How Are Illinois Politicians Keeping Safe From COVID-19 — And What Happens If They Get Sick?

Pritzker Preckwinkle Lightoot MASKS
Democratic Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, Democratic Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot regularly wear masks when speaking in public or attending events. Photos by Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Pritzker Preckwinkle Lightoot MASKS
Democratic Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, Democratic Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot regularly wear masks when speaking in public or attending events. Photos by Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

How Are Illinois Politicians Keeping Safe From COVID-19 — And What Happens If They Get Sick?

Following news of President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis, an aide to Illinois’ governor says the administration has a plan in place to keep the state’s executive safe from the virus – and in case he becomes ill.

Democratic Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker is already living it.

He and his aides remain in quarantine after a staffer in the governor’s office tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. Pritzker and other members of the governor’s staff all subsequently tested negative for the virus.

“Each of us will be in quarantine until October 12,” Pritzker told reporters Wednesday on a virtual news conference he held from his home. “That’s the 14-day period that’s recommended by public health officials as a precautionary measure.

”This is the second time that Pritzker, 55, has quarantined himself and his government staff after one of his employees tested positive. The governor has never tested positive for COVID-19.A White House official said Trump is in quarantine working in the family quarters. He has repeatedly downplayed the virus during the pandemic and continued to hold rallies, without wearing a mask, despite the risks. Pritzker, by comparison, attends public events wearing a mask and keeping distance from others. He attended demonstrations against police brutality, but wore a face covering.

That is yet another example of the stark difference in how the Trump and Pritzker administrations approach the pandemic — both in terms of policy and personal interactions with others. The two have been at odds repeatedly — and publicly — over how to approach the pandemic. Early on, Pritzker often called on Trump to mandate that companies produce personal protective equipment — something Trump eventually did, but not to the scale Pritzker wanted. He lamented the lack of a national response, leaving states to come up with their own plans for wearing masks, or shutting down bars and restaurants.

More recently, Pritzker has caught a lot of criticism for his decision to suspend youth sports, which have been shown to be at risk for spreading the virus. During this week’s presidential debate, Trump bragged about how he convinced the Big Ten college football conference to reverse its previous decision to postpone the season due to the virus.

“I wish the President and First Lady a speedy recovery,” Pritzker tweeted Friday morning.

The president was scheduled to attend a conference call with the nation’s governors Friday. A Pritzker aide said the governor was on the call, but that Vice President Michael Pence subbed in for Trump. She did not immediately have more details about what was discussed.

Now, with Trump having “mild symptoms” of the coronavirus, there are new questions about what precautions are in place should Illinois’ top executive officers become incapacitated due to the virus.

“The succession plan is in fact in the [state] constitution and as you know we have a terrific lieutenant governor, a highly capable person, who, if she needed to step in would of course be terrific at managing everything,” Pritzker said in May when asked if any additional precautions had been put in place. A spokeswoman told WBEZ Friday that Pritzker and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton are rarely in the same room together and maintain a safe distance when they are. Staffers who work for the state and must report to the office also undergo daily temperature checks, weekly COVID-19 tests, and they must wear face coverings while in the office. The office also is deep cleaned once a week.

A representative for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot did not immediately respond to WBEZ’s questions about COVID-19 safety and contingency plans.

The city of Chicago has seen two modern mayors die suddenly while in office – Richard J. Daley and Harold Washington – prompting the vice mayor to at least temporarily fill in the position.

Ald. Tom Tunney serves as the city’s vice mayor, who would step in as mayor if Lightfoot were unable to serve.

“I wish the President and First Lady a speedy recovery. Let this be a reminder to us all that COVID-19 is real, remains present, and powerful,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot, 58, tweeted Friday. “Please wear a mask.”

In Cook County, the board of commissioners would have 30 days to elect a board president if Preckwinkle, 73, were unable to perform her duties. In 2006, after then-Board President John Stroger was incapacitated after a stroke — but the severity of which was not made public — it was months until the board elected a replacement board president.

Commissioner Kevin Morrison announced earlier this week that he tested positive for COVID-19. In a statement, he wrote that he was “feeling well with very little symptoms.”

Morrison had attended an event with Preckwinkle last week. A Preckwinkle aide said members of the president’s office who attended the event have all been tested and the results came back negative. He said the majority of Preckwinkle’s staff are working remotely, with daily temperature checks and masks mandated for those who go into the office. One employee of President Preckwinkle’s staff has tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic, he said.

Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics and government for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.