Dr. Ngozi Ezike on how guiding Illinois' COVID response revealed her own strength: 'I'm superwoman'

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A fixture guiding Illinois' COVID response in the most trying of times, Dr. Ngozi Ezike is relinquishing her role as Illinois Director of Public Health later this month.

In a one-on-one interview, she talks about the future of COVID in the state, and what's next for her.

Back on March 20, 2020, when Gov. JB Pritzker held that first press conference announcing the state stay-at-home order, she said she never envisioned what was to come.

"I wouldn't have wanted to be able to imagine that," Ezike said. "So the reality was much worse than we could have dreamt of at the time, unfortunately."

Ezike, the state's top public health official, is set to leave her role in mid-March. During her tenure, Illinois has endured an onslaught of COVID cases and deaths. The 7-day average of cases hit a peak during the Omicron surge, and has made an impressive recovery.

"When you're thrust in a challenge like this, it wasn't an option of, are we gonna take this on or not?" Ezike said. "Like, we're taking it on, OK? We're gonna do what we need to do."

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Dr. Ngozi Ezike will bring her three-year tenure at the helm of the Illinois Department of Public Health to a close on March 14.



She was a steady presence standing at the podium preaching the worst - and the best - of news.

"It is absolutely cause to celebrate the fact that we are able to tell people that they can consider whether they want to wear their mask or not," she said.
But she is saying goodbye to a role she says has defined her and revealed her own strength.

"For real, like, I'm superwoman," Ezike said. "Like, you can't tell me I can't do something now. So there is this level of confidence that you know, yes, there can be what seem like insurmountable challenges but with faith, with a great support team, working hard, yes... I can do it!"

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Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike gets the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.



COVID has been cowed for now. Cases and transmission are low, but it's not gone. Dr. Ezike said she hopes "if we could do something really foundational, that would be to take politics out of pandemics, out of public health."

Ezike will leave satisfied with the most intense two years of her life, working days that began before the sun was up and ending after it set.

"I'm proud that I've had the physical and mental strength to last this long," Ezike said. "And I'm glad we're at a place where we can think about a changing of the guard."

The mother of four said she's planning a trip to Los Angeles to see her mom, and after that, it's the great unknown. She said that with whatever job she takes next, work-life balance is key.
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