‘It's Not Too Late': Pritzker Calls for National Mask Mandate

"It's not too late for the federal government to make an impact," Pritzker said while testifying before the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security Wednesday

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Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker testified before the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security Wednesday, arguing for a national mask mandate and coordinated strategy.

"It's not too late for the federal government to make an impact," Pritzker said during his opening remarks.

During his comments, Pritzker criticized the federal government's coronavirus response, saying "there was no national plan to acquire PPE or testing supplies and as a result people died."

"When the same emergency is crashing down on every state at once that's a national emergency and it requires a national response," he said, adding that "states were forced to play some sort of sick hunger games game show to save the lives of our people."

He called for a coordinated effort across the country to increase testing and contact tracing and the implementation of a mask mandate.

"We need a national masking mandate," he said. "We instituted ours in Illinois on May 1, one of the first in the nation and it aligns with our most significant downward shifts in our infection rates."

The Illinois governor touted the state's declining hospitalizations and positivity rate, citing early intervention.

"We had all the potential to become a major early hotspot like New York and like Florida and Texas have now become," he said.

Illinois is one of several states to institute mask mandates when social distancing isn't possible.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy issued an executive order Wednesday requiring people to wear face masks outdoors when they can’t socially distance, in addition to the existing rules for indoor masks. 

The total cases of the coronavirus in the United States reached 3 million late Tuesday, according to a tally from NBC News. There have been more than 132,000 confirmed deaths as a result of COVID-19.

And, as many states battle outbreaks, hospitals are facing a shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE. Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, who is in charge of coronavirus-related supplies for the White House, told Congress last week that more than than one-fourth of the states have less than a 30-day supply.

Vice President Mike Pence, speaking at White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing on Wednesday, claimed that PPE supplies remain “very strong” but the Trump administration will be encouraging healthcare workers “to use some of the best practices” to “preserve and reuse” face masks and other protective equipment.

In general, supplies of protective gear are more robust now, and many states and major hospital chains say they are in better shape. But medical professionals and some lawmakers have cast doubt on those improvements as shortages begin to reappear.

Pence pointed to flattening rates of positive coronavirus tests in the hard-hit Sun Belt states of Arizona, Florida and Texas and called for Americans to “keep doing what you’re doing.”

But the head of the White House task force said that Americans in states that have seen a recent spike in cases need to do more to clamp down on gatherings in order to stem spread of the virus.

Dr. Deborah Birx said that in addition to closures of bars, ceasing indoor dining and wearing face coverings Americans in hot spots should stop holding or cut down on the size of gatherings they hold in their homes.

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