our flu shots. Thank you for your support. Back to you, sir, back to Governor Pritzker. Thank you.
Great, thank you very much. Dr. Is he gay and I just want to remind all of the reporters that are on today that we sent out a set of slides which may be helpful to you to follow on with AI. It’s no secret that the nation’s current fiscal crisis is much worse than the Great Recession, and more severe than anything that we’ve seen in decades, people are hurting, and people need help. And things are getting worse. Since republicans in the US Senate decided to postpone a stimulus package that would help restaurants and other small businesses, cities and states and the unemployed.
The financial shockwaves of this virus continue to ripple through the United States and here in Illinois, often causing the most harm to those least able to afford it. In April of this year alone, the Illinois Department of Employment Security processed more claims than it had in the previous 10 April’s combined even compared to the US Other worst economic years of the last two decades, the 2020 recession has seen almost three and a half times as many regular unemployment claims, compared to the first nine months of either 2008 or 2001 recession. And it’s not even close. Illinois declared a state of emergency for the covid 19 pandemic on March 9, just days later IDs passed emergency rules to ease certification requirements for applicants, and I signed an executive order to waive the traditional waiting week or recipient, both of which simplified the claims process and allowed the surge of new applicants to start receiving benefits sooner.
Nationwide, state agencies that issue unemployment benefits have become the source of overall economic stimulus for millions of Americans, not their traditional role by any means. But over just eight months, they’re adapting to this new situation in every way possible IDs as implemented five new federal programs. Normally, these types of programs take up to a year each to get going. But because we’re in a crisis, they were put together in a manner of just weeks. Remember that IDs has been a rather small agency that had been slowly diminished over the last two decades, with headcount dropping dangerously low from 2012 to 2018. But when the economic crisis came with the pandemic, IDs got to work. The department had to overhaul its website infrastructure, stood up an additional call center with hundreds of new agents, added chat bots, and other features to its platforms, and launched a new callback system that entirely transformed the communication process for claimants. As a result, IDs has processed a historic number of claims since March, paying out over $17 billion in benefits to over 1.3 million individuals state bought more than 16 times the amount of benefits paid in the same period last year. Let me repeat that. That’s 16 times the amount of benefits paid in the same period last year, and 2020 isn’t over yet.
In recent weeks, fewer Illinoisans are claiming regular unemployment benefits. And for some, that’s good news because it means that they’ve gone back into the workforce. But there also are others who are unable to get a job, and instead are transitioning into extended endemic assistance programs. Here’s where that leaves us. We now have more Illinoisans, claiming pandemic emergency unemployment compensation, the temporary 13 week extension of benefits that Congress passed as part of the cares act back in spring, and extended benefits which Illinois and most other states have provided this year than at any point in this pandemic, the pandemic unemployment Assistance Program, yet another one for the self employed. Plus the federally funded extra 13 weeks of PE you see benefits for eligible regular unemployment claimants, plus the seven weeks of extended for extended benefits for eligible claimants. All of those programs expire literally the day after Christmas. So unless the republican senate gets a stimulus bill moving in December, Republicans will be putting a big lump of coal in the Christmas stockings of a whole lot of American families. I can’t overstate the implications of without assistance from Congress five weeks from now, there will be no way to replace these benefits for the hundreds of thousands of Illinois and impacted by the programs, which have become an essential lifeline for people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. This is incredibly dire.
Illinois is not alone. In this a recent report from public policy Think Tank, called the century Foundation, estimates that 12 million Americans will see their benefits begin to expire next month. That’s more than half of people currently receiving benefits nationwide. We have an estimated 4.4 million people in the US who have already maxed out on their unemployment support for this year. So the clock is ticking without renewed action from Congress millions of families across the United States. will be plunged into far worse economic hardship than they’re already facing. And not just in the middle of the holidays, but also in the middle of the worst phase of this pandemic that the nation has yet seen.
We will continue to do everything we can at the state level to protect and advocate for our people. But we are extremely limited in our ability to alter unemployment programs, which are operated in partnership with the federal government. Only the federal government can produce the kind of stimulus that we need in order to avoid disaster for many families here. This is another moment that will define our nation, it will be months before we start seeing real economic recovery that comes with distribution of a vaccine to the general public. Spring is an awfully long way off. So call your member of Congress and your senators at 202-224-3121. And let them know you need them to stand up now and help working families across Illinois and across the nation. I’m going to give you that phone number again, the call your member of Congress or your senators 202-224-3121 Thank you.
And with that, I’m proud to hand it over to acting director of IDs Kristin Richards to talk more about what we’ve been able to do to support Illinoisans throughout this challenging period. Kristen.
Kristin Richards 16:31
Thank you, Governor Pritzker. Thank you. Thank you. Again, Attorney General will be going up today. As the governor mentioned, this endemic is inflicting an unprecedented economic toll on working families across the state. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share some details about IDs his work support Illinoisans unemployed through no fault of their own, to provide some context. Much of the unprecedented claims data that Governor Pritzker shared has been heaped onto an agency already reeling from years of disinvestment. Department headcount has declined by half over the decade. And in the process, we have lost train personnel in recent years. I am grateful that with the governor and the General Assembly support it yes was approved to add 226 people to our headcount in this fiscal year. But IDs entered the fiscal year already well below our authorized headcount. So meeting this goal remains an uphill battle when confronted with the pandemic.
The unprecedented claim surge that the governor described happened on top of in disinvested system, IDs handle more claims during the first three weeks of the pandemic than in all of 2019. So far, we’ve seen over 2 million initial regular UI claims alone during this pandemic. These dramatic numbers do not incorporate the pandemic unemployment Assistance Program, or QA which supports hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans that are ineligible for regular benefits. To meet this workload, scaling up staff has been an agency priority. In our call center, we’ve brought on additional permanent and contractual agents raising our headcount by around 600%. We also redeployed around 100 staff members to assist with claims maintenance and adjudication, and brought back dozens of highly skilled retirees. Id S is also investing in innovative technology and customer service improvements to support Illinois through the claims process. From revised revised claimant letters to new infographics on our website to expanded call center access. Our team is committed to finding new solutions for claimants. I want to spend a little time discussing IDs as call center, and the steps we’ve taken to make the agency more accessible. At the outset of the pandemic, calls to IDs were answered on a randomized basis. With only 100 agents on the line, the value was simply unmanageable. During our peak week, in May, IDs received over 1.8 million incoming calls.
That’s three calls every second was less than a 2% chance of connecting claimants would call hundreds of times a day to win the lottery and speak with an agent. The system was unfair and unsustainable and claimants needed something better. And so, in response, on July 9 IDs implemented the callback only model. Instead of calling dozens of times, you give us one call to yourself based on the issue. An IDs expert will call you back on a first in first out basis. This brings order to the call center. Everyone is guaranteed to speak with an agent In a sign of progress, we’ve completed over 1 million callbacks so far. And when it comes to wait times, our numbers are continuing to improve. For example, one of our queues focuses on certification, which is the BI weekly process that establishes a claimants continued eligibility. certification is how benefits are paid. Our certification Q is now able to help more claimants, which dramatically lowers our outstanding calls. But the clawback model also allows us to do is put more real analytics and strategy around how our communications can be improved.
For example, instead of waiting for claimants to miss their certification day, we can now be proactive. Famous now receive an email reminder when it’s time to certify this simple solution has led to fewer missed certifications. And as a result, your calls to the agency must most claimants will receive a call back within seven to 10 days. There are complex issues in our adjudication process that may require some more patience. But we’re happy to say that in many cases, claimants can hear from us from us, excuse me within one to two weeks or less. Finally, IDs is experiencing fraud and an order of magnitude we’ve never seen before. As we see in the press, and as I hear from my peers in other states, this is a nationwide issue. This is not unique to Illinois. The good news is we’re working closely with our state and federal partners to protect claimants and pursue bad actors. I would like to now introduce Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, expand on an unemployment insurance fraud and share steps you can take to protect your information.
Thank you, Director Richardson. Thank you, Governor. No, Dr. z k. I’m pleased to join you all here today to talk about our state’s ongoing response to the coronavirus pandemic, which includes addressing the fraud and scams connected to the pandemic. Just as we saw scammers attempt to take advantage of people by way of price gouging on PCP or peddling phony economy Coronavirus, treatments, tests and door cures. We are now seeing widespread fraud aimed at taking advantage of the economic uncertainty the pandemic has caused. Since July, my office has received nearly 850 written consumer complaints. And approximately 4000 calls to our hotlines about unemployment insurance fraud.
Unfortunately, I myself can attest that anyone can be targeted by these scammers because I myself received a phony debit card in the mail. If you have received an IDS, debit card or a letter approving you to receive unemployment insurance benefits that you did not apply for it, unfortunately likely means that an identity thief applied for benefits using your name and or your social security number. Unfortunately, social security numbers of some people have been obtained by some fraudsters as a result of a number of data breaches over the years. My office is committed to looking into this fraud and helping Illinois residents avoid being victims of identity theft. We have been in contact with the inspector general’s office at the US Department of Labor as we collaborate with them and other law enforcement partners to investigate this matter. These investigations can take time and people need to act to protect their personal financial information now.
Always Be vigilant and keep a close eye on your financial account statements and credit reports. And that is that is extra critical right now. revised taking the following steps to protect yourself if you think that your personal or financial information has been compromised. And these steps including monitoring your credit report. You can take a you can check your credit reports from the three major credit reporting agency Equifax, Experian, Experian, and TransUnion for free once per week through April 2021. By visiting annual credit report.com. You should consider requesting a fraud alert by contacting one of the free nationwide credit bureaus. This place is a flag on your credit reports for one year, which means potential credit grants Others receive an alert telling them to request additional identification from someone applying for credit. Using your name should also consider placing a freeze on your credit report, which means that potential credit grantors will not be able to see your credit report unless you prove to them that you are where you claim you are and not in identity.
In order to play place a credit freeze, you must contact each of the three credit reporting agencies individually. And we have detailed information as to how to go about that on our attorney general’s website. At in Illinois attorney general.gov. You should all obtain your free credit reports from annual credit report.com. And then, after reviewing those, report any unauthorized accounts or or inaccurate information to the credit report reporting agencies it’s important to constantly review all financial accounts and make sure that that aren’t, they aren’t any irregularities that you don’t recognize and consider placing transaction alerts with your bank or financial institutions. Be vigilant for other unusual occurrences such as receiving other debit or credit cards in the mail that you haven’t applied for and try to change your passwords on your financial accounts frequent. People can find more information on my office’s websites. Again, Illinois attorney general.gov I also encourage you to report any such identity theft or breaches to your accounts to identity theft hotline at 186699956 yo you can contact us there for help and for more information.