Illinois' top doctor to spend more time with family following decision to step down

The top doctor for Illinois who became well known during the pandemic announced this week she's leaving.

On Thursday, she sat down with us to discuss that decision in-depth.

Doctor Ngozi Ezike arrived for our interview a bit late, juggling phones, notes and work because there's always so much to do when you lead the Illinois Department of Public Health.

She's been the face of fighting COVID-19 in Illinois, starting with our first case back in January 2020.

"It made me spend almost every waking moment and every sleeping moment because it really followed me into my dreams and whatever sleep I was getting, just to make sure that I knew everything," said Dr. Ezike.

She gave 161 COVID briefings in English and Spanish. Ezike has outlasted most public health directors, leading IDPH for 37 months — and what a three years it's been.

"There is never not a fire, but you also don't want to leave when the temperature is the hottest," she said.

Ezike says we're now lukewarm, so she sees her off ramp. Just a month and a half ago, 700 new COVID patients were being admitted to Illinois hospitals each day. We're now averaging below 70. But more than 32,800 people have died in Illinois, more than half of those after vaccines became available.


FOX 32 asked Dr. Ezike if she ever lost her cool or wanted to yell about people getting vaccinated.

"I did that on some town halls. You know, sometimes I would just let my hair down and be like, 'Look, people, okay, let's stop fooling around.' There were times," she responded.

Announcing her departure Tuesday brought Ezike to tears. She says it's like leaving a family. But it's her real family, a husband and four children ages 12 to 19, that has motivated this change.

"I don't think anything can be as stressful as what we've been through," said Ezike.

Dr. Ezike says she's not sure what's next, but healthcare is clearly this doctor's passion and she sees unfinished work in battling misinformation and vaccine skepticism.

"If we turn away from vaccines as a rule, welcome measles, polio, smallpox, I mean, there's too much at stake. So important lessons, and we will continue working at it," said Ezike.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike's last day as IDPH director is March 14.