Illinois Dr. Ngoze Ezike pleads for coronavirus precautions

Illinois’ public health director on Friday again pleaded with residents to wear face coverings to slow the spread of the coronavirus, breaking at one point and pausing to compose herself after reporting the day’s grim COVID-19 statistics.

As the numbers of cases rise to levels rivaling the nightmare spring when hospitals scrambled for beds to treat the sick, Dr. Ngoze Ezike rallied residents to resist “COVID fatigue” by thinking of health care and other essential workers who cannot avoid the public on a daily basis.

“If you’re talking about COVID fatigue from having to keep wearing a mask, think about the COVID fatigue for health care workers ... trying to fight for people’s lives,” Ezike said. “All these people who work with the public on a regular basis. You cannot work from home as a bus driver, so these people have to go to work every day as the disease is increasing throughout the state. And they are the ones that will be dying.”

Earlier in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s daily COVID-19 briefing in Chicago, Ezike was momentarily overcome. The typically unflappable physician, thrust into the spotlight seven months ago as Pritzker’s top medical voice of the pandemic, reported another 31 deaths to bring the state’s total to 9,418.

“These are people who started with us in 2020 and won’t be with us at the Thanksgiving table,” Ezike said. She then apologized and turned away from reporters for about 40 seconds, wiping her eyes and accepting a tissue from a staff member.

She appeared exasperated at the number of residents flaunting a requirement to wear masks covering the nose and mouth while out in public, which health experts say is an effective way to stymie transmission of the illness while the world waits for a viable treatment and preventive vaccine.

After a record-setting 4,942 newly confirmed cases on Thursday, Ezike reported 3,874 on Friday, the ninth straight day in which new cases topped 3,000, with 31 additional deaths. Overall, 364,033 have contracted COVID-19.

Pritzker has put four regions of the state on tighter restrictions for social interaction because of worrisome COVID-19 numbers. The state’s rate of positive test results is 5.6%, the eighth straight day it’s been above the 5% level national and international health experts believe is acceptable.

The Democratic governor again sympathized with owners of bars and restaurants, who are limited to serving outdoors and only until 11 p.m. in the four regions under “resurgence mitigations” — Region 1 in northwestern Illinois, Region 5 in far southern Illinois, and four south- and west-suburban Chicago counties that make up Regions 7 and 8. Chicago has tightened rules too.

“We don’t want people to get sick and die, so I would ask people to try to live by the rules that we’ve set: Wear your mask,” Pritzker said. “The truth is that if everybody will wear their masks, we can get our businesses back open again much quicker.”