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Pritzker arranging secret flights from China to bring millions of masks and gloves to Illinois

The governor is worried President Trump might try to seize the supplies for the federal stockpile so he’s keeping the details quiet, a source said.

FedEx jets lined up at the company’s facility at O’Hare International Airport in 2014.
FedEx jets lined up at the company’s facility at O’Hare International Airport.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is planning to obtain millions of masks and gloves from China and bring those supplies back to Illinois on charter jets — but he’s keeping the details secret out of fear the Trump administration might seize the cargo for the federal stockpile, sources said Tuesday.

Illinois state Comptroller Susana Mendoza said Tuesday that the state has spent more than $174 million on purchases related to COVID-19, including supplies such as ventilators, masks, gloves, gowns, protective eyewear and hand sanitizer.

Among the list of expenditures: two invoices, each for $888,275, to FedEx Trade Networks Transport for “aircraft charter flight to Shanghai, China for COVID-19 response. ... Prepayment required.”

Jordan Abudayyeh, Pritzker’s press secretary, wouldn’t provide details on the flights, saying only: “The governor has clearly outlined the challenges this administration has faced as we’ve worked around the clock to purchase PPE [personal protective equipment] for our 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.”

A source knowledgeable about the flights said the governor didn’t want to release details “because we’ve heard reports of Trump trying to take PPE in China and when it gets to the United States.”

Earlier this month, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said Pritzker was calling on CEOs of major airlines to organize an airlift to haul personal protective equipment from China to Illinois.

“They couldn’t get flights, cargo flights out,” Durbin said April 1 on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “You know, I’ve got a very talented governor here, and he’s dealt with big business, but to think it’s his responsibility to airlift what should have been in the national stockpile is incredible at this moment.”

Pritzker and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have complained that states are competing against themselves — and the federal government — in bidding for medical supplies.

On April 5, Trump responded to the criticism, saying: ”There is a governor, I hear him complaining all the time, Pritzker. He is always complaining. In Illinois, the governor couldn’t do his job, so we had to help him.”