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Pritzker dips into his millions to help nonprofits— as Illinois announces another seven COVID-19 deaths

Also on Thursday, President Donald Trump approved Illinois’ request for a disaster proclamation, which will give the state federal funds to deal with the coronavirus response.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a daily briefing last month. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday announced a fund to help the state’s nonprofits during the coronavirus outbreak, which will include millions from his own fortune and be chaired by his sister, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.

Also on Thursday, President Donald Trump approved Illinois’ request for a disaster proclamation, which will give the state federal funds to deal with the coronavirus response.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Illinois public health chief, announced an additional 673 new cases, bringing the state’s total to 2,538 cases. She also reported another seven deaths, with Illinois’ death count at 26. The deaths include a man in his 50s, two men and two women in their 60s, a man in his 70s, and a woman in her 90s. Approximately 87% of fatalities are among patient 60 years of age and older, the public health dept. said.

And hours after Mayor Lori Lightfoot shut down the city’s lakefront jogging paths and parks, Pritzker had angry words for Illinoisans refusing to abide by his stay-at-home order.

“Right now hosting a party, crowding down by the lake, playing a pickup basketball game in a public park, if you’re doing these things you are spitting in the face of the doctors and nurses and first responders who are risking everything so that you can survive,” Pritzker said. “...The virus could care less if you think that I’m overreacting. It has infected infants. It has killed people in their 20s, and 30s and 40s.”

The governor’s office said Pritzker’s fund, the Illinois COVID-19 Relief Fund — of which Pritzker and his wife have contributed $2 million — will help nonprofits who are providing assistance with food and housing during the coronavirus response. The fund has already raised nearly $23 million. The fund is a joint effort between United Way of Illinois and the Alliance of Illinois Community Foundations. The governor said his foundation has also contributed $2 million.

“When J.B. called me last week to talk about the need for a fund to support basic needs for all Illinoisans during this critical time, he said there was nothing more important that we can do to help the too many people across our great state who are desperate for assistance,” Penny Pritzker said. “That is what this effort is all about.”

It’s the first time during the pandemic that Pritzker has personally contributed to the response. The governor — a billionaire who spent $171 million of his own fortune during his gubernatorial campaign — has throughout his 15 months in office used his personal funds to the tune of at least $3.45 million, including doubling the salaries of his senior staffers and paying for renovations.

Trump’s disaster proclamation will give federal funding to state and local governments, and certain private nonprofit organizations for emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance for all areas in Illinois impacted by COVID-19, the White House said. The action also makes federal funding for crisis counseling.

In a letter sent to the nation’s governors on Thursday, Trump wrote that his administration is working to publish new guidelines for state and local policymakers “to use in making decisions about maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing and other mitigation measures they have put i place.”

Trump said under new “data-driven criteria, we will suggest guidelines categorizing counties as high-risk, medium-risk or low-risk.”

“With each passing day, our increasingly extensive testing capabilities are giving us a better understanding of the virus and its path,” Trump wrote. “As testing gives us more information about who has been infected, we are tracking the virus and isolating it to prevent further spread. This new information will drive the next phase in our war against this invisible enemy.”

Asked about that letter and an earlier conference call with the nation’s governor’s, Pritzker said he’s “concerned.”

“All I can say is that I’m concerned about the desire of the president to ignore potentially the science to try to do something that I know he has a desire to do. But people will die. People will get sick,” Pritzker said. “We need to make sure that we’re operating on the same playbook together to save people’s lives. And of course, simultaneously we’re all thinking about how we’re going to keep the economy going during this time period and as we reach peak and beyond it.”

And after a Twitter spat and various national TV appearances in which Pritzker criticized Trump’s response, 300 ventilators and 250,00 N95 masks promised by the White House have been delivered to the state, the governor’s office said.

Pritzker on Saturday issued an executive stay-at-home order, which is in place until April 7, unless the governor chooses to extend it. Illinois bars and restaurants and non-essential stores are also closed due to try to prevent the spread. The governor closed all Illinois schools on March 14.