Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker was not willing to predict Sunday that fans will be sitting knee to knee watching the Chicago Bears play in Soldier Field this fall as COVID-19 infections surge, disagreeing with President Donald Trump’s prediction the NFL season will start on time.
On Saturday, Trump held a teleconference with the commissioners of the major sports leagues. ESPN and AP reported that Trump said in the call he wanted the football season to kick off in September as scheduled.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, in reaction, said “I’m not anticipating that happening in this state.” Newsom was the first governor, then Pritzker the second to issue stay-at-home orders, using social distancing to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pritzker was asked about the Bears playing by September in Soldier Field in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”
“Well, the Bears are a great team, whether they’re playing or not,” Pritzker said.
“But I will say this, that it’s not up to us. We don’t know that none of us really knows. But what I do know is this: That if the researchers are able to come up with a treatment, something that will save lives, something that will keep people off of ventilators, maybe even keep them out of hospitals, then that will be an enormous development for our country and for the future. And it may allow us to begin to open things up in the way that the president is describing.
“But the truth is that no one predicts now that we’re going to have that treatment anytime in the next few weeks or even in the next month.
“And no one really knows if we’ll have it by September. What we do know is that if you have a vaccine, that ultimately will help us deal with the problem, because it’s either going to be a treatment and herd immunity that ultimately allows us to open everything back up, or it’s a vaccine.”
At the Saturday coronavirus pandemic briefing at the White House, Trump said among those on the call were:
- Rob Manfred, commissioner of Major League Baseball
- Roger Goodell, commissioner of the National Football League
- Adam Silver, commissioner of the National Basketball Association
- Gary Bettman, commissioner of the National Hockey League
- Jay Monahan, commissioner of the PGA Tour
- Cathy Engelbert, commissioner of the Women’s National Basketball Association
- Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship
- Vince McMahon, president of the WWE
- Don Garber, commissioner of Major League Soccer
- Steve Phelps, president of NASCAR
- Michael Whan, commissioner of the LPGA
- Roger Penske, founder and chairman of Penske Corp.
- Drew Fleming, president of the Breeders’ Cup
Trump said the commissioners told him, “They want to get back. They got to get back. They can’t do this. Their sports weren’t designed for it. The whole concept of our nation wasn’t designed for it. We’re going to have to get back. We want to get back soon — very soon.”
Asked by a reporter if Trump told the commissioners he wanted fans back in arenas by August, Trump did not give a clear answer about the date he was contemplating.
“Absolutely, I want — I want fans back in the arenas,” Trump said.
Asked if “by August,” Trump said, “I think it’s — I think it’s — no.”
Asked if August were “safe,” Trump said, “Whenever we’re ready. I mean, as soon as we can, obviously. And the fans want to be back, too. You know, they want to see basketball and baseball and football and hockey. They want to see their sports. They want to go out onto the golf courses and breathe nice, clean, beautiful fresh air.”
Trump has at times ignored the epidemiological models of his experts, predicting at one point the stay-at-home lockdown would be over by Easter Sunday and people could attend services in “packed” churches.
Trump was asked if his projections were based on science.
“I can’t tell you — I can’t tell you a date, but I think it’s going to be sooner rather than later.”
The president also said social distancing can’t last forever.
Said Trump, “But — and, you know, we’re not going to have to have separation for the rest of our times on the planet. We need it for this period of time. But eventually, people are going to be able to occupy those seats and arenas, next to each other, like we have for all of my life and all of your life. They want to sit next to each other at restaurants. They don’t want to be, you know, six feet away.”