Aug 26, 2021

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker Announces Statewide Indoor Mask Mandate: Press Conference Transcript

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker Announces Statewide Indoor Mask Mandate: Press Conference Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsIllinois Governor J.B. Pritzker TranscriptsIllinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker Announces Statewide Indoor Mask Mandate: Press Conference Transcript

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker announced a statewide indoor mask mandate on August 26, 2021. Read the transcript of the press conference speech here.

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Gov. Pritzker: (00:00)
Well, good morning, everyone. I’m here with our Illinois Department of Public Health Director, Dr. Ngoze Ezike to address the current status of COVID-19 in Illinois, which driven by the Delta variant’s rapid spread in communities with low vaccination rates is increasingly causing concern for our hospital capacity in communities across Illinois.

Gov. Pritzker: (00:27)
Let’s be clear: the vaccination is the most effective tool we have for keeping people out of the hospital and preventing deaths. Nearly all Illinoisans who are hospitalized with COVID are the Illinoisans who are not vaccinated. And those hospitalizations are only increasing. Our ICU usage has multiplied by a factor of seven this summer alone.

Gov. Pritzker: (00:54)
From January through July, 98% of our cases are among the unvaccinated. 96% of our hospitalizations are among unvaccinated people. 95% of our deaths are among unvaccinated people. We are continuing to rely on experts at the CDC and IDPH, but you don’t need to be an epidemiologist to understand what’s going on here. This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. These are preventable deaths and beyond the tragedy of losing lives for no reason, this also means inflicting serious damage on communities. That’s because the regions with the lowest vaccination rates are the regions where there are fewer hospitals and lower hospital capacity. And those hospitals are sometimes the least well-equipped to handle cases as they become more acute. These are the ones currently getting hardest hit.

Gov. Pritzker: (01:59)
In Southern and East Central Illinois, fewer than half of residents are fully vaccinated compared with over 70% in suburban Cook County. And today our seven day rolling average for ICU bed availability in Southern Illinois is 3%. 3%. During the spring surge, the lowest ICU bed availability, anywhere in the state never dropped below 15%. Don’t think hospitals in other regions, aren’t challenged by this current surge, they are. But they started out with greater capacity, and even with more ICU beds, they are seeing availability diminish every day. For all of our hospitals in descending order of need. We’re providing resources and staff to help, but to be frank, healthcare staff are in short supply in part because in surrounding states we might draw staff from are in worse shape than Illinois.

Gov. Pritzker: (03:06)
At the end of the day, as it has always been during this pandemic, the best way to manage this situation is for people and communities to prevent sickness by slowing transmission with masks and vaccinations. So if you’re an elected leader from one of those highly infected communities, and you’re spending your time resisting masks, instead of working to get your people vaccinated, then your definition of public service looks a whole lot different than mine.

Gov. Pritzker: (03:39)
Earlier this month, I announced masks must be worn in all of our daycares, all our P-12 schools and all our long-term care facilities, regardless of vaccination status. Another step to protect the most vulnerable among us, the elderly and unvaccinated children and their families. We also required vaccinations for all state employees who work in congregate facilities and encouraged the private sector to follow suit. Already, we’ve seen employers like Loyola Medicine, Northwestern Medicine, you have iHealth, OSF Healthcare Rush Medical, Southern Illinois Healthcare Advocate, Aurora Health, Lurie Children’s Hospital, UChicago Medicine and Heritage Nursing do just that. And I thank them for their partnership.

Gov. Pritzker: (04:32)
Unfortunately, our current vaccination levels are not enough to blunt the ferocity of the Delta variant hospitalization surges in some regions. Hospital administrators are asking for more help to manage the sheer number of incoming patients, who I’ll emphasize again, are almost exclusively individuals who have chosen not to get the lifesaving vaccine. Hospital ICU beds are filling up once again.

Gov. Pritzker: (05:04)
Our hospital leaders look at their counterparts in Southern states where low vaccination rates mirror the Illinois communities they serve and they fear the worst is yet to come for us. To put it bluntly, because of the Delta variant hospitals are again fighting the battle that we had hoped would be behind us by now. I can’t begin to imagine how frustrating this must be for them.

Gov. Pritzker: (05:31)
They’ve spent 18 months on the front lines, fighting this virus. The tool to bring an end to the pandemic, vaccines is readily available, but your neighbors aren’t taking it, many because they’re being misled. And then these healthcare heroes have to put your own health and their family’s lives at risk, having to take care of people who could have their serious illness with a simple shot. Since the first COVID 19 vaccines were authorized last December, more than 8.2 million Illinoisans have received at least one dose of the vaccine. That’s 76% of our eligible population, and when you factor in our under 12 population, 65.2% of our overall population. We are proudly the most vaccinated state in the Midwest. But what that statistic doesn’t show is where our most vulnerable residents are the least protected. We have communities where the vaccination rate is in the teens or in the twenties, but their kids are just as deserving of safe in-person learning as those who are in the most protected communities. We have nursing homes where staff has less than 25% vaccinated, but those residents are just as deserving of a safe home as their counterparts in our most vaccinated facilities. Vaccination remains our strongest tool to protect ourselves and our loved ones, to restore post pandemic life to our communities, and most crucially to maintain our healthcare system’s ability to care for anyone who walks through their doors that needs help. I’m sure that if people understood that being unvaccinated could take a hospital bed from an accident victim, they might go get vaccinated. Unfortunately, we are running out of time as our hospitals run out of beds.

Gov. Pritzker: (07:33)
Today, I’m announcing a series of additional vaccine requirements aimed at protecting our most vulnerable residents, unvaccinated children and their families, and the ability of hospital systems to handle this surge. In Illinois, vaccines will be required for all P-12 teachers and staff, all higher education personnel, all higher education students and healthcare workers in a variety of settings, such as hospitals-

Gov. Pritzker: (08:02)
… workers in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, urgent care facilities, and physician’s offices. Effective September 5th, individuals what was working in these settings who are unable or unwilling to receive their first dose of vaccine will be required to get tested for COVID-19 at least once a week. DPH and ISBE may require more frequent testing in certain situations like in an outbreak. The COVID-19 vaccine has been available to the public for many months. In that time we’ve watched many of our most vulnerable individuals do what they can to protect themselves and get vaccinated. But unvaccinated workers in the healthcare system and at nursing homes have driven the majority of the breakthrough hospitalizations that we’ve seen in Illinois. Infecting elderly and immunocompromised residents who are the first to be hurt when their community isn’t safe.

Gov. Pritzker: (09:03)
Let me say that even more simply, if you’re unvaccinated, you’re getting the people in your care sick. It’s one reason why they’ll likely need booster shots and it’s why I’m instituting this vaccine requirement. I hope that more and more Illinoisans on the fence about the vaccine will get vaccinated as soon as possible. Remember, these vaccines are doing what they’re designed to do, essentially to eliminate the risk of hospitalization and death. In the meantime, Illinois will join several other states that have re-instituted statewide indoor mask requirements, regardless of vaccination status effective on and Monday. Masks work. Period.

Gov. Pritzker: (09:51)
The quick spread of this disease in Illinois and across the country is holding us all back from the post pandemic life that we so desperately want to embrace. It’s harming the most vulnerable among us. Hospital staff are becoming overwhelmed and overburdened. People are dying who don’t have to die. To be clear, what I am announcing today is a floor. At a minimum, those who work in schools and healthcare settings should be vaccinated or tested, keeping our kids and our most vulnerable, safe.

Gov. Pritzker: (10:22)
For state workers and congregate facilities, we have put in place more stringent requirements to protect our most vulnerable. I urge the private sector to do the same. A number of employers across the state have already instituted vaccine mandates and others can and should take this critical health and safety step so that we can finally bring this pandemic to an end. We have a tool in our hands that will save lives. We are at a crossroads. Thank you. With that, I would like to turn it over to our director of the department of public health, Dr. Ngozi Ezike. Doctor.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (11:09)
Good morning. As of last night, 2,184 individuals in Illinois were reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19. Of those, 489 were in the ICU and 241 were on ventilators. It’s been months and months since I’ve been reporting these numbers during press briefings. I was hoping we’d never have to be here again, but right now we’re seeing 220 individuals being admitted to the hospital every day with COVID. The last time we saw this high a number was in May. Cases reported today are more than 40 times higher than the low that we appreciated earlier this summer. We’re facing ICU hospital shortages. The ICU beds have run out, particularly in Southern Illinois and parts of Central Illinois, where the vaccination rates are the lowest. In Region 5, Southern Illinois, the least vaccinated region of the state, there was only one ICU bed available on Tuesday, and that’s not just one bed, one ICU bed for a COVID patient, that’s one ICU bed in the entire region for the 20 counties that it serves for anyone. Whether it’s appendicitis, a car crash, any kind of injury that would need a bed.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (12:51)
Most hospitals in different areas of the state are reaching capacity as well. The number of people in Illinois ICUs with COVID is seven times higher than it was at our low point this summer, just on July 7th. At the rate we’re going, Region 5 will not have any ICU beds as soon as tomorrow, and potentially next week for region four. Regions 3 and 6 could run out of ICU beds in mid September if the number of people being admitted to the hospital every day continues at its current rate. Our poor healthcare workers have been in the stressful work environment for a year and a half, and they’re tired and somewhat frustrated because we do have the tools that will help keep people out of the hospital. These hospitalizations are preventable, and vaccination is our tool.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (13:54)
On Monday, the FDA approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for everyone 16 years and older. For people who were hesitant because the vaccine had “not yet been approved” or was “experimental,” that excuse is gone, I urge you now to go and get vaccinated. FDA’s full approval of the COVID-19 vaccine after tens of thousands of clinical trial participants and months of real world data should help reassure everyone who has concerns about getting vaccinated. But let’s not forget the other effective tool that we had before we had vaccines, our masks. Wearing a mask continues to be one of the simplest, cheapest ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19. There is robust scientific evidence that widespread use of masks, including the nonmedical masks do in fact prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (14:55)
With our kids in school, who are too young to even be vaccinated, masking is the best way for them to actively protect themselves from COVID. For some schools, they’ve only been in for a few days or just a couple of weeks and we’ve already seen outbreaks and kids being sent home because they weren’t wearing masks. This includes an outbreak in the Carlisle School District in Southern Illinois, where already dozens of students have tested positive and hundreds of students have been placed in quarantine. If we actually want our kids to be in school for in-person learning, masking is a great protection and our best bet. The bottom line is masks are effective. Vaccines are effective. But until more people are vaccinated, we need to take the steps to protect our healthcare workers, protect our hospital resources and protect our most vulnerable. Thank you so much. I’m going to repeat these comments in Spanish. [foreign language 00:16:03]…

Spanish Interpreter: (16:01)
… repeat these comments in Spanish.

Spanish Interpreter: (16:06)
[Spanish 00:16:06]. And with that, I will turn it back over to Governor Pritzger for comments.

Governor Pritzger: (19:24)
Thank you, Dr. [inaudible 00:19:24] and happy to take-

Speaker 2: (19:25)

Governor Pritzger: (19:25)
… questions.

Speaker 2: (19:25)
… what’s the light at the end of the tunnel for folks? Do you have solid metrics that you’re going to put forth so that people know that at some point, they can get out of these [inaudible 00:19:37].

Governor Pritzger: (19:36)
First and foremost, as you heard, we’re looking at the hospitalizations and ICU beds. Until we alleviate the pressure on hospitals, we’re going to need to continue to put the pressure on for people to wear masks in indoor locations, and all the other mitigations that I’ve talked about today, and that we’ve had in place. So my number one concern is right now, keeping our healthcare system available, not just for people who may get COVID, ut for people who have other problems that would take them to the hospital.

Speaker 2: (20:12)
So what does alleviating pressure mean? I mean, you’ve used the 20% available ICU beds-

Governor Pritzger: (20:18)

Speaker 2: (20:19)
… as you messaged before. Is that what you’re going for?

Governor Pritzger: (20:21)
That is certainly one of the things that we look at. It’s the availability of ICU beds, the availability of hospital beds, and again, making sure that our hospitals have the personnel available to take care of people. Because I think you understand as well as others that when we talk about the number of beds that are available, ICUs or other, we’re really talking about staffing.

Governor Pritzger: (20:44)
Because it’s not usually the square footage in a hospital that’s a problem or the number of rooms. It’s truly just to be in a hospital room without staff, is to not really be in the hospital. So we need to make sure that the staffing levels are maintained. We’re doing everything we can to make that possible for our hospitals. Mary Anne?

Mary Anne: (21:02)
Governor, today, Jim [Durkin 00:21:05] has given us the note that he’s concerned that you did not again consult. That you spoke with him last night, but then moments later, he found out this is what you were going to do. So were you really honorable in looking out for his advice when you already had your decision made?

Governor Pritzger: (21:22)
I have always been available to the Leader for any calls that he wants to make with ideas, and to any other Republican legislator, Democratic legislator, and when the legislature talks to me, I listen. And I have asked for ideas from both sides of the aisle. People, as you recall early on in COVID-19, in this pandemic, I worked with a Republican legislator to ultimately put in place a mask mandate for the state back on May 1st. And so I continue to listen to try to adjust things and make them work for all parts of our state.

Speaker 3: (22:02)
He wants you to call a special session to bring the legislature in to deal with this and to get their formal input. Will you do that?

Governor Pritzger: (22:10)
I’m always open to hearing formal input from the legislature, and I think that he should go do whatever it is that he needs to do. They’re a co-equal branch of government. They should-

Speaker 3: (22:21)
Will you call a special session?

Governor Pritzger: (22:22)
Well, Republicans can call hearings and if they want to invite Democrats to it, they should, and can. If they don’t want to, they can still hold hearings. I’m sure you all will cover them and get ideas. I have asked all along here for any new ideas that anybody has about how to bring down the number of hospitalizations and ICU beds, how to bring down the spread of COVID, and I’ve listened when people have offered up those ideas.

Speaker 4: (22:47)
Is there a vaccine mandate for the Governor’s office for employees in the Governor’s office?

Governor Pritzger: (22:51)
Everybody in the Governor’s office has been vaccinated, yes.

Speaker 4: (22:55)
I guess why not then extend this vaccine mandate to the rest of the state’s workers?

Governor Pritzger: (22:59)
Well, as you’ve seen, we in fact have begun with the folks who are treating the most vulnerable in our state, in our veteran’s homes and our developmentally disabled facilities, et cetera. And we’re continuing to work with the unions. We have to negotiate that. That happens to be something that is required. So we’re in the process of that, but we’ve set a deadline of October 4th for that. And there’s no doubt that I want to extend this and make sure that more people are getting vaccinated throughout the state, including especially our state employees.

Speaker 5: (23:34)
Governor, has the lottery been affected? It seems like it was a lot of money, and yet we didn’t ever… Unless I missed it, I never heard from anybody who said they won the lottery because of the vaccines. That they went and got vaccinated because of it.

Governor Pritzger: (23:49)
Sure. Well, I think you can look at the numbers, the numbers actually, we did quite well as compared to previous weeks. It took a little while to ramp up, but actually, our vaccinations did go up, I think as more people heard about that. But we were doing much more than just having a lottery.

Governor Pritzger: (24:03)
… I think as more people heard about that, but we were doing much more than just having a lottery at the time; lots of messaging on social media, lots of advertising on television, you may have seen some of that. And all of that works together to encourage people to go get vaccinated and we hope that people will just choose on their own. I mean, today I encourage everybody just go get vaccinated. It’s very available to you. We want to make sure that people do it, and I hope that they’ll do it voluntarily right now because they’re hearing, as I stand here as Dr. Ezike stands here, that we have an increasing number of people who are getting the Delta variant and its transmissibility is very, very worrisome to all.

Speaker 6: (24:42)
Governor, you’re very concerned about hospitals, and yet I think studies show and we’ve talked about this probably a couple of weeks ago that maybe only 60% of hospital staff statewide are actually vaccinated. Why not impose a vaccine mandate on all hospital and healthcare workers?

Governor Pritzger: (24:59)
Healthcare workers are now being required to get vaccinated or to get tested. Yeah.

Speaker 6: (25:05)
By the state or by their own employer?

Governor Pritzger: (25:07)
No, also by the state.

Speaker 7: (25:10)
Governor, what’s the threshold to withdrawal the mask mandates at school? Are you looking at the positivity rate, hospitalizations, death rates?

Governor Pritzger: (25:18)
We have to begin to see the curve bend as we have before. Right now, we’re not anywhere near close to that. It appears to us like we’re going to continue at a linear level, I hope only at a linear level, increasing until some of the effect of mass requirements and vaccine requirements actually will impact the numbers.

Speaker 8: (25:40)
Governor, since you announced your restore Illinois plan last spring, it’s been on a regional basis. You have the four regions and then 11. Why not listen to a regional thing? I mean, look, this is your own data that I [inaudible 00:25:54], and almost all of the regions except for Southern Illinois are on a downward trend. Obviously hospitalizations are a lagging indicator, but why not split it up by regions as you’ve done before?

Governor Pritzger: (26:06)
Well, the first thing I would remind you is that we are in a much different situation this year now than we were last year or even early in the year. We now have vaccines that are widely available to everybody, that’s very important to note. Even earlier on in the year when there we were essentially limiting the number of people who could get vaccinated because there just wasn’t enough vaccine, it was a different situation than today. As I’ve said before, we’re no longer in that situation. This is a new paradigm, a situation in which vaccines are widely available and in which we know that masks and vaccines, particularly together, keep people safe.

Speaker 9: (26:48)
We’ll do one more.

Marianne: (26:48)
Can I ask Dr. Ezike a question?

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (26:51)

Marianne: (26:51)
Will you start giving us the numbers daily again or are we going to get them weekly?

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (27:00)
I mean, I think the answer to that is whatever would be helpful to signal the appropriate alarm. Sorry, I’m stuck here. Signal the appropriate alarm and make sure that people are educated with what is happening. If that is what is helpful. Obviously, it is a resource to and time on our already stretched out staff, but we want to make sure that we make the data available to people so that they can make the most informed decision.

Marianne: (27:27)
I would think you all have that.

Speaker 10: (27:29)
It’s updated daily on the website, Marianne. Yeah.

Marianne: (27:30)
Oh, I thought it was weekly.

Speaker 10: (27:31)
No, it’s updated daily.

Marianne: (27:31)
I’m sorry.

Speaker 10: (27:31)

Speaker 9: (27:33)
Last question. Did someone who didn’t get a question have a question? Did you get one yet?

Speaker 11: (27:41)
Yeah, go ahead.

Speaker 9: (27:41)

Speaker 12: (27:41)
Governor, is the state considering to have extra beds available, like in the past where the National Guard was called and there was different areas like the McCormick Place with additional beds?

Governor Pritzger: (27:54)
Well, like I said earlier, the issue is less one of space now than it is of personnel. As you know, our National Guard is really made up of Illinoisans already. If they’re medical personnel, we’d be taking them out of some other facility in order to deploy them for this, somewhere where they may likely be treating someone with COVID-19 or maintaining our hospital availability. The answer is no. We don’t currently have a plan to build out more space or to put more beds in somewhere. Our biggest concern is staffing. Again, we’ve deployed staffing from state government, what we have available and what we’ve contracted for and kept in place, those contracts, to places like Southern Illinois, where this is the biggest problem of any region.

Speaker 9: (28:46)
All right. This is the last one. Craig, last one. Okay, Marianne, Craig, and then we’re done here.

Governor Pritzger: (28:53)

Craig: (28:54)
The question about capacity limits, obviously you’re talking about indoor masks, so we’ve got issues of how many people can be in there, if they’re going to be crowded in with masks, are you considering any kind of capacity limits? And if not, why not?

Governor Pritzger: (29:07)
Well, as I’ve said, there’s obviously a menu of things you’ve seen us deploy over the course of the last year and a half. That’s not something that we’re currently looking at. I wouldn’t hope or anticipate that we would go back to something like that. But again, I think we all know when these numbers get to a place where it gets out of control or it’s at a place where we truly can’t treat people in hospitals, you have to take further steps. I don’t anticipate that we’ll get there and that’s not something that’s currently on the table.

Speaker 9: (29:37)

Marianne: (29:38)
Governor, are your campaign commercials, were your too soon? It seemed as if you were saying mission accomplished.

Governor Pritzger: (29:44)
Oh no, that’s not the case. I’ll just say, number one, I think one of the messages here has been that the people of Illinois actually have done most of the work here to keep people safe. It’s they who are wearing masks. It is they who are getting vaccinated. To the extent there’s any advertising about it, it’s really just about leadership. It’s about just reminding people that when you’re in a crisis, it takes real leaders to step up and do the right thing.

Speaker 9: (30:12)
All right. Thanks, everyone.

Governor Pritzger: (30:12)
Thank you.

Speaker 13: (30:12)
Governor, can you detail the studies on which your making this decision for a statewide mask mandate? People just want to know.

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