BY JERRY NOWICKI,
Capitol News Illinois
Gov. JB Pritzker said Sunday he is “given up” on an adequate coronavirus response from the federal government and announced an expansion of emergency child care during his daily COVID-19 briefing Sunday in Chicago.
At the same briefing, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Illinois Department of Public Health director, announced 899 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 along with 31 more deaths. That brings the total to 11,256 confirmed cases and 274 deaths from the virus in 71 of Illinois’ 102 counties.
Boone, Calhoun, and Gallatin counties are the latest to report cases, while the state reported the first deaths in Peoria and Montgomery counties on Sunday. Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill recorded its second inmate death from COVID-19. Ezike said the prisoner died at a local hospital, and Stateville has 60 cases of COVID-19.
As of Sunday, 58,983 people had been tested for the virus in Illinois, up by about 5,400 from Saturday.
Pritzker’s latest criticism of the federal response came when he was asked about an Associated Press story which reported the U.S. government “squandered nearly two months that could have been used to bolster the federal stockpile of medical supplies and equipment” critically needed to fight COVID-19.
The AP’s story reviewed documents which showed the feds waited until mid-March to start placing bulk orders of N95 masks, ventilators and other necessary personal protective equipment for medical professionals, despite being briefed on the dangers of the virus as early as January.
“And so the idea that the United States federal government did nearly nothing for quite a long time is now being visited upon us,” Pritzker said. “And I’ve said this over and over again, that if action had been taken earlier, a lot fewer lives would be lost.”
While Pritzker said “nobody” or “very few people” could have predicted how deadly the virus would be, the federal government “had this information before the states did, and should have been out there exercising the Defense Production Act, acquiring PPE, acquiring ventilators.”
“And then we wouldn’t be in the situation that we’re in today, where everybody is short of ventilators,” he said, noting states are bidding against each other, foreign governments and sometimes the federal government for supplies.
He also responded to a claim in the AP article that the federal stockpile of emergency medical equipment is “nearly drained.”
“I’m very concerned, but you know, I’ve given up on the federal government, honestly, really showing up in the way that I think we all would have expected them to,” he said. “It’s called the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a reason, that’s a federal stockpile, a national stockpile, for a reason.”
He said if states could handle an emergency like the novel coronavirus pandemic, there would be no need for a federal emergency agency.
“When there’s a major hurricane, think about Hurricane Katrina. It had to be the federal government that would step in, it was too big,” Pritzker said. “You don’t think this coronavirus, this COVID-19, is too big for states? It is. That’s why you have a federal government.”
While Pritzker praised federal workers such as the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Health and Human Services and FEMA, he said his criticism was of the top decision-makers who delayed the response to the pandemic.
“I am grateful for all of the help that we get from those federal employees, who really work day and night to protect the people of Illinois,” he said. “And so my criticism has been the lateness of the policy decisions that have been made by the leaders, and therefore the lateness of any help that we have gotten.”
Pritzker said another federal program, the Head Start program, has made it difficult for the child care providers funded by it to expand their services to emergency, essential workers.
The state is taking a different route with its child care program, which he announced at the news conference—an expansion of eligibility to child care funding assistance for essential workers and an increase in financial support for emergency child care centers and homes.
Effective April 1, the governor said, all essential workers now qualify for the state’s Child Care Assistance Program, meaning the state will cover “most if not all of the cost of care” for qualifying workers.
“That includes everyone from nurses and doctors to support staff in hospitals, to grocery store clerks and food producers,” he said.
Information on the assistance is available at coronavirus.illinois.gov and at DHS.illinois.gov/helpishere.
Also effective April 1, the state will pay 30 percent above the usual reimbursement rates to emergency child care centers and homes.
Pritzker said the state offered a new permit for child care centers serving essential workers, and more than 550 have received such a permit. He said more than 1,500 home child care providers continue to operate as well. Home child care providers do not need a permit and can serve up to six children.
Information on the programs is available on the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development website: www2.illinois.gov/sites/OECD.
Pritzker also reminded Illinoisans that children who can stay home should stay home, and that the COVID-19 pandemic is not the time for arranging play dates or hanging out with friends.
Also at the briefing, Ezike said about 30 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases are in African Americans, and more information about the Black death rate will be provided next week.
“We know all too well that there are general disparities and health outcomes that play along these racial lines. And the same may be true for this virus,” she said. “We have worked to ensure that all of our communities can access the health care they need as COVID-19 spreads and we will make sure that resources are directed where they are needed most.”
Ezike said that work will continue “long after” the pandemic, and Pritzker pointed out that Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park and MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island – both in the Chicago area – will be reopened during the pandemic.
“Those are two examples, anyway, of hospitals that are in communities of color that are serving communities of color that were closed over the last year or two, that we want to make sure and reopen and provide health care for people,” he said.
Ezike also noted that while the Easter holiday and other religious days are upcoming, people should continue to worship remotely.
“As a person of faith, I know how important these days are, as well as other important days like birthdays and anniversaries,” she said. “Please know that you can still celebrate your faith and you can observe special days like today or like birthdays, but while at home. I urge faith leaders to continue hosting services online. We need and want everyone to stay home.”