Illinois Director of Public Health Dr. Ngozi Ezike resigns
After two years as the architect and public face of the state’s response to COVID-19, Illinois Director of Public Health Dr. Ngozi Ezike announced Tuesday that she will step down later this this month.
Governor JB Pritzker said Tuesday “Dr. Ngozi Ezike Day” during a press conference at Rush University Medical Center. Ezike’s resignation will take effect March 14, the governor said.
Ezike, the first black woman to lead the state’s top health agency, has stood with Pritzker for more than 160 coronavirus updates, most in the early days of the crisis when residents were ordered to stay indoors — one of the COVID-19 mitigation strategies Pritzker implemented at Ezike’s recommendation.
“No number of sleepless nights and endless days could wear him down, nor his commitment to putting Illinois’ most vulnerable first. [residents]“, said Pritzker.
“I ran for office, she didn’t. But throughout the crisis, she stood by me every step of the way. I don’t say that lightly when I say that she had one of the toughest jobs in the world.
Pritzker said Ezike “will go down in the history books of Illinois as a woman who changed our state for the better. She saved lives, thousands of lives.
A tearful Ezike called it “an honor to be able to share these updates, share information, and help create policy.”
Ezike, a Harvard and University of California graduate, was hired in 2019.
“I didn’t really know what I was getting into. But I had ideals that I believed in, which would be my guiding light, my North Star,” she said. “One of them is to believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to be healthier. Second, intentionality is needed to meet the long-forgotten needs of select populations – this is now simply called equity.
“And third, to better care for a diverse population, like we are fortunate to have in Illinois, you need a team that reflects that diversity to create the most robust and inclusive solutions. “, said Ezike.
The surprise announcement from Illinois’ top doctor came a day after Pritzker lifted the state’s indoor mask mandate as infections fall to the lowest levels seen since last summer.
Under Ezike’s leadership, nearly three-quarters of eligible Illinois have completed their first round of COVID-19 vaccines, and more than half have received a booster shot.
But Ezike highlighted the more than 3 million infections that have been confirmed since the start of the pandemic – and the 32,803 residents who have died from the virus.
“All the people and all their stories, I will always hold in my heart,” she said. “I acknowledge and mourn with the families all of the lives lost not just to COVID, but to gun violence, suicide, drug overdoses, racism, cancer and all the other illnesses and ailments the public health officials and all of our partners are working tirelessly to curb.
Ezike encouraged residents to keep masking up — and showing compassion as Illinois enters a new pandemic chapter.
“We always have to be in that mode where if there is a specific circumstance where you can help a little bit by doing something as simple as wearing a mask, it could help reduce the risk of getting sick – I hope this is something we can collectively still do for our fellow human beings,” she said.
Amaal Tokars, deputy director of the public health department, has been named acting director.
Mitchell Armentrout reported from Chicago, Taylor Avery from Springfield