Governor says Illinois will take over coronavirus testing after White House's “profound failing"

“The White House has promised millions of tests for weeks now, and they’re just not here,” J.B. Pritzker says

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published March 30, 2020 4:57PM (EDT)

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Sunday that Illinois would take over coronavirus testing after the White House failed to make good on its promise to deliver "millions" of tests.

Pritzker, a Democrat, refuted Trump's false claim that the U.S. was testing more people than "anybody" else during a news briefing after the state confirmed nearly 4,600 coronavirus cases and 65 deaths.

The governor said his state is performing 4,000 tests a day, or less than half of the 10,000 daily tests recommended by health experts.

"The White House has promised millions of tests for weeks now, and they're just not here," he said. "I'm not going to wait on promises from the federal government that may never be fulfilled. We need this testing capacity now, so we're building it ourselves in Illinois."

Pritzker said the "loss of essentially the entire month of February" without a major effort to ramp up testing was a "profound failing of the federal government."

The governor's comments echoed those of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who told Congress the delay in rolling out tests was a "failing."

Though the U.S. has significantly ramped up testing in recent weeks, totaling 894,000 tests as of Saturday, the supply still fails to meet the demand.

"We have more cases, because we're doing far more testing than anybody in the world," Trump claimed Sunday.

But the U.S. has tested just 1 out of every 366 people. By comparison, Italy has tested 1 in every 133 people, and South Korea has tested 1 in 142 people.

"Every day we aren't hitting 10,000 tests or more is another day that we're not able to get answers that help us get past this crisis," Pritzker said Sunday.

The governor has repeatedly called out the Trump administration and the president himself for failing to meet the needs of states reeling from the pandemic. 

"Donald Trump promised to deliver for all the states weeks ago and so far has done very little," he said during a news briefing earlier this month. "Apparently, the only way to get the president of the United States to pay attention is to go on national television and make noise about it."

Making noise on television indeed appeared to get Trump's attention. The president lashed out at Pritzker and "a very small group of certain other governors," tweeting that they "shouldn't be blaming the Federal Government for their own shortcomings."

Pritzker responded with a tweet of his own, in which he encouraged the president to "get off Twitter" and get to work. 

"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?" he asked, a reference to personal protective equipment. "Get off Twitter & do your job."

Pritzker also told CNN that Trump's response led to states struggling to secure the same equipment.

"This should've been a coordinated effort by the federal government," Pritzker said. "We're competing against each other. We're competing against other countries. It's a . . . Wild West out there, and indeed, we're overpaying, I would say, for PPE because of that competition."

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot praised Pritzker for filling "this country's leadership gap" as Trump was "yammering about hoaxes and fake news."

"Dear Lord-- please step up and be a leader," Lightfoot urged Trump on Twitter. "Lead or get out of their way."

Though Trump dismissed the criticism as coming from a "very small group" of governors, the number of Democratic state leaders decrying the federal government's lack of aid continues to rise.

"I've asked repeatedly and respectfully for help. We need it. No more political attacks, just PPEs, ventilators, N95 masks, test kits. You said you stand with Michigan -- prove it," Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tweeted last week.

She later said on the Trump administration's moves had left the country unprepared to deal with the crisis during an appearance on CNN. 

"I do still believe that we, as a nation, were not as prepared as we should have been," she said. "I think the cuts to the CDC, the attack on health care in general and the evisceration of the pandemic offices across the country have put us in a position where we are behind the eight ball."

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee recently got into a spat with Trump during a phone call with all of the country's governors after the president said his administration would simply be a "backup" to state efforts.

"I don't want you to be the backup quarterback. We need you to be Tom Brady here," he said, according to The Associated Press.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also lashed out last week after the administration sent his state 400 ventilators despite a dramatic increase in cases.

"FEMA is sending us 400 ventilators. Four hundred ventilators? I need 30,000 ventilators," he said. "You want a pat on the back for sending 400 ventilators? What are we going to do with 400 ventilators when we need 30,000 ventilators? You're missing the magnitude of the problem… "You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die."

But the criticism has not been limited to Democrats. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, grew emotional as he criticized the Trump administration for outbidding states for much-needed equipment.

"I have had confirmed orders for millions of pieces of gear evaporate in front of us, and I can't tell you how frustrating it is," he said last week.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, also a Republican, said Trump was "confusing" things by contradicting public health officials.

"Well, they don't really match, quite frankly," Hogan told CNN last week. "Some of the messaging is pretty confusing, and it's not just that it doesn't match with what we're doing here in Maryland. Some of the messaging coming out of the [Trump] administration doesn't match."

Trump has repeatedly attacked governors who have criticized him, raising concerns that governors who praise him would get more aid to deal with the deadly pandemic. The president did little to downplay those concerns during a Friday news briefing.

"All I want them to do, very simple, I want them to be appreciative," he said. "I don't want them to say things that aren't true. I want them to be appreciative. We've done a great job."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Coronavirus Covid-19 Donald Trump Jb Pritzker Politics White House