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Pritzker’s Daily COVID-19 Briefing Full Transcript And Audio — Dec. 15, 2020

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Dr. Ngozi Ezike are holding daily COVID-19 press briefings as cases and hospitalizations in Illinois reach record highs. Read and listen to the latest update from the governor’s office on new cases, phased re-opening and closings of different regions and the state’s ongoing pandemic response. You can watch the most recent press briefings at 2:30pm every day here on Illinois Newsroom.

Have a question about COVID-19? Ask Illinois Newsroom, and we’ll try our best to answer. The questions we receive from you directly inform the stories we tell and what we investigate. Let us know what you need to know!



Governor Pritzker 

Good afternoon, everyone and welcome to our update on Tuesday, December the 15th. I’m very excited to share that this morning, the first Illinoisans received their vaccinations protecting them against COVID-19. And in the coming days more than 100,000 frontline health care workers across our state, we’ll join them. I want to offer my appreciation to the incredible network of idph and iema. Staff, State Police troopers, hospital administrators, health care workers and logistics coordinator is working furiously, even as we speak to ensure that these first rounds of vaccinations go as smoothly as possible. That good news was buoyed this morning with the FDA releasing its analysis of the Madonna vaccine ahead of Thursday’s meeting of the vaccine advisory group to discuss the findings for this vaccine, just as they did last week for Pfizer. As expected based on the public data, the FDA found no serious safety concerns with the Madonna vaccine, and affirmed its 95% efficacy. That breaks down to 96% for those between 18 and 65 and 86% for those individuals above 65. And by all likelihood This means that our shipments starting next week will include both the Pfizer and Madonna models. And Ngozi Ezike and I will continue to update you on the progress.

As more and more of our healthcare workers receive these vaccines to protect themselves and their loved ones. Today I want to provide another update of our state’s finances, both as it relates to covid 19 and beyond. As you all know, the pandemic has caused every state in the nation to face tremendous revenue shortfalls, and Illinois is no exception. The virus has created job losses that haven’t been seen since the Great Depression. The financial damage to families across America means fewer purchases of goods. Our travel and tourism industry has been decimated, causing the restaurant and hospitality industry to suffer mightily. And all of that has not only severely impacted American families but also state budgets. For example, Florida has projected more than $5 billion in losses, leading Governor desantis to compare the resulting budget cuts to the murderous Red Wedding scene from Game of Thrones. In the first six months of the pandemic, our neighbors in Indiana lost an even greater percentage of their state revenues than we did in Illinois. In Alaska revenue losses were eight times as severe. Georgia already cut $1 billion from K 12 public education alone. And here in Illinois, the loss of state tax revenue from COVID-19 will cost us in excess of $4 billion. Over two fiscal years. I have worked with governors of both parties in spoken countless times with members of Congress to aggressively advocate for direct federal support for state and local governments who have lost billions of dollars in revenue due to COVID-19. Making up for the missing dollars that fund schools and pay caregivers and first responders and deliver essential support services to residents in need. Cities and services all across our state have taken a punishing blow because of COVID and the Congress needs to act on top of the damage that COVID has wreaked on our state. Illinoisans know all too well that our fiscal health required intervention long before this. Yet before I was elected, little had been done to address it. And lest you think the blame rests only on one party. Remember it was the republican administration of my predecessor, Bruce Rauner, along with his Republican supporters in the General Assembly, that left behind a multi billion dollar deficit because of their unwillingness to accept a compromise. And in doing so they severely damaged the lives of the most vulnerable children and families in Illinois.

You might say the state suffered a two year republican induced crisis before we ever got to COVID. In 2018, I ran for governor with a commitment to propose long term fiscal solutions. And I have done that, indeed expanding discounted pension buyouts consolidating police and fire pensions, and negotiating employee health care savings are just a few of the changes that I’ve already implemented to save taxpayers money. And there’s more to do. I continue to believe that in addition to running government more efficiently, the best way to address our structural challenges is to fix the unfair tax system. And instead of giving advantages to the most advantaged people, we should give a brick tax break to working people and require the wealthiest among us to pay a little bit more, that would have begun to bring structural balance to the state’s budget. But republicans both inside and outside the General Assembly fought tooth and nail against the best solution for our working families, lying about what the fairtax would do for our state, pledging their allegiance to the wealthy, and throwing lower and middle class families under the bus.

The same people that funded the campaign against the fairtax have proposed taxing retirement income. I think that’s wrong. And I’ll continue to oppose that, as I always have. It’s been two years since republicans announced their wholesale opposition to the fairtax. And it’s been 40 days since the election, and they have yet to produce any viable answer for balancing the budget. They worked and spent endlessly to defeat the best option democrats put on the table. And after all their bluster, it turns out that Republicans have no plan at all to put the state on a firm fiscal foundation. In the wake of their deafening silence. Our challenge remains. We have a projected budget shortfall of over $3.9 billion for this fiscal year, nearly 2 billion of which was created by the revenue shortfall from COVID. The remainder is of a structural nature, recognizing the possibility that we get assistance from the federal government for COVID losses sometime during this fiscal year. It’s the rest of the deficit. That must be our focus right now. Today as a first step toward balancing the current year’s budget, I’m presenting over $700 million in initial cuts to our executive branch agencies. These are cuts that are under my control to make as governor without help from the General Assembly. Let’s get this gets us part of the way toward addressing the budget deficit. For additional and more permanent balancing of our budgets going forward. I will work with the legislature. But make no mistake, legislative action and engagement is required. While short term federal help may yet come. We need to take action to maintain fiscal stability over the long run and address the problems that plagued Illinois pre pandemic. Over the years state government in Illinois has been notoriously hollowed out. For example, there are approximately 25% fewer state government employees today than there were two decades ago. Also state government spending on education is now among the lowest in the nation. And while there used to be 3000 Illinois State state police troopers patrolling our 58,000 square miles of Illinois, there are now only 1900.

If anything, our schools and our public safety and health care deserve more investments, not less. So cutting our budget will be by its very nature, painful. The executive branch alone cannot legally address these multi year deficits unilaterally. So I am continuing this conversation with leaders and members of the General Assembly on both sides of the aisle to identify their best ideas to make up the rest of the deficit and bring long term stability and balance to our state’s fiscal foundation. I have an open door pal policy. I am more than happy to have a conversation with legislators interested in a substantive effort to get this done. In the meantime, the cost saving measures I present to you today have already begun to be implemented. In addition, my staff is in conversations with AFS me to discuss furlough days and personal cost adjustments personnel cost adjustments that will help us reduce spending by $75 million. By definition, taking employees off the front lines will slow the delivery of services to our residents. But this is the place we find ourselves today. It pains me to pursue these actions because these state employees are public servants who dedicate themselves to improving the lives of the people that we all serve. Often, these are the people who are most in need of help.

Many of these same employees, such as our corrections officers, who put themselves in harm’s way, every day before the pandemic, now go to work with the additional danger of COVID-19 facing them, they have more than earned our appreciation and our admiration for their dedication and hard work. That’s one reason why these cuts are painful. But like I said, opponents of the fairest long term solution have put us in this situation. And there’s only so much on the table to choose from when you have a government as hollowed out hollowed out as ours is approximately 10% of these reductions come from public safety agencies most significantly from the Department of Corrections. The number of people incarcerated in Illinois has decreased by more than 10,000 individuals since the beginning of 2019. This presents an opportunity for real savings this year, and in future years, and it’s a critical opportunity to transform our prisons. I will be forming the Illinois corrections transformation advisory team to determine the best ways to move forward with these efficiencies. I’ve also previously announced a number of additional criminal justice reform priorities that will further reduce our prison populations as we seek to pursue greater fairness and equity for all Illinoisans, as we often see, when we move away from expensive, ineffective and punitive models, this will likely also open the door for additional long term savings. Early on in our battle against COVID-19. My administration implemented a freeze on non essential state government hiring and on travel. Those continue today and will continue indefinitely.

I have also implemented a significant reduction in vehicle and equipment purchases, and I have asked all departments to maximize the use of technology to reduce in person gathering costs. Even once travel is deemed safer. We’re also making adjustments to our community care program and the services that are provided there to older Illinoisans, including delaying the planned rate increase initially set for January 1. I admit that this was a challenging decision because of how vital our community care workers are for our seniors. But this must be undertaking as a result of the deficit. I’m also broadly freezing and reducing grant programs as a number of agencies at a number of agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. That includes freezing 2020 grants for local governments, Park parks and open land projects, implementing freezes or partial reductions on most grants at dceo. And pausing issuance of school maintenance grants dependent upon casino gaming revenues. I want to be clear, because tax fairness was taken off the table, there will be a real human impact here. And while we’ve scoured the budget for ways to cause the least pain, I’m sorry to say that we simply cannot prevent these losses from touching the real lives of our residents. We just can’t.

These cuts reflect the first phase of our path forward, doing what is within my powers, unilaterally and without the legislature. This is going to be tough. And as my ongoing conversations with General Assembly leaders would indicate there is a great deal of work the legislature must do when it convenes next month. From the beginning of my term in office, I’ve worked hard to bring honest solutions to the table doing the hard things that must be done to put our fiscal house in order, including bringing efficiencies to lower the cost of operating state government working to reduce the budget pressure of pension liabilities, investing in the expansion of revenue producing industries, and attracting our most promising economic assets are college bound seniors to stay in Illinois rather than go to college elsewhere. I promised to be a governor who balances the budget and begins paying down The bills that my predecessor left behind. I promised to invest in education, job training and job creation. Before COVID hit hit us, we did that. And despite all the current challenges, I’m confident that we will continue our ascent to economic strength and fiscal stability, we will find a way. And while there is no easy path forward, I promise that we will get through this working together as people of goodwill with a laser like focus on doing what’s best for the working families of Illinois. I look forward to hearing the republican proposals for realistic cuts and balancing the budget. Thank you. And with that, I’d like to turn it over to Ngozi Ezike for today’s medical update.


Dr. Ngozi Ezike

Good afternoon. It was in fact a great experience to witness today some of the first COVID-19 vaccinations being given here in Illinois, and I want to encourage people to be vaccinated when the vaccine is in fact available to you. vaccination in general can be a polarizing topic, and COVID-19 has seemingly widened this divide. COVID-19 may have appeared to come out of nowhere, although the virus that causes covid 19 is new. There are other COVID Coronavirus strains that do circulate in our communities. In this sense Coronavirus has some similarities to influenza in that there are different types of these viruses. And we can see one that can pop up that’s novel. Remember h1n1, an effective h1n1 vaccine was developed and an h1 and one strain has continued to be included in the flu vaccine to combat seasonal influenza every year for the last 10. Our ability to create safe and effective vaccines in a quicker time frame grows with every passing year, our scientific process has evolved so that it no longer takes as many years to develop a vaccine. And that’s great news for the world of modern medicine and all the people who benefit from it. As the vaccine for covid 19 continues to roll out, I’ll do my best to dispel the myths and the misinformation that may accompany it. For one, the vaccine does not contain a tracking chip. There is no evidence to show that it causes infertility. And thirdly, getting the vaccine cannot result in you getting COVID-19 it can be easy to see something on Facebook or other social media portals and take it at face value. Perhaps it’s the story someone has heard that the virus is not real, and therefore there’s no need for a vaccine.

During these very difficult times when we’re all looking for answers, I do urge everyone to look at the larger body of work from science and medical research leaders. Don’t look at just one article look at several articles to see where there’s consensus. Since yesterday, we received report of 7359 individuals newly diagnosed with covid 19 for a total of 863,477 total cases. Unfortunately, we’ve also received report of 117 additional deaths, bringing the number of Illinoisans lost to COVID-19 to 14,509. Overnight, hospitals reported 4965 patients with COVID-19 1057, were in the ICU and 598. Were on ventilators. In the last 24 hours, almost 93,000 tests have been reported for a total of almost 12 million total tests. We are starting to head in the right direction. So many of you have sacrificed and employed all of the public health mitigations and I thank you that that has gotten us to where we are, we still do have many more months to go. But let’s continue toward that light at the end of the tunnel vaccinations as well as the public health behaviors that you’ve already undertaken. will get us there and they’ll get us there sooner. Thank you and continue to stay safe. 

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