May 7, 2020
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker Coronavirus Press Conference Transcript May 7
Governor J.B. Pritzker of Illinois held a COVID-19 briefing May 7. In Illinois COVID-19 cases reach 70K, over 3K deaths. Gig workers & independent contractors will be eligible for unemployment starting Monday. Read the full transcript of his press conference speech.
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Governor Pritzker: (00:00)
Who have been working these long days with us beginning this weekend, we will no longer hold weekend in-person briefings, but instead we’ll release daily medical statistics on Saturday and on Sunday. And then we will be back on Monday and we’ll continue with weekday briefings as usual. And now I’d like to call on Dr. Ezike for our daily medical update.
Dr. Ezike: (00:24)
Thank sir. Thank you governor and good afternoon everyone. I know there are many questions about the data such as where it comes from and how the numbers are adjusted. Let me start by trying to explain our efforts and provide you with the most current explanations. We have lots of data that we’re always trying to get to you in real time. What this means is that as soon as the data is reported to us, again, we are not going out to collect the data, the data is reported to the Illinois Department of Public Health. As soon as we get it, we’re trying to share it with the public. However, by doing this, it means that the data potentially can change as new information is updated. Let me share with you a common example. If IDPH receives a lab report that has an incorrect address for an individual, when we give that information to the local health department to properly investigate the case, they might find that, no, this in fact is not a resident of my County, this is actually a different County.
Dr. Ezike: (01:31)
This now means that the number of cases for those two counties, their report totals will fluctuate. One will go up and one will go down. So, ordinarily with all the data that IDPH handles, our data managers and our data stewards usually take time to really clean the data, remove the inconsistencies, delete duplicate, et cetera. But during this pandemic as we’re trying to share the information so quickly, we’re not able to do all of that work. So, as we move forward with Restore Illinois, we will provide you with this timely data that will be meaningful, but we share with you those caveats. To that end, we’re also of course giving you the hospital utilization data, we’re giving you hospital availability data and we’re giving you positivity rates on our COVID testing. Information on hospital admissions for COVID like illness is reported to IDPH directly from the hospitals through an automated surveillance system. We call this syndromic surveillance.
Dr. Ezike: (02:35)
The data again will lag by a few days, but by doing so we’re helping to capture at least 90% of the data for that time period. Our goal is to be able to both give you complete data and data quickly and trying to mesh those two goals. IDPH values the diligence of all those staff and all the personnel who supply state with this much needed data. And every single day we have staff and personnel from hospitals, from testing laboratories, from local health departments who are supplying this critical information. This information is vital to shaping our understanding of exactly where we are in this pandemic, where we’re headed and what we might need to do. I thank Governor Pritzker for listening to the data and using it to make the tough decisions he has had to make in keeping all of Illinois safe. And now let me turn to our latest statistics. To date, we have run a total of 379,043 tests for COVID-19, with 17,783 tests being resulted in the last 24 hours.
Dr. Ezike: (03:48)
Since yesterday, of those 17 plus thousand test resulted, 2,641 tests were positive. That’s a 15% of positivity rate. And that brings our total number of positive cases to 70,873. Most sadly, we report that we have exceeded 3000 deaths related to COVID for the state of Illinois. With the additional 138 lives reported as lost over the last 24 hours, we now have a total of 3,111 fatalities. Regarding inpatient admissions related to COVID, 4,862 individuals as of midnight we’re in the hospital with COVID and of those 1,253 patients were in the ICU. Of those ICU patients, 766 patients were on ventilators. We are still fighting this invisible enemy and we must continue to take measures to reduce its spread. Please let’s honor our elderly mothers and our grandmothers this mother’s day by keeping them safe. To do that, please stay at home, please wear your face coverings, please wash your hands frequently. Thank you. And with that, I will translate into Spanish. [Spanish 00:05:15]. And with that I will turn it over to Governor Pritzker.
Governor Pritzker: (09:33)
Thank you very much Dr. Ezike. Today I want to update you on our work to get unemployment benefits to the unprecedented number of Illinoisans who have lost their jobs to the spread of COVID-19. The devastation this pandemic has wreaked upon our economy, the economy of the United States and that of the world is mind boggling. The swiftness and immediacy of its economic impact has never been seen before. Businesses, large and small have shuttered. Families have had their savings wiped out. Workers who have worked every day of their adult lives have found themselves on unemployment for the first time ever. In just over a month between the beginning of March and April 4th, the Illinois Department of Employment Security saw more initial claims filed than in all 12 months of 2019 combined. Then in the following month between April 4th and May 2nd that number had nearly doubled. As of today, IDES has now processed more than one million initial unemployment claims just since March 1st. That’s over one million claims in just the first nine weeks of this crisis.
Governor Pritzker: (11:04)
Compare that to the first nine weeks of The Great Recession of 2008, when there were 180,000 claims in Illinois. This historic number of claims has also led to historic levels of benefits being paid out. In the first four months of 2020, Illinois has paid out over $2 billion in claims. That’s $500 million more than what was paid out in all 12 months of 2019. The pain and devastation for people who lost their jobs is heartbreaking. Beyond the thousands who’ve died and tens of thousands who’ve been sick and hundreds of thousands who’ve lost friends and loved ones to COVID-19, the financial toll on the people of Illinois has been breathtaking and it’s unprecedented. IDES is an often overlooked agency, which has been fundamentally defunded over many years. It has 500 fewer employees now than it did during The Great Recession a decade ago, it’s computer systems like those of many other states was built in the aftermath of The Great Recession with the idea that nothing could ever be worse than The Great Recession. Yet this current crisis has seen national unemployment claims surpass that era several times over.
Governor Pritzker: (12:36)
IDES’s systems were unfit to handle the surge causing tens of thousands of Illinoisans to wait at a moment when families are hurting at a scale the world hasn’t seen before in our lifetimes. IDES employees have built their lives around doing the public service of helping people through these tough times and they’ve demonstrated their deep commitment repeatedly during this crisis. They have been working every day to expand our systems and capability to meet the increased need as quickly as possible. In many ways, they’ve been forced to build a new airplane while flying it. Over the last two months, IDES has used every avenue available to build up capacity. Employees have worked thousands of overtime hours to process the avalanche of claims. The agency brought on new employees, brought back retired employees, increased daily call center hours, updated the phone systems, grew the number of phone lines, overhauled the web platform, implemented an alphabetized filing schedule and brought on outside partners including IBM, Pitney Bowes, Deloitte, Google AI, Quantiphi and Carahsoft. And that’s all in a matter of weeks. For those reaching out over the phone, our new call center is now up and running. There will be 100 new agents by Monday and we will continue to scale it up with a hundred additional agents taking calls. For those filing online, while there is still more work to be done, IDES computer systems have improved measurably. Load times for webpages now average less than one second. The IDES chat bot that Google AI helped to build, answered over 3.2 million inquiries in its first two weeks online alone. And this past week we launched a voice agent to further assist those trying to file claims. As a result of these improvements, IDES is now paying unemployment benefits in a timely manner to 99.9% of clean claims. And the majority of these claimants, approximately 75% received their first payments within…
Governor Pritzker: (15:03)
Approximately 75% receive their first payments within two weeks of filing. In order to expedite getting income to the unemployed as fast as possible. By executive order I waived the traditional delay of a week before the collection of benefits allowing unemployment claimants to receive two weeks of benefits instead of just one in their first payment. Illinois was also one of the first states to implement the additional $600 per week in federally funded benefits from March 29th through July 25th through the federal cares act, offering our residents and their families extra support to help pay bills and put food on the table through this pandemic. IDS was also quick to implement the 13 additional weeks of cares act funded unemployment benefits for those who run through their first 26 weeks of eligibility. And on Monday as promised, IDS is prepared to begin processing claims for 1099 workers including independent contractors and sole proprietors, self-employed individuals and many others who don’t qualify for traditional unemployment.
Governor Pritzker: (16:15)
Under the new pandemic unemployment assistance or PUA program claimants can receive up to 39 weeks of benefits backdated to the first week of unemployment. The new public website is prepared to process more than 140,000 PUA claims per hour and we will be using capacity at our new call center to support PUA claimants starting Monday. I want to review the process though for applying for POA benefits because unemployed individuals who qualify can begin the filing process even now instead of waiting until Monday. And I encourage you to do so. That’s because the federal government requires that workers who believe they may be eligible for the PUA program must first apply for regular unemployment insurance, likely getting denied before applying for benefits under PUA. That denial for regular unemployment benefits is a mandatory first step in determining PUA eligibility according to the federal government. But there’s no need to wait until Monday to take that first step.
Governor Pritzker: (17:29)
There’s another reason getting this step done early is so beneficial, in filing for regular unemployment claimants also select how they want to receive their benefits, direct deposit or a debit card onto which their benefits will be loaded. For those who choose the debit card which can take up to one to two weeks to arrive in the mail, that card can be mailed out after you finish filing for regular unemployment even if you’re denied. If you’re a worker who qualifies for PUA, your card could already be on the way to you before you even opened the PUA application portal on Monday. This is an enormously difficult time for many Illinoisans.
Governor Pritzker: (18:15)
The economic pain of this pandemic is enormous for Americans in every state, no matter their religion, the case count in that state or the political leanings. As we look toward reopening businesses and jobs with hope and optimism, it’s my promise to every Illinoian in that I won’t rest until we get our residents the support they need to get through this battle. Thank you, and I’d be happy to take any questions from members of the media. I think we’re going to start online and then come into the room.
Speaker 1: (18:52)
Jim Haggerty at Rock River Times, governor some business owners are wondering who is going to be making the final decision when regions may move through the five phase plan. Is it County board chairpersons, mayors, teams of leaders or your office?
Governor Pritzker: (19:06)
Actually it’s a healthcare determination as you saw each of the criterion for meeting the regional reopening is a healthcare measure. So it will be done by the Illinois department of public health.
Speaker 1: (19:22)
Dave Dahl WTAX, governor whenever you are asked about enforcing executive orders, you slough it off to the locals. You make it sound as if your orders are merely suggestions. What gives?
Governor Pritzker: (19:34)
Well first of all, that is how laws are enforced across the state of Illinois by local law enforcement. We have state police, but there are 2000 state police and there are many, many tens of thousands of police officers all across the state that work for local and County governments as well as sheriffs. And so it is true that laws are enforced at the local level and we expect that they will be enforced. That’s the responsibility of law enforcement officers, of state’s attorneys and others at the local level.
Speaker 1: (20:08)
This is from Chris Carter WAND, governor we hear of large businesses seeing outbreaks of COVID and reporting that information in numerous counties in Champagne and Sangamon Counties the health departments will release the names of businesses, stores where confirmed cases are at. But the Macon County health department refuses to provide that information saying it is IDPH guidelines. Do you as governor feel in any interest of public safety businesses where outbreaks should be reported?
Governor Pritzker: (20:34)
I think that it is important for the people who work at those locations and people who patronize those locations to know if there’s been an outbreak. So I think it’s a responsibility of the local public health department to make that known.
Speaker 1: (20:48)
He had one followup for Dr. Ezike. What is IDPH’s official stance on businesses such as manufacturing companies providing information on positive cases to employees and the public?
Dr. Ezike: (21:00)
So there is a mandated reporting to IDPH regarding outbreaks and so I think people are reporting that information to us. We are capturing the information. All the information you have regarding outbreaks is what has been reported obviously from the locals. Regarding putting out information regarding manufacturing, I don’t know if we have specific guidance related to that, so I think people are using their discretion to do what they think is appropriate in their locales.
Speaker 1: (21:31)
Mike Miletich Quincy Media, a growing number of police and state’s attorneys say they will not enforce your order even if complaints are made. Have you considered utilizing state police and state licensing agencies to hold people accountable?
Governor Pritzker: (21:43)
Yes, and I’ve talked about that before.
Speaker 1: (21:48)
Okay. Cisco at WBBM Newsradio, the NFL is announcing its 2020 schedule the seasoning. If Chicago is not at phase five will even a reduced number of fans be allowed to attend games at Soldier Field?
Governor Pritzker: (22:00)
Well, again, we want to make sure that everybody’s safe, so all across the country if the nation isn’t in a state where we can have tens of thousands of people together in a stadium, then I don’t think you’re going to see a football opening up to having fans in the stands. However, you may know that many of the leagues and teams and I have spoken with many of them are considering opening their seasons or continuing their seasons without fans in the stands so that people can enjoy the sports online on TV.
Speaker 1: (22:35)
Dave McKinney at WBEZ, a valet to president Trump has COVID-19, given the president’s reluctance to wear a mask do you believe he should quarantine for 14 days? And can you outline when you and your staff wear masks at the office what’s the status of your staffer who had COVID?
Governor Pritzker: (22:49)
Yeah, I think as a leader you should set a good example for people. You should follow the rules. Look, you can get tested after you’ve been exposed to somebody to determine whether you have COVID-19 and I would hope that the president of the United States has been tested after finding out that he’s been exposed to somebody with COVID-19. But I think that wearing face coverings in public and in offices where you can’t keep social distance and where it may be required by the IDPH and its guidance is appropriate. And we do wear face coverings in the office. It’s something that we began doing not that long ago, but some number of maybe two weeks ago. When we have meetings or anything else everybody is encouraged to and asked to wear a face cover.
Speaker 1: (23:42)
Shia Politico, how does the general election fit into the new phase and plan?
Governor Pritzker: (23:47)
Well, I think you’ve heard me say this many, many times. We need to have mail balloting for everybody in the state of Illinois so that we can make it much, much easier for people to vote who otherwise may not be able to leave their homes. It’s especially true for those most vulnerable populations, so it’s very important that we pass a law, the legislature when they get together to make sure that we have the ability to do that in the state. Obviously there will be in person voting as well and so how we implement that will be important, but I think that’ll be again with a lot of guidance from the Illinois department of public health.
Speaker 1: (24:31)
Ben Cox at WLDS, governor was everyone given the phase three green light on May 1st or will historical data be used for some of the regions to push forward towards reopening? Is historical data back to March 20th being used at all?
Governor Pritzker: (24:45)
Not for the purpose of the restore Illinois plan.
Speaker 1: (24:50)
Okay. Greg Heinz at Cranes, would you respond to complaints from the convention industry that putting them in phase five will just force them to meet in another state.
Governor Pritzker: (24:58)
First I would tell you that once again just like we were talking about large gatherings for sporting events, this is all dependent upon where we are at the time. If we have a very effective treatment and or we have a vaccine available, then I can’t wait to welcome people back to large gatherings, to conventions and so on. I’m the first person that wants to bring business to the state of Illinois and put people back to work. So I’m looking at that. I mean in terms of when we will get to stage five, I don’t know. And we’ll be evaluating that as we go. I think again, we’ve talked about the treatments that may become available before vaccine and all. I think we’ll all be watching very closely.
Speaker 1: (25:46)
Molly Parker at the Southern Illinoian, you explained that your restore regions are in part about hospital availability. Are you also looking at available beds in neighboring states that people are most likely to utilize like in Southern Illinois, that includes the Cape, Duka, St Louis, Evansville?
Governor Pritzker: (26:02)
I’d like to ask Dr. Ezike to answer the question for me.
Dr. Ezike: (26:06)
No, that’s a very good question and a very astute point that we have many different communities both in the quad city area, in East St Louis, other areas that border other places. We of course know that as well as the fact that there are people who could travel into another state, there are also individuals from the other state that could come into our state so you potentially could say that that’s a wash in terms of trying to figure out what extra amount of beds you could either add or take away based on the added population of neighboring states versus our people going to that. So they were not outside of our Illinois all the lines were drawn within the state borders and we did not add beds from neighboring states.
Speaker 1: (26:56)
This is from Andy Weber in Peoria who asks running central clothing and running store in Peoria has filed a lawsuit against the governor for the extended stay at home order and is seeking an exemption. How do you respond?
Governor Pritzker: (27:08)
Once again, everybody has a right to take a case to court to file a lawsuit, but the fact is that the goal here is to keep everybody healthy and safe in every community, even in that community. And I certainly would encourage the people who might patronize, who might be patrons of that store not to do so and the local officials to enforce the executive order that’s in place. And again, the goal here is for us to keep everybody safe and healthy and to reopen the economy in phases. So the opportunity for that store to open may arise just in three weeks or so.
Speaker 1: (27:51)
AJ with WICS, when will the state start reporting COVID-19 recovery numbers?
Dr. Ezike: (27:59)
So I have been trying to do that on a regular basis once weekly here from the podium and we will work to get that on the website. That’s not a problem to give our percentages.
Speaker 1: (28:10)
This is from Lisa at MPR. A new study from Harvard shows Illinois among the 41 states that fall short of benchmarks for adequate testing. Is it realistic that Illinois will be able to reach the suggested target of 64,000 tests a day? What specific steps are you taking to get there?
Governor Pritzker: (28:27)
I’m sorry, what was the website that’s saying this?
Speaker 1: (28:29)
Governor Pritzker: (28:30)
Yeah, every state in the country, let’s be clear is trying to ramp up testing. We’re doing it better than most indeed. We’re number two among the top 10 most populous states in the nation even now and we continue to ramp up our testing. So all I can say is that with a worldwide shortage of all of the supplies that has existed for so many weeks and with the challenge of not having any coordination of testing from the federal government or ability to gather supplies only recently some swabs from the federal government which I’m grateful for. But yeah, I mean we’re all trying to get to a sense of adequacy. I don’t think 64,000 is adequate for the state of Illinois. I think we’re going to need many more tests than that. We want people to be safe when they go to work. We want people to be safe when they go to school. We want people to be safe in all their activities and they want to know that others have been tested around them so that nobody is without an opportunity to get a test.
Speaker 1: (29:40)
Kelly at Block Club asks since… Sorry she’s asking a different question. Okay. So since 1099 employees have already been told to file online, does the state have an estimate based on that of how many people will apply starting Monday?
Governor Pritzker: (29:55)
Speaker 1: (29:55)
Okay. Jamie Monks with the Tribune, with the issues people have reported about filing for unemployment so far, what assurances can you provide that the beginning of gig workers-
Speaker 3: (30:03)
… filing for unemployment so far, what assurance can you provide that the beginning of gig workers applying for benefits will launch smoothly? What should people do if they experience issues with the system?
Governor Pritzker: (30:10)
Again, we hired outside contractors. They built an entirely new system. I described briefly to you that that system has a much higher capability than the existing systems that IDES has so unemployment, and so I believe that it will be able to handle the unemployment claims that come in under the PUA system.
Speaker 3: (30:31)
Hannah at the Daily Line, “Phase three lets people get back to work but childcare isn’t opened back up until phase four. Hearing from a lot of concerned parents about how they’re going to be able to go back to work without childcare options.”
Governor Pritzker: (30:41)
Actually, we’ve opened 2500. There are 2500 childcare facilities that are open in the state. You know that even under the stay at home order, we had emergency childcare in place. There were a number of existing childcare facilities that were able simply to downsize the size of the groups that they had of children. There is and will be childcare, and we also have a task force that we put together to make sure that we’re continuing to expand childcare availability even in the circumstances where we need to keep the groups of people getting together limited.
Speaker 3: (31:18)
Lisa Donovan at the Chicago Tribune, “I talked with former governor Jim Edgar who said he spoke by phone with Governor Pritzker this week. Governor Edgar said they talked about the stay at home order, Governor Pritzker’s plan to reopen the economy, and about the criticism that will inevitably come as the pandemic wears on. People are out of work and/or have cabin fever. He said he also shared that in crisis, he learned that doing the right thing supersedes politics and praised Governor Pritzker for doing that. What was your takeaway from that conversation? Any advice Governor Edgar had that turned up in your plan to reopen Illinois?”
Governor Pritzker: (31:49)
Look, I have reached out to Governor Edgar on a number of occasions since becoming governor, indeed, before that. He’s someone who has demonstrated terrific leadership capabilities. I reach out to people who I think have important things to offer me as advice in difficult circumstances and I would just say that Governor Edgar, you’ve heard some of what he did say to me and I think the most important thing that he said, which I already knew, but it’s important to hear it over and over again, which is, doing the right thing is always the right answer.
Speaker 3: (32:26)
Lexi Sutter at NBC 5, “Have you determined any new guidelines for hair stylists and barbers to follow? For example, requiring salons to use disposable capes or dividers between stations?”
Governor Pritzker: (32:36)
Yeah, we are working with industry leaders and workers in industries even now to make sure that IDPH has all the information that industries would want to see considered as they open and that they issue guidelines for each industry so that they are safe and that includes our stylists and barbershops.
Speaker 3: (32:59)
We’ll turn it over to Elizabeth.
Thank you very much. Good afternoon, governor.
Governor Pritzker: (33:03)
The new call center that you had mentioned, is that just for the 1099 workers and those claims? Can you describe that for me?
Governor Pritzker: (33:12)
It’s not just for that purpose, although, as you can imagine, there will be a new set of claims coming in and so expanding the workforce and the capability to answer phone lines is important.
Okay. 140,000 claims, that’s for the 1099 workers. Is that going to be enough? Should people still expect some delays?
Governor Pritzker: (33:31)
Per hour. 140,000 per hour will be able to be filed online, which is, I might add, significant improvement over the existing system for unemployment which has been around for a decade. This is a wholly new system and so I believe that it will be able to handle the unemployment claims that come in.
In that same vein, Dana Kozlov, CBS 2, “Why was it necessary to hire 50 call center workers from a Texas company to handle 1099 unemployment claims beginning this week and are all of those 200 call center employees trained and ready for Monday’s launch?”
Governor Pritzker: (34:07)
Every one of the people that is hired in that call center is from Illinois and everyone that will be hired will be from Illinois.
Are they all trained and ready to go for Monday?
Governor Pritzker: (34:16)
They are trained. Some of those people … I just want to be clear that the training that’s required to take a full intake form is training that’s mandated by the federal government and takes quite a long time, so some of what’s happening in that call center is answering questions, making sure that people have the right information so that they know how to fill it out when they go online. When they have trouble online, they can get advice about how to get it right. That’s some of what goes on with those folks in the new call center which is designed to take difficult technical questions but not personal information.
I see, okay. Mary Ann Ahern, NBC 5, “Frustration is so high with those trying to get answers about unemployment. Folks tell us the online answers are preset ones. Some have gone seven weeks with no income. In their words, ‘I’m getting the runaround and I know I’m not alone.’ While you’ve brought Deloitte to help, it’s still not enough.”
Governor Pritzker: (35:17)
There are thousands of people, there’s no doubt about it, who have had difficulty using the online system and then when they can’t, having difficulty getting through to a body, and it’s true, it’s what I was reviewing today that the systems, the number of people, the underfunding, the fact that there are 500 fewer people working at IDES today than there were a decade ago when the Great Recession occurred, is kind of evidence of what IDES has run up against and why people are having difficulty getting through.
Governor Pritzker: (35:52)
We’re ramping it up as much and as fast as possible but there are federal gates, I would say, that make it more difficult for us to answer phones, and that’s why we’ve encouraged people to go online, because the online system has a much greater capability than the in person, on the phone system.
Okay. Some questions about the reopening plan. This one from Mary Ann Ahern, NBC 5, “Will high school sports be determined by local school districts or by you? Say, Central Illinois region moves to the next phase but our region up here does not. How does that happen? Do they have extracurricular sports but these regions up here don’t?”
Governor Pritzker: (36:29)
Yeah. These are certainly issues that need to be worked out over the next few months and it will be done together with the Illinois State Board of Education, the local authorities, as well as IDPH.
Okay, and professional teams, you touched on this a little bit, but in some other states they’re kind of starting to open this stuff up. Not necessarily fans, but just the sports in general. What does that mean here for Illinois?
Governor Pritzker: (36:55)
Again, I’ve had conversations with league commissioners. Listen, I want to get sports up and going. I think people need this as an outlet. No, it won’t be in person, at least not in the next month or two, but I think it’s very important for everybody’s psyche. I think we have some terrific sports fans all across the state of Illinois that want to see this up and running, so there’s a desire to have it work.
Governor Pritzker: (37:25)
I think they’ve got to come up with a set of plans. I think they’re incentivized, by the way, the leagues are, to do the right thing. Partly, they’re incentivized because they have players that are worth millions of dollars to them that are going to be on the field, so I think they want to protect their, for lack of a better term, assets, and their people. I am looking forward to seeing the plans that the various teams are putting together.
You haven’t seen any of those plans? No one’s come forward yet with those?
Governor Pritzker: (37:58)
Not to me. I’ve not seen them, no.
From Markus Leshock, WGN, still about reopening, “What about places like Great America, Six Flags, a large waterpark? Do they wait for phase five to reopen or possibly phase four?
Governor Pritzker: (38:13)
Again, under the current guidance that’s been provided and that’s, again, with a lot of input, a significant amount of input from epidemiologists and doctors, as you saw, phase four, we would only have gatherings of 50 people or less. That was the recommendation, again, of the experts. Obviously that would be difficult for a waterpark or carnival or other kind of large venue, but again, I’ve said this before, that the hope I think we all have is that an effective treatment …
Governor Pritzker: (38:53)
know everybody sees a vaccine is happening who knows when, but an effective treatment, I think, is potentially on the horizon and that will change everything. This plan can evolve. I’ve said that we’re going to change the playbook if we need to because things will change as we go forward, so I’m somewhat hopeful that we’ll be able to address large venues like that.
My colleague, Tia Ewing, Fox 32 wants to know about malls and specifically places like Orland Park. Their tax revenue comes from the mall area of town. What about those kind of things?
Governor Pritzker: (39:31)
Again, indoor venues with hundreds and hundreds of people who will be walking together, that’s an extraordinarily difficult circumstance under the epidemiological recommendations here, so that’s something that will have to happen over the course of months and not in the immediate next phase.
Craig Wall and Eric Kahn, WLS, both want to know about the Northwest Bible Baptist Church in Elgin. Apparently, your office has received a letter informing you that starting on May 17th, they will resume in person services while instituting a long list of safety and social distancing measures. Can you respond to this and what do you say to local law enforcement about making arrests?
Governor Pritzker: (40:15)
I haven’t seen that letter and you know that I have discouraged local law enforcement from arresting people. I have not discouraged them from reminding them what their obligations are to each other and I would think that a house of worship and a pastor would know better and not encourage their parishioners to put themselves and their families in danger.
Okay. I do have some examples of what is in the letter. Apparently, temperature checks, face masks, six feet distance, no passing the plate. Encouragement that no one over 65 in attend. Are these measures good enough for a crowd of more than 10?
Governor Pritzker: (40:54)
First of all, I’m not the right person to ask. I can make some judgment of my own but it wouldn’t be an epidemiological or expert view. I think that the six foot distancing is extraordinarily important. I didn’t hear that in the suggestions that they’ve made, but suffice to say that, as I have said all along, houses of worship have an opportunity to have their parishioners worship, they just shouldn’t do it in a way that is going to cause the spread of the virus, and there are ways to do it. Many, many, many houses of worship have found ways to do this over the last six weeks.
Governor Pritzker: (41:34)
I do want to remind everybody that this has only been ongoing for about six to six and a half weeks. I know that it feels like forever for so many, and particularly for many of us who care deeply about the god that we worship and the desire to see our religious leader, pastor, rabbi, imam. This is a very difficult circumstance, I know, but I think about the sacrifices that people have made in past generations, during wars, during very difficult economic times, and I think that if people can just hang on a little bit longer as we bend the curve down. Yes, the curve has bent but it has bent to flat.
Governor Pritzker: (42:27)
As you may see in the Recover, Restore Illinois plan that we put together, we actually made it easier than the White House plan for regions to open up, because we essentially said, as long as your hospital beds are flat, there aren’t new admissions going up over the course of this periods of time, and as long as your positivity rate is stable and under 20 and that there is a capacity availability that you can open up, actually, I think that’s going to turn out to mean that some areas of the state will open earlier than the president’s plan would have suggested they could.
Is that because you think we’re going to be on this plateau for a long period of time?
Governor Pritzker: (43:16)
I don’t know but I certainly am concerned that we’re going to be on a plateau for a long period of time. I think we saw the curves from very early on that said you’d peak and then you’d head down the other side. I think I have said many times from this podium, though, that we don’t know. You don’t know until you see it in the rear view mirror whether you peaked. We could plateau and then go up again after that.
Governor Pritzker: (43:42)
What I’ve said is if you can maintain a plateau for a period of time and there is still hospital bed availability that that’s good enough, and that’s what the recommendations were. That’s the decision that I made, but I made it based on the science and data and recommendations were made to me by the experts.
Okay. A couple questions for Dr. Ezike.
Governor Pritzker: (44:02)
I will talk to you about that. What do you see when you look at this data? We’ve plateaued, it appears. How many days have we plateaued and what do you see, looking at all this?
Dr. Ezike: (44:14)
I think we so successfully flattened the curve, it stayed flat. We’ve been flat for some time now, and so where we go from here is critical. Effectively, May 1st did signal a change. I know in coming to work it seems like there’s quite a bit more traffic. It seems, when I look about, there’s a lot more people out. Again, I’m just talking about this area, and we’ve heard what’s happening in some other regions. The baseline has changed and so it’s very important that we look very critically at what effect that has on number of cases and number of hospitalizations. Whatever we had two weeks ago, again, was a result of people staying home pretty consistently. We now need to see what will happen with the …
Dr. Ezike: (45:03)
…consistently. We now need to see what will happen with the new attitudes that are prevailing and the new behaviors that are prevailing. And if it stays the same, that’s great. Well, we’ll quickly move through the phases, but we have to be realistic. The more people are out, the more infections there’ll be. The more infections there’ll be, the more hospitalizations there will be. The more hospitalizations, some fraction of those will go on to have severe complications and potentially die. That’s pretty basic and that’s pretty clear. We now need to see how much of that we get.
Speaker 4: (45:35)
Do you have off the top of your head how long we’ve plateaued?
Dr. Ezike: (45:39)
It depends on where you are, right? There are some places where, and again, it depends on which geographic distinction you’re using, whether you’re dividing it up by counties or by cities or by 11 EMS regions, but now the four restore regions, there are places that they are still increasing the number of cases, but slowly. But they are increasing. And then there are other places where it has been flat. It’s different. It’s not uniform across the state and we understand that and so that’s why we’ve looked, we’re looking very closely every day, multiple times a day just to figure out where we’re at and figure out who’s going up in what dimension? Who’s going down in the other dimension? At what rate? All of that. And again, if something, a game changer happens, like a very promising cure comes out and it looks like it actually heals people and not just decreases the amount of time that you’re in the hospital, we reset and we have to sit back down and figure out, okay, what can we lift up?
Dr. Ezike: (46:46)
Everybody wants us to get back to normal. We want to get back to normal. I think we are sending some of the frustration towards the wrong entities. We should be sending it towards the virus and then we should all see how we can support ways to find cures. If people have had the virus and want to try to donate antibodies, try to donate their plasma, we can see if there’s a potential cure there. We’re hoping that scientists can come up with a medical, a pharmacological cure, so that’s where we’re trying to go. We are following the numbers closely. We’re trying to see the trends and we want to make sure that we don’t put the citizens of Illinois in a precarious situation, where if there’s a surge, if we open up, that we don’t just end up where we could have been and we’re scared to be six weeks ago.
Speaker 4: (47:36)
Dr. Ezike, Univision wants to know what is the current rate of infection for each zone?
Dr. Ezike: (47:41)
The current rate of infection? Okay. Again, I am managing so many numbers, but when we think about the regions, I think that basically everyone is at about the twenties or lower. We have some, I think region … When we talk about the Northeast region, I think they’re in the low 20%, in terms of positivity and I know the other three regions, North central, central and South are well under 20%.
Speaker 4: (48:13)
Okay. You kind of touched on this a bit in your remarks earlier, WGN wants to know sometimes there’s discrepancies in what you say, for example, the number of deaths reported. I believe the site today says 137. You said 138. Data changing that rapidly or are there other reasons?
Dr. Ezike: (48:30)
Yeah, so it could be that somebody has found already an additional number that needed to be added or taken away. Again, it is very fluid. We’re trying to put information really faster than I’m comfortable with, but in an aggressive attempt to make sure we put everything out there. We will see that there are things that need to be corrected and adjusted, but we are putting it out. It’s why end of year data, we were also the stewards of all the cancer data. When we put out all the cases of cancer and we have a world renowned cancer registry here at IDPH, when we put out the information about cancers that occurred for a year, it can sometimes can take eight months into the next year or longer to get that information out. It takes that long to deal with this much data and so I beg people’s indulgence. No one’s trying to hide information. It’s just to get it right, it actually takes some time and we’re not being afforded that time.
Speaker 4: (49:25)
And one last question for you. This is in regards to the Paul House, a longterm care facility located at 3800 North California here in Chicago. This comes from Jermont Terry, CBS 2. The IDPH’s website shows a high number of infected residents and staff, nearly 90. Family members claim investigators from IDPH are slated to investigate the facility this week. Did that investigation occur? Are there plans to go out there? What do you recommend to families who can’t get inside the facilities?
Dr. Ezike: (49:53)
Yeah, I know we’re still in the situation where we were not permitting visitors and I think everybody understands why that is, however difficult it is. We made that really aggressive choice early. It’s been over two months now and so I understand the difficulties associated with that. I will tell you that we have over 700 outbreaks that have been reported associated with COVID 19. I cannot speak to the specifics of every single outbreak. I trust that the local health department has been involved. I trust that if additional assistance was needed that they have contacted my team and that the assistance guidance, we have infection control preventionists. We have infectious disease doctors working as consultants. We have a robust team that we’re making available for people needing additional assistance, but I can’t speak specifically to that outbreak.
Speaker 4: (50:49)
Thank you doctor. Three more questions, Governor.
Governor Pritzker: (50:52)
I just wanted to make sure everybody understands when Dr. Ezike says 700 outbreaks, those are in types of facilities and maybe not in a facility that includes a category like workplace, for example, but 700, it’s not…
Dr. Ezike: (51:06)
Yeah, let me tell you about that…
Governor Pritzker: (51:06)
Yeah, it’s not 700 nursing homes.
Dr. Ezike: (51:10)
Yeah, so 712 outbreaks that have been reported. I mean we’re talking about in churches, we’re talking about workplaces, we’re talking about schools, daycares, also of course, longterm care facilities, prisons, jails, restaurants. Every type of setting has reported outbreaks associated with COVID 19.
Speaker 4: (51:30)
And define outbreak. Is there a certain number?
Dr. Ezike: (51:33)
Yeah. We are using above two, two cases that are tied to the same locale, makes up an outbreak.
Speaker 4: (51:44)
Thank you. Some economic questions for you, Governor.
Governor Pritzker: (51:48)
Speaker 4: (51:48)
Greg Bishop, centersquare.com. With projections showing lower state revenue in the coming year, will you consider reductions to LGDF or the school funding formula? If so, what will that mean for local property taxes?
Governor Pritzker: (52:02)
There’s no doubt we have a serious budget challenge for the coming year. And so we’re looking at virtually everything that’s in the budget, but with an eye toward protecting, particularly the services that are offered to people, the supports that people need in this very difficult time, children included. We’re considering … There’s almost nothing that I would say is off the table. I mean, DCFS, I’ll just give as one example, I mean, people ask me about, well, why aren’t you just cutting the budget in some massive way? And the answer is because DCFS … Think about it. Think about the agencies that are now front and center, the most important agencies right now in this pandemic, right?
Governor Pritzker: (52:53)
The IDPH, IDES. Think about the agencies that have been underfunded for many, many years. IEMA is another good example. And then add to that, like I said, DCFS and others, it’s very difficult to say that now in this circumstance, well now’s a good time for us to cut DCFS or now is a good time IDES. I told you how much smaller IDES is over the last 10 years and yet now everybody needs it to operate at peak efficiency and in a way that it’s never operated before and yet it’s 500 people fewer than it was 10 years ago. IDPH is just another amazing example. These folks are working night and day. Each person is doing a job of three people. And so anyway, these are the difficulties of looking at how we’re going to deal with the budget going forward.
Speaker 4: (53:49)
This comes from Mark Maxwell, WCIA. You said on Face the Nation, you hope there aren’t too many strings attached to federal funding for Illinois. Senator Durbin said today, he thinks it’s fair that federal funding be associated specifically with the pandemic, not for pension debt. Considering the toll the virus took on state tax revenues, can you make the argument that COVID 19 blew a hole in our ability to pay pension debt and that the feds should fill at least part of that hole?
Governor Pritzker: (54:14)
That is not what I’m asking the federal government to do. And I don’t know that there’s any governor in the nation that’s asking that. That what I am asking for is help replacing the lost revenues that came because of this virus. Everybody’s experienced this. You can go to the most Republican state, the most democratic state. I like the term that Mark is using, blowing a hole. It really blew a hole. And we had a balanced budget for this year, this fiscal year, and we were on our way to having a mild surplus for the year, first time I think in quite some time. And we would have used it to pay down the existing bill backlog by some amount. And now, all bets are off and all bets are off indeed for the plans for having a surplus for next year as well, unless the federal government steps up to the plate. And I think Senator Durbin has it right, that these funds should not be used for something that has nothing to do with coronavirus, COVID 19 and instead should be a replacement for the revenues that we all lost.
Speaker 4: (55:21)
Okay. Last question from me. Comes from Amy Jacobson, WIND Radio. Citing many studies by Harvard and Oxford, they suggest that a targeted lockdown of the elderly and those with comorbidities only both saves more lives and does less economic damage than the approach you’ve taken of locking down everyone in the same manner. Have you reviewed the work of these scientists and academics and dismissed their views or simply chosen not to consider them?
Governor Pritzker: (55:46)
I’ve considered all the views that I can find and certainly there of a wide variety of views about how to handle this. Remember that the word lockdown was used in your question. And by I guess the authors probably, and indeed we locked down nursing homes. And yet, as we saw, there are people who work at these nursing homes who come in and out. There’s no way, because this is a sometimes an asymptomatic infection virus, that there are people who feel just fine and they come to work feeling just fine and they may not have any temperature at all, and they may be carrying COVID 19. And then they come in may or maybe they weren’t. And then they come in and somebody who has COVID 19, they get infected because sometimes that happens, even if you wear all the PPE that you need to. And then that person leaves the facility.
Governor Pritzker: (56:41)
The idea that just locking down those facilities is enough. I would argue it’s not. But I understand the point that many of the people who have been terribly affected by this are older people, if that’s the point that’s being made here in that their congregate settings are the most dangerous ones. And so I know that we have paid a lot of attention to that. But again, we don’t know enough about this virus. The asymptomatic carriers are in some ways, the most dangerous ones because we don’t know if they have it.
Speaker 4: (57:15)
I just have one last question from Tina at the Sun Times. Governor, I know you’ve said the regional breakdowns for your reopening planner based on EMS regions, but why are counties like Grundy, Kankakee, and Kendall being grouped with Cook County, which will be the last county in the state to be able to open if the numbers are vastly different for those counties compared to Cook? Could their businesses be able to reopen quicker?
Governor Pritzker: (57:36)
Yeah. First, I would say that there’s probably no way to draw these lines that would satisfy everybody. But I’d also say that people who live in counties that are within a region where people feel like, well, Hey, nobody in my village or my town or my city has gotten it or I don’t know anybody who has. Remember that many of the people in outlying counties around Cook County or around the Collar counties travel in and out frequently, sometimes for their job to those locations. And so that is one of the reasons why those counties are where they are. It has, in part to do with the radius from the Collar counties, which have significant numbers of cases.
Speaker 4: (58:21)
All right. Thank you, everyone.
Governor Pritzker: (58:24)