Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike will be leaving her position later this month after serving three years in the role, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Tuesday.
Ezike will serve her last day as Illinois' top doctor on March 14. Dr. Amaal Tokars, who is currently the assistant director of IDPH, will serve as interim director as a nationwide search is launched to find a permanent replacement, according to the governor's office.
In announcing her departure, Pritzker proclaimed Tuesday Dr. Ngozi Ezike Day in Illinois, acknowledging her role in the state's fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
"No number of sleepless nights and endless days could wear down her commitment to think first and foremost of Illinois' most vulnerable," Pritzker said. "I ran for office, I ran for office. She did not. But throughout the crisis, she has stood beside me every step of the way. I am not putting it lightly when I say that she has had one of the hardest jobs in the world. There is something particularly heroic about the service of an extraordinary individual who did not seek greatness, but found it anyway."
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Pritzker said he was "loathe to accept" news of Ezike's departure, but added that "she will go down in the Illinois history books as a woman who saved lives and changed our state for the better."
An emotional Ezike spoke during a press conference Tuesday, continuing her pleas with residents to be respectful as mask requirements are lifted across the state.
“It has been a great honor serving the people of Illinois as the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. Being the state’s top doc during a global pandemic has been challenging to say the least, but it’s been an amazing journey to work with so many great public health professionals and leaders from all sectors,” Ezike said in a statement.
The change in leadership comes as Illinois "enters the next phase" of the coronavirus pandemic, with both the state and Chicago lifting indoor mask mandates and Chicago also lifting its vaccine mandate.
Pritzker on Monday issued an updated executive order, officially ending mandatory masking in most indoor settings in the state as metrics continue to decline following an omicron surge earlier this year.
Details on what Ezike plans to do next remain unclear.
"Perhaps she can finally get a good night’s sleep and precious time with her husband and their four kids," Pritzker said.