Governor Offers Muted ‘Faith’ In White House COVID-19 Head

Pritzker Official Update
AP Photo
Pritzker Official Update
AP Photo

Governor Offers Muted ‘Faith’ In White House COVID-19 Head

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker offered a somewhat muted expression of faith Sunday for the head of the White House coronavirus task force, who has repeatedly avoided disavowing President Donald Trump’s musings about bleach injections and light beams as possible COVID-19 treatments.

Images of Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House task force, have gone viral on social media since she was seen last Thursday in seeming dismay of Trump’s wild and universally discredited statements touting the benefits of putting disinfectants inside the body.

In a round of network interviews, including two on the Sunday morning news shows Meet the Press and State of the Union, Birx avoided criticizing comments by the president that lit up poison-control hotlines around the country and prompted warnings from manufacturers like Lysol not to ingest its disinfectants.

“She’s highly educated and certainly, I think, seems to have good intentions. So, I think I have faith in her. I must say, personally, I think Dr. [Anthony] Fauci has been a very reliable source of information,” the governor said at his Sunday COVID-19 briefing, when asked if he still supported Birx being in her current role.

“I think we all saw some of the facial expressions that Dr. Birx made during the comments by the president. And I think that’s some indication of what her feelings are,” Pritzker said.

Since the president spoke Thursday, the state-funded Illinois Poison Center hotline has fielded “a couple dozen” calls from people asking about whether bleach carried the COVID-19-fighting health benefits Trump seemed to tout, the hotline’s spokesman, Danny Chun, said Sunday.

Two calls were more serious in nature and involved people who required medical treatment: one used a disinfectant as a nasal spray, and the other mixed bleach with mouthwash and gargled with it. Both callers said they had done so based on the president’s comments, Chun said.

Besides addressing Birx’s reaction to the president’s gaffe, Pritzker also responded angrily Sunday to an inflammatory tweet from former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who argued Illinois, with its massive unfunded pension crisis, was among states that should see no new federal COVID-19 relief money because they had “recklessly spent and taxed their way into oblivion.”

“I want to know if members of the Republican Party in Illinois agree with her, that Illinois doesn’t deserve to get any federal help,” Pritzker said when asked about Haley’s tweet. “That’s what I want to know.”

Meanwhile Sunday, Illinois marked its third straight day with more than 10,000 COVID-19 tests being administered statewide, a goal Pritzker has laid out in order to understand how prevalent the coronavirus is. Of the 13,335 tests performed, 2,126 were confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the state’s total now to 43,903, Pritzker said.

More importantly, 59 additional deaths were reported during the last 24 hours, bringing Illinois’ COVID-19 death toll to 1,933, the governor said. That daily death mark was the lowest since last Monday, when 59 deaths also were reported by the state.

In other developments Sunday on the COVID-19 front:

  • McCormick Place makeover: Pritzker said the state’s downsizing of the McCormick Place field hospital built to handle less seriously-ill COVID-19 patients means some staff assigned to the facility will be deployed to nursing homes and other coronavirus hotspots. Originally, the governor and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot set out to create a 3,000-bed facility at McCormick Place, but that is being scaled back because the state’s overall caseload has quit jumping exponentially. Initial plans called for using three of McCormick Place’s halls, but now only two will be needed with each housing 500 beds, the governor said. “We have the ability to move into the other spaces we have planned, but it doesn’t appear we’ll need those at least in the immediate future so we won’t staff those or fully build out the rest of those,” Pritzker said..

  • Disgust at Chicago house party: A video clip posted on Twitter showing a packed house party with people standing shoulder drew criticism Sunday from Pritzker. The social media post had over 153,000 views and demonstrated exactly the kind of behavior the governor wanted to avoid with his ban on large social gatherings and his stay-at-home order that now goes until the end of May. “By standing together, not social distancing, many people not wearing masks, you’re literally putting everyone around you in danger,” the governor said. “They are putting you in danger. And very importantly, all those people are putting their families and their friends who aren’t with them in danger.” He said the party needed to be broken up by police, and such gatherings could subject organizers to reckless conduct charges.

Dave McKinney covers Illinois state politics and government for WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter @davemckinney.