Dec 9, 2020
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript December 9
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker held a press conference on December 9 to discuss coronavirus updates. Read the transcript here.
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Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to the COVID-19 update for Wednesday, December 9th. I’m joined today by Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, a physician former administrator at the United States Agency For International Development and now the president of the Rockefeller Foundation. Dr. Shah and the Rockefeller Foundation brought together a bipartisan coalition of governors and public health teams to collaborate on overcoming some of the biggest testing challenges that states were facing because of the absence of federal coordination.
Throughout this pandemic, Rockefeller has been an important convenor of public health officials and elected leaders to exchange best practices for protecting the health of their communities. They have truly been a force for good on a national scale during this crisis. And this work has been an immense help to us in Illinois as we have sought to more effectively and efficiently scale our testing infrastructure to meet the needs of all of our residents. And I’ll introduce Dr. Shah in just a few moments.
As just one example of the work that they’ve done, I’ve spoken from this podium many times about the BinaxNOW rapid antigen tests developed by Abbott, an Illinois company. The federal government bought BinaxNOW tests in bulk and delivered them to the states to use at their design. In the absence of federal government leadership on their efficacy, the Rockefeller coalition went to work and states were able to share what they learned. Massachusetts, for example, quickly launched a detailed assessment of the accuracy of these tests and found a minimal rate of false positives. And by passing that information along quickly, every state didn’t have to try and replicate the same work, saving taxpayer dollars and improving testing access across the nation.
Thanks to that data as well as our own, we here in Illinois have had great success in our antigen test implementation. Illinois has been a leader in deploying these tests to local health departments, hospitals, federally qualified health centers, government agencies, first responders, school pilot programs, and long-term care facilities among other uses, strategies that we have shared with other states in the coalition as they put their own plans together. We are now averaging over 10,000 antigen tests per day, today hitting a new record of more than 15,000. And we continue roll this program out in more appropriate settings for rapid tests.
As I announced in November, Illinois met our ambitious goal of reporting 100,000 tests in a day, and we’ve surpassed this multiple times over. Statewide demand for tests slowed down a bit during the Thanksgiving weekend and is now ramping back up. But we continue to grow our capacity for testing. Our current seven day rolling average for tests per day is 96,000 as of this morning. Even with all the well-deserved excitement around a vaccine right now, it will be months before vaccines are available to the general public. So it’s incredibly important that we do everything in our power to temper the spread of this virus in the coming weeks and months.
We all want as many people alive and healthy as possible when we get there. Together with governors of both parties, I have called for a national testing strategy since the very early days of this pandemic. Such a comprehensive effort would make a tangible difference in our pandemic response right now. I’ve conveyed to the presidential transition, our hope to see a thorough testing expansion plan at the very start of the new administration. And as the best testing state between the coasts, Illinois will share what we’ve learned on what works and what doesn’t.
So even as we look ahead to 2021, here in Illinois, we’re not taking our foot off the gas in our efforts to ramp up testing even further, increasing our ability to identify positive cases quickly so that we can eliminate community spread and stop further outbreaks in their tracks. That work has been made so much better and easier by the coalition put together by the Rockefeller Foundation. And with that, I’d like to turn it over to Rockefeller’s esteemed leader, Dr. Rajiv J. Shah.
Dr. Rajiv J. Shah: (05:17)
Thank you Governor Pritzker. I appreciate your kind introduction and very helpful opening comments. I want to thank you in particular for your leadership, of course in Illinois, but also on behalf of the entire country. You are right that testing is really the only way out of the false choice between shutting everything down and suffering widespread loss of life. And the leadership that you’ve shown, that your colleagues across the State of Illinois have shown has really helped set a path forward for the country to implement a strategy on testing that makes fast frequent testing far more accessible and ubiquitous to those who desperately need it in order to go to school or to protect themselves doing essential and often, frontline healthcare service work.
Dr. Rajiv J. Shah: (06:11)
In particular, the Illinois joining the State Testing Alliance, the State and Territory Testing Alliance, has been extraordinarily important. There are now 22 states, including Illinois, that on a bipartisan basis have come together to say that we should have common protocols, share best practices, understand which tests can be deployed at what frequency, and come together to do pooled procurement, thus lowering the price of each unit of testing supplies acquired and increasing both volumes and supply as industry sees the demand from states in aggregate grow and remain persistent through this year and certainly nearly all of 2021. This has been an important step forward for the Rockefeller Foundation in partnership with states and whether it’s the antigen test that in fact is more rapid and offers a quick turnaround or doing our best to get PCR based testing back with a high degree of turnaround time and rapidity. Either strategy can work, but we needed leaders around the country to show and pave the way. And I’d like to make two further comments. First, a gentleman, Martin Burke, I want to thank you and Illinois for lending his intellect and effort to the nation, but what the University of Illinois has done with the SHIELD testing program has demonstrated to America that with fast, frequent, and accurate testing, you can actually run educational institutions and keep the testing prevalence rate for students and faculty significantly below the background community rate. We at the Rockefeller Foundation have supported dozens of pilot activities around the country in K-12 education and some in universities, all of which validate that insight, and it’s why we’ve been part of an effort along with Martin to bring together leaders around the country to use testing as a strategy to more actively reopen K-12 schools and avoid some of the deep and significant costs in terms of loss of learning and tragic outcomes for children who are forced to be in a learn at home environment often without the resources to be successful.
Dr. Rajiv J. Shah: (08:39)
The final point I’ll just make is what you also said, governor, which is that the vaccine is something we all look forward to. We know that that is going to be critical. And the Rockefeller Foundation is helping partners across the country have an aggressive and effective and community-based, trust-based rollout of the vaccine as it becomes available. That said, it is very clear-
Dr. Rajiv J. Shah: (09:03)
-vaccine as it becomes available. That said, it is very clear to us that throughout 2021 and certainly for the first half of next year, if schools are to be open, if healthcare workers are to be safe, if certain essential businesses are to operate in a high background community spread environment, testing will be more important than ever. So the confidence that the state alliance is providing to industry, the partnerships that Illinois has been able to be a part of, and the vision that we’ve all laid out together of using fast, frequent testing as a screening tool to enable essential services to go forward remains America’s best strategy to get kids in school, to protect healthcare workers, and to keep essential workers in their jobs, but in their jobs safely as we get through this very difficult time. Thank you, and I look forward to taking questions and turn it back over to you, Governor. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Dr. Sean. I’d like to turn it over to Dr. Ngozi Ezike for today’s medical update.
Dr. Ezike: (10:11)
Good afternoon, everyone. Happy Wednesday. The latest numbers, we have 8,256 newly diagnosed individuals with COVID-19 for a total of 812,430 individuals diagnosed with COVID since the beginning of this pandemic. We have received notification of 179 Illinoisans in the past 24 hours that have lost their battle with COVID for a total of 13,666 individuals lost. Overnight, 5,284 people reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19, and of those, 1,176 individuals were on ventilators. No, were in the ICU, pardon me, and 647 were on ventilators.
Dr. Ezike: (10:58)
In the last 24 hours, almost 93, 000 tests have been reported for a total of 11.3 million tests since the beginning of this pandemic. I anticipate we will see an increase in the people who want to get tested as they prepare for the holidays. But remember, unless you quarantine completely after being tested, you could get infected at any time between that test and your intended visit. So the negative test does not give you, quote, “an all clear forever and ever” to gather with friends and family.
Dr. Ezike: (11:34)
Of course, I have to say the safest way to enjoy the upcoming holidays would still be to be virtual. We can gather and celebrate with people in our household, people whom we already live with. But if we don’t normally live with our moms, see our mom, dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces on a daily basis, then it’s best not to mix those households for the upcoming holidays. I’ve heard people talk about how their family is not going to skip Auntie Grace’s mac and cheese or someone’s famous pecan pie. But I would say that you need to not skip it, but postpone it. I have missed some events, graduations, wedding anniversaries, and I’m fully planning to celebrate those. It just is still upcoming. So I urge people to postpone the normal ways that you’re used to celebrating. We are advising people to postpone travel during the holidays. It’s not the message I want to deliver, but it is what’s responsible and will keep everyone safest.
Dr. Ezike: (12:47)
Let’s think about this. If we’ve made it this far in the pandemic with the finish line starting to come into sight, you deserve for you and your family and your friends to make it all the way to the other side. So we’ve come too far to turn back now. I know that there are people who will hear this and say, “Nope, I’m still going to celebrate in person,” and I still want to offer you something that you can do to mitigate the risk. It won’t erase it, but maybe this can help decrease the risk. So that would include limiting the number of people that you are gathering with and paying a special attention to the risk of the people that you want to associate with, understanding that people with the comorbid conditions and more advanced age are at higher risk.
Dr. Ezike: (13:37)
When thinking about the number of people that will gather, take into consideration the amount of space that will be available for the gathering and the people to try to stay six feet apart at all times. A shorter gathering rather than a longer gathering would obviously portend a smaller risk. Gatherings that last a long time obviously give more opportunities for that air swapping and the potential for transmitting the virus.
Dr. Ezike: (14:08)
Of course, you have to wear a mask, even if it’s indoors. Yes, they’re your family. Yes, you want to hug and talk to people without a mask. But that’s exactly how the virus spreads. Would it kill you to wear a mask indoors? No, it won’t, but not wearing one could kill someone. Roughly half of all transmission occurs from people who are asymptomatic. That means they’re not manifesting any type of symptom. So even if you think you are healthy and you feel well, you still could be spreading the virus.
Dr. Ezike: (14:45)
If at all possible, move the gathering outdoors. If being outside is not an option, then try to increase the ventilation indoors if you can open doors, open windows. Again, I strongly encourage everyone to celebrate virtually. I don’t want the message to not be clear. I want you to call or video chat, as many of you did at Thanksgiving. Share gifts by leaving them at the door, or I heard this great idea of virtually identifying charities with which you will use the money for gifts and give it to non-profits or charities that are doing great work that you support.
Dr. Ezike: (15:25)
There is still time to change your holiday plans. If you haven’t made them, I hope you will take this to heart. Please, let’s give the gift of life. Let’s give the gift of health this holiday season. Again, we’ve come too far to give it up now. Thank you.
Dr. Ezike: (15:43)
[foreign language 00:15:44].
Dr. Ezike: (19:02)
[ Spanish 00:00:01]. And with that, I will turn it over to Governor Pritzker.
Thank you very much, Dr. Ezike and happy to take questions from members of the media.
Speaker 1: (19:27)
Greg Bishop at The Center Square. Republicans say that the FOID card delays can’t be blamed on COVID or the federal government. What commitment can you provide to ensure Illinoisans’ second amendment rights aren’t delayed further?
Well, I should start really by saying that, as you may know, the funds for the Firearm Services Fund were swept during the previous administration in 2015 and 2018, and there was no plan to maintain that fund or to replenish it or to expand staffing during that period.
When I came into office in 2019, we stopped sweeping that fund. ISP initiated a hiring plan. Our leader of ISP, Brendan Kelly, has been very focused on making sure there is a strategy that focuses on making sure we have outcomes, goals, and accountability in that system. We certainly want to bring down that backlog. As you know, in 2020, there was a significant increase in purchases of firearms. I mean, by an enormous amount. So it just exacerbated the backlog that already existed that ISP is now attempting to whittle down.
Speaker 1: (20:50)
Paris at WTTW. Does the governor support the plan from Representative Crespo and Senator Koehler to clawback 20% from Medicaid MCO profits during the pandemic? Will the state tried to renegotiate rates with MCOs given lower utilization?
I don’t know the specifics to the plan that you’re suggesting, but I will say that we absolutely believe that we’ve got to not only make sure that everybody gets covered in Illinois, under Medicaid, people who are in the Medicaid system and gets the kind of services that they deserve, but also that we keep costs down as much as possible. So I’m willing to explore nearly anything that will help us do that. What I don’t want is a diminishment of services or of the quality of service that Medicaid recipients get.
Speaker 1: (21:39)
James Stratton at WREX in Rockford. A number of Illinois residents who received PUA assistance have now received letters from IDES saying they were overpaid and must pay back thousands of dollars. A spokesperson with IDES says these are issues due to federal problems and guidance. What does Governor Pritzker say to those who now have to pay the money back? Are you going to push for a change at the federal level?
So just to remind everybody who may not be aware of what James is talking about, the federal government created a brand new system that had never existed before to provide unemployment to those who are 1090s or contractors essentially. It was created on the fly by the federal government, it requires that people verify for themselves their income level. So when they went into the system, they put down what they might have thought was going to be their income for the year, or otherwise. Then the state has to verify those numbers on the backend.
Illinois is not the only state that has faced challenges with this. This is an enormous problem across the country. The program itself was created quickly without a lot of thought by the federal government, by the Congress. I do think that only Congress can really act to remedy the situation that the system itself created.
Speaker 1: (23:09)
Peter Hancock at Capitol News Illinois, for Governor Pritzker. All of the federal money states got through the CARES Act has to be spent or committed by December 30th. In the absence of another federal relief package before the end of the year, what happens to Illinois’ relief program, specifically purchasing PPE and other direct response related expenses?
In the absence of any renewed program, while certainly I want to be clear, I have regular communication with our congressional delegation and with leadership at that the federal level about making sure that we can continue to provide the kinds of PPE and other … not to mention testing and tracing. So I’m continuing to work for federal government extension of programs like that.
But we have done, I think, a pretty good job, I will say of making sure that our strategic national stockpile for the state of Illinois has a significant amount of PPE. We are prepared with more than a 60 day supply of nearly every kind of PPE item that you could think of, and that’s assuming a kind of worst case scenario.
Then there’s a 30 day supply that’s been delivered or acquired by local public health departments. Then, of course, on the front lines, the hospitals and other medical centers. So at least at the PPE level, we, I think have a pretty good situation. We think that that will hold us for now, but we do think the federal government is going to have to step up.
Look, there’s also going to be money needed going forward for vaccine distribution. There’s some available now, but this is going to go on for some time now. So I encourage our congressional delegation to get involved and help the state.
Speaker 1: (25:02)
Dean Olsen at the SJ-R. This is probably best for Dr. Ezike. What are the adverse reaction rates associated with the two or more COVID-19 vaccines in the pipeline? Do you have any concerns about those rates and the news from the UK about allergic reactions related to the Pfizer vaccine?
Dr. Ezike: (25:20)
Yeah. So again, this is some of the detailed information that will also be put out tomorrow when we will be hearing officially from the FDA. But regarding the information out of the UK, we did hear of two significant allergic reactions. These were individuals that had a history of severe allergic reactions. They were both healthcare workers that already carried with them epi pens on a regular basis because of a known allergic reaction history, that history of anaphylaxis. So they were able to have that epi pen, if you will, administered and they recovered.
Dr. Ezike: (25:59)
So since then, they have made a new recommendation that anyone with that history of severe allergic reactions should hold off on getting the vaccination. So we didn’t hear about that kind of reaction in the trials. Again, it involved up to 40,000 different individuals, but the things that we have heard commonly, which are not unique to this vaccine are fever, malaise, headache. We have seen that up to in the highest numbers, 20, 25% of the people. So we are aware of that. We’re wanting to make sure that people are aware of that, so that if they experienced some of those symptoms, or all of them, that they don’t think that something’s wrong, but instead understand that that is an effect of the vaccine and expect it to be even more significant with the second dose, as opposed to the first. So we want to include that in our messaging. We want providers to be aware of that so that they can …
Dr. Ezike: (27:03)
… that’s in our messaging. We want providers to be aware of that so that they can give the proper anticipatory guidance to people so that they know what to expect and not be fearful of that response.
Speaker 1: (27:11)
Amy Jacobson is asking, do you support CEO of CPS Janice Jackson’s position that unless a teacher has a certified pre-existing condition in pre-K and special ed, they must return to work on January 11th or be terminated?
Well, those are discussions that are going on all over the state, I might say between local school boards and school administrators and teachers, with a lot of parental involvement as well. So I think those are going to get decided by each district separately and that’s not for me to dictate. What we provided for all of the schools in Illinois was guidance that would allow them to keep everybody in the schools safe. And following that guidance is what we have asked for and required of all schools across the state. As far as I am aware, nearly every school that has in-person learning is following that guidance and we haven’t heard much of a deviation from that at all.
Speaker 1: (28:15)
Jamie Monks at the Tribune. How confident are you that the state will receive shipments timed, so people who received the first doses can get the second doses within the recommended timeframe? And how will the state address the situation if there are shipment delays that affect that timeframe?
Well, it’s my understanding that actually they’re not shipping the first shipment until they know they have the second shipments available. In other words, no one will get a first dose, I am told, of a particular manufactured vaccine like Pfizer without there being a second one that is already available and not yet shipped. So, that is my current understanding. That is why you may have heard me, I don’t know about a week or so ago, talk about how we may have to cut the shipments in half so that we would know there was a second dose coming. But then we were assured that actually we can take the first 109,000 that come to the State of Illinois. We can put those vaccines into people’s arms with, from knowledge that there are 109,000, at least that will follow that for the people who took that first dose.
Speaker 1: (29:20)
Tony Arnold at WB Easy besides asking the Biden transition team for an expansion and testing capabilities, what other conversations and asks have you had of the president-elect’s team?
Well, as you know, I have asked for quite some time now that there be support for our restaurants and bars and small businesses in Illinois. I think that the Congress should pass the Restaurants Act. I’ve made that clear to the transition team and as well, it’s very important for local governments to be reimbursed for lost revenue. Same thing for state governments, lost revenue as a result of COVID. Once again, the federal government provided lots and lots of support for major industries, lots of private large businesses got money, PPP and otherwise, but nothing came to local and state governments to replace the revenue that was lost as a result of COVID. So, those are two very important things that I’ve talked to the transition team about. A few others, but I would say those are two highlighted items.
Speaker 1: (30:29)
NBC Five for Dr. Ezike, can you address concerns circulating on social media that the vaccine could cause fertility issues in women?
Dr. Ezike: (30:41)
We don’t have any information about that. We don’t have any information actually in pregnancy, anyone who started, women who were in the trial, who became pregnant were removed from the trial. So we can’t give any information about pregnancy. And so we’re probably not going to hear that it will be permitted for pregnant women or women who plan to be pregnant in the next three months. And so in terms of fertility, we know people planning fertility should not get the COVID vaccine, but I don’t think we know of any adverse effects causing fertility issues for people who’ve got it.
Speaker 1: (31:23)
Marnie Pike at the Daily Herald, are there any more details on how the general public could receive the vaccine? At pharmacies private practices at large facilities, similar to test sites?
Yes, yes, and yes. The answer is that everywhere that you’ve been able to get a flu shot in the past, we hope that when the general public has the vaccine available to it, that we’ll be providing it to all of those locations. And the manufacturing of the vaccine is really the thing that holds up the timing of that. But we’re absolutely prepared to use every one of those named locations as a possible distribution point for a vaccine to the general public.
Speaker 1: (32:04)
And Mariana Hearn is asking about stark and Henry counties saying they will allow indoor dining and asking for your reaction to that.
Well, I think, look, I believe that there’s a lot of local political pressure that sometimes gets put on local public health departments improperly, I might add. Local public health officials are trying their best to manage in these extraordinary circumstances, in these unprecedented times. And they’re doing the best that they can without having elected officials who don’t know much about public health by themselves, interfere with what’s best for the public health of people who live in those counties. So I just discourage elected officials from exercising that kind of political influence.
Speaker 1: (32:55)
This is for Dr. Ezike, from Hannah, at NPR, Illinois. On the IDPH webpage that lays out data on cases by potential exposure location, the city of Chicago’s data is not included. It’s included in the page with outbreak information. Is there some sort of disconnect between IDPH and the city’s health department on potential exposure to locations?
Dr. Ezike: (33:16)
There is a different platform that the city of Chicago is using to collect their contact tracing data. So their data does not feed directly into the state’s data that we get from the other local health departments. So I might direct you back to CDPH to get that specific data. We do get the outbreak data across the state. That’s a separate platform, a separate reporting system that everyone uses, so we do have that information.
Just to be clear, every other public health department in the state uses the common system that we have. And the city of Chicago has struggled to implement the system. And so we absolutely want them to provide the data. We have offered help for them to provide the data, but we haven’t yet received it.
Speaker 1: (34:06)
This is one last question from Hannah and it’ll be our last one. Leader Durkin yesterday sent you a letter saying your administration hasn’t provided a list of potential cuts laid out by agency heads more than a year ago. You claim you’re waiting for potential cuts from legislative leaders, have you or GOMB or Deputy Governor Heinz been in touch with Durkin since yesterday’s letter?
Not since like yesterday’s letter, but to be clear, Leader Durkin and his Republican colleagues went all in trying to defeat the fair tax, which would have been a good beginning of a solution to the problem that the state faces balancing its budget. A problem, by the way that I made sure was exposed to everybody when I came into office. Problem that’s existed for decades in the state. And now that they’ve exerted all the effort and defeated the fair tax, I would hope I would think that they have some alternative proposal and so I’ve asked them to put forward the cuts that they would make to state government. I haven’t heard back from them about what those cuts would be, but I anticipate that they should provide those since they’re the ones who defeated at least the proposal that I put forward.
Speaker 1: (35:17)
All right. Thanks everyone.