Capitol Briefs: State reports COVID-19 outbreak at veterans home, gets mixed review for tobacco policies

Capitol Briefs: State reports COVID-19 outbreak at veterans home, gets mixed review for tobacco policies

By JENNIFER FULLER
& COLE LONGCOR
[email protected]

Health experts warn respiratory illnesses are still circulating, even as numbers trend down after a brief post-holiday surge.

Outbreaks of COVID-19, Flu, and RSV have been reported in state facilities in the Bellwood, Champaign, Marion, Metro East, Peoria, Rockford and West Chicago regions in January. Those numbers are trending down as the month nears its close.

The Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs reported Wednesday that 13 residents and 12 staff members at the Illinois Veterans’ Home at LaSalle tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days. All were experiencing mild symptoms and had been offered antiviral treatments. No one had been hospitalized as of Wednesday.

“Illinois’ five Veterans’ Homes continue to closely monitor its staff and residents for symptoms of COVID-19 and all infectious diseases,” IDVA Director Terry Prince said in a news release.

The LaSalle facility has curtailed events and activities that bring residents and staff together in groups – including dining. Visitations are continuing, and families have been notified of the outbreak, IDVA reported.

The state’s overall current illness activity is rated as “low,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, the CDC reported Monday influenza is the virus prompting the most emergency department visits nationwide.

Illinois receives mixed grades in tobacco report

Illinois received two “A” grades and two failing marks in a recent review of state tobacco policies conducted by the American Lung Association.

The 2024 State of Tabacco Control Report gave Illinois an “A” in the smokefree air category due to its 2008 passage of the Smoke Free Illinois Act that banned smoking indoors.

Illinois received an “A” for cessation services as services and medications are available through Medicaid and to state employees. Illinois also has a private insurance mandate with no surcharge limit which encourages people to quit. The state received a “C” grade for taxation policies, a grade based on whether taxes are high enough to serve as a deterrent for tobacco use.

The state received an “F” grade for its lack of prevention funding. Illinois allocated around $14 million in fiscal year 2024 for prevention programs, only 10 percent of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended amount.

Illinois also received an “F” because it has not banned flavored tobacco products. This follows Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s letter to the Biden Administration with 20 other attorneys general to advocate for a federal ban on menthol flavored tobacco products.

“I am asking the FDA to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars because even though cigarette use has decreased over the years, menthol-flavored cigarettes continue to attract and addict new smokers – particularly youth and minority smokers,” Raoul said in a news release last week.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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