In a moment that captured the emotional toll of the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of Illinois Department of Public Health, was brought to tears Friday during a news briefing as she delivered difficult news about the second surge of the pandemic.
"Just thinking about how many seats are going to be empty, how many people who started this year and won’t be at the Thanksgiving table," she said Friday. "These are mothers and coworkers. It's overwhelming."
Ezike urged people to "stay strong" as the state continues to fight the pandemic, adding she was "desperate to find a message that will work" to battle COVID-19.
In an interview with NBC Nightly News over the weekend, Ezike said she's received hundreds of email since the news conference, and that "it sounds like everyone needed to have that release together."
Although the virus never went away, numbers dropped dramatically in Illinois for a time. But with the state now in its second peak, several mitigation measures have been put in place across the state, and many records have been broken.
On Saturday, the state reported a single-day record of 6,161 new coronavirus cases, surpassing the previous record by more than 1,200 cases.
"It's incited some feelings, some PTSD-type feeling as we think about starting round two, just remembering how difficult round one [was]," she said.
Ezike is not exempt from COVID-19 as she has lost relatives from the virus and takes it personally when she hears of business owners blatantly defying the state's rules and residents refusing to wear masks.
"There are no good decisions, but who wants to be in a situation like that," she said.
On Friday, new restrictions went into effect in Will, Kankakee, DuPage and Kane counties as a result of rising positivity rates. State officials suspended indoor bar and dining service, and capacity limits are expected to be enforced for outdoor seating at those venues.
Gatherings of over 25 people have also been prohibited.
Ezike warned that Cook County could be next to see similar restrictions, asking people to understand their power and to do their part.
"We need to take those tears and turn it into action," she said. "We need to wear our masks, maintain our distance, get our flu shots. We can be sad, but we can still fight."
As of Sunday, half of the state, 51 of Illinois' 102 counties were considered to be at a warning level. The state's seven-day positivity rate stood at 6.1%, the highest it has been since early June.