Oct 19, 2020
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker Press Conference Transcript October 19
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker held a press conference on October 19 to provide coronavirus updates. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
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Governor Pritzker: (00:03)
Well, good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today’s COVID-19 update briefing. I wanted to take a moment just to thank Carbondale mayor Mike Henry for joining us today. He’s been a real champion of public health throughout this coronavirus crisis. I also want to recognize Jackson County Board Chair, Keith Larkin, and thank him for his leadership. During the first three months of this pandemic, I held a daily news briefing on COVID-19. Over the summer, I reduced the single-subject COVID briefings to once a week as Illinois began to see relative success in keeping this virus at bay, with every region of the state qualifying to reopen more sectors of the economy under phase four of the Restore Illinois plan in late June. While we continue to see a safer pandemic landscape than back in April and May, in terms of positivity, hospital capacity, and community spread, we’re much safer rather than the other states across the Midwest.
Governor Pritzker: (01:21)
Things have changed. Every region of the state has started to move in the wrong direction. Cases, positivity rates, hospitalizations, and deaths are rising statewide. So to ensure that you have the utmost transparency on where our state is headed, Dr. Ezike and I will resume these COVID-19 briefings on a daily basis every weekday until Illinois returns to a better standing in our COVID metrics. Which brings me to today’s news. Over the weekend and into today, Southern Illinois, comprising Region 5, has triggered our fail-safe metric of a sustained average positivity rate above 8%. Southern Illinois now sits at a rolling positivity rate of 9.1%. We’re also seeing COVID-related hospitalizations rise across this region. Starting Thursday, Region 5 will move to increased mitigations, including the temporary closure of indoor dining and indoor bar service, and a reduction of group gatherings to 25 people. So our state now has 2 of 11 regions sitting above the public health department’s 8% threshold for resurgence mitigations, Region 5 and Region 1 in Northwest Illinois, which entered tightened mitigations on Saturday, October 3rd, and has seen its positivity climb up to a rolling of 11.1%. We were glad to see hospital admissions in that area stabilize after a period of growth, but are closely monitoring the situation after an uptick in the last several days. As for the rest of our regions, every single one has seen an increase in positivity rate over the last week. Even more concerning, the lowest regional positivity rate in our state is now 6.2%. Both Regions 7 and 8 have surpassed a rolling average of 8%, and could join Region 5 in meeting the metrics for heightened mitigations as soon as tomorrow. Nearly every region in the state has seen an increase in COVID-related hospitalizations over the last week. Thursday, we set a record high of cases identified in one day, and then we beat that record on Friday. All of this takes place in a national landscape of increasing positivity rates and where the majority of our border states have been called out as national hotspots, with Indiana and Missouri seeing hospitals reaching capacity with ICU shortages, and with Wisconsin’s need so severe that the state has opened a field hospital with plans for more potentially in the works.
Governor Pritzker: (04:29)
Our neighboring states of Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Indiana all have double digit positivity rates reaching as high as nearly 25%. We can’t wall off Illinois from the surge, but we can take extra precautions and do better than others at following the mitigations that slow the spread. Let me reiterate what I’ve been saying for months. Ours will not be one of the states that takes no action in response to rising cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Following public health recommendations will bring our numbers down and save our economy, and let more of our kids go to school. Experts have predicted for months that the country could see a resurgence of the virus as temperatures get colder and more people spend more time inside. Here in Illinois, it looks like a new wave could be upon us. It’s everyone’s grave concern that we may be going into the holiday season, a time in which we know people are likely to drop their guard and take greater risks, with surging cases, positivity, hospitalizations, and deaths. But there’s another fact that I want to stress to all of you too, and is that we know a good deal more about how to monitor and address this pandemic than we did at the beginning, and we’ve built up resources preparing for the possibility of a fall or winter wave of coronavirus. First and foremost, Illinois now has the best and most widely available testing infrastructure between the two coasts. That’s also one of the reasons that you see a higher raw number of positive test results. Statewide, our COVID-related deaths per day are down from an average high of 117 per day in mid May, though, up from a low in August.
Governor Pritzker: (06:32)
The number of COVID positive hospitalizations, including in the ICU, has dropped from over 4,800 in early May to approximately 2000 today. Hospitals and researchers have evolved new techniques to improve outcomes for those who come into the healthcare system battling COVID-19, and the rest of us are much more equipped to slow and stop this virus which we now know primarily spreads through respiratory droplets with person to person contact. How can we slow it? Using masks, distance, hand-washing, and an understanding that we’re all in this together. Our greatest asset at this point is an ability to understand, on a more localized basis, areas of concern around our state through widespread testing and contact tracing. Meaning unlike in the spring, we can operate with a much more targeted approach in responding to outbreaks. We all have the power to make a difference to keep our economy open and our kids going back to school.
Governor Pritzker: (07:40)
In addition to wearing your mask, washing your hands, and keeping your distance, demand action from your local health departments and local officials if data indicates there’s a problem in your community. You can visit dph.illinois.gov/covid19 and check out the specific case counts, test positivity, hospital admissions, and ICU availability for your county. To put it another way, you can likely turn things around even faster in your community. If you act early and independently rather than wait for the state to step in. If you’re getting tired and you’ve let your guard down, now is the time to pick it back up again. Things are getting worse. Now is the time to wear a mask wherever you go. Get your flu shot, forego unnecessary trips or gatherings, and take extra care to stay six feet away from each other, especially in public. Finally, I’d like to say this. This pandemic has brought real tragic pain to the lives of countless residents. Over 9,200 of our fellow Illinoisans have died, as have more than 220,000 Americans.
Governor Pritzker: (09:03)
… as have more than 220,000 Americans, and we’re now entering a new wave of this virus, so keep yourself, your family, and your friends safe, and mask up, Illinois. With that, I’d like to turn it over to Dr. Ngozi Ezike.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (09:31)
Good afternoon, everyone. In the last 24 hours, 48,684 lab tests were reported for a total of more than 6 million tests. 2,096 individuals in Illinois were reported to be in the hospital overnight with COVID-19, and of those, 485 were in the ICU. and 179 of those patients were on ventilators. Today, we are reporting 3,113 new cases of COVID-19 in Illinois for a total of 347,161 total confirmed cases. Since yesterday, regrettably, we announced that an additional 22 lives have been reported lost for a total of 9,236 total deaths.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (10:24)
Every week, we report dozens of COVID-19 deaths here in Illinois. Yes, the majority of these individuals are over 70 years of age, but every week, we are also reporting the deaths of individuals in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. This is not a virus that only attacks older individuals or only attacks individuals with chronic health conditions. Younger people are getting affected. They are getting infected, and they are also dying, although agreeably in lower numbers.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (11:02)
But the point is that this virus is serious. We’re still continuing to learn about it, and so I don’t want anyone to have a false sense of security that because they’re young or don’t have known medical conditions that they have nothing to worry about. We all need to be thinking and being concerned about this virus. The simple fact, as the governor laid out, is that the state is headed in the wrong direction. The number of cases are going up, the number of hospitalizations are going up, and the number of deaths are going up. It’s partially because people aren’t worried about this anymore. The weather is getting cooler, and as more of us are heading indoors, the virus can spread more easily. There’s also the issue of decreased air circulation within inside spaces.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (11:55)
This suggests that the number of cases will continue to rise unless we do what we know we can do to turn this around, and that means wearing your mask whenever you’re around other people, whenever you cannot maintain six feet of distance. Try to avoid large gatherings. Reduce your exposure the best way you can. We are entering into cold season, influenza season, and both of those can cause respiratory illness that look very similar to COVID-19.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (12:33)
Wearing a mask, watching your distance, and washing your hands will help reduce the risk of all colds, all flu, and COVID-19. Let’s take advantage of the protection that these simple interventions will offer. To help reduce the burden on our hospitals and the medical system as we [inaudible 00:12:57] COVID-19, which we didn’t have to deal with last winter, and flu, which we’ve seen every winter, I encourage and urge everyone to please #sleeveup and get your flu shot as soon as possible.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (13:12)
Your actions do matter. If you wear your mask and you keep your distance, you will help stop the spread of virus. Your actions also matter if you don’t [inaudible 00:13:24], and if you’re around large numbers of people and those people are also not masking, you then become part of the reason that this virus spreads. Please, help us reduce the spread of the virus. We want restaurants to stay open. We want to be able to safely dine indoors. We want kids to go back to school. We want loved ones to get their visits in the longterm care facilities. We all have the power to make this happen. Thank you.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (13:56)
[Spanish 00:13:56] Illinois [Spanish 00:14:12] COVID [Spanish 00:14:17] Illinois [Spanish 00:14:37] COVID [Spanish 00:14:58] influenza [Spanish 00:16:35] COVID [Spanish 00:16:42] influenza [Spanish 00:16:52] COVID [Spanish 00:16:53] gracias [Spanish 00:17:33]. With that, I will turn it over to Dr. Craig Davis.
Dr. Craig Davis: (17:39)
Thank you, Governor Pritzker. Thank you, Dr. Ezike. I’m Craig Davis. I’m a doctor, works with Southern Illinois Healthcare. I’m board-certified internal medicine doctor. I’m one of the-
Dr. Craig Davis: (18:03)
Vernal medicine doctor. And I’m one of the local faces that help take care of people in the hospital affected by COVID. There’s a group of us hospitalists that work for Southern Illinois Healthcare, 28 of us that are providing this work. And I’ve been asked to be here as a local perspective. Completely echo everything both of you have said, we’re seeing this here on a local level, just the same. Here’s what we’ve seen from the onset of COVID. Only thing consistent is the inconsistency with this. One person in a family may develop minor symptoms. Another person who looks equally fine on paper, will develop severe acute respiratory failure end up in the hospital on ventilator support. It’s completely unpredictable who is going to respond to the virus and how. It is very unpredictable and a formidable foe that we’re, we’re challenged with now.
Dr. Craig Davis: (19:02)
Southern Illinois Healthcare, Memorial Hospital, and Carbondale [inaudible 00:19:06] Hospital, our patients have ranged in age from 18 to 102 years old. We’d have younger patients to deal with as well. But we shipped those, the kids to St. Louis. But all adults of all ages, we take care of here in the hospitals. Most of, we do have patients that are come from the long-term care facilities. They’re our most vulnerable patients. So you would expect to see them. But the vast majority of people we take care of in the hospital are community members, folks like you and me out and about. They’re the ones that we see in the hospital. And again, they succumb to the virus just as commonly as the older folks do.
Dr. Craig Davis: (19:52)
In recent weeks, we’ve watched admissions to our COVID units climb. When my statements, we put these together a couple of days ago, we wrote that they had doubled. And in fact, they’ve tripled over the last couple of days, just dramatically rising. My colleagues and I have witnessed the agony ever patient’s families as they wait for news of recovery and the devastation they feel when their loved ones succumb to the virus. As a region, has reached this greater than 8% positivity rate. And now for the last few days consistently so. It’s the time for all of us to look inward. What remains most alarming to me as a physician and father is the complacency I see in some of our community members and the polarization over simple infection prevention methods, especially surrounding masks and social distancing.
Dr. Craig Davis: (20:50)
I understand the mental, physical, social fatigues that we’re all dealing with. Our daily lives have been totally upended by this. And I understand everyone has a yearning for returning to normalcy, but I urge everyone to stay the course. In Southern Illinois particular, we are known for rising above challenges. I can recall countless examples of how our community members have demonstrated setting aside the differences and working together. COVID is a healthcare crisis. We’re losing family members, friends, and neighbors to it. And my appeal to each of you is simple and straightforward, wear a mask, pause large gatherings, practice social distancing, wash your hands often, consider all of these short-term sacrifices for the long-term greater good. The enemy is disease. It’s not each other. Thank you. All right. I’ll pass on the microphone to Health Department, Bart Hagston. Thank you.
Bart Hagston: (22:13)
Thank you, Dr. Davis. Thank you, Governor Pritzker for being here. We’re honored to host you here at Jackson County Health Department. Thank you to Dr. [inaudible 00:22:20] as well for your leadership. I’m Bart Hagston. I’m the administrator here at Jackson County Health Department. In Jackson County, as in another counties, we have faced highs and lows during the response to COVID 19. On the upside, we have seen a majority of residents take this virus seriously and take appropriate precautions, such as wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, limiting social gatherings, and staying home when they have symptoms. These actions not only protect themselves and their families, but our community as well. In addition, we have seen local governments take action, such as the city of Carbondale, adopting and enforcing face mask ordinances. On the other hand, there are many who do not take such precautions or don’t practice them consistently.
Bart Hagston: (23:12)
We know this virus can be transmitted rather easily, making it possible for just one person to expose and potentially infect many others. We have seen this time and again. Fortunately, Jackson County is not on the COVID county warning list this week, but we have been four other weeks and we expect to return to that list. Locally, test positivity rates and the number of infections are rising as mentioned by the Governor and Dr. [inaudible 00:05:39]. on October 8th, Jackson county’s rolling test positivity rate was 3.7%. Just one week later, that rolling positivity rate was up to 5.7%. So we increased two percentage points on that seven day rolling positivity rate in just one week. And we’re better off than much of region five, but we’re heading in the same bad direction. From a regional perspective, region five, which includes Jackson County, is now facing additional mitigation measures due to sustained regional test positivity rates over 8%.
Bart Hagston: (24:18)
We must all take protective measures to limit the spread. Now is not the time to let pandemic fatigue get to us. What else can you do right now to protect your own health and the health of the community? One answer is clear, get a seasonal flu shot. Seasonal flu and COVID-19 share many symptoms as Dr. [inaudible 00:24:40] alluded. Flu shots help reduce the incidence of flu and therefore the incidents of such symptoms. We may not have a COVID vaccine yet, but we have safe, effective, reliable, seasonal flu vaccine available. We are seeing record demand for flu shots at Jackson County Health Department. And we urge you to take action to get your flu shot soon. That’s all I have to say. I’m going to turn it back over to the governor for Q and A.
Governor Pritzker: (25:12)
Thank you very much. Thanks for all the hard work here, Bart. And as I said about the Mayor and the leadership here in Jackson County, just terrific and keep up the good work and thanks to everybody who’s following the mitigations. And we’re going to fight hard to get through this thing as best we can all across the state. So with that, happy to take any questions from members of the media. Yes, sir.
Speaker 1: (25:37)
Are these mitigations, [inaudible 00:25:40] affect polling places and any further guidelines that you want for poll workers, County clerks and some of these poll workers who may fall into the [inaudible 00:07:46]?
Governor Pritzker: (25:48)
Yeah. Thank you for asking, because we’ve been planning for this for some time. We knew that November is in that season when people have talked about the idea that there might be another wave, right? We’ve been hearing that for months and months. We’ve worked with the state board of elections, as well as with the association of county clerks, to make sure that they have guidelines that they’re, everybody that’s working at a polling place is wearing a mask, that they’ve got hand sanitizer, that people are keeping distance and so on, to make sure that the polling places can be open on election day.
Governor Pritzker: (26:25)
But let me reiterate to everybody that you are better off voting by mail or voting early in person than you are going on election day. Many people like to go on election day, I must say, prior to Coronavirus, I liked to go to the polling place on election day to vote. It just felt like, something that was normal, natural as a citizen to do. But I must say this is a year when you should take this moment to do something different and not do it on election day. And we’ve made that opportunity available to everybody in the state. You still have the opportunity to get a ballot if you want to vote by mail.
Governor Pritzker: (27:03)
Community to get a ballot if you want to vote by mail, and of course there are early voting locations that are open. But extra precautions have been taken. We’ve encouraged all of the county clerks to follow these rules. And again, the State Board of Elections has made extra money available to the counties to make sure that they’re following all these mitigations. Thank you. Yes.
Speaker 2: (27:25)
Speaking of elections, our current President, Donald Trump, you said that him and some of his allies are currently to blame for surges in states, especially in rural areas. And being southern Illinois, this is a rural area. So you can you elaborate a little more on that?
Governor Pritzker: (27:39)
Sure. Well, what I was saying, and of course this was in response to something that the President said about wanting us to reopen our schools, which I want very much so, too. But what I was talking about was the fact that the President is not modeling good behavior, that he is holding rallies with thousands of people, not encouraging mask wearing, not wearing a mask himself, and his allies in this state, some of them have been responsible for fighting the mitigation efforts that we’ve tried to put in place to keep people safe and healthy. And some of them are not modeling good behavior. So that’s what I was referring to and I stand by the statements that I made. Yes, sir. And I’ll come over here, too.
Speaker 3: (28:29)
When you announced the closure of indoor closure of restaurants and bars, obviously that announcement puts lots of burden on those restaurant owners in particular. What is your message to them protecting them?
Governor Pritzker: (28:43)
Well, the first thing I would say is that it is an unfortunate fact that the research, and there is a lot of it, shows that bars and restaurants are places where there is a lot of spread of the virus. That’s an unfortunate fact. I’m somebody who believes in small businesses and small businesses are the greatest job creators in our state. Restaurants and bars are some of those great small businesses that I want to be supportive of. This virus does not seem to want to take that into account. And so what we’ve done is, although it’s true that the mitigations include some limitations on bars and restaurants, we have also provided big grants, those are our business interruption grant, from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which will alleviate some of the burden for those bars and restaurants. It doesn’t completely take away the damage that this virus is doing, there’s no doubt.
Governor Pritzker: (29:40)
But what we don’t want for businesses is for them to be responsible for spreading the virus inadvertently, but in places where we know the research shows this is hugely problematic. And we’ve provided to members of the press, if you don’t already have the information, we’ve tried to send it out with our press release today, articles and studies that show why bars and restaurants are difficult locations, and are often the origination of spread in communities.
Governor Pritzker: (30:14)
Look, we’re trying to get through this and get our positivity rate down to a point where we can reopen bars and restaurants indoors. We realize that this is problematic for businesses, but we’ve all got to work our way through this pandemic. And this is one small way in which we need to take mitigations to bring down those rates.
Speaker 4: (30:38)
Governor Pritzker: (30:38)
Let me get, yeah. Oh, I’m sorry. This gentleman over here was next. I apologize. And then I’ll-
Speaker 5: (30:42)
How will these new restrictions impact in-person schooling in region five as gatherings [inaudible 00:30:46] be larger than 25 people?
Governor Pritzker: (30:49)
We’ve left it up to the local school districts and local schools to put in their own mitigations to make sure that they’re keeping their students safe, their teachers safe, the parents safe, all the people that work in the school safe. In fact, we provided, from the State Board of Education, a guideline for all the schools to follow which includes things like how should you separate kids in the classroom, how many kids can sit in a classroom? What we don’t want to do is dictate to every school the same thing, because I think you all know, every school is a little bit different. It’s shaped a little bit differently. It has a different number of kids in it, a different number of teachers, administrators, etc. They’re the ones who know best how to arrange their school, and they together with the parents and the school board, they want to keep everybody safe. And so we’ve given them the opportunity to do that. Yes, ma’am.
Speaker 4: (31:44)
Yes, What kind of precautions are you taking as you travel?
Governor Pritzker: (31:48)
Speaker 4: (31:48)
Governor Pritzker: (31:49)
Well, I wear my mask virtually everywhere, even in the car when we’re driving from place to place. Because as you can imagine, we’ve got several people in the car. It’s a small cabin. The windows are up. It’s getting cold. So I wear my mask everywhere, even in the car. I’m making sure that when I travel that we have rooms that are big enough with enough air flow so that when we have press conferences or other meetings that everybody in the room is kept safe and that we’re keeping our masks on. I’m obviously not wearing mine right now, just because I’m standing at the podium, but you see that when I step away from the podium, I put on my mask. Look, I just want to reiterate, and of course, keeping distance, washing my hands, I’m trying to follow all of the advice of Dr. Ezike and all the doctors at the Department of Public Health, as I think everybody should. I just want to reiterate this simple point to everybody. If you hear nothing else in all these press conferences, if you follow nothing else, if you’re skeptical, whatever the reason is, please just wear the mask. Just wear your mask. Honestly, it takes care of most of the transmission issues that we have. I’m not suggesting that the other mitigations and suggestions are not important, but the mask does an awful lot. And so I want to encourage everybody to mask up. Yes, sir.
Speaker 6: (33:17)
There’s a warming center in Carbondale that’s been growing for the last year. How are these mitigations going to affect warming centers across the state, as Dr. Ezike mentioned, we’re going to be heading into the colder months now?
Governor Pritzker: (33:29)
Yeah. Again, we’ve tried to provide guidelines for in any place where there are gatherings of people, including people that might be staying for a longer period of time. And so we hope people that are running those centers will operate them in a way that is safe and healthy for everybody that needs them. We’re looking at what the effects of winter will be, the different things that might occur during winter other than people are going to be inside more, which is something everybody should pay attention to. But this is one area where we’re going to continue to monitor and see if there are things that we can do to help out warming centers, homeless shelters, other areas where people may need to gather maybe because they lack the resources to be in their own home or their own apartment.
Speaker 7: (34:13)
One more question.
Speaker 8: (34:14)
[crosstalk 00:34:14] I did want to ask this. As you mentioned earlier, Mike Henry, Mayor Henry, passed earlier this year a mask ordinance for the city of Carbondale. With these increasing cases in our area, would you encourage other communities pass similar ordinance?
Governor Pritzker: (34:31)
I would encourage all communities to enforce the mask mandate that we put in place for the state of Illinois back in early May. As I just said a moment ago, if there’s nothing else that you do, wearing a mask is perhaps the most important thing that you can do. I’ll look at the doctor when I say this, I know he’ll agree that there are many other things you can do, but wearing a mask may be the most important and easiest and least expensive thing for you to do personally. And it is the right thing to do to keep yourself healthy as well as to keep everybody around you healthy.
Governor Pritzker: (35:04)
But yes, I want to encourage local governments to do whatever they need to do to increase the mitigations beyond what the state may have already said that you ought to be doing. And I’ve said all along that that if your positivity rate in your county and your city is perhaps anywhere above 5%, honestly, which is the WHO cutoff for kind of their encouragement of reopening things. If you’re anywhere above 5%, you should be looking at additional mitigations other than the ones that we have already provided for people.
Speaker 7: (35:39)
All right. Thanks everyone.
Governor Pritzker: (35:40)