Illinois has paid $174 million for medicine and protective equipment to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the past month, according to data released Tuesday.
Comptroller Susana Mendoza debuted an online portal identifying each expendituresince Gov. J.B. Pritzker's March 9 disaster declaration, which allows his administration to coordinate with state partners and federal agencies in buying equipment and supplies.
As of Tuesday, 868 people had died of complications related to COVID-19 among 23,247 cases of coronavirus infections since the pandemic hit Illinois.
“We want people to realize this is no joke, we're very serious, and when they look at these numbers and at this graph, they'll paint a mental picture and realize how important it is to stay home, not just to keep themselves safe, but others," Mendoza said in a telephone interview.
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Mendoza said that despite the state's billions of dollars of debt, she will prioritize COVID-19- response payments for the duration of the pandemic.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Pritzker reported that analysis of Illinois' COVID-19 statistics suggests that cases might have plateaued and might be declining because of social-distancing and other strategies. He reiterated that he is consulting other governors about how to relax such restrictions despite resident Donald Trump's assertion that he can “re-open” states on his authority.
Yet Pritzker urged people to prepare for a “new normal” that likely won't include an immediate return to movement and interaction as previously known, at least prior to the development of a vaccine.
Trump has encouraged states to procure needed equipment on their own and not rely on Washington, a position which governors have complained has meant states must compete on the open market with one another and even against other countries, leading to unscrupulous practices such as price-gouging.
The governor’s office noted late Tuesday the state's procurement costs include $1.7 million in state funds being spent on two flights from China transporting personal protective equipment to Illinois.
Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in a statement the governor has outlined the challenges that has sprung up to obtain the equipment for the state’s healthcare workers.
“The supply chain has been likened to the Wild West, and once you have purchased supplies ensuring they get to the state is another herculean feat,” Abudayyeh said in the statement. “These flights are carrying millions of masks and gloves our workers need. They’re scheduled to land in Illinois in the coming weeks and the state is working to ensure these much-needed supplies are protected and ready for distribution around the state.”
The comptroller's database doesn't flag outrageous prices and doesn't provide enough contractual information to help taxpayers spot them. But purchases include $13 million on April 9 for 200 ventilators — $65,000 apiece for a complex medical machine vital to the fight against the respiratory ailment that, before the pandemic, could be purchased for far less.
Pritzker said that exemplifies a situation where Trump could have invoked war-time powers to require manufacturers to produce ventilators, which the president has done much less often than Pritzker had hoped.
“We wouldn’t be paying $5 or $6 sometimes for an N95 (specialized face) mask that in a normal circumstance costs 85 cents or $1 ...,” Pritzker said. “A typical ventilator that’s useful in an ICU situation, the price starts at around $25,000, maybe up to $40,000."
He said where his staff can identify price-gouging, he will alert the state attorney general. He did not say whether he had referred any transactions to Attorney General Kwame Raoul. A Raoul spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
Mendoza said one of her staffers has begun working with the governor's office on a “strike force” to review the credibility of the many vendors with which Illinois is dealing for the first time. The Illinois State Police and FBI are available to assist.
But she said unscrupulous transactions are hard to track because "many of these vendors popped out of the blue, incorporated for five days, and now they're off enjoying their profits.”
Illinois comptroller's COVID-19 spending portal: https://illinoiscomptroller.gov/covid19-information/
Follow Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor