Illinois Gov. Pritzker says states were forced to compete in ‘sick Hunger Games’ competition for PPE without national coronavirus plan

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Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Brian Cassella | Chicago Tribune | Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said states have been forced to compete in a “sick Hunger Games”-like competition for personal protective equipment and other supplies needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic without a strong federal response.

Pritzker, a Democrat, told U.S. lawmakers Wednesday the U.S. government’s “muddled response” left states to try to source their own supplies as health-care professionals battled rising cases. He said the federal government’s inaction left states to compete against each other and international allies for supplies.

“In the midst of a global pandemic, states were forced to play some sort of sick Hunger Games game show to save the lives of our people,” Pritzker said. “Let me be clear: This is not a reality TV show. These are real things that are happening in the United States of America in 2020.”

The state ended up paying $5 for masks that normally cost 85 cents, he said in testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee. 

Pritzker’s comments echoed similar grievances from other governors earlier this year.

New York Gov. Cuomo has previously said the state had to compete against other states for medical supplies. Cuomo has said masks that originally cost 85 cents cost $7 in New York amid the pandemic. New York bought sewing machines to make its own masks, Cuomo said.

“When health professionals are crying out across the nation are crying out for supplies, it’s the federal government’s job to ensure a nurse being properly equipped in Peoria, Illinois doesn’t come at the cost of a doctor being ready for work in San Antonio, Texas,” Pritzker said. “There was no national plan to acquire PPE or testing supplies, and as a result, people died.”

Similarly, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in a March interview on ABC News’ “This Week” that a fraction of his state’s medical equipment needs had been met. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said on the same show in March that her state, like New York, had turned away from the federal government and to companies to manufacture the equipment.

Pritzker criticized the amount of time it took to invoke the Military Defense Production Act. Going forward, he emphasized the need of the federal government to institute some national rules, including a mask mandate, as well as provide more testing supplies and to clarify insurance coverage for testing.

“If the government has one job, it’s to respond to a life-threatening emergency,” Pritzker said. “But when the same emergency is crashing down on every state at once, that’s a national emergency, and it requires a national response.”

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