Dr. Ngozi Ezike served as steady medical guide for Illinoisans during pandemic

For the last two years, Dr. Ngozi Ezike stood her ground, unrelenting in relaying — sometimes in tears — how crucial it was to mask up, stay indoors and get vaccinated.

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Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike announced March 1, 2022, that she was stepping down.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike announces she is stepping down, effective later this month at Rush Hospital on Tuesday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

She has been a steady force of clarity and an empathetic voice during a frightening, unprecedented time.

For the last two years, Dr. Ngozi Ezike dispensed sound advice and tips on how Illinoisans could protect themselves from COVID-19 amid the pandemonium and avalanche of misinformation coming from all directions.

But she stood her ground, unrelenting in relaying — sometimes in tears — how crucial it was to mask up, stay indoors and get vaccinated.

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Ezike, who is stepping down as the state’s public health director later this month, will go down in history for changing Illinois “for the better,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said as he declared March 1 “Dr. Ngozi Ezike Day.”

Indeed.

Almost three-quarters of eligible Illinoisans have gotten their initial COVID-19 vaccine shots and more than half of Illinois residents received booster shots under Ezike’s watch.

Ezike has been a rock since she stood by Pritzker during the state’s first coronavirus briefing when the stay-at-home-order was implemented in March 2020.

While then-President Donald Trump’s administration made “deliberate efforts” to undermine the country’s response to the deadly pandemic, Ezike was among the nation’s leaders to stick with scientific facts.

“Politics and pandemics don’t seem to go well together,” the Harvard educated doctor once noted.

When Trump would go out of his way to appear in public without a face covering in 2020 and other elected officials and residents here followed suit, Ezike asked for the masks to stay on. She further instructed that we refrain from hugging our loved ones and shaking hands.

When restrictions were eased last summer and vaccines were readily available, Ezike gently reminded us that we weren’t out of the woods and encouraged the unvaccinated to get a jab as soon as possible.

Throughout it all, Ezike remained compassionate, mourning Illinois’ 32,000-plus COVID-19-related deaths.

The situation could have been much more grim without the direction of Ezike, who appeared in over 160 briefings with the governor.

More lives could have been lost and it could have taken the state longer to lift its indoor mask mandate as Pritzker did earlier this week.

As the Omicron strain waned last month, Ezike reminded Illinoisans that the coronavirus isn’t going anywhere. The state will always be finding ways to “coexist with COVID,” said Ezike, the first Black woman to lead the state’s top health agency.

In announcing her resignation Tuesday, Ezike said, “I am so blessed to have been able to bring some measure of comfort to Illinoisans, to quiet some of the chaos and infuse some calm.”

The residents of Illinois should feel equally fortunate to have had Ezike as a medical guide during the first 24-months of this devastating international health crisis.

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