Week in Review: Covid Boosters, expressway homicides, human trafficking & more


Major credit rating agency shifts Illinois outlook to positive, but keeps Springfield in bottom tier of investment-grade debtors. S&P Global Rankings, one of the Big Three Wall Street credit rating agencies, revised its outlook on Illinois general obligation (GO) debt from neutral to positive. The outlook revision is a sign that the State of Illinois’s GO debts have a brighter outlook than other bonds and debt instruments in the same category. S&P Global currently ranks Illinois GO debt as “BBB,” the lowest overall category of investment-grade debt, and its appropriation-backed debt as “BBB-“, the lowest subcategory.
Debts that lose their investment grades and fall to “BB+” or “BB” are no longer seen as fully safe investments. Many of these debt instruments cannot be purchased, or can only be purchased under strict conditions of investment diversification, by prudent investors such as pension funds. Illinois continues to carry out a schedule of bond-selling and borrowing. The State’s cash-flow plans call for Springfield to sell $400 million of GO debt on or around Wednesday, December 1. S&P Global published its Illinois outlook revision on Thursday, November 18.

Pandemic continues; booster shots. Mutated variants of the COVID-19 virus continue to spread throughout Illinois, with unvaccinated individuals especially vulnerable to the deadly disease. The Illinois Department of Public Health now reports that more than 1.75 cases of coronavirus infection have been reported throughout the State since the first outbreak in March 2020, with 26,190 deaths tallied as of Thursday, November 18. Despite treatment improvements, about 0.5% of all persons who come down with this disease will die from it. In addition, many patients are reporting various follow-up symptoms, called “long COVID” by journalists.

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), as of Friday, November 19, was continuing to wait for a green light to encourage universal booster-shot/additional-does COVID-19 vaccination procedures. Published data from Israel and other jurisdictions indicate that a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine conveys even stronger protection against coronavirus than the original two-dose procedure that has been officially approved for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Universal approval has been received for a third shot for all senior citizens aged 65 and older, as well as younger adults who have underling medical conditions or who work in front-line capacities of various sorts. Statewide vaccination locations are posted online by IDPH

Expressway homicides continue on Chicago’s trunk roads. Shootings this week included a death on a heavily-traveled section of Interstate 55. In another incident, a man was wounded on the same highway near Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center. The names of both victims were not released by police, who stated that both incidents were under active investigation.

Despite heavy press coverage, violence has continued on Chicago’s freeways in 2021. The “Chicago Sun-Times” reports that Chicago expressway shootings have more than doubled in 2021 so far, as opposed to parallel incident reports in 2020. Chicago expressways are patrolled by the Illinois State Police, who reported at least 185 shooting incidents on these well-used highways during the first nine months of 2021. The State Police have said they are increasing patrol activity on these roads in response to the incidents.

Officials worry that this year’s outbreak of Chicago violence could affect holiday shopping activities. Chicago has taken steps to increase city police presences on the city’s flagship shipping street, North Michigan Avenue north of the Chicago River.

Advocates give Illinois an “F” failing grade on human trafficking. The failing grade was given by Shared Hope International, a worldwide advocacy group that seeks to stamp out child and youth sex trafficking. Shared Hope International asks the states to adopt not only strong criminal laws against these activities, but also a survivor-centered criminal procedural system that will use the arrest of an accused perpetrator as the trigger for the flow of adequate resources to survivors. This includes training and additional support for child welfare personnel, personnel in juvenile justice agencies, law enforcement servicepersons, prosecutors, and school personnel. 
Like most U.S. states, Illinois received a failing grade on the ancillary spending demands made by Shared Hope for sharp increases in spending and support in these survivor-support areas. The advocacy organization gave an “F” failing grade to 40 U.S. states (https://www.wrex.com/news/illinois-news/report-illinois-among-40-states-to-receive-f-grade-for-child-sex-trafficking/article_d68fb4e4-47bb-11ec-8a71-83700dbee4ae.html). States with better grades include the Sunbelt states of California, Florida, and Texas.

Shotgun deer season begins. During Illinois’ two primary 2021-22 firearm deer hunting weekends, November 19 through 21 and December 2-5 (https://huntillinois.org/deer/), a variety of firearms are allowed – not only shotguns but also muzzleloaders and handguns. Most firearm deer hunters use shotguns from deer stands. In the third weekend of the Illinois deer hunt going forward, December 10-12, only muzzleloading weapons will be allowed. A series of supplemental hunt weekends, targeted towards chronic wasting disease (CWD) locations and late winter antlerless-only targets, will open out after Christmas 2021.

Deer hunting is a traditional pastime followed by tens of thousands of Illinois residents and visitors. In the 2020-21 hunting year, 162,752 reported deer were taken (https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/hunting/deer/Documents/2020-2021_Illinois_Deer_Harvest_Report.pdf) during the 109 days of the various hunting seasons. In that year, many of these days were archery days, and the Illinois deer tag count was split almost exactly half-and-half between firearm and archery (77,160 firearm, 75,106 archery). These patterns have continued into the 2021-22 hunt year. Illinois deer hunters must have a license, and various restrictions can limit the kinds of deer that can be taken. Mature bucks with antlers are protected by special limits.

October 2021 unemployment rate report. The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) states that Illinois’s official jobless rate declined in October from 6.2% to 6.0%. The jobs picture was brightened by strong hiring in professional and business services (17,700 net new jobs tracked), leisure and hospitality (8,400 jobs), and trade, transportation and utilities (7,700 new jobs). The Illinois economy continued its move from manufacturing to services, with service-related sectors generating the great majority of new jobs created in Illinois during this 31-day period.

The IDES October 2021 job report is preliminary and could be revised upward or downward based on additional hard data. Early estimates, such as this one, are based on overall statistical numbers from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The IDES will supplement this October report with a further report that will track Illinois unemployment by individualized metropolitan areas within the State. In this preliminary October 2021 tally, an estimate 370,400 Illinois residents continued to be classified as unemployed within Illinois.

New appointment requirements at some Illinois drivers’ license offices. The policy change will require an increasing number of Illinois residents to make an appointment ahead of time before arriving at an Illinois Office of Driver Services facility to take a drivers’ exam or renew their drivers’ license ID cards. The move, announced by Secretary of State Jesse White, is described as a policy change that will reduce long lines and waiting periods. Under the rolling roll-out announced by the Office, thirteen heavily-used Downstate Illinois facilities will progressively move from being walk-in offices to appointment-only status for most drivers. The switchover will take place in November 2021, December 2021, and January 2022. This follows the roll-out earlier in 2021 of appointment-only procedures at 16 heavily-used Chicago-area facilities. More than 130 drivers’ license offices in Illinois service the needs of more than 8.5 million drivers within the State. Illinois drivers should call their local Driver Services facilities to find out more about that office’s appointment status.

The Office of Driver Services states that it will continue to welcome seniors, veterans, persons with disabilities, and expectant mothers at all facilities on a walk-in basis without appointments. Persons in these protected categories and identity groups will be welcome to make drivers’ license appointments, but need not do so. The Office of Driver Services continues to labor under a crush of backed-up drivers’ license processing that reflects visits to State offices that were not made during the COVID-19 pandemic. Illinois drivers’ licenses, instruction permits, and identification cards that have an expiration date between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2021 have been extended until January 1, 2022 as the work of clearing this backup continues.