DuPage County Health Department COVID-19 Vaccine Weekly Update

DuPage County—This week, vaccination efforts in DuPage County remain focused on administering first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccine to healthcare personnel in Phase 1a and expanding vaccine capacity throughout the county. As of Jan. 12, 2021, approximately 33,950 vaccines have been administered to DuPage County healthcare personnel according to vaccination data provided by Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). DuPage County is currently in the top five counties for the percent of population fully vaccinated.

DuPage County, Illinois’ second-most populous county, is fortunate to have a vast medical community. There are several hospitals, outpatient medical clinics, doctors’ offices, federally qualified health centers, and congregate care centers as well as other medical personnel such as dentists, nurses, physical therapists, etc. Due to these factors, health officials expect it will take several weeks before DuPage County is ready to move into Phase 1b.

“We understand some counties throughout the State are ready to move into Phase 1b. However, here in DuPage County we remain committed to vaccinating the thousands of healthcare personnel who have signed-up to receive vaccine appointments,” stated Karen Ayala, Executive Director of DuPage County Health Department. “We ask residents for their patience as we continue to move forward in our vaccination efforts of Phase 1a. As more updates become available, this information will be shared on our website, social media channels, and weekly newsletter.”

DuPage County Health Department (DCHD) has received and distributed an average of 11,000 Pfizer and Moderna vaccines per week. Health officials are working closely with partners at all levels, including hospitals, healthcare providers, pharmacies, and community leaders to expand vaccine access and local capacity to administer vaccine in DuPage County. As vaccine supply increases and additional vaccination sites become available, the Health Department expects the rate of vaccination will increase. Additional information about DuPage County vaccine planning and related updates will be posted at www.dupagehealth.org/covid19vaccine.

DCHD COVID-19 vaccine clinics continue offering about 1,500 appointments per week for unaffiliated healthcare personnel (e.g., dentists, physical therapists, hospice workers, home health care). Healthcare personnel residing, working, or attending a college/university in DuPage County should sign-up for the COVID-19 Vaccine Weekly Update. Through this communication, the Health Department will share weekly updates and contact individuals and organizations with opportunities to schedule an appointment through DCHD or community partners as additional vaccine becomes available.

Healthcare personnel who schedule an appointment with DCHD will be required to present verification of their healthcare personnel status, i.e., employee ID badge, check stub, state licensure, or certificate at the time of their appointment. If healthcare personnel are affiliated with a health system, they are advised to contact their health system to coordinate vaccination.

COVID-19 vaccination data by county is now available through the IDPH website. Data include the number of doses administered, the vaccination rate per population, and what percent of the population is fully vaccinated. It is important to note that vaccine distribution figures are reported in real-time, while vaccine administration figures are reported with as much as a 72-hour lag.

As residents wait for vaccine to be available to them, they should sign-up for our COVID-19 Vaccine Weekly Update to receive regular updates on DuPage County’s vaccination efforts. Additionally, everyone is urged to do their part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by:

  • Wearing a mask whenever outside your home or with anyone not from your household;
  • Watching your distance, staying at least 6 feet from people outside of your immediate household and avoiding in-person gatherings;
  • Washing your hands often; and
  • Staying home if you are experiencing symptoms of COVID19 or if you have been in close contact with a person infected with COVID-19, and contacting your healthcare provider for appropriate evaluation, testing, and care.

DuPage County COVID-19 information and resources can be found at www.dupagehealth.org/covid19

A Safer Tomorrow: Advanced Tech is Critical to Protecting Public Health in DuPage

In 2020, many of us were forced to learn just how far a sneeze can travel. While some of us (naively) assumed that a sneeze flies no more than a few feet before harmlessly disappearing, researchers at MIT shattered our illusions with a series of unpleasant statistics. It turns out, a sneeze can travel up to 27 feet, reaching speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. After the initial flight, droplets linger in the air for up to 10 minutes, forming a very personal kind of cloud that contains everything from bacteria to viruses, including COVID-19.

Sneezes, coughs, laughter, even just normal breathing, speaking and contact: As we learned in 2020, there is no end to the channels that a virus can take en route from one body to another. While social distancing and masks have helped mitigate the spread of COVID-19, many organizations are looking for more effective and potentially permanent solutions to protect public health—now, during the pandemic, as well as in the future.

COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on communities across the world, but it has also highlighted critical weaknesses in our current systems and taught us important lessons about public health. These lessons may help us prevent future pandemics and protect individuals from the viruses and bacterial infections that kill thousands, even in ‘normal’ years.

In DuPage County, organizations of all sizes are turning to innovative ideas and advanced technologies to protect the health of individuals and communities.

Mesòn Sabika is Helping Customers Breathe Easier

The food at Mesòn Sabika is fantastic. But, as anyone who has visited the Naperville restaurant knows, atmosphere is a major part of the restaurant’s appeal.

A short drive west of downtown Naperville, Mesòn is located in a 19th-Century mansion on a pristine, four-acre estate adorned in traditional Spanish décor. It’s the kind of place where you want to be. Going there and sitting on the patio with a cocktail and a plate of empanadas is an experience, not just another dinner. That’s why, in any other year, most of us would be talking about visiting Mesòn Sabika—not just grabbing takeout.

As the first wave of lockdown restrictions began to relax, the community was eager to once again enjoy the atmosphere of Mesòn Sabika, presenting the restaurant with a challenge that many businesses are now facing: How do you give your customers the experience they want, while also protecting their health (and yours)? The owners and staff at Mesòn Sabika went to great lengths to create a safer environment—spacing tables eight feet apart, reducing contact as much as possible, frequently sanitizing surfaces—but, like many of us, they had become aware of the many channels a virus can use to travel across a room, including a simple sneeze. They wanted to protect their customers and staff from any threat, even the ones they couldn’t see.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could catch a sneeze as it travels through the air and remove all the potentially harmful particles before they reach us? Mesòn Sabika discovered a device that does just that. This year, the restaurant installed a state-of-the-art air-purification system (the REME Halo) that continually purifies the air within the mansion. According to the manufacturer, the system uses an innovative zinc ionization system to reduce airborne particles, like dust and mold spores, while killing up to 99% of bacteria and viruses (including COVID-19) both in the air and on surfaces. It even ‘catches’ sneezes mid-air. By the time a sneeze travels three feet, the system will have reduced its germs by 99%.

Mesòn Sabika isn’t the only business using advanced technology to protect the health of customers and staff. All across DuPage County, this sort of solution is appearing in restaurants, schools, hospitals, hotels, shops and the many other places where we gather.

Meanwhile, some DuPage organizations are not only using this technology. They’re creating it.

Sound Inc. is Creating Healthier Office Environments

If you work in marketing or web development, you may be familiar with the concept of ‘heat-mapping’, a technology that creates a ‘map’ illustrating how users have interacted with your website.

A technology company in Naperville has taken the heat-mapping concept and repurposed it to help us clean our offices more efficiently and effectively. Sound Inc.—a tech services firm specializing in audio/visual, security and connectivity for businesses—weaves together a network of technologies designed to keep employees and visitors safe as we return to the workplace. One of the systems uses thermal (heat-sensitive) cameras, motion-sensors and analytics to map the places where people frequently contact surfaces in an office, so cleaning services can focus their efforts on the places with the highest risk of transmission.

But that’s just the start. In addition to mapping high-contact areas, Sound Inc. creates systems that can automatically sound alarms when rooms have surpassed their intended capacity, scan the temperatures of visitors, send alerts when employees are lingering in high-traffic areas—such as hallways, where they’re more likely to come into contact with coworkers or visitors—and monitor policies like mask-wearing and social distancing.

“For a business owner who is worried about having their employees come back and feel safe, that first line of defense is really important,” says Brian Clark, Vice President of Sound Inc. “You want to know who is coming into your building. That concept is called ‘visitor management’, and, traditionally, most businesses don’t do it very well. But now we’re paying closer attention to who comes and goes into our workplaces.”

Beyond protecting employees and visitors from COVID-19, Brian says that his company’s technology can offer protection from other kinds of threats. For example, a system with a motion-sensor can be installed near a door to detect weapons and automatically perform background checks, in addition to reading temperatures.

Scientel Solutions is Helping Organizations Safely Return to ‘Normal’ 

Of all the strange rituals that became ‘normal’ in 2020, the act of having your temperature taken in public is among the strangest. If you have visited a doctor’s office or a restaurant in the past nine months, you probably experienced something like this: Someone in a mask approaches you, aims what looks like a plastic Marvin the Martian laser gun at your forehead, and pulls the trigger. Odd as it may seem, taking temperatures at the entrance of a high-traffic area is a good idea, as it allows businesses to turn away anyone who is feverish, a potential sign of COVID-19.

But these handheld devices have three weaknesses: 1.) Their accuracy ranges from mediocre to unusable, 2.) They require the operator to be in close proximity to multiple, potentially infected individuals, putting them at greater risk, and 3.) The process of scanning a person with a handheld device is tedious and time-consuming. It isn’t a practical solution for businesses or events with high volumes of people entering the area.

The engineers at Scientel Solutions in Aurora were frustrated with the existing temperature-reading systems—on behalf of their own business, as well as their customers’—so, they built a better machine. The Mobile Evaluation and Triage (MET) Unit, which resembles a tall, friendly robot with wheels in lieu of legs, combines several advanced technologies to overcome the weaknesses of handheld scanners.

While the MET also reads temperatures, it does so with far greater accuracy and speed than handheld scanners, while allowing operators to maintain a safe distance from the individuals they scan. At the core of the device is a retinal camera, which reads temperatures by scanning a person’s tear ducts. Sound strange? Maybe it is. But the system is incredible accurate, reading temperatures within 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit, vastly better than most scanners. It’s also fast, scanning each person within less than a second, enabling the device to process dozens of individuals per minute. If a person does have a fever, the device alerts operators—and can be integrated with other systems (for example, to automatically send a notice to security).

The MET unit is ideal for any location that may see a high volume of people—hospitals, corporate centers, municipal buildings, stadiums, airports, etc.—and can be used in conjunction with other safety measures to make events safer. Locally, Scientel has brought the MET to the City of Aurora, Kane County, Stephen Co. and Hesed House, as well as other businesses and organizations around the country.

For Nelson Santos, Founder & CEO of Scientel, technologies like the MET are an essential component of any reopening effort.

“We use the MET Unit for our own employees and all guests on a daily basis,” Nelson says. “With the help of the MET—as well as other technologies—Scientel has been able to hold events in conjunction with social distancing. We believe that we need to continue to operate as a business and function as families, all while being socially responsible given the pandemic.” 

A Safer Tomorrow

No single technology, concept or guideline will protect us from threats like COVID-19 (although, vaccines will go a long way towards solving our immediate problem).

Instead, creating a safer, healthier future for the communities of DuPage County comes down to collaboration: many minds, technologies, businesses and institutions coming together to find smart solutions to our immediate problems, while addressing our long-term challenges.

We need innovators like Scientel Solutions and Sound Inc. bringing us the devices that keep us safe; local businesses like Mesòn Sabika adopting new technologies; organizations like the College of DuPage training contact tracers; companies like Import Logistics finding creative solutions to protect our supply chain; and institutions like Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab using science to fight back against threats like COVID-19. Just as critically, we need every member of our community supporting these organizations, uplifting one another and thinking about tomorrow.

A safer future isn’t a distant possibility; it’s something we can start building right now. It’s up to every one of us to make it.

In DuPage County, our communities are tapping into high-tech solutions to create a safer tomorrow. From the labs of Argonne to the dining room of Mesòn Sabika, you can find innovation in every corner of DuPage. Learn more at ChooseDuPage.com/Ready

College of DuPage is training hundreds of contact tracers, meeting an urgent public health need while providing employment

Contact Tracers

When we think of the fight against COVID-19, we tend to think of doctors, nurses, scientists and other frontline workers. But there’s a growing army of individuals—largely consisting of retirees, medical students and those who were recently unemployed—fighting the pandemic from behind the scenes.

Known as “contact tracers,” these trained workers help limit the spread of COVID-19. And now, thanks to the hard work of several individuals and a collaboration amongst local institutions, an innovative new program at the College of DuPage is preparing hundreds for careers in contact tracing.

When Lori Gache-Garcia stepped into her role as Program Manager at the College of DuPage, she never imagined that her first year would be defined by a pandemic. And then—over the next three weeks—COVID-19 swept across the nation, Illinois ordered residents to shelter-in-place, and the College sent faculty home.

It wasn’t the beginning she expected.

But Lori didn’t panic. Instead, she got to work.

As the nation faced a public health emergency and an unemployment crisis, the College of DuPage responded on both fronts—introducing a new course designed to train people for careers fighting the pandemic. Working from her home computer, Lori collaborated with College staff and local organizations like the DuPage County Health Department to develop the contact-tracing program.

As a contact tracer, your job is to track COVID-19 and limit its spread. The work is entirely remote—you spend a lot of time on the phone with people who have been exposed to the virus, encouraging them to quarantine and identifying others with whom they may have come into contact.

Contact tracers are often compared to detectives. There is some scientific sleuthing involved, as you follow a trail of evidence, gather clues, conduct interviews and piece together a bigger picture. But contact tracers are often less like detectives and more like counselors, broaching uncomfortable subjects while providing valuable guidance and information.

The best contact tracers are often the most personable and empathetic people.

Contact Tracers

To create an effective contact-tracing program, the College of DuPage collaborated with the DuPage County Health Department. The Health Department employs numerous contact-tracers, so they knew exactly what skills were needed. With their guidance, College staff tailored the curriculum to focus on these key skills.

“Right off the bat, the Health Department told us they wanted soft skills, like customer service,” Lori says. “As a contact tracer, there are a lot of phone conversations, and these conversations are very sensitive. With that in mind, we incorporated communication skills into the curriculum. We actually have a script that students learn—it’s part of the final exam.”

The program that Lori developed—with curriculum designed by COD Surgical Technology Professor Kathy Cabai—covers a wide range of “hard” and “soft” skills at the core of contact tracing: from building the student’s knowledge of infectious diseases, to learning how to build rapport with cases and accounting for cultural sensitivities.

The program consists of four modules over four weeks. It’s entirely online; instructors are available to answer questions; and students largely determine the pace over the course of each week.

For those who pass the final exam, the prospects of landing a career are good. There’s no guarantee of employment, but contact tracers are in high demand. Students are often employed by public or private institutions shortly after graduating. Many are employed by the DuPage County Health Department, and they find themselves fighting COVID-19 within their own community.

To date, more than 400 students have enrolled.

Contact Tracers

While many of us are learning about contact tracing for the first time, it isn’t a novel concept. Tracing has been used to fight a variety of infectious diseases, from the 1918 Flu Pandemic to the 2014 Ebola outbreak. In tandem with other measures—like masks, social distancing and vaccines—contact tracing has been used to reduce the spread of diseases and, in certain cases, eradicate them.

Dr. Sanjeeb Khatua, Executive Vice President and Chief Physician Executive at Edward-Elmhurst Health, is the Incident Commander for the organization’s COVID-19 response. He says that contact tracing is a critical component of any community’s response to the pandemic—and it also benefits individuals. 

“Contact tracing allows us to identify individuals who have COVID-19 and their contacts, so we can warn them and inform them,” he says. “The more we’re able to do that, the better it’s going to be for all of us. The less community spread, the less chance you have of actually getting COVID-19.”

And while contact-tracing is nothing new, the demand for contact tracers in 2020 has skyrocketed.

“The urgency and the sheer number of contact tracers the country needed was incredible,” Lori says. “When the need arose, we recognized that we, the College, needed to create a short-term training program to teach people the skills and knowledge they need. And we had to create it quickly.”

“In a matter of weeks, Lori worked with full-time faculty to develop this wonderful program,” says Joe Cassidy, Assistant Vice President of Economic Development and Dean of Continuing Education and Public Services at COD. “This is a great example of how we can flex as a college to meet an urgent need. It’s also a perfect example of what can happen when we collaborate on-campus and off-campus, with partners like DuPage County Health.”

Contact Tracers

You don’t have to be a scientist or a public-health expert to become a contact tracer. To enroll in the College of DuPage program, all you need is a high school diploma (or equivalent) and a computer.

Contact tracers are a diverse group, consisting of many demographics. COD’s program has seen students ages 18 to 72 (the 72-year-old recently graduated and was hired soon after). And while students come from all walks of life, many fall into one of three categories: retirees, college-aged students or those who were recently unemployed.

For retirees, becoming a contact tracer is the perfect way to fight back against the pandemic. It’s entirely remote, so you don’t have to put your own health at risk. It can also be a good way to get some much-needed socialization.

For college students interested in the medical industry, contact tracing is a good way to gain some real-world experience in the world of public health. For those who were recently unemployed, a career as a contact tracer is a win-win. The pay is good—contact tracers make up to $28/hour—and the work is fulfilling.

And while there may be no “typical” contact tracer, Lori says the majority are drawn to the program simply from a desire to help their community.

“Not surprisingly, they tend to be the most diligent students,” she says.

Interested in becoming a contact tracer? To enroll in the College of DuPage program, you must be 18 years or older, have a high-school diploma or equivalent, and have access to a computer. The online program consists of four modules over four weeks, and the cost is $279. The next course is January 25-February 21. Learn more or register here.

DuPage County Announces a New Drive-Thru COVID-19 Testing Site

DuPage COVID Testing

In response to the exponential spread of COVID-19 cases and the increased need for testing, the DuPage County Health Department is announcing the addition of a second community-based drive-thru testing site to provide additional testing resources in DuPage

The additional COVID-19 testing site will be located at the Odeum Expo Center (1033 N Villa Avenue) in Villa Park, Illinois, and will open on Monday, Nov. 23. The week of Thanksgiving the site will be operational Monday, Nov. 23 through Wednesday, Nov. 25 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., or until the daily test capacity of 600 tests is completed each day. The week of Nov. 29, the site will operate from Sunday, Nov. 29 through Friday, Dec. 4 with the same hours and test capacity.

Anyone can be tested, and no appointment, doctor referral, or insurance is required. Visitors are encouraged to pre-register at testdirectly.com/dupage, but pre-registration does not guarantee testing or a place in line for that day. For more information about how to prepare before your visit and what to expect, visit www.dupagehealth.org/covid19testing.

Additionally, DCHD has collaborated with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to expand mobile testing opportunities by
partnering with local municipal leaders. The mobile test sites rotate throughout the county to increase access to testing for residents. “While testing is a crucial component of DCHD’s COVID-19 response, we must remember that it is only one part of the overall strategy to slow the spread of this virus. Even more important than identifying cases and their close contacts, is preventing new cases from occurring,” said Karen Ayala, Executive Director of DuPage County Health Department.

The Health Department continues to encourage residents to protect themselves and their families by staying home as much as possible, avoiding all non-essential travel, and not gathering with people from outside of their household. In addition, everyone is reminded to practice the 3Ws, to wear a mask, watch your distance, and wash your hands to slow the spread of COVID-19.

For additional COVID-19 information and resources, visit the DCHD website at www.dupagehealth.org/covid19.

Newest ComEd Program Provides Bill Assistance to Struggling Small Businesses During Pandemic


Small-Business Assistance Programs offers one-time grants and flexible payment options

With many restaurants, bars, retailers and other small businesses across northern Illinois struggling to stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic, ComEd announced a new bill-assistance program to help eligible small businesses facing financial difficulties.

“Small and family-owned businesses are the backbone of our communities. When they struggle, our neighborhoods struggle.” said ComEd CEO Joe Dominguez. “By offering a new bill-assistance option targeting small and family-owned businesses, we hope to do our part to ensure that the businesses that we all love and depend upon continue to be a part of our lives.”

ComEd’s Small Business Assistance Program provides eligible small-business customers that are past due on their energy bills with a one-time grant equal to 30 percent of their total ComEd balance (up to $1,000) for a limited time. Customers whose electric service has not been disconnected can then set up their remaining balance due on a payment plan of up to six months.

Small-business customers can visit ComEd.com/SmallBizAssistance or call 1-877-4-COMED-1 (1-877-426-6331) to learn more or apply for the Small Business Assistance Program.

Earlier this week, ComEd announced its new Helping Hand program to provide more immediate aid to eligible residential customers most in need during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For a limited time, this financial-assistance program provides an additional one-time grant of up to $300 to help reduce past-due balances of income-eligible customers.

Assistance through the Helping Hand program is administered directly through ComEd, which expedites the verification process so that customers can receive grants more quickly. Residential customers can apply for Helping Hand grants at ComEd.com/PaymentAssistance.

Assistance Options to Help Residential Customers

Helping Hand and the Small Business Assistance Program are the latest in a number of assistance options ComEd has developed since the pandemic to help customers, including a $18 million bill-payment assistance program for residential customers announced earlier this summer.

ComEd has continued the suspension of service disconnections for low-income customers and those who express a financial hardship through March 31, 2021. For other customers, it’s important that they continue to stay current to avoid higher past-due balances into the spring that will be harder to address.
ComEd’s bill-assistance programs also include flexible payment options, financial assistance for past-due balances and usage alerts for current bills. Any customer who is experiencing a hardship or difficulty with their electric bill should call ComEd immediately at 1-800-334-7661 (1-800-EDISON-1), Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to learn more and enroll in a program.

ComEd also offers usage alerts and energy-management tips to help customers manage energy use to save money now and on future energy bills. For information, visit ComEd.com/OnlineTools.


Ventilation System Guidance During COVID-19


The following information has been provided by the Illinois Department of Public Health:

The purpose of this report is to provide a quick overview, practical guidance, and resources for heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems during COVID-19. More comprehensive guidance for HVAC systems is available from the American Society of Heating Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) in its Guidance for Building Operations during the COVID-19 and Guidance for the Re-Opening of Schools and Universities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends schools, child-care programs, workplaces, congregate living facilities, and other locations consider upgrades or improvements to their HVAC system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brief summary of recommended HVAC system improvements:

  • Increase air changes per hour (ACH).
  • Increase outside air.
    • Use caution in areas where particulate matter or other hazardous air pollutants are a concern.
  • Disable demand-controlled ventilation (DCV).
  • Open outdoor air dampers to reduce or eliminate recirculation.
    • This may affect thermal comfort and humidity, especially during extreme weather.
  • HVAC system filters should be MERV-rated and properly installed.
    • A minimum efficiency rating value (MERV) of 13 or higher is recommended.
    • Ensure the filters are properly installed and have no gaps to allow air to by-pass them.
  • Keep systems running longer and, if possible, 24/7.
  • Consider using portable HEPA filters in areas with high occupant density, as well as:
    • Higher risk areas such as a school nurse’s office.
    • Locations with no mechanical ventilation or filtration.
    • Poorly functioning HVAC systems to aid the system.

Additional HVAC systems’ guidance

  • Ensure the HVAC system operates properly and provides acceptable indoor air quality for the occupants and building spaces.
    • Understand the limitations and specific type of your building’s HVAC system.
    • Check common areas (e.g., bathrooms, kitchens, etc.) and exhaust fans to ensure they are working correctly.
    • Check that the ducts are balanced and working according to the system design.
    • Obtain consultation from experienced HVAC professionals when considering changes to HVAC systems and equipment.
  • Periodically clean all HVAC systems and replace filters so the system can function properly.
    • Follow manufacturer’s recommendations on maintenance and filter replacement.
  • Consider running business and school HVAC systems at maximum outside airflow (100 percent) for two hours before the first individual arrives and two hours after the last individual leaves.
    • If possible, extend this recommendation beyond the time suggested above.
  • When weather conditions allow, increase fresh outdoor air by opening windows and doors.
    • Do not open windows and doors if doing so poses a safety or health risk to children or individuals using the facility.
    • Use fans to increase the distribution of outside fresh air while doors and windows are open.
    • Facilities should consult with local fire officials regarding compliance with the fire code and local fire ordinances.
  • Consult with your building engineer before using floor fans, ceiling fans, fan-forced heaters, and similar appliances so they can evaluate changes in air flow that may increase the risk of spreading particulates, droplets, and aerosols from person to person or affect HVAC system performance.
    • Do not direct fans so they are blowing directly at individuals.

Note: Consult with your building engineer and maintenance staff on current practices to maintain the HVAC system and any improvements that can be made.

Where Can I Get More Information?
Contact the IDPH Environmental Toxicology Section
Phone: (217) 782-5830


In DuPage County, Scientists use Supercomputers and X-Rays to Tackle Coronavirus

Argonne National Laboratory

Originally Published by: Bisnow | Written by: Julia Troy, Bisnow Custom Content Writer

As the race for coronavirus therapies and a vaccine speeds up, the spotlight is on DuPage County, Illinois, and its two national laboratories — Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab — that have been working tirelessly to help the country’s fight against the virus.  

“Argonne is situated at the crossroads of not only DuPage County and Illinois, but America,” Argonne Laboratory Director Paul Kearns said. “We are closely located to multiple interstate highways and are a short drive to two international airports, which is critical for us as we conduct scientific collaborations across the nation and around the world.” 

Argonne National Laboratory, which is owned by the Department of Energy and operated by the University of Chicago, is the largest government-funded research and development laboratory in the Midwest, with an operating budget of just under $1B. Along with employing thousands of DuPage County residents, Argonne has awarded contracts to Illinois-based businesses for a total of over $116B, with more than $40M awarded to small businesses in the state. Now, Argonne is working with national and global labs to help stop this worldwide pandemic.

DuPage County is home to 19 accredited colleges and universities, and has the highest educational attainment in Illinois, with nearly one in five residents holding a graduate or professional degree.

This highly educated workforce has attracted several major businesses to the area, including Fortune 500 companies like Navistar and Dover Corp.

Bisnow sat down with Kearns to learn more about how Argonne is working to combat the coronavirus locally and globally and how its location in DuPage has contributed to its work.

Bisnow: It’s been reported that Argonne is fighting the coronavirus on multiple fronts. Can you tell me what that looks like?  

Kearns: Our research is laying the groundwork for potential coronavirus drug therapies and vaccines. The ultra-bright, high-energy X-rays provided by our Advanced Photon Source, which is essentially a stadium-sized X-ray microscope, allow us to view and understand the protein structures of the virus. Argonne researchers have determined nearly half of the detailed structures of COVID-19 that have been identified.​  

Along with that, Argonne is using artificial intelligence to screen billions of drug-like molecules. This AI-driven approach screens these compounds at least two orders of magnitude faster than traditional virtual screening. By using AI, Argonne can help reduce the current 18- to 24-month drug discovery time to two months or less. Additionally, Argonne scientists are integrating antimicrobial functions into N95 masks to expand their effectiveness or extend their service life​ while making them more comfortable, reusable and effective. 

Bisnow: On a more local level, how is Argonne working to help Illinois communities slow the spread of the virus?  

Kearns: With the help of Argonne’s supercomputers, scientists have been working with a highly accurate model of Chicago — down to every man, woman and child — simulating their behaviors, their times at home or at work, and who they associate with. Their actions played out over the course of an entire year.  

The model simulates the infection process, even simulating interactions of people at home. It is so detailed that scientists can ask this simulated population to do different things such as wear masks and practice social distancing. The city of Chicago, Cook County and state of Illinois all use this model to inform top leadership for decision-making to help combat the pandemic.  

Bisnow: Looking beyond the pandemic, what else is Argonne working on?

Kearns: Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Some things we are working on include our unique scientific user facilities, like the Advanced Photon Source and Argonne Leadership Computing Facility, which attract more than 7,000 visiting researchers per year. Both are updated with the latest technology and they conduct studies aiming to make transportation more efficient, treat emerging diseases like COVID-19 and construct safer buildings. 

Our battery technology already powers electric vehicles, and storage for the electric grid is our next goal. Meanwhile, our computer models simulate global and regional natural and man-made disaster scenarios, helping experts preemptively design responses to mitigate further devastation.

Bisnow: What do you like about being based in DuPage County? 

Kearns: Our location in DuPage positions us to lead technology commercialization for the entire Chicago region. We partner with local businesses and have helped thousands of companies and entrepreneurs bring new innovations to market. The surrounding suburban communities also provide our local employees with safe neighborhoods and good schools. Our prime location and beautiful campus are major assets in our retention and recruitment efforts.

We also work to give back to the community. We are a major regional employer that provides thousands of DuPage residents high-paying jobs and worthwhile careers. We buy from local merchants, and we host thousands of national and international visitors annually, who stay at nearby hotels and shop at local small businesses. 

Our collaborative research attracts even more businesses and economic activity to DuPage County.  

This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and Choose DuPage. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.  

For a list of resources related to coronavirus or COVID-19, please click here.

Helping Businesses Navigate the Pandemic

DuPage Communities Meeting, September 2020

On Thursday, September 24, Choose DuPage hosted a meeting for the DuPage County municipalities, elected officials, and economic development professionals. The topic was how local governments can help workers and small businesses during the coronavirus crisis. 

Below is the list of panelists that spoke at the meeting, along with their presentations. 

Rita Haake, Center Manager, College of DuPage Business Development Center, Illinois Procurement Technical Assistance Center, Illinois SBDC, and Illinois International Trade
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Sanjeeb Khatua, MD, Executive Vice President, Physician & Ambulatory Care Network; Chief Physician Executive and Covid-19 Incident Commander for Edward-Elmhurst Health
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Travis Linderman, Managing Director, Innovation DuPage
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Lisa Schvach, Executive Director, workNet DuPage
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Gov. Pritzker Announces $245 Million in Grants for Businesses and Communities Impacted by COVID-19 and Civil Unrest

$220 Million Available for Business Owners through Second Round of the Business Interruption Grants; $25 Million Available for Communities through the Rebuild Distressed Communities Program.

Governor JB Pritzker joined the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) today in the Bronzeville community to announce the latest in a series of grants made available for small businesses in Illinois suffering losses as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as well as communities impacted by the recent civil unrest. Applications for the second round of the Business Interruption Grants (BIG) program will be made available this Thursday afternoon and will offer $220 million in funds for small businesses hit hardest by the ongoing pandemic.

The Governor also announced applications for the new Rebuild Distressed Communities (RDC) program will become available in the coming weeks. This program will provide $25 million in funding to cover the cost of civil-unrest related repairs while also supporting new investments in economically distressed communities across Illinois.

“Support for small businesses has been one of the central features of our COVID-19 response: Helping entrepreneurs stay afloat, giving business owners the help necessary to keep the lights on and payroll flowing, is vital to preserving jobs and businesses until we get to the other side of this pandemic,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “These two new programs, combined with the first round of Business Interruption Grants, deliver nearly $300 million in aid to the very small businesses that bring jobs and vibrancy to their communities –offering them increased stability so those jobs and that vibrancy can live on.”

BIG continues to prioritize equity by setting aside a substantial portion of funds for businesses located in economically vulnerable communities. The second round of BIG builds on over $49 million in grants awarded just last month – with initial grants allocated to approximately 2,800 businesses in 400 communities in every corner of the state. Application information for the second round of funds and can be found on DCEO’s website at Illinois.gov/dceo and the application form will open for submissions later this week.

The second wave of funds from BIG aims to provide relief for all types of small businesses, with a focus on businesses located downstate or in disproportionately impacted areas (DIAs). The latest wave of funding includes the following provisions to ensure a wide distribution of funds geographically and across business type:

  • Heavily Impacted Industries$60 million for heavily distressed industries, such as movie theaters, performing arts venues, concert venues, indoor recreation, amusement parks, event spaces located at banquet halls and hotels, and more.
  • Disproportionately Impacted Areas$70 million set aside for DIAs, defined by zip codes identified by the General Assembly for communities that are most economically distressed and vulnerable to COVID-19. A map of DIAs can be accessed here.
  • Downstate Communities – DCEO has committed to ensuring that at least half of all remaining funds, totaling more than $100 million, are reserved for businesses in downstate and rural communities of Illinois.
  • Priority Businesses Apart from the $60 million for heavily impacted industries, applications from the following types of businesses will be prioritized for review for remaining funds:  businesses directly affected by regional mitigations implemented by the state or local governments, independently owned retail, tourism- and hospitality-related industries including accommodations, and more.
  • Agriculture – $5 million of the remainder of funds will be set aside for livestock production disruptions.
  • Grants and Loan Forgiveness for Illinois Small Business Emergency Loan recipientsAs authorized by the General Assembly, DCEO will offer grants for businesses that have incurred eligible costs to offset loans received under the Illinois Small Business Emergency Loan program.  This round of loan forgiveness and grants will go to businesses that have received loans or remain on the wait list and the program will sunset going forward as DCEO and its partners focus on making BIG awards.

“From day one of this crisis, the Pritzker administration has prioritized bold and equitable solutions to address the issues facing businesses and communities across our state as a result of COVID-19,” said Director of DCEO, Erin B. Guthrie. “While the first round of funds has helped 2,800 businesses in 78 counties across the state make ends meet, an additional $200 million in BIG grants will help ensure that even more businesses across our state have a shot at unlocking funds that will help them pay the rent, the payroll and other costs to help them safely reopen and regain their livelihoods.”

“The pandemic has taken a real toll on our community, our restaurant and our staff in ways we could never have prepared for. As a full-service restaurant, accustomed to serving hundreds of guests daily, suddenly we found ourselves with an empty dining room, our table servers missing out on much needed income and skyrocketing operating expenses, including new costs for protecting our staff and our guests,” said Darrell Green, Co-Owner of Pearl’s Place Restaurant in Bronzeville. “Along comes the State of Illinois’ BIG grant, which offered us much needed resources for PPE to protect our team and maintain a safe environment for our guests. This grant is helping us to do our part in rebuilding public confidence to welcome more of our customers back safely.”

Earlier this year, DCEO issued a Notice of Funding Opportunity and has identified a qualified administrator to disburse the remaining funds for BIG throughout the rest of the year. Working with administrators Accion and the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC), the department will take a tailored approach to processing grants in this round. Grants will range from $5,000 to $150,000, commensurate with revenue losses incurred and business size.

“This additional funding is critical for Chicago’s diverse business community, which has faced significant economic impacts during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Alderman Pat Dowell (3rd Ward). “The most recent round of grants will help lift small businesses, like Pearl’s Place, that are an integral part of the Bronzeville community. I thank the Governor and his administration for continuing to support our vibrant business community throughout the ongoing pandemic.”

Eligible businesses will include for-profit and nonprofit entities with $20 million or less in annual revenue in 2019 (annualized for businesses that started after January 2019). All businesses that receive a BIG award must have experienced losses due to COVID-19 that exceed the size of the award.

“The hotel industry has been an integral part of the state’s economy and the anchor of our tourism industry. We generate over $4 billion in state and local taxes a year supporting more than 290,000 jobs and generating $16 billion in wages and salaries to hard working men and work in Illinois. Unfortunately, this pandemic has decimated our industry overnight,” said Michael Jacobson, President of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association. “As hundreds of hotels throughout the state struggle to survive, some of whom remain shuttered altogether, this is a positive step towards providing much needed assistance to the Illinois hospitality community. As one of the largest employers in the state, these grants provide a much-needed lifeline to the hotel industry while we await the opportunity to welcome back visitors and put people back to work.”

“Over the past six months, our Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation has heard from hundreds of business owners who have suffered significant financial losses due to COVID-19. Many who have received emergency assistance have found that they still need additional support to keep their businesses afloat and to continue to provide jobs and goods and services in their communities,” said Karen Freeman Wilson, CEO of the Chicago Urban League. “These programs offer a real opportunity for businesses and communities to recover. We are pleased to continue working with Governor Pritzker and his team to help distribute grants to small business owners, as well as to provide business coaching, mentorship, and technical assistance where it is needed.”

“This round of BIG grants will offer a lifeline to the devastated Illinois cultural sector. Our beloved music venues, performing arts centers, museums and other critical community assets remain either fully closed or severely restricted given capacity limitations, and we have yet to see a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of reopening,” said Claire Rice, Executive Director of Arts Alliance Illinois. “This type of government support is essential to our field as the COVID crisis continues, and we will need our Illinois artists and creative workers more than ever to connect us to our collective humanity, both during the pandemic and into our future.”

DCEO will also oversee the distribution of grants through the RDC program. Supported by the Rebuild Illinois capital plan, RDC funds will be made available to help businesses and economically distressed communities cover the cost of repairs already incurred, while making way for capital work to address eligible repairs or community improvements still needed in response to civil unrest. RDC funded projects may range in size from $1,000 to $200,000, based on eligibility and the extent of the damages. DCEO will prioritize contractors from minority, women, and veteran owned businesses to perform the work, and reimbursements will begin in the coming weeks for damages which have already been incurred.

To coordinate reimbursement and capital repairs, the State of Illinois has selected two community development organizations – the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) and the Chicago Neighborhood Initiative (CNI). LISC and CNI were selected via a competitive process and will conduct outreach, coordinate local qualified vendors to perform repairs, and provide funds to cover the cost of repairs and new building improvements for businesses in eligible communities across the state. Additionally, LISC will host the application for the grants on its website.

“LISC is committed to supporting and strengthening communities by increasing opportunities for residents who live, work and do business throughout Illinois,” said Meghan Harte, Executive Director of LISC Chicago. “We are thrilled to be a part of Rebuild Distressed Communities and continue to invest in the prosperity and wellbeing of businesses that need it most.”

Eligibility for the RDC grants requires businesses and nonprofits to demonstrate property damage as a result of civil unrest on or after May 25, 2020 and be located in economically distressed zip codes identified by DCEO as having sustained property damage due to civil unrest. 

“We know businesses and their employees are hurting during this difficult time, particularly those in communities where resources are scarce,” said David Doig, President of CNI, a nonprofit community development organization. “CNI is honored to be joining forces with the DCEO and LISC to help businesses in under-resourced communities gain access to the financial support they need to recover as quickly as possible.”

To promote equity in the program, priority for grant funding will be given to small businesses with 50 employees or fewer, women and minority-owned businesses, underinsured or uninsured businesses, and inherently essential businesses – like grocery stores – in economically distressed areas. DCEO has created a list of impacted zip codes to help determine eligibility of project location, found here. For businesses that have sustained property damages during civil unrest but not located in a predetermined zip code, they may work with DCEO’s administrative partners to apply and request that their zip code be added to the list of eligible zip codes.

BIG and RDC build on a menu of small business and community relief programs created by the administration since COVID-19 first hit – with over $500 million in grants and programs launched by DCEO, including emergency hospitality grants, a downstate small business stabilization program, Fast Track Capital, and more. For more information on programs available for businesses and communities, please visit DCEO’s website.

DCEO will be hosting a series of webinars regarding this program.  You can register for any of the webinars by using the links below:

Hit Hard By COVID-19, DuPage County Slowly Recovering With Business Reopenings

WBBM Newsradio Interview with County Officials

Written by Craig Dellimore | See original article here

(WBBM NEWSRADIO) — DuPage County has seen more than 13,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 500 deaths so far. But officials there say the county and the businesses are slowly recovering from the pandemic.

DuPage County Health Director Karen Ayala said the western suburbs are seeing the same rise in cases of COVID-19 as in other areas, but it’s simply because more people are out and about. She said generally, there was been little resistance to wearing a mask and social distancing because residents understand the seriousness of the virus. 

Click here to listen to the interview on WBBM Newsradio. 

“If we don’t maintain the health and safety of our residents, then everything else is lost,” Ayala said.

DuPage County Board Member Bob Larsen, who chairs the finance committee, said the County has lost substantial revenue but he was ready for this. He said the county plans to avoid a tax increase but may have to dip into its reserves.

Greg Bedalov, CEO of Choose DuPage said the hospitality industry, has suffered the most from COVID-19 but things are starting to get a little better. He said the county received $168 million in CARES Act dollars and immediately allocated $7 million to a small business relief program that is being administered by Choose DuPage.

“We were able to deploy over $6 million of that $7 million allocation to the small business community within DuPage in less than 60 days,” Bedalov said. 

Larsen said there’s been some relief from Washington, but not for lost revenue from taxes and fees. He’s not sure how much, if any, more aid will come for that.