Aug 7, 2020
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript August 7
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker held a press conference on August 7 to discuss coronavirus updates. The state is issuing new rules to enforce mask compliance. Read the transcript here.
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Governor JB Pritzker: (00:19)
Well good morning everyone and thank you all for joining us. Standing with me today and sitting some in the front row here for the sake of social distancing are a broad coalition of Illinoisans representing different industries, geographies and even political leanings. Senator Ann Gillespie, Senator Celina Villanueva, Sam Toia from the Illinois Restaurant Association, Tim Drea from the Illinois AFL-CIO, Kathi Griffin from the Illinois Education Association, Dan Montgomery from the Illinois Federation of Teachers, Don Villar from the Chicago Federation of Labor, Sheila Chalmers-Currin, Matteson village president and Brian Urbaszewski from the Respiratory Health Association and Open Safe Illinois, a coalition of health, labor, aging and public interest organizations. Did I get everybody? I want to make sure I’ve called out everybody. Thank you.
Governor JB Pritzker: (01:20)
The people joining are not always drawn together with common purpose but there are some causes that are fundamentally right and those causes draw people together from all walks of life and keeping our people healthy and safe is one of those causes. As I visited with and listened to mayors and health departments and people all across our state, it’s clear that there is still an even greater need to get people to wear masks, especially to protect frontline workers, whether they’re at the front of the store, asking you to put on your mask, or whether they’re responding to 911 calls to save those in distress. As you know, not only have I traveled the state encouraging people to wear face masks, but we’ve launched a public awareness campaign designed to change the behavior of those who haven’t yet started wearing face coverings. I issued our state’s mask mandate three months ago on May 1.
Governor JB Pritzker: (02:23)
Our actions today build on that work. First this morning I signed legislation to enhance workers’ rights in our pandemic response, increasing paid disability leave for injured police and firefighters, paramedics and other public employees whose recovery has been hindered by COVID-19. This legislation also offers protections from assault for retail workers, many of whom are tasked with asking the public to follow certain COVID mitigation measures indoors. In many ways, these workers are now serving at the forefront of public health mitigation efforts in encouraging social distancing and the use of face coverings. It’s in that same vein that the Illinois Department of Public Health is today submitting new emergency rules to assist law enforcement, local boards of health, health authorities, state’s attorneys and the general public in enforcing the use of face coverings and social gathering restrictions. These rules are a common sense way to enforce mask requirements without jumping immediately to the extremely tough consequences that exist on the books today. They’ll give local authorities a step by step guide on how to enforce masks and distancing and an opportunity to help businesses act in good faith.
Governor JB Pritzker: (03:50)
The first step in the proposed rule is educating businesses on compliance. The next step is a warning, and the last step after these repeated attempts to urge compliance is a fine. Otherwise many local officials are only left with the stringent and severe enforcement mechanisms available statewide today. The existing enforcement options prior to this proposed rule go immediately to license revocation in the blink of an eye. This new rule provides multiple opportunities for compliance before any penalty is issued, and by focusing on targeted fines as part of a misdemeanor, these rules for scaled penalties that are significantly less harmful to businesses than those currently available for enforcement, are the right direction. The majority of states from our Midwest colleagues like Ohio and Wisconsin to Republican-led states like Georgia and Florida, Ohio is also Republican-led I should add, have similar enforcement in place, and to be clear, the mitigations that require enforcement haven’t changed. There has been a face covering mandate in Illinois since May 1, one of the earliest in the nation and over the last several months, a flood of states led by Republicans and Democrats have followed suit.
Governor JB Pritzker: (05:15)
The gathering limits in Illinois under Phase IV currently apply to every region of Illinois. 50 people or gatherings of 50% of a building’s maximum occupancy as locally determined. Schools must limit the number of people in one space to 50 or less. This new rule is focused on businesses, organizations, schools and childcare facilities. Individuals are not subject to any penalty under this rule, but are nevertheless required to wear masks in public. Let me repeat that, this rule does not deliver penalties to any individual private citizen because of non-compliance. It is nevertheless their obligation under the law. The vast majority of Illinoisans have made the responsible and compassionate decision to wear a face covering when out and about and we’re going to continue to rely on the public for enforcement on this level.
Governor JB Pritzker: (06:15)
Finally, these policy changes clarify the authority of IDPH and local health authorities, to seek cooperation with businesses in COVID-19 related investigations. Illinois has made substantial progress in our fight against COVID-19 because the vast majority of communities and business owners have done the right thing and followed the public health guidance. These rules will help ensure that the minority of people who refuse to act responsibly won’t take our state backward. I ask that members of the General Assembly who serve on JCAR move forward expeditiously and give local health departments, law enforcement and communities the tools they need that are proven to stop the spread of COVID-19. Since the earliest days of our pandemic response, Illinois has been consistent in its mission, prioritizing the well-being of our people. Things are hard right now, I get that, and the people standing here with me today get that, but when it’s hard, especially when it’s hard, we have to make sure that Illinois supports all the people who call this state home and when we prioritize our first responders and our workforce, when we put public health above politics, when we choose to keep our neighbors and our loved ones safe and our businesses open, that’s what it means to be all in Illinois.
Governor JB Pritzker: (07:45)
Thank you and now I’d like to turn it over to a great leader in Springfield, Senator Gillespie. Senator, there you are.
Ann Gillespie: (07:56)
Thank you Governor and I’d like to thank my colleagues in the General Assembly for our work this session in protecting our frontline workers. We brought together numerous groups to the table focusing on protecting frontline workers from the risks that they are taking on our behalf and this legislation is critical to ensuring their safety, protecting them and their families so I thank you again for supporting that. You know our numbers are trending upward in the state again and no one wants to go backwards and we’re all tired, but this is a serious illness and we all have to be serious about doing what we can to reduce the spread. With simple actions, wearing a face covering, maintaining social distancing, limiting the numbers of people at gatherings, we all can save lives and protect those frontline workers at the same time. Do it for those around you. Do it for healthcare workers. Do it for all our essential workers. Do it for your friends and family, your neighbors. Just do it. Thank you, and with that, I’d like to invite Kathi Griffin.
Kathi Griffin: (09:13)
Thank you. I am a public schoolteacher. I taught for schools in Schaumburg School District 54 for 30 years, I am now the president of the Illinois Education Association. There isn’t anything we want more than to be with our students in school, but we want to make sure that that is done safely. We know that in-person learning is best for our students, however each school district must develop a practical, enforceable safety plan that follows the guidance from the AAP, the CDC, the IDPH and the ISBE, as well as paying attention to COVID data and positive cases in your community. These guidelines are quite simple. Everyone needs to wear a face covering. Maintain social distancing. Wash your hands. Temperatures should be checked of your children before they go to school. Develop cleaning and sanitizing procedures along with the correct materials to clean and sanitize our schools and make sure that everybody has appropriate PPE. The PPE for our cooks, for our custodians, our nurses and those staff who are working with children with special needs as well as some of those children needs to be different than that of classroom teachers. If a school is not able to implement and follow, support and enforce these guidelines, you should begin remotely for the safety of our children.
Kathi Griffin: (10:40)
This is not how we wanted to begin teaching with our kids this year. I say our kids because when they’re part of our classroom, they’re part of who we are, they’re part of our family, and they touch our hearts in ways you cannot imagine. Their successes we celebrate, when they have struggles we help them. We want to be with our kids but we have to do so in a safe manner. I ask you, please, wear a face covering, maintain social distancing, do the right thing for your family, for your neighbors, for your community and most of all for the over two million students in the state of Illinois. Thank you. I would now like to introduce my colleague and friend, Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers.
Dan Montgomery: (11:33)
Thank you Kathi. I’m Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. Thank you Governor for this action today. I can tell you, our members who are working in schools, colleges and universities all over Illinois from Chicago to Goreville and beyond are breathing a sigh of relief today and they’re breathing it into their masks because with school, the return and reopening of schooling in August mostly around the state has been a source of great and deep concern to our members, because of this very issue. We know the way to do it safely, we’ve got to help this state recover. The fastest way to get back into schools in-person, which is what we all want, is that everybody wears their masks. Everybody keeps their distance and observes these guidelines, IDPH, et cetera.
Dan Montgomery: (12:23)
So today, the governor used the word educating. It’s the first step and I’m a high school English teacher by trade, did that for 18 years in Skokie, District 219. That warms my heart to hear that because it is an education process. We’ve got to keep educating everybody and it’s not a one-off, as a teacher you know, you keep reviewing, right? That’s what we’re going to do, this is a big step, Governor, and we appreciate that state authorities will have the ability to make sure the right things are happening so we can get back into school buildings as soon as possible. Thank you and let me introduce my colleague Tim Drea, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO. Thank you Governor.
Tim Drea: (13:08)
Thank you Dan. Governor, Senators, thank you for all your work. So at the beginning, workers have been at the pandemic frontline to ensure all Illinois citizens receive essential services they need and deserve. These workers are going to work at great significant personal risk to themselves and their families and talking about firefighters, transit workers, retail workers, restaurant workers and before long, teachers. They’re called essential workers but to us they’re much more than essential, they’re heroes. They’re on the frontlines serving all of us, but businesses who do not enforce rules and customers who refuse to wear face coverings are putting workers in real danger, real danger. The working men and women of the Illinois AFL-CIO would like to thank the governor for his leadership during this pandemic and strongly urges the members of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules to adopt the proposed rule to protect workers and their families. Thank you very much, and with that, I’d like to introduce a very good friend and colleague, Don Villar, Chicago Federation of Labor.
Don Villar: (14:21)
Thank you Tim. Thank you Governor. I’m Don Villar, secretary treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor. On behalf of CFL president Bob Reiter and the 300 local unions and affiliates that make up the CFL, and the half a million union members across the city of Chicago, working men and women, thank you Governor for having us here this morning to join you. When this pandemic hit, countless workers, essential workers, sacrificed their own health to keep our city and our state running. From transportation workers that kept our buses and trains rolling to tradespeople strengthening our infrastructure to public workers providing desperately needed services to our citizens, Chicago’s union members, workers, answered the call during this crisis. As this pandemic has unfolded, we have all learned the critical importance of wearing a face mask, social distancing, and limiting crowd size. Most heed to these guidelines to keep themselves, their families and their communities safe. However, we’ve seen a small number of businesses refuse to take these basic steps. When businesses flout public health guidelines, they endanger lives and they prolong this crisis, worsening the economic disaster.
Don Villar: (15:41)
That’s why we stand in support of this common sense emergency rule, which is as the governor said, similar to the rules that have already been adapted in other states. This rule encourages voluntary compliance before issuing any kind of penalty and it’s focused on businesses, not individuals. Again, repeating what the governor said, individual workers are not subject to penalty at the state level under these rules. Individual workers are not subject to penalty at the state level under these rules. Chicago’s workers are second to none. They’ve sacrificed their health, safety and livelihoods during this pandemic, including some who have died from this disease. We cannot let those sacrifices be in vain and we must end this crisis as quickly as possible. Please, follow the public health requirements, mask up so we can all stay safe and we can put this pandemic behind us. Thank you, and now I’d like to introduce Sam Toia of the Illinois Restaurant Association.
Sam Toia: (16:54)
Thank you Don, and good morning everyone. Again, I’m Sam Toia with the Illinois Restaurant Association. The governor’s order today is a further step to drive home the fact extra safety precautions and face coverings are necessary for everyone during this critical time. If we want to stay on a steady path and keep our progress with reopening, it’s up to every individual to work collectively towards a common goal. It’s not one group, one industry, one region. We all need to be rowing the same way. For restaurants and bars, the safety and welfare of our team members and guests is the top priority of all of this. The restaurant industry is already extremely health-focused, and that has been in hyper drive throughout this pandemic. Face coverings, social distancing, sanitizing, PPE, and more are absolutely crucial to keep both our team members and guests safe. Again, keeping our team members and guests safe.
Sam Toia: (17:56)
It’s simple, if you choose not to adhere to public safety guidelines or house rules at businesses, your favorite restaurant, shops, bars, salons, hardware stores and more will pay the price. Help us so we can serve you. The stakes are too high as it would be catastrophic to shut down our economy once again. It would be the death of the hospitality industry here in the state of Illinois. We all need to listen to the advice of scientists and doctors to follow the rules, be smart, and keep Illinois open. As we say at the Illinois Restaurant Association, covered faces keep open places. Now, I’d like to invite the governor up for Q&A. Thank you.
Governor JB Pritzker: (18:39)
Thank you Sam. Thank you all and I do want to … Senator Villanueva didn’t get a chance to get up and speak today, we didn’t want the program to go much longer but I do want to recognize her again and of course Senator Gillespie for their leadership in the General Assembly on issues of keeping our workers in particular safe and healthy, so yep. Right over here and then I’ll get you.
Speaker 8: (19:04)
Governor JB Pritzker: (19:04)
Speaker 8: (19:05)
[inaudible 00:19:05] stressing that this is not going to penalize individuals?
Governor JB Pritzker: (19:07)
Speaker 8: (19:07)
Why not penalize individuals? Isn’t that the best way to get compliance from workers even if the business is at large complying but the workers aren’t or if the customer isn’t playing by the rules, doesn’t that take pressure off the employees having to interact with customers?
Governor JB Pritzker: (19:21)
Well much of the interaction that’s going on between people around the state is going on in establishments and businesses, in bars, restaurants, retail, many of the things that Sam Toia was talking about, salons and so on, and it is in those enclosed places, inside, where it’s vitally important that people are wearing their face coverings. I’m not excluding by the way that people need to wear their face coverings when they’re out and about. That is also the case but we wanted not to go after individuals as best we can. Look, I’ve said all along, I do not want for police to be arresting people or penalizing individuals. On the other hand I have asked local authorities including police, including local health authorities to remind people as frequently as they possibly can that they need to follow this mask mandate. This is another step forward to protect workers who by the way are also the very people who are shopping in the stores in other circumstances, the very people who are working sometimes in schools as a second job, so I just want to emphasize that at this point, this is another important step forward for us in enforcement.
Speaker 9: (20:42)
Governor, you had thought about doing this before. You ended up withdrawing the rule because … Excuse me, I believe there wasn’t a bipartisan sense that this would pass. What made this different? Do you really think this will get through?
Governor JB Pritzker: (21:00)
Yeah, so you’re right. There was a rule that was introduced earlier. We withdrew it because the legislature said they would take it up in session. They didn’t do that and now there are a variety of reasons why they didn’t do that but it now is the time. We must make sure, I mean this is a make or break moment for the state of Illinois, for making sure that people are doing everything they can to mitigate, to reduce the spread, and so this is a moment for us to enforce the masking requirements across the state. How is this different? What’s different about this rule is it focuses on warnings and then a fine. What’s available to us in the law is only essentially a misdemeanor immediately as a solution to the problem and that was something that JCAR did not want us to move forward with and so we made alterations, we’ve spoken with many members of the General Assembly including members of JCAR. I can’t tell you the political breakdown of how people will come down on whether we should wear masks or not, but I am confident that a majority of people in the state of Illinois, a vast majority, want us to have enforcement mechanisms and want us to make sure that people are wearing face coverings and following the mitigations.
Speaker 10: (22:23)
Governor, can you clarify this because I guess I’m not quite understanding what the enforcement is, who you’re going after, so are you … If a customer goes in and does not wear a mask, but you’re not going after the customer, are you then going after the business saying you’re going to be fined for not … How do they force somebody to wear the mask?
Governor JB Pritzker: (22:41)
Businesses are doing this now. I think you’re aware that there are many businesses that have somebody who is standing outside the front door for example, who is telling people who are coming in you must wear a mask, reminding them that they must wear a mask and even sometimes offering them a face covering if they don’t have one of their own. So that’s been going on for some time. There are some businesses that aren’t doing that and they need to be reminded and reminded and then fined if they are not following this rule for the state of Illinois. We want to make sure that our workers are safe and also all the people who are shopping are safe, all the people who are in bars or restaurants or in other locations, we want to make sure that they’re safe and healthy and this is one way for us to make sure that businesses that have been [inaudible 00:23:29] on this subject know that there is a real penalty at the end of the line here.
Speaker 10: (23:35)
How much of an effect do you see this having because right now, I understand that a municipality could make its own ordinance to have rules like this. So what kind of a difference could this have if municipalities that want to enforce strictly are doing so already and those that don’t agree with you on the masking are going to just brush this aside?
Governor JB Pritzker: (23:56)
The municipalities that have been responsible about this did this some time ago. They made sure they had some even stricter enforcement typically than what we’re proposing here, and I’ve been encouraging that as you know. I’ve traveled the state, many areas in Downstate Illinois where I’ve met with mayors and spoken to groups of people and made sure that we’re getting the media to spread the message and it’s worked and places like Carbondale and Springfield, Sangamon County and so on have indeed put in place enforcement mechanisms, but we wanted to make sure that there is a minimum enforcement mechanism for every county and every municipality across the state. This is it.
Speaker 10: (24:42)
[inaudible 00:24:42] state’s attorney, sheriff, they can choose to ignore this, right?
Governor JB Pritzker: (24:45)
Well a state’s attorney and a sheriff can choose to ignore that you’re speeding, they can choose to ignore that you’re breaking the law in some other way I suppose, but many of them are looking for an enforcement mechanism. They may not have been granted one by their county board or by the city council, but they know that people should be wearing masks and they want something they can rely upon. I want to say also that this is very important for schools. You know that we have a mandate for schools that when they reopen, the schools that are opening, that they must wear masks. People must wear masks, and so this gives the county public health authorities the ability to go in and consult with the schools to give them better enforcement mechanisms or at least give them ideas about how they might make sure that schools are safer. There are some areas of the state where there are school boards that are thinking that they want to open without masks. There are parents that are encouraging school boards in some areas of the state to open without masks. That is against the rules in the state of Illinois and we now are giving the authority to county public health boards and county public health administrators to work with schools on improving those mitigations that they should have in place. Yes.
Speaker 11: (26:04)
[inaudible 00:26:04]. I have a couple from other reporters who aren’t here [inaudible 00:26:09]. One of them is about schools, sports. Chris Tye from CBS-2 is asking to much fanfare last week we learned that athletes in fall sports will be able to play. That plan though has yet to be signed off by IEPH leading athletic directors and coaches unsure what to tell their athletes about a season starting in 72 hours. What is holding this up, and should parents ask to sign COVID liability waivers by districts be concerned to do so?
Governor JB Pritzker: (26:41)
Two very different questions, so let me try to address the first one first. Actually the rules that we put in place have as you know tiers of requirements on schools and limitations, depending upon the type of sport, depending upon the age bracket, et cetera. A lot of various requirements in there that are different from sport to sport and that allow to a large degree for lots of training, for conditioning, and in some sports that are distant where people are not in close proximity to one another, they have the ability to play in tournaments with other schools. So that’s all been laid out for us. I know that there are more granular decisions that are being attempted to be made by the associations representing schools or associations representing individual sports, and we’re trying to work with them on a sport by sport basis and whenever they submit a plan to us, working as fast as we can, it’s a big state, with 855 school districts and more than 4,000 schools and so we’re going to get them the information that we can but let me just remind you, the number one consideration here is not that kids end up playing sports. The number one consideration is that our kids and the teachers and paraprofessionals and parents are kept safe and healthy.
Speaker 11: (28:13)
A liability form though as folks say –
Governor JB Pritzker: (28:15)
Yeah, that’s something that different districts are … It’s really different all across