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Pritzker: Federal government has delivered less than 10 percent of PPE Illinois requested

Roughly 10 weeks ago, a woman in Chicago became the second known case of novel coronavirus in the U.S. Now, the number of confirmed infections in Illinois is nearing 12,000, and more than 300 people have died. The state’s governor, J.B. Pritzker, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss how officials are increasing hospital capacity in Illinois and why testing for COVID-19 continues to be a problem.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A little more than 10 weeks ago, Illinois' Governor J.B. Pritzker announced a woman in Chicago was diagnosed with the coronavirus, the second known case in the country.

    Today, the number of known cases in Illinois has surpassed 12,000, and more than 300 people have died.

    Here with me now is Governor Pritzker, who joins us from Chicago.

    Governor, thank you very much for being with us.

    Illinois' 12-plus million people, how are you doing in grappling with COVID-19?

  • Governor J.B. Pritzker:

    Well, thank you for asking.

    Unfortunately, we have about 11,000 cases that have been detected in our state. We have had just over 300 deaths so far. We are tracking very closely the hospitalizations and the ICU beds and vents that are being used. They are not being overutilized at the moment, and we have been working hard to expand our capacity, so that we would be ready in the event that we are peaking in the next couple of weeks, which I think we all expect.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I wanted to ask you about that.

    Chicago's been described, of course, the big city of Chicago, as one of the hot spots in the country. What do you expect in terms of the trajectory of when this is going to get, you know, as bad as it can get?

  • Governor J.B. Pritzker:

    Well, there are a number of models that we look at, because none of them is exact in any way, but it does look like somewhere between the middle of April and the end of April, we will see a peak.

    We have built out 500 beds already in our McCormick Place Convention Center in downtown Chicago, so that we can have COVID patients in there. We're adding 2,500 new beds on top of the 500 at McCormick Place.

    And we're going to have most of that done by this Thursday. So thanks to the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA, we have been able to get that done in almost no time. They're really amazing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You have been very direct in terms of talking to the people of Illinois about the supplies that you need, the personnel that you need. Where does that stand right now?

  • Governor J.B. Pritzker:

    Well, unfortunately, the federal government really has delivered less than 10 percent of what we have asked for in terms of PPE and other equipment.

    We need much more than they have delivered to us. So, we have gone out onto the global market. I have an entire team of people within my emergency management department, my Department of Public Health and my governor's office, who have become supply chain experts, buying PPE wherever we can find them, ventilators, which are so hard to come by and very expensive.

    We're bidding, unfortunately, for all of these items of equipment against the federal government and against the other states and against other countries, because what the White House has done is created — you know, they call this the air bridge, where they're bringing stuff back from China to the United States, and then they're delivering it to private companies in the United States, not to the states.

    And they're letting all of us bid against each other for those goods that are owned by the private companies. So we have just gone around all that and gone directly to manufacturers, wherever we could, so that we can fulfill our needs.

    We have health care workers and front-line first responders who desperately need the PPE, the masks and gowns and everything else, that we're ordering. And we're doing a pretty good job, I think, so far of supplying that.

    But, you know, it's hard to look beyond 10 days or to have enough supply beyond 10 days, and so we worry every single day that we're going to have enough.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that's what I want to ask, because you have talked about not getting everything what you need from the federal government.

    Today, President Trump said of you — he said, he's a very happy man. But this is one day after what he said yesterday, which is that you're somebody who, in his words, is complaining all the time, hasn't performed well. He said: "The governor could don't his job in Illinois, so we had to help him."

    How are you — how have you responded to that?

  • Governor J.B. Pritzker:

    Well, we governors have done far more than the president of the United States has to fight coronavirus.

    And here in Illinois, look, he's calling me a happy man today. The fact is that, look, I'm happy when I get the things that required — that are required to save the lives of the people of Illinois. And I'm upset with the federal government when they don't deliver on their promises.

    They promised that they were going to bring tests to the state of Illinois. They have done very little of that. When they stood up in front of a podium, they said, oh, we have delivered millions of tests across the United States.

    They have not. They have also promised PPE, and they said they're delivering it to everybody, small fraction, I mean, a small fraction of what's been promised.

    I don't like people who make promises and don't deliver. So I'm delivering for the people of Illinois by making sure that we're acquiring what we need. I'm doing everything that I can. I hate the idea that I'm competing against other people in the United States, other governors even, to try to get what we need.

    But this is what President Trump has done to the country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think your dispute with the president has in any way hindered your ability to get what you need from the federal government?

  • Governor J.B. Pritzker:

    No.

    And I want to credit the president and I want to credit the military. He has assigned the military to help us out, the Army Corps of Engineers, which has gone to New York, it's gone to California, and it's come here to Chicago.

    They helped us build out McCormick Place. I mean, our great tradesmen here in Illinois are the ones who — with the hammers and nails, but it was the Army Corps of Engineers that led that effort.

    So, I am truly, truly grateful to them. I'm grateful to those who helped us stand up some of our drive-through testing facilities. But — so my problem is not with them.

    My problem is with the leadership at the top, the people who are making the decisions. Remember, this all came very late. They knew — now we know the president knew in January that the pandemic was on its way, and did nothing, and even as late as early March was saying, this is a hoax of some sort, or it's like the flu, it'll just pass over.

    He knew better, or at least the people around him knew better. And yet here we are, late start, only about a week or so ago invoking the Defense Production Act just for one company. That was for GM. He's now invoked it two companies. And he's not actually telling them what to do with it. He's just saying, we need you to produce these things. What you do with them is up to you.

    So this is a problem. I'm a businessman before I became governor.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Governor J.B. Pritzker:

    I understand the idea of a competitive market, but not in a national emergency.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just in a few seconds, Governor Pritzker.

    Neighboring state of Iowa has not asked people to stay at home. Does that affect Illinois?

  • Governor J.B. Pritzker:

    Yes.

    But the blame falls squarely on the White House for this. Had they said early on that it's time for everybody to put a stay-at-home order in place, the governor of Iowa, the governor of Missouri, all the Republican governors that were late in putting in their stay-at-home, would have done it.

    But, look, that's where we are. I know that the governor of Iowa is trying very hard, without issuing a stay-at-home, to nevertheless have a number of nonessential businesses close, and have the schools closed and so on.

    So, look, everybody's approached this differently. It does make it more difficult for states like mine. We were one of the first, in fact, to put in each of the measures, including the stay-at-home.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

    Governor J.B. Pritzker of Illinois. And we wish you the very best. Thank you.

  • Governor J.B. Pritzker:

    Thank you very much, Judy.

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