Nov 24, 2020

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript November 24

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript November 24
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsIllinois Gov. JB Pritzker COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript November 24

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker held a press conference on November 24 to discuss coronavirus updates. Read the transcript here.

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Speaker 1: (02:05)
All right everyone, thanks for joining us for our daily coronavirus briefing today. We’ll start with Governor Pritzker.

J. B. Pritzker: (02:11)
Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to the COVID-19 update for Tuesday, November 24th. I wanted to follow up on yesterday’s update regarding our support for those who have lost income in the wake of COVID-19 with an update on our $250 million local government CURE program, which supports local governments by reimbursing them for expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency. That can include everything from overtime payroll for first responders, or local human services, or PPE, plexiglass dividers, and more. We’re still seeing far too many local governments not taking the necessary action to claim their funds. Remember, this is money that Congress provided for the State of Illinois to support local COVID-19 response for Downstate government entities. Cook and the collar counties are not eligible for these dollars and instead received direct support from the federal government.

J. B. Pritzker: (03:21)
At the beginning of this month, we announced that we sent out over 390 payments to local governments, and we’re waiting on more than 500 local government units statewide to submit their requests. In the weeks since, we’ve moved through new applicants efficiently and effectively, with more than $118 million paid out or on the way, but we still have more than 350 local government units that have not taken the simple yet necessary steps to claim their dollars, funding which could help with offsetting basic costs for payroll and PPE and contact tracing and other essential costs for their emergency response. Remember, this is a $250 million program, and I want every Downstate community to get its fair share.

J. B. Pritzker: (04:14)
Last week, DCEO issued a reminder to all the eligible governments around Illinois that we need them to provide their use of funds by December 1st, one week from today. That’s on top of all the work that DCEO has done to help local governments recoup the maximum amount of reimbursement allowed under their coronavirus relief fund eligibility. Launching a user-friendly website, building thousands of calls, conducting dozens of webinars and standing up dedicated office hours to provide step-by-step instructions on submitting eligible costs over the phone with its team of experts, that’s what DCEO has been doing to assist our local government.

J. B. Pritzker: (05:01)
I also want to thank the Illinois Municipal League and the Illinois Association of County Board Members and other county and local leaders around the state for their partnership in implementing this program and getting the word out to their communities. Historically, Downstate Illinois hasn’t gotten the attention or the support that it deserves from the state, and I’m very proud of the work that our administration is doing during this pandemic to reach out to and support communities Downstate that have too often been left out.

J. B. Pritzker: (05:35)
This is another urgent call today to Downstate communities to claim the dollars that we’ve made available for you. I want to encourage not just mayors and county board chairs, but also residents to visit the DCEO website to find out if your community hasn’t yet registered for its reimbursements and then call on your local elected leaders to make sure that this gets done. We know just about every community in the state has had to deal with new costs this year related to the COVID-19 response. This program ensures that the funds to support those efforts don’t have to cut into local school budgets or roadwork or environmental cleanups or cause your local taxes to increase to cover those costs.

J. B. Pritzker: (06:23)
Now, I also want to remind small businesses that are experiencing unforeseen costs and hurdles to apply online for Business Interruption Grant. It’s a program that we created to support specifically businesses all across our state. Today we’ve awarded $140 million in grants to more than 5,500 businesses statewide. This funding has been deployed to businesses in more than 520 communities, including to businesses like restaurants, and retail, event spaces, arts venues, hair salons, museums, and much, much more. Still for every BIG grant recipient, we know there are many more out there in need. And that’s why we’re encouraging businesses to apply for funding before it’s too late. Grants are made available in amounts ranging from $5,000 to up to $150,000, depending upon the losses that they’ve incurred. And while there’s no deadline for this program, $129 million remaining will be issued on a rolling basis until the funding is exhausted, sort of first come first served. Similar to the Local CURE program, our DCEO team is providing technical assistance to help small businesses obtain this funding as quickly as possible.

J. B. Pritzker: (07:50)
Before I turn it over to Dr. Ezike, I want to remind everyone that our hospitals are still under siege by this latest upswing of COVID cases. And with the latest mitigations not expected to show up in the numbers for at least another week or 10 days, Thanksgiving this year needs to be different. For those who have already altered your usual plan to keep your relatives and your friends safe, thank you. And to those who haven’t yet changed your plans, the doctors are asking all of us to skip the big group dinner this year. The vaccines that seem to be on the horizon can’t help you if you get sick now. It appears it may just be a matter of months, not years, before it’s safe for all of us to gather with extended family and friends again. Let’s keep each other safe until then. It’s not too late to change your plans if you haven’t already. Let’s all do our part to keep our loved ones safe and healthy this holiday season. And thank you all very much for following the mitigations and listening. It’s very important for us to make changes-

J. B. Pritzker: (09:03)
… and listening. It’s very important for us to make changes this holiday and I am somewhat certain that in the next few months that we’ll start to see things really change, and next year we’ll be able to have that robust Thanksgiving that everybody loves to have.

J. B. Pritzker: (09:18)
So, now I’d like to turn it over to our Director of the Department of Public Health, Dr. Ngozi Ezike. Doctor?

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (09:25)
Thank you so much Governor and good afternoon everyone. Let me start with the numbers; in the past 24 hours more than 97,000 COVID tests have been reported for a total of now almost 10 million tests since the beginning of this pandemic. Today we are reporting 9,469 new COVID cases, and unfortunately reporting 125 additional lives lost to COVID-19. That brings the total number of cases in Illinois to 674,089 and 11, 677 total lives lost.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (10:09)
As the governor mentioned, we’re looking at the hospital numbers across the state, 6,134 individual were in the hospital with COVID and of those 1,203 were in the ICU, and 668 were on ventilators.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (10:29)
We often talk about the pandemic in terms of the physical impact of the disease, in terms of the newly diagnosed cases. The individuals who are actually infected with the disease. The people who end up in the hospital, and of course the ultimate sacrifice in deaths. Even if you haven’t been directly touched by loss related to COVID-19, even if you are among the almost 12 million who have not been diagnosed with infection, there is still a heavy mental impact that is taking a toll on you. It’s taking a toll on all of us.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (11:07)
There is fear, there is anxiety about this novel disease and the illness that it can cause and that it has caused. There’s stress about our financial situation, due to job loss and even the complete loss of a business. And there’s depression and there’s loneliness due to the social distancing. Any or all of these things can cause short term and maybe even longterm mental health difficulties. The signs of mental distress can be visible, but there are probably so many more who are suffering in silence. Please don’t underestimate how far a smile, or a kind word can go. Or an offer to pick up carry out from a restaurant and leave it on someones doorstep. Or simply provide an ear to listen to someone talk about their day or their frustrations.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (12:10)
There are many resources that can help the people of Illinois so that they don’t have to suffer; including the Illinois free emotional support text line, where you can speak with a mental health professional. Text talk, T-A-L-K to 55- 2020. Or Hablar, H-A-B-L-A-R for Spanish to that same number, 55-2020.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (12:43)
The Illinois Department of Human Services also has mental health resources on its website; including how to work on your emotional wellbeing and self care and how to navigate anxiety caused by COVID-19. This pandemic is a truly difficult time for everyone, but we can get through it together, by offering support and compassion to those around us, and by wearing our mask, and by watching our distance. By washing our hands and by getting our flu shot. This will result in us protecting one another, instead of infecting one another. And so that leads me to another plea to please make the responsible decision to celebrate Thanksgiving virtually this year, as the governor has already implored. Without even knowing it, you could be putting your friends and family, or yourself in grave danger. Please stay home this year. Let’s save lives together. Thank you.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (13:52)
[Foreign language 00:13:52]- And with that I will turn it back over to Governor Pritzker.

Speaker 2: (17:23)
All right, we’ll start with questions from reporters. Jim Haggerty is a Rockford advocate. This one’s for you Dr. Ezike; the number of people in the hospital has increased by 247 in the last week. Is that still a worrisome increase given the state-wide staffing shortages, or does it appear hospitalizations are starting to plateau?

Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (17:43)
Thank you for that. Having over 6,000 COVID patients in the hospital, one of out every four patients in the hospital has COVID. The increase has been a little bit slower than last week, thank you for noticing that. I want to be cautiously optimistic, but I don’t want to put too much out there. We are continuing to follow the-

Dr. Ezike: (18:03)
… too much out there. We are continuing to follow these numbers closely. We did actually have a day where it dipped, where there were fewer [inaudible 00:18:11] didn’t go much higher, but we just have to wait and see. I know that people are understanding the gravity of the situation. I know more people are trying to be more careful. And so I hope that’s what’s reflected here.

Dr. Ezike: (18:26)
We still have yet to see, as the governor already mentioned, we have yet to see the effects of the tier three mitigations that went into place Friday, but I’m hopeful that people are taking this seriously, that they’ve made changes to their Thanksgiving plans, such that this will be a continuing trend that we will see slowing of the number of people in the hospital and hopefully continued lowering of cases so that we can turn this around, for the benefit of each of us individually, as well as the healthcare workers that have done so much to keep us safe.

Speaker 4: (18:59)
Jaime Monks of the Chicago Tribune. What are the largest challenges facing Illinois right now in getting ready to be able to direct vaccine distribution? What preparations need to be made between now and when the first shipments come in?

J. B. Pritzker: (19:14)
Dr. Ezike, you want to start us out on that and I’ll finish up if there’s anything to add.

Dr. Ezike: (19:19)
Sure. We are so excited to think about the prospect of us having vaccines that will be available to ship to Illinois and that we will be able to put in the arms of the people of Illinois, if everything works out with the safety and the efficacy evaluation by the FDA and the CDC. That being said, of course, we’ve been working since the beginning on this, in terms of securing. We have freezer trucks that are going to be able to carry the vaccine that we know has to be held at that specially low temperature. We’ve been working with our local health departments that put their plans in place for how we will get this vaccine disseminated.

Dr. Ezike: (20:05)
We have our ground game giving virtual town halls and talks to different groups to prepare them, to have them ask questions about the vaccine so that they can have all the information they need to make the most informed decision. Of course, we are going to be prioritizing. We know that even if everything goes through smoothly in the next couple of weeks and vaccine is shipped, there won’t be many doses. I know I had originally quoted 400,000 doses, that’s what we’ve been told. That number has already been downgraded to something like 80,000.

Dr. Ezike: (20:40)
So, again, all of these numbers are constantly in flux. And so we are staying very nimble to be able to adjust. As the feds give us more information we adjust and tweak our plans. We have been working, the CDC and the feds have seen our plan and have told us that we look good with what we’re planning. We have hospitals that have signed up to be COVID vaccine providers. And so we know that that first tranche of vaccines will go to the hospital workers, individuals who are on the front lines in terms of working directly with COVID patients who are in the face of COVID every day, as well as our first responders, which will also include our national guard.

Dr. Ezike: (21:27)
So, we are continuing to work. We are very much looking forward to being able to be a part of helping us get to the other side of this pandemic with this very valuable resource that’s being provided.

J. B. Pritzker: (21:41)
And I’ll just add, if I may, that there’s a level of complexity here, Jamie. Just that we’re coordinating with the CDC, which has been changing its recommendations along the way, which is fine, we want to make sure we get their expertise. There’s also a level of complexity because the vaccines aren’t all going to be the same. Some are going to require this -94 degrees to be stored. Some will not require that, but will have different temperature requirements.

J. B. Pritzker: (22:13)
So, all of that has to be taken into account in terms of the timing, the amount of preparation. As you’ve heard now, there are four vaccines that are sort of on their way to the potential for an EUA from the FDA. So we’re going to watch closely, make as many preparations as we can, listen to the CDC and when the first ones come, we hope to be prepared because of all the work that we’ve been doing, frankly, since the very beginning of the pandemic. I think in April is when we started to put together, at least the sketch of what a plan might be for distribution.

J. B. Pritzker: (22:56)
But when you don’t know exactly how many shots you’re going to need or what the temperature is, makes it all the more difficult to get prepared. But we’re getting closer, the CDC is helping, the FDA no doubt will have its advisory as well. And we’ll be ready to go, we believe, as soon as those vaccines hit the ground.

Speaker 4: (23:17)
All right. Kelly Bauer at Block Club. With demand surging across the country for healthcare workers, what is Illinois doing to keep doctors and nurses here in the state?

Speaker 3: (23:27)
So let me just remind you that, it’s the healthcare providers themselves, mostly private hospitals, some public hospitals, other medical centers that are doing the hiring. They’re the ones who reach out to the independent contractors that can provide teams of nurses and doctors that are independent, that can be brought in to augment existing staff. It is a difficult time, there’s no doubt about it because there’s demand all over the country. People who were independent contractors here in Illinois might’ve been hired to work in a state nearby or a state far away. May have been offered two or three times what they were offered originally in Illinois. So, it is a difficult moment.

Speaker 3: (24:15)
So, what can we do to help those institutions? That’s really what we do. I think if you look back in April, many of the things that we did in March and April to help augment staff are the things that we continue to do today. We’ve offered licenses for people who’ve retired to come back into the workforce. Those folks are making themselves available. We helped the nursing students and other students who were on the verge of grad, we made sure that they could get the credits that they need and get graduated so they could get to work.

Speaker 3: (24:54)
So, all of those things are still in place. And then we’re talking to all the hospitals about what we can do to be of assistance. Each one needs a little bit different kind of help, but they’re the ones who are on the front lines and going to be deciding the level of staffing that they’ll need and how we can be of assistance to them.

Speaker 4: (25:14)
Cole at WCIA. Mahomet School District in Champaign County is still in-person learning and the local teacher’s union says there are schools who are not enforcing tier three distancing rules, should County health department step in and enforce mitigation rules at public schools?

J. B. Pritzker: (25:31)
Well, the County public health departments play a very important role locally in advising our schools about what the best practices are. Schools that aren’t quite getting it right need to reach out to their local public health departments and the public health departments should step in and advise the schools on best practices. We’ve also provided, the IDPH and the ISBE, have provided guidelines for all the schools to follow in order to make sure that they’re safe being in school.

J. B. Pritzker: (26:04)
So, in terms of enforcement, what we’ve asked is that local school boards work with the local teachers, the parents, and of course the students to determine what’s safest in that community and then make sure that that gets implemented, again, with the help of local public health officials.

Speaker 4: (26:25)
Amy Jacobson. Pritzker, I’ve been watching IDPH and IDVA Senate hearing. And two things, Director Chapa LaVia just said she didn’t notify you when it was clear there was an outbreak and it appears some workers due to short staffing were allowed to work after testing positive. Will Director Chapa LaVia be reprimanded or fired?

J. B. Pritzker: (26:47)
Well, look, I expect all facilities to follow all the public health guidance that we give. And if there are instances in which that’s not happening, I expect answers about why. An infection team was sent in to the LaSalle facility-

J. B. Pritzker: (27:03)
An infection team was sent in to the LaSalle facility and any additional resources that are needed will be provided. Based upon the investigatory work of RVA and federal VA, there have already been a few changes of a certain nature. Not major, but minor changes that were recommended. If our investigation, and you know that we implemented an IG investigation today, if our investigation determines that there was wrongdoing by anyone, then we’ll take appropriate steps to respond.

Speaker 5: (27:44)
Looks like Marni Pike at the Daily Herald is our last question. Despite precautions, lots of Illinoisans are traveling now as seen by the lines and crowds at O’Hare. Are you concerned about people not social distancing at the airport?

J. B. Pritzker: (27:58)
Yes, of course. I’d like to turn it over to the doctor to finish up this answer, but I’ll just say that if you are planning on traveling… It is Tuesday. Thanksgiving is just two days away. If you are planning to travel right now, I urge you to rethink that. Just to decide that maybe this year you could do it by Zoom. It’s not as much fun. I get that. But it’s different. You might try something different this year and it certainly will be much, much safer for you, because you won’t be traveling with other people, packed into whether it’s an airplane, a bus, or some other transportation. You won’t be bringing it to your family or your friends that you were going to meet, or they won’t be giving it to you. Then finally, for those people who if you decide you just can’t change your plans, then please change your plans if you can. If you can’t change your plans, you feel like you absolutely have to go, let me encourage you, please wear your mask even when you go to someone else’s house and you think that this is somebody that you love, it’s a friend of yours, you want so badly to be close to them. Wear your mask and keep some distance. I believe it’s the only year you’re going to have to do this. I just urge you to do the right thing. If we can keep our infection rate at least somewhat plateaued, even going in the right direction during this holiday season and shortly after, we see the people who’ve done the right thing. We’re going to see a lot of progress before the Christmas holidays. Please follow those mitigations.

J. B. Pritzker: (29:47)
I’ll turn it over to Dr. Ezike.

Dr. Ezike: (29:50)
Let’s think about what was just said. The governor of Illinois is telling people not to travel and be with their family on Thanksgiving. I know that that sounds crazy, but that is 2020. This would not happen in any other year. We have to accept what we’re dealing with: a global pandemic, the likes of which no one has seen before. That does deserve a change from the norm. We can’t just try to honor tried and true traditions, family traditions. I know people will say, “This is the first time in 60 years that I’m not going to be with my family.” I’m sorry, but that’s what it is now, so that we can have our traditional Thanksgiving in 2021.

Dr. Ezike: (30:35)
Of course, I know that there are people who are listening, who are not going to follow this. In the theory of harm reduction, we give you these other tips. Again, they’re not the same and not as safe as doing it virtually, but if for some reason you think it’s too late to change your plans, and I really think it’s not, have a conversation with your guests. Everyone might be too timid to bring up the conversation and say that they’re really having second thoughts and that they’re really thinking about what the CDC and what all the public health officials are saying. Have that conversation. If you’re bringing these people into your home or you’re going into their home, I’m sure these conversations should be had.

Dr. Ezike: (31:18)
If you really decide, after all the guidance, that this is the right thing, and I’m arguing that it’s not, really commit that you will separate households within that space; commit that if you’re not actively eating or drinking, that you will have a mask on in the house; commit that if the weather allows, you will move everything outdoors; even as you’re moving through the airport, that you will go out of your way to keep distance, that you will not take your mask off if you’re in the plane; you will not take your mask off for any reason; that you will minimize any kind of extra movement around; that you will carry hand sanitizer to be able to clean your hands if you can’t use soap and water.

Dr. Ezike: (32:06)
These are things that can help decrease the risk, they won’t take it to zero, but I just urge you on the front end. If it can be canceled, I know that airlines are refunding or giving credits, I know that that’s not the issue, please, we just don’t want this Thanksgiving to be a tragedy; and that every Thanksgiving after that, that will Mark the anniversary of when a loved one was infected and maybe even worse. We don’t want that memory to be our Thanksgiving memory. Let’s do it different in 2020, please.

Speaker 5: (32:40)
All right. Thanks, Dr. Ezike. Thank you, Governor. We’ll see you all tomorrow.