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1-On-1 With Gov. J.B. Pritzker on the COVID-19 Response

Tanya Koonce
Peoria Public Radio

Governor J.B. Pritzker says the federal and state governments are working to blunt the blow of a two-week bar and restaurant closure as much as possible. 

Pritzker ordered the closures Sunday in an effort to control the spread of the coronavirus. They go into effect at the end of business Monday through March 30. Drive-thrus and curbside pickup can continue at restaurants. 

 "We're working hard to try to affect everybody in a positive way that's had to take a hit as a result of coronavirus," he said in a phone interview with WCBU on Monday. "But it's know, we're in a situation now where we're in a crisis. We really have to keep people at home." 

 He said the federal government is exploring offering low-interest loans of up to $2 million each to small businesses. He said the state is also extending unemployment benefits to workers impacted by coronavirus-related layoffs, and he's asking the federal government for additional relief.  Pritzker said while the school and business closures he's ordered are drastic steps, the biggest priority is preventing the state's healthcare system from being overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases.  "I know that as testing expands across the state and that's something that's been held back by the federal government," he said. "But as we expand testing, we're going to find that we really have tens of thousands of people that are walking around with coronavirus. And we just have to stop the spread."  The governor said he's working with the Illinois State Board of Education to ensure children who rely upon schools for regular meals continue to be able to access food in the wake of a statewide school closure.  He says two free meals a day will be prepared kids on free or reduced lunch starting Tuesday.  "We're going to be using various resources, including the National Guard, to deliver those into neighborhoods, and into cities and counties where people need to get those lunches," he said.  He says the state's eight major food banks are already coordinating to make sure kids are getting fed during the school closures. Pritzker is asking major food manufactures like Kraft and ConAgra to donate specific items to food banks across the state to help provide a third daily meal for these students.  Prtizker said he's following the advice of experts and scientists to determine what steps need to be taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 day-by-day. "If you had asked me three weeks ago if we'd be closing bars and restaurants, I'd say there's no chance that we'll do that," he said. "But now we're being advised by the experts that this is the right thing to do."  But Pritzker is defending the decision to hold the Illinois primary Tuesday, despite the closures he's mandated to slow the spread of the coronavirus and recent recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control to cancel or postpone events with more than 50 people in a space simultaneously.  "At those polling places, there won't really be too many people at any given time. So people can really feel safe," Pritzker said. "Just like when they go to the store, the grocery store, to buy something, or they go to a local store at any given time, you know, it's not jam-packed with people. So I think the experience tomorrow will be a good one."  Pritzker said local polling places will be equipped with hand sanitizer and frequently cleaned. He also said many people have taken advantage of early or absentee voting this year to avoid crowds Tuesday. "It's very, very important that we're doing what we need to do to make sure that our democracy is continuing," he said.  "That we're electing leaders and that we're continuing to do the things that keep our democracy strong." 

Copyright 2020 WCBU

Tim Shelley is the Assignment Editor and Digital Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.