Testifying before a Congressional panel, Democratic Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker on Wednesday called for a national mandate that everyone wear a face covering while in public as part of a broader federal strategy to help stem the spread of COVID-19.
In continuing his criticism of Republican President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Pritzker presented a five-point national strategy in his testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security on Examining the National Response to the Worsening Coronavirus Pandemic.
Pritzker’s comments focused on the struggles his administration faced in securing personal protective equipment such as ventilators, gowns, gloves and face coverings for medical professionals and essential workers — particularly in the early days of the pandemic. Pritzker has repeatedly called on the president to enact the Defense Production Act, which would force private sector companies manufacture supplies and distribute them to the Americans most in need.
What played out instead, Pritzker told the members of Congress, was a system in which his administration competed with other states and countries for the same supplies.
“In the midst of a global pandemic, states were forced to play some sort of sick Hunger Games game show to save the lives of our people,” Prtizker said. “This is not a reality TV show. These are real things that are happening in the United States of America in the year 2020.”
Pritzker recalled to the committee one instance in which a manufacturer told him that if Illinois increased its order for supplies, the state would move ahead of another potential customer who was also waiting on personal protective equipment.
“In an environment in which we have a pandemic, people are dying, I’m having to make decisions based on some businessperson’s desire for a greater profit,” Pritzker testified. “So that was very troubling.”
Pritzker also called for the federal government to increase its support of testing for COVID-19 and contact tracing, and even suggested that could mean the feds impose other public health guidelines and restrictions that every state must follow, though Pritzker didn’t list specifics.
He also called on Congress to approve more money for state and local governments’ budgets to address the dramatic revenue shortage and increased health spending that has occurred since the beginning of the pandemic. Pritzker said that money would help stave off layoffs of first responders and essential services that are needed as the pandemic continues.
Governors, mayors and local leaders across the country have been clamoring for Congress to send them money to prop up their budgets, many of which have been devastated by COVID-19-related economic shut-downs. But Democrats and Republicans have so far failed to break through their political differences and pass such an aid package.
Pritzker also wants to see clarity on insurance coverage for COVID-19 testing and funding for the National Guard ahead of a possible second wave of the coronavirus in Illinois.
And he criticized Trump’s treatment of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying that the CDC has been “muzzled” by the president. Pritzker cited Trump’s recent criticism of the new CDC guidance for reopening schools this year.
“I was so frustrated to see the president just sort of pronounce that, ‘Well, everybody should open their schools.’ Well, great. Please, please provide us with the kind of guidance that will help us do that,” Pritzker said.
While the hearing was void of fireworks, partisanship was on full display as House Republicans criticized the remote nature of the hearing, meeting via video conferencing as opposed to in-person.
U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, referred to “dishonesty” that he’d heard during the hearing, without explicitly calling out Pritzker.
Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.