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Illinois health director Ngozi Ezike to resign March 14

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike addresses the news media at a COVID-19 news conference in Chicago.
Peter Hancock
Capitol News Illinois
Dr. Ngozi Ezike appears in a 2020 photo with Gov. J.B. Pritzker in his office in Springfield. She was appointed Illinois Department of Public Health director in 2019.

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike will resign on March 14 after three years leading the agency and two years navigating a deadly pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 32,000 Illinoisans.

Ezike, who was appointed IDPH director in 2019, became a widely recognized public figure in the state as the COVID-19 pandemic upended daily life across the globe.

“There is something particularly heroic about the service of an extraordinary individual who did not seek greatness, but found it anyway,” Gov. JB Pritzker said, proclaiming March 1 “Dr. Ngozi Ezike Day” in Illinois.

Beginning with daily updates in March 2020, Ezike appeared at more than 160 COVID-19-related news conferences alongside the governor, putting a public face on the medical side of the state’s executive branch-driven pandemic response.

“IDPH consists of a team of unsung heroes, that by nature and definition works behind the scenes, who's committed to public health. And that commitment gave me strength every day,” she said.

Pritzker said the department will be led in the interim by Dr. Amaal Tokars, an IDPH top deputy who has at times appeared next to the governor at his news conferences as well.

Ezike thanked her family for “tolerating the absences” over the past two years.

“You have stood by and you have supported me and you've not complained and you have made dinners and you've done all the pickups and the drop-offs,” Ezike said. “But now it's time for me to make you my priority. And give back a portion of the attention and the encouragement and the support that you lavished on me.”

An emotional Ezike thanked the governor and the people of Illinois for giving her strength in a difficult time.

“I acknowledge and mourn with the families of all the lives lost not just to COVID, but to gun violence, to suicide, to drug overdose, to racism, to cancer, and all the other diseases and ills that public health officials and all of our partners work tirelessly to curb,” she said.

Ezike also said that while the statewide indoor mask mandate was lifted as of Monday, it’s important to be respectful of Illinoisans who still choose to wear face coverings for medical or other reasons.

“We have embarked on a new chapter in our COVID journey, and I just want to highlight that as the mask requirement has been lifted it does not mean that it's not recommended,” she said. “And as we think about our individual situations…It may absolutely be the case that you are an individual either because of your own self-assessment… or because of those that you live with, that you will continue to wear a mask.”

Ezike said declining COVID-19 transmission rates and hospitalizations, as well as increasing vaccination rates, are leading to a lull in the pandemic that created a window for her to step down.

“I'm hoping that with all the vaccinations and the therapeutics that are available that we will have, you know, a quiet spring. Spring and summer have typically been stable times. So this is my chance,” she said.

She said IDPH will continue to monitor for future surges and adapt accordingly.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Jerry Nowicki / Capitol News Illinois