After being called ineffective by President Trump, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker dished it right back at the White House on Monday by outlining how little help the federal government has been in delivering vital personal protective equipment to the frontlines of the state’s COVID-19 fight.
The Democratic governor recited in detail the number of N95 protective masks, surgical masks, gloves, face shields and surgical gowns that Trump’s administration has steered to the state’s health-care workforce and first responders — and how it all represented just a “mere fraction” of the state’s true needs and of what the White House promised to provide.
“If we had relied upon the White House and its obligation to fulfill our needs from the SNS [Strategic National Stockpile], our state and nearly every state in the United States would come up short and could not protect our healthcare workers and our first responders. But here’s the good news: We haven’t trusted what we were told by the White House.”
“To anyone who wants a response to some of the blame-shifting coming out of the White House, all I have to say is look at some of the numbers,” Pritzker said.
The jousting with Trump came shortly before the president accused Pritzker Monday afternoon of displaying two different faces when it comes to assessing the federal government’s job performance.
“Even Governor Pritzker from Illinois is happy. He may not be happy when he talks to the press. But he’s happy,” Trump said. “He’s a very happy man.”
On Sunday night, the president went before cameras and ridiculed Pritzker.
“There’s a governor I hear him complaining all the time: Pritzker. He’s always complaining,” Trump told reporters. “And yet, I just said give me a list of a couple of the things we’ve done in Illinois. And we’re building a 2,500-bed hospital in McCormick Place. That’s a big convention center in Chicago. And we’re helping to staff it and probably we’ll end up staffing it because he’s not able to do what he’s supposed to be able to do as a governor. He has not performed well.”
Trump fumbled when getting into the specifics surrounding the newly opened McCormick Place care facility, which by the end of April will contain 3,000 beds for less seriously ill COVID-19 patients siphoned away from overburdened hospitals. Pritzker also said there had been no decision about whether a newly deployed influx of Army medical personnel coming to Illinois would set up shop at McCormick Place.
The tangling between Pritzker and the Republican president came as Illinois’ COVID-19 death toll continued its unrelenting climb. State public health authorities announced 33 new deaths from the virus Monday, bringing the statewide death toll to 307.
That makes the third consecutive day in which daily COVID-19 deaths have not risen beyond the low 30s, but Pritzker’s administration cautioned against reading too much into two or three days of stability.
Modeling by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation shows Illinois could reach its peak of daily deaths on April 12th, when 208 are forecast. To date, the highest daily total of COVID-19 deaths reported by the state has been 53, which occurred last Friday.
Of all the deaths so far, a WBEZ analysis of data from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office showed that African Americans are being hit disproportionately hard by the coronavirus, representing 58% of COVID-19 deaths countywide. Black residents comprise only 23% of the population in the county.
Asked about that disparity Monday, the governor said it was the result of generations of neglect of those communities’ needs and that the way to best monitor and fight the spread of COVID-19 among black residents is a significant beefing up of testing capacity.
“That’s a product of generations of systemic disinvestment in communities of color compounded by disparities in healthcare delivery systems and access. Acknowledging that truth is just one step. Our actions have to reflect our reality. The number one way to do that is testing,” he said.
State Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said 70% of all fatalities statewide have had underlying health problems, with the most prevalent maladies being hypertension, diabetes and heart disease — illnesses that she and the governor said also hit blacks disproportionately hard.
“There are a large number of people in the African American community with diabetes and with hypertension, and those are comorbidities that can cause greater problems with COVID-19,” Pritzker said.
The governor also pointed to fewer quality healthcare options in communities of color.
“So we are countering it both by reopening hospitals that are in those communities ... as well as by making sure we’re messaging properly. We’re using social media and our All In Illinois campaign to message directly into the African American community about stay at home, about making sure people are washing their hands, that they’re wiping down surfaces,” he said.
The governor covered several other areas of note at his daily COVID-19 briefing.
Yes, the governor knows what a Flowbee is: Pritzker said he has no plans to get a haircut, upon hearing that Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot got one herself over the weekend. “I actually feel like I’m getting a little shaggy. I’m going to turn into a hippie at some point here. My hair grows pretty fast,” he said. “Maybe I’ll learn to use a Flowbee or something else to cut my own hair.” The company that produces the devices, which retail for about $100, describe them as providing a “refreshing vacuum haircut.” Last month, hairdressers and salons were ordered closed by Pritzker as non-essential workers. Lightfoot defended her haircut Monday, saying the hairdresser who provided it to her wore a mask and gloves.
Warm weather expected Tuesday: Both Pritzker and Ezike tried to get ahead of the nice weather that’s predicted for Tuesday. “Do not go meet people. Do not,” Pritzker said, pleading with Illinois residents to stay inside or to stay within their own backyard. Dr. Ezike went further, saying, “Please stay home. I assure you if people congregate tomorrow, we will set the state back in our fight against COVID-19.” Downtown Chicago could see temperatures reach nearly 70 degrees Tuesday, in what could be a big test for the city’s orders to close the lakefront path, parks and playgrounds.
State budget problems: The governor hasn’t specifically spelled out how badly the abrupt shut-off of Illinois’ economy and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of workers has hurt state revenues. But Pritzker made clear the state will need financial help from Washington. “We’re looking hard at what we need to do to get revenue and expenditures in line with one another, but a lot will depend on the federal government,” the governor said, citing the need for another federal relief package. “The truth is, we’re going to need more. Every state is going to need more.”