KEY POINTS

  • Pritzker was among the first governors to issue stay-at-home orders to stem spread of the coronavirus
  • He said he has given up on help from the federal government in fighting the disease as the number of cases in the state soared to more than 23,000 and the death toll climbed to 868 as of Tuesday
  • The secret flights were to arrive in Illinois in coming weeks

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a frequent target of President Trump’s wrath, reportedly has arranged secret flights from China to obtain millions of masks and gloves to fight the coronavirus pandemic and keep the administration from seizing the cargo for the federal stockpile.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Wednesday the supplies were to be whisked to the state on charter flights from Shanghai.

Pritzker has often criticized Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis and said Tuesday he had given up on relying on the federal government for help.

“We’ve gotten very little help from the federal government. It’s fine. I’ve given up on any promises that have been made,” Pritzker told CNN. “I hope something will get delivered from the federal government, but I don’t expect it anymore.”

The freshman governor has preempted the federal government before, ordering stringent social distancing actions before Trump issued such guidelines and becoming the second  state to implement stay-at-home orders behind California.

Trump and Pritzker, a billionaire whose fortune is at least six times the size of Trump’s, have clashed repeatedly since the pandemic began ravaging the United States.

“There is a governor, I hear him complaining all the time, Pritzker. He is always complaining,” Trump said earlier this month, adding, “In Illinois, the governor couldn’t do his job, so we had to help him.”

Pritzker repeatedly listed the federal government’s shortcomings in fighting the virus, blaming Trump for being slow-footed in recognizing the threat and saying governors have been doing what needs to be done “despite him.”

Pritzker said he doesn’t expect life to return to normal anytime soon even though Trump is pushing states to start reopening their economies within weeks. Trump earlier this week claimed it was entirely up to him to order the economy reopened, but reversed course Tuesday, saying he would provide the nation’s governors with “guidelines” on lifting restrictions.

“It’s a good thing that the president finally recognized that it’s the Constitution that authorizes the governors to have the power to reopen their states,” Pritzker said.

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza said the state has spent more than $174 million on COVID-19-related equipment, including ventilators, personal protection equipment and hand sanitizer. Two of the invoices included $888,275 to FedEx Trade Networks Transport for “aircraft charter flight to Shanghai, China for COVID-19 response. ... Prepayment required.”

Pritzker’s press secretary declined to provide details on the flights, saying in a statement that the governor had outlined the difficulties in obtaining gloves, masks and other items for healthcare workers and first responders.

“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. 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,” she said in a statement.

A source told the Sun-Times details were being withheld to keep the administration from seizing the cargo “because we’ve heard reports of Trump trying to take PPE in China and when it gets to the United States.”

Pritzker told his daily press conference Tuesday it appeared Illinois had started bending the curve on new coronavirus infections. The state added 1,222 cases Tuesday, bringing the total to at least 23,247 since testing began. The statewide death toll was pegged at 868.

"To be clear, there is nothing good about twice as many people having this virus, or worse, dying from it, no matter how long the increase takes," he said. "But we won’t get to zero cases overnight."

By Wednesday morning nationally, the U.S. had confirmed 609,700 infections, with more than 26,000 deaths.