A day after a public feud on Twitter over management of the coronavirus crisis, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritkzer said Monday he and President Donald Trump talked by phone.
By the governor’s account, it was more congenial than the social media spat, with Trump reportedly telling Pritzker that he would help Illinois to secure more personal protective equipment (PPE) for first responders and health care providers.
“He seemed like he was very responsive,” Pritzker said of his Monday afternoon talk with Trump.
Personal protective equipment – or the lack of it – is increasingly another front in the battle to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.
A day after a public feud on Twitter over management of the coronavirus crisis, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritkzer said Monday that he and President Donald Trump talked by phone.
By the governor’s account, it was more congenial than the social media spat, with Trump reportedly telling Pritzker he would help Illinois secure more personal protective equipment (PPE) for first responders and health care providers, even as Pritzker announced that the state had entered into contracts on its own to secure 2.5 million masks for Illinois.
“The president was very responsive, frankly,” Pritzker said of his Monday afternoon talk with Trump.
Personal protective equipment – or a lack of it – has taken an increasingly prominent role in the battle to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Nurses are not being protected in the way that we so desperately need and that they and their families deserve,” Illinois Nurses Association Director Alice Johnson said. “Nurses are on the front lines of this pandemic. We absolutely have to give them the best protection possible. If we cannot protect the nurses then we cannot protect anybody.”
Johnson says she consistently hears from various health care providers about two problems: A lack of PPE, and attempts to have employees help stretch current PPE stockpiles by washing or reusing them more than is typical.
“We need to give nurses the equipment that they need instead of continuous lowering standards because of a failure to provide them with the equipment that they deserve,” Johnson said. “Nurses were extremely angry and upset that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) had even gone so far as to say that bandanas could be used in some instances. I am not aware of any evidence that bandanas provide any protection against COVID-19.”
Dr. Terrill Applewhite, the head of Roseland Community Hospital’s coronavirus task force, said the Far South Side facility currently has the supplies it needs. But without more, and at the current rate of use, the hospital could run short within a couple weeks.
“Those supplies are being dwindled every day,” he said. “This ER sees about 2,000 to 2,500 patients per month. We have 400 employees. We currently do not have enough masks or gowns to cover the entire population of individuals that we have and that is a strain that is going to continue to occur and create serious issues.”
Applewhite says Roseland has had 31 patients tested for the coronavirus; three came back positive. Of those, one is currently on a ventilator, while several patients who do not have the coronavirus are using three of the hospital’s other eight breathing machines.
But he says ideally, Roseland would have at least 10 ventilators – as many as it has emergency room beds – or even a dozen.
Staffing shortages are another issue, as clinicians have called in absent due to coronavirus concerns, Applewhite said. Even before the pandemic broke out, Roseland saw a 40% uptick in patients following last year’s closure of the Metro South hospital.
Roseland is setting up a tent outside its emergency room to serve as a potential isolation tent. That’s where they also do pre-screening for COVID-19, Applewhite said.
“So before individuals can enter the ER, they would enter the tent where they would have their temperature evaluated, undergo a questionnaire, and if they’re deemed to be high risk they would go directly into the ER into an isolation room,” he said. “If they answer negative to those questions, then those individuals can proceed to the lobby and undergo a regular evaluation and treatment.”
Pritzker has routinely been critical both during his public daily COVID-19 briefings and during appearances on national TV shows of the president for failing to secure more supplies to send to states.
That prompted Trump on Sunday to tweet:
.@JBPritzker, Governor of Illinois, and a very small group of certain other Governors, together with Fake News @CNN & Concast (MSDNC), shouldn’t be blaming the Federal Government for their own shortcomings. We are there to back you up should you fail, and always will be!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2020
You wasted precious months when you could've taken action to protect Americans & Illinoisans.
You should be leading a national response instead of throwing tantrums from the back seat.
Where were the tests when we needed them?
Where's the PPE?
Get off Twitter & do your job. https://t.co/WESJITCAwg
— Governor JB Pritzker (@GovPritzker) March 22, 2020
The governor’s tone was significantly dialed back during Monday’s briefing in Chicago, when he volunteered that he’d called Trump and the president had called back earlier in the afternoon.
“He didn’t so much like the idea of invoking the Defense Production Act. But he did say, ‘You know, what do you need? Let me see if I can get that for you.’ And I told him some numbers, I told him what we had ordered from the government already. And he said, ‘Let me work on that.’ So I think, it seems like he’s being very responsive,” Pritzker said.
But Pritkzer still used the briefing to reprove the Trump administration for not coordinating a federal response, saying that it left states to compete against one another for PPE.
He said the state made a couple of requests – the first on March 6 – for equipment from the federal stockpile that’s meant to get supplies to states during emergencies. Still, Illinois has received only a fraction, Pritzker said: 10% of the N-95 respiratory masks, 4% of the requested gloves, none of the respirators.
“It’s the federal government’s job to make sure that cash-strapped states are not paying more than they should have to for supplies. That we are not watching prices go up by the hour because we are competing against one another, yet for the common good,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker says in the meantime, Illinois has executed contracts that will secure some additional supplies. He would not share how much that’s costing taxpayers, given that it could hurt further negotiations, he said.
“We are doing so while running up against obstacles that should not exist. I have medical professionals and first responders begging for things that keep them safe. But so does Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo in New York, so does Gov. (Mike) DeWine in Ohio, so does Gov. (Jay) Inslee in Washington state.”
The Illinois Manufacturers Association and the Illinois Biotechnology Innovation Association on Monday announced their sectors will ramp up production of PPE and other essential supplies, coordinated in part by a new task force.
The Illinois Hospital Association last week issued a call for donations of masks, gowns and gloves. The state is likewise accepting donations.
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky
Coronavirus Prevention Tips and Resources
Officials advise taking preventive measures to slow the spread of the virus, including:
—Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water
—Using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
—Sneezing or coughing into a tissue and then disposing of the tissue
—Limiting contact with people regardless of how you feel
—Staying home when you are sick
Symptoms of COVID-19 include, but are not limited to:
—New onset of fever, cough, shortness of breath
—Congestion in the nasal sinuses or lungs
—Sore throat, body aches or unusual fatigue
If you think you have COVID-19:
Call you doctor before showing up at their office. If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, tell the operator that you think you have COVID-19. If possible, wear a mask before medical help arrives or presenting at a doctor’s office. More advice for those who think they have COVID-19.
—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
—Illinois’ COVID-19 website
—Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) website
—IDPH COVID-19 hotline: 800-889-3931
—IPDH COVID-19 email link
—City of Chicago COVID-19 website
—City of Chicago COVID-19 hotline: 312-746-4835
—City of Chicago COVID-19 email link