Aug 17, 2020

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker Press Conference Transcript August 17

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker Press Conference Transcript August 17
RevBlogTranscriptsIllinois Governor J.B. Pritzker TranscriptsIllinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker Press Conference Transcript August 17

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker held a press conference on COVID-19 on August 17. He discussed new restrictions for the Metro East area. Read the full transcript of his briefing speech here.

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Governor Pritzker: (00:00)
Yeah. Got you. Got you. Hi, how are you? Good to see you.

Elizabeth Patton-Whiteside: (00:22)
Good afternoon. My name is Elizabeth Patton-Whiteside, the administrator here of East Side Health District. It is with pleasure that East Side Health District welcomes Governor Pritzker and his team to our facility. Before he graces the podium, I have a message for the people, I mean, my people. If I sound like an angry black woman, I am. I’m not speaking from someone who just works in this community, I live right here. I see and I feel what happens here. I’m tired. My staff is tired. The legislators are tired. Why? We’ve got a job to do, but so do you. I cover four impoverished townships in St. Claire County, that’s East St. Louis, Centerville, Stites and Canteen. Within my jurisdiction, I have numerous strip clubs, regular nightclubs, what seems to be a liquor store and a church on every corner and poor citizens who are predominantly African American and Latino.

Elizabeth Patton-Whiteside: (01:38)
This is a mecca of the comorbidities for the coronavirus. I’m talking high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, respiratory, and cardiac issues and poverty. This is a breeding ground for coronavirus. So people you need to wake up, you need to step up, you need to do better. Health officials can not stop this virus alone. I’m not just talking to the businesses alone. I’m talking to the people. I’m talking to you and you and you, everybody. Do your part and save yourself. We’ve made testing available. We’ve told you how to protect yourself; wash your hands, wear a mask, social distance, six feet apart, to get tested and don’t gather in large unprotected areas or groups.

Elizabeth Patton-Whiteside: (02:38)
Your buddy that you’re hanging with on the corner, in the park at church, at parties, or even at funerals, maybe passing your casket next week. Think about it is your life worth it? Stop the crap about the test hurts or I’m healthy. I don’t need to be careful. The test is not painful and you are not as healthy as you think. We have laid the plan for you to follow. Preventing and stopping the virus starts with you, or it ends with the undertaker. It’s your choice. Wash your hands, wear a mask, social distance, stop gathering in groups and get tested. With that, I would like to introduce Governor Pritzker.

Governor Pritzker: (03:33)
Thank you very much. Thank you very much to Elizabeth Patton-White and especially to you and your staff here at the East Side Health District office for hosting us today. And maybe more importantly, for working to see this region through the past six months and for so much longer than that, as safely as possible. To our St. Claire County chairman, Mark Kern to East St. Louis Mayor Eastern Leader Hoffman, Senator Belt, our Representative Stewart, Senator Crow, Representative Greenwood. Thank you. Thanks to all of you for your leadership here in this region and for your partnership in ensuring that we keep our community safe and making sure that we get the word out to all of our residents.

Governor Pritzker: (04:31)
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I have made it clear that neither arbitrary dates on a calendar nor political pressure can change the facts and the science that will determine what efforts Illinois should make to protect our people and I mean, all of our people. If the data shows the virus is spreading, I won’t hesitate to tighten restrictions to protect our communities. I’ve said that all along. Your health and safety is my paramount concern. For three days in a row region four, including the entire Metro East region, has exceeded an 8% average positivity rate, a trigger for new stricter mitigations based upon the resurgence plan that was announced back in July.

Governor Pritzker: (05:22)
In collaboration with officials here in the region and across the border in St. Louis, IDPH has announced that starting tomorrow, region four will be operating under the following new mitigations: Gathering limits. Gathering limits will be reduced to the lesser of 25 individuals or 25% of overall room capacity. All bars, restaurants, gaming facilities, and casinos will close at 11:00 PM, matching the newly imposed closing times for St. Louis. Party buses will be closed. Reservations will be required for each party at restaurants and bars and no congregating indoors or outdoors. Bar stools will be removed at bars to help ensure that no ordering, seating or congregating takes place at the bar. Bar stools will be removed at bars to help ensure that that happens. Dining party sizes will be limited to six people and tables should continue to be six feet apart. No matter which side of this border that you call home, your community is facing concerning trends in positivity rates, rates that we aren’t seeing in most of the other areas of Illinois.

Governor Pritzker: (06:46)
It is in the best interests of all St. Louis and Metro East residents, Illinoisans and Missourians alike, to take action now to bring down the positivity rate and we’re working together across the border to make sure that that happens. But to be clear, although we’re imposing tier one mitigations now, we could be just a step away from additional mitigations if things don’t turn around in the next two weeks. That can include the closure of indoor bars and dining as well as potentially more stringent steps as demands and deemed necessary by health officials. If the positivity rate remains at or above 8% on average after 14 days, that is what will happen here in Metro East. On the flip side, if the positivity rate falls below 6.5% on average, these new mitigation measures will be removed in this region, we’ll return to phase four of the restore Illinois plan. Dr. Ezike and I are here to support local leaders and residents and to send a message. If you haven’t been taking this seriously yet, now is the time to start. Wear a mask to maximize the chance that children can have in-person learning this fall, maintain six feet of physical distance to keep the small business owners dining rooms open and retail stores in business.

Governor Pritzker: (08:23)
Each of us has a role to play in the future of this region’s health and economy. In that same vein, today IDP rolling out travel guidance. This guidance, which can be found on the IDPH website, is meant to serve as a resource for individuals to make the best decisions for themselves, for their loved ones and for their communities when planning travel, whether work-related, or for leisure. Our goals, to save lives, reduce the spread of the virus to keep the economy moving forward, far outweigh any personal inconvenience. This is about preserving the people and the places that we love and we need all our residents to take this seriously and to protect yourselves and each other. Wear a mask, keep some distance and don’t indulge folks who think that they know more than the experts. We Illinoisans are safer and stronger when we follow the science and stand together. Thank you and now I’d like to turn it over to our state public health director for today’s update Dr. Ngozi Ezike. Doctor.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (09:45)
Good afternoon, everyone. Happy to be here with you and thank you, Governor. I was in church yesterday. It was essentially empty, trying to get the word out. But it was good to be in the church, but I feel like Miss Elizabeth just took us to church again, so thank you for that message. We really want to take a look at what’s happening statewide and I think you guys have all heard the information that the numbers are going up across the entire state. Today, we are reporting that 1,773 Illinoisans were newly diagnosed with COVID-19 over the last 24 hours and unfortunately we’re adding 12 additional people who have lost their fight with COVID. This brings the total number of individuals in Illinois with COVID-19 to 207,854 individuals and a staggering 7,756 individuals that have lost their lives. In the hospital overnight, we had 1,544 individuals who were in hospitals throughout the state of Illinois and of those, 340 were actually in the ICU and 126 were on ventilators. In the last 24 hours, we did report out 20,000…

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (11:02)
In the last 24 hours, we did report out 38,000 new lab results, and that makes a total of over 3.4 million tests that have been done in this state. So yes, we are working to increase the number of tests across the state and especially here in the Metro East area.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (11:20)
In early May, we set up a community-based testing site at the Jackie Joyner Kersee Center in East St. Louis, and we’re scheduling the mobile testing teams at various locations in Region 4, and that will continue. We continue to work closely with our local health department leads, with Miss Elizabeth and the other leaders in this area. We’ve been on phone calls all hours of the day and night and weekends, and I thank all of your wonderful public health leaders for their leadership and their collaboration.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (11:52)
Although we are here today because of the growing amount of COVID-19 in the Metro East area, we do know that this virus does not recognize borders in specific regions and it doesn’t stop at the edge of a region or a county. And that’s why we are trying to help residents of Illinois make the best decisions they can.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (12:19)
So we are launching a COVID-19 travel map. And on this travel map, you can look at it and residents can try to identify where there are a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 versus others. We know that people may have to travel, but potentially, based on where you may go, that travel may increase your risk of exposure to COVID-19 by putting you in contact with people who have a higher chance of having the virus.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (12:52)
So as you move, whether it’s by bus or by train or by airport, think about the entire trip, not just the final destination, but how will you get safely to the bus terminal or the airport? How will you move through the train terminal or the airport terminal? How will you handle the check-in and the security? Think about all of that and how to be a safe as possible when you’re planning your travel. If you’re going by car, think about as you’re stopping for gas and food, you also want to think about, “Oh, what are the rates in this area,” so that you can just make sure you’re extremely cautious as you stop for whatever you need to do.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (13:33)
So the IDPA travel map will easily show you the States where the average daily case rate is above 15 cases per hundred thousand population, and we designate that as higher risk. So if you are opportune to be taking a vacation or you’re able to get a couple of days away and you have some choice in the matter, please take a look at this map. It’s some simple guidance. Maybe it will help you make a choice to pick one location over another. This can help you decide.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (14:06)
We know that travel can’t always be avoided. You might be crossing the border every day to go to work. You might have family just on the other side of the border. You may have a family matter that you have to go to one of these quote, hot states. I just want you to know what’s going on in the place that you’re going to and make the best choices for yourself and take all the necessary precautions. And those precautions, no matter where you’re going, what you’re doing, are the same three Ws, washing your hands frequently or using hand sanitizer, watching your distance, maintaining that six feet of distance, and of course, wearing face coverings.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (14:45)
In these times, it’s important to know all that we can do, and it seems simple, but it really can work. We want to help each other avoid becoming infected. When possible, you have to keep the distance with the mask. And even if you’re standing in lines, try to maintain that distance. So whether you’re traveling to another country, another state, another county, or even staying right at home in your area, it’s important that we keep doing what we know will work. This is how we’re going to reduce the spread of this virus and this is how we’re going to get back to where we were.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (15:23)
And now for our Spanish speaking population, [foreign language 00:04: 28].

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (18:52)
And with that, I would like to turn the podium over to Chairman Kern.

Chairman Kern: (19:01)
Thank you, Doctor. So I would like to thank Governor Pritzker for being here today, and Dr. Ezike, thank you for your dedication. In fact, they’ve been here so much during these late times that we may have to consider getting Governor Pritzker a census form to fill out because he is always here. But make no mistake, the Governor isn’t here because he wants to be here. It’s because this region has gone over the positivity rate of 8% for the past three days. And according to our calculations, we’re over today also, and we don’t see that going down anytime in the very near future.

Chairman Kern: (19:41)
And so it’s important then that we listen to the restrictions that the Illinois Department of Public Health had put forward, that the Governor’s office has talked about today, and that we act on those.

Chairman Kern: (19:54)
Elizabeth Patton-Whiteside stood here and said all the great words. She represents the East Side Health District, and what she said is absolutely true, and Liz backs that up. So we had a club that was a bad actor. They were doing all the wrong things. And Elizabeth came forward, worked with the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department, worked with our state’s attorney, and she gained compliance. That’s really what it’s all about. There’s nobody here that wants to close a business. What we want to do is protect the citizens and make sure that the spread of COVID is arrested so that we can all go back to our normal lives so that we don’t have a significant spread in our community.

Chairman Kern: (20:34)
That’s why we see Team St. Clair, that’s what I call them, standing behind us today, helping with this, all of our elected officials, everybody’s out there trying to get the word out. The media has been very good at that also and we appreciate their presence here today. Let’s get the word out. Let’s stop the spread. Let’s wash our hands. Let’s wear those masks and let’s watch the distance. Thank you.

Governor Pritzker: (21:02)
All right, next up I want to introduce a Mayor Robert Eastern, who probably knows better than anyone here that COVID-19 is dangerous and something that can catch you unaware. And so, Mayor Eastern, thank you for being here.

Mayor Robert Eastern: (21:27)
Good afternoon. I’m Mayor Robert Eastern III of the city of East St. Louis. And Governor, you’re correct. I contracted COVID-19. I was diagnosed positive on July the 13th. I was okay feeling-wise. That Wednesday, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I never felt that bad in my life. I was scared not knowing what the outcome may be. So upon from that, I missed when he was here on, I think he was there here that week that I contracted COVID-19 in the South-

Mayor Robert Eastern: (22:03)
… earlier this week, that week that I contracted COVID-19 in the South end of the city. And it kept me away from my duties as mayor. And I started thinking about the things that we can do and the things that we haven’t done and the people that it had affected. So once I got back on my feet, I along with my city council and I see Councilman Dancy is her and we appreciate your support. And as well as all the other Councilmen, as of Thursday, August the 13th, the city passed a new ordinance regarding face covering. All persons within the municipality boundary of the city engaging in any activity outside of a private residence, shall wear a protective face mask covering. For more information on the substance and enforcement of this ordinance, it can be found on our website at

Mayor Robert Eastern: (22:50)
We’re a close community here in East St. Louis. And when one person is hurting, we all are hurting. This COVID-19 virus can be preventable if we do the necessary things, as everyone stated. We are all impacted. This disease does not care about who you are, what race, what religion, age demographics, of nothing. It will attack you and you will succumb to it. East St. Louis, I actually just stayed patient and to take proper safety measures so we all can start focusing back on and rebuilding our new normal. The JJK Center, as the state is, is still offering free testing from 8:00 to 4:00, Monday through Friday. Please make sure you get tested regularly. We do not want people to not stop getting tested. That’s the key. We have to get tested. And those individuals that have tested positive, continue to get tested so that we won’t pass that on to someone else.

Mayor Robert Eastern: (23:47)
I stayed in the house a week and a half after they told me that I was off of quarantine just because I wanted to make sure that I was safe and keeping those around me safe. I could not do the things that we’re doing down at city to try to keep people safe without the support of my council. And I just want to say, as I experienced COVID-19, we had a council person who experienced COVID-19 as well by losing a loved one that succumbed to this virus. We need you to buy in. It’s all in Illinois with the mask. We support the governor and everything that he does, and we appreciate him. We can not do this about the numbers. We cannot do anything that we do without getting the numbers.

Mayor Robert Eastern: (24:27)
What am I talking about? Also, we need to… and I hope I’m not out of line, but I have to say this, is our census. We need to get counted here in the city of East St. Louis because as we stand here in this East side health district, if those numbers are not up, we stand in danger for losing such facilities as this. We need the citizens to buy in to everything that we’re doing. Keep yourself safe as it relates to COVID, do your census and stay safe. Thank you.

Governor Pritzker: (24:57)
Thank you, Mayor Eastern. And now I’d like to introduce someone who’s been… he doesn’t just carry the title leader, he has been a real leader in Springfield on behalf of the people not only of his district here, but also across the state of Illinois. And that’s Representative Jay Hoffman.

Jay Hoffman: (25:17)
Well, thank you, governor. I’ve known you for, I guess, nearly two decades, if not more. And I know that this is the last thing that you’d like to do. It’s not easy. It’s difficult. It’s difficult for all of us because what we want to see is reduction in the spread of this virus and these necessary steps have to be taken in order to address the spike that we’re seeing in this region. So on behalf of Senator Belt, Senator Crowe, Representative Greenwood, as well as Representative Stewart, we’d like to thank you, governor and Dr. Ezike for making the commitment to this region to provide increased testing, to provide mobile testing, to make sure that we in St. Clair County we’re one of the first counties to begin tracing in a pilot program, to trace individuals who were with the person who tested positive.

Jay Hoffman: (26:10)
Only through increased testing and tracing are we going to get this under control. So I ask everyone in this region, we have testing available through Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation. Through the mobile units, through the department at Jackie Joyner Kersee. And we’re going to continue to provide adequate testing and increased testing so that we can get this under control. Please, please work with all of us and let’s not go back to phase three. Let’s take these precautionary measures now, and then let’s go back to where we need to be and that’s phase four. Thank you again. (silence).

Governor Pritzker: (27:04)
… and Senator Belt has truly been a partner in so much that we’ve gotten accomplished for this region and for the entire state. So Senator Belt.

Senetor Belt: (27:19)
Good afternoon. It’s very unfortunate that we are standing here today for a press conference for something like this. I would much rather not had this press conference today. With protocol being established to Governor Pritzker, Dr. Ezike and their whole team, I just want to echo the sentiments of leader Hoffman, you guys have done a phenomenal job in a very difficult situation, which brings me to really what I want to speak about. We can do all the things and say all the things and post the wear your mask, or wash your hands or social distance, but it’s really up to the community members to do it. We’ve done our part. And so we have to be really committed to doing this thing together.

Senetor Belt: (28:21)
Now, I want to address some of the emails that I’ve gotten since we’ve started this journey in March. To all of my anti maskers or to those who believe that this virus is a figment of your imagination. For those who failed to believe the science behind this pandemic, we need you. Let’s find the middle ground and get through this thing together. That’s the only way we’ll make it. We have to do it together. We can continue to say, wash your hands, wear your mask and socially distance. We could bring in testing centers. But if we don’t have the buy in, we won’t get there. And I understand your belief systems. At the end of the day, you are what you believe but we have to find the middle ground. And whether it’s just to be polite or courteous, let’s find the middle ground. Maybe it’s not your thing to be polite or courteous.

Senetor Belt: (29:42)
Maybe it’s more about the economic rebirth and rebound of Region 4 in the state. Let’s get there together. Let’s find that middle ground. Let’s say, whether or not you believe the science, whether or not you believe what the governor has been saying since day one, do it for your neighbor. Do it if you really believe that the economy needs to rebound and rebirth, because we’re going in the wrong direction right now. What we’re doing isn’t working. And so with that being said, I would challenge the state as a whole. I would challenge Region 4 in particular. Let’s come together and fight this common foe. It’s really not about a philosophical debate about assigning a right or a wrong value to this thing. We don’t have that type of time to do that.

Senetor Belt: (30:42)
People are dying as we speak. People are getting infected at an alarming rate and sick as we speak. Let’s not do that. Let’s put our differences aside. Let’s come together in the words of Dr. King, in the fierce urgency of now, and let’s get this thing fixed. And it is my hope, it is my belief that we can do it. It is my hope, it is my belief that in a month in this very same spot that we’re here today, that Governor Pritzker will be here to extol the virtues of Region 4 on reducing our positivity rate to below 6.5 or at 6.5. Region 4, we got work to do, but I know we can do it. Region 4, the state of Illinois, continue to be safe and be well, thank you.

Governor Pritzker: (31:46)
Happy to take questions from members of the media/ but just before I do that, I want to just clarify. First of all, Mayor Eastern, we are so pleased that you recovered so well. And really, our prayers were with you the whole time. I reached out to you during that time and we need you healthy and strong, and we’re glad you’re back. And to Chairman Kern, I love coming here. Now, obviously there are some subjects I’d rather talk about than others like the infrastructure that we’re building in the area, the investments we’re making here in Metro East and St. Clair County, Madison County, and throughout the region. This is not my favorite topic, that is true. But a necessary one nonetheless. And I’ll be here anytime I’m needed for the good news or the bad news. So with that, I’m happy to take members of the media questions. Yes.

Governor Pritzker: (32:51)
Let me answer the first part or the second part of the question first, which is will it be enough? I don’t know. The thing about this virus is it’s insidious. I mean, you have to… unfortunately you put a mitigation in place.

Governor Pritzker: (33:03)
You have to, unfortunately, you put a mitigation in place. And then, you really have to watch for 14 days because that’s how long it takes to go from transmitting to somebody, them being asymptomatic, and then symptomatic. And we’ll know whether or not the case rate, the positivity rate is going up or down during that 14 days and really at the 14 day mark. So, that’s what I would say about the second part of your question. First part is, did we consider other mitigations? Well, as you know, on our website and as we’ve talked about for more than a month now, I believe, there are tiers of mitigations. This is just tier one. And so, there are other mitigation strategies that we can put in place. This was the beginning. We want to see whether these will be effective. Trying to match the mitigations around bars and restaurants in St. Louis seemed like the right thing to do. We took guidance from your local public health officials and public health officials throughout this region to try to figure out what’s the right thing to do.

Governor Pritzker: (34:09)
What we didn’t want to have happened was, if we put a more stringent application in place, that we didn’t want people to get up and try to drive into St. Louis to go to their bars and restaurants, which would be open later than the bars and restaurants here. So, we brought down the time to match theirs in St. Louis. There are others, meetings in a smaller gathering group and so on. But we’ll look at other mitigations if we have to. We don’t want to. Like I said, this is one of my least favorite things to do. I want businesses to thrive. I want people to be free to do what it is that they want to do. But I want to make sure that people are safe and healthy. And that’s the design of these mitigations.

Speaker 2: (34:53)

Governor Pritzker: (34:54)
Yes, ma’am.

Speaker 2: (34:55)
Thank you.

Governor Pritzker: (34:55)

Speaker 2: (34:55)
You posted on Facebook that people traveling from Illinois to Missouri who let their guard down are putting the Illinois economy at risk. Why is it so much worse in Missouri, in your opinion? And what’s your message for people here who have to cross the border?

Governor Pritzker: (35:09)
Look, from the beginning, they had lower levels of mitigations put on in Missouri. And I think that’s had an effect on their overall positivity rate, which is higher than that of Illinois. I would remind everybody that across the whole state, if you put the whole state together, we still have a lower positivity rate than all of our neighbors. But we’re fast moving in the wrong direction and catching up, unfortunately, with some of our neighbors. And so, when I talk about Missouri, the city of St. Louis has done a better job, let’s say, and the county of St. Louis has done a better job than some of the surrounding counties and other parts of Missouri. I know that they didn’t really have many statewide mitigations put in place. I think we were maybe a little more careful here about how we brought back, in Restore Illinois, businesses and more activity. And now, I’m concerned, frankly, that all this activity has led to an increasing positivity rate.

Governor Pritzker: (36:09)
In order for us to avoid stricter mitigation across the state, and even here in this region after this, people really need to wear their mask and they really need to keep that social distance. If they do that, we can keep this economy going. In fact, we can grow our economy at a faster rate than our surrounding states because people will see Illinois as it is now as a safer state to be in.

Speaker 3: (36:33)
[inaudible 00:36:35], Governor.

Governor Pritzker: (36:34)
Yes, ma’am. I want to get this gentleman after you.

Speaker 3: (36:36)

Governor Pritzker: (36:36)

Speaker 3: (36:37)
Real quick.

Governor Pritzker: (36:38)
Yeah. Yes, ma’am.

Speaker 3: (36:38)
Can you reassure the residents about the contact tracing program introduced in May with the resurgence of the COVID-19 [inaudible 00:03:45]. Can you talk about that?

Governor Pritzker: (36:46)
Yes. Yes. Sure. So, the question was about the contact tracing program, that we began a pilot program actually right here in this area. And remember, the purpose of contact tracing is to make sure that anybody that comes in contact with someone who has tested positive is notified so they can themselves quarantine, isolate for long enough so that they know they didn’t contract COVID-19.

Governor Pritzker: (37:14)
When we were spinning up the program, we wanted to make sure that we went to places where we thought we had a pretty good base of contact tracing and where we knew that there was a real need. This region we knew had a real need. Lake County up near Chicago had a real need. And so, we focused on those two as just the very beginning. Then we were able to put in place a grant program for public health departments all across the state so that we could grow contact tracing. And just so you’re aware, we’ve grown our contact tracing capability from around 500 to over 1,900… contact tracing. So, we want to see them catch up. They are in a process, but it’s a lengthier-

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