The physician director of the Illinois Health Department broke down in tears as she addressed the devastating surging COVID-19 toll in her state.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike began to cry as she turned to the death statistics in a press briefing Friday.
“Since yesterday we have lost an additional 31 lives, for a total of 9,418 deaths. These are people who started with us in 2020 and who won’t be with us at the Thanksgiving table,” she said.
Ezike then excused herself to turn away from the lectern for a moment as she cried.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), who was standing by, offered “socially distant support,” the local CBS station reported (see the video above).
A staffer delivered a box of tissues as Ezike composed herself and continued.
“Putting our people through this again, it’s unfortunate,” she said. “And I’m desperate to find the message that will work. I’m looking for someone to tell me what the message is so that we can do what it takes to turn this around.”
Ezike reminded people that they’re fighting a virus — not each other.
The “virus has caused this,” Ezike added, “and instead of pitting one group against another, we need to get that right and fight against the virus.”
Illinois reported its highest ever daily coronavirus case count on Saturday with more than 6,000 positive tests — and an additional 63 dead. The total number of COVID-19 cases in the state stood Saturday at nearly 376,000.
The grim state statistics echo what’s happening in most of the nation. The U.S. had the highest daily total of new cases ever on Friday, with more than 83,000 new infections.
Ezike pleaded with Illinois residents to battle pandemic “fatigue” and keep up their vigilance against COVID-19 by wearing masks, avoiding crowds and maintaining social distance.
She compared the battle to a marathon, a particularly “difficult race when you can’t actually see the endpoint.”
“I’m feeling it and living it myself,” Ezike said. “I don’t get to live in some COVID-free bubble, exempt from the pain and tragedy of the pandemic.”
When Pritzker stepped up the podium he called Ezike “a superwoman. Since the very beginning of this coronavirus, she has had the weight of the public health of the people of the state of Illinois on her shoulders,” he added.
Despite the surging national numbers, Donald Trump insisted at the presidential debate Thursday that “we’re turning a corner. It’s going away.” He tweeted Saturday that the “fake news” is reporting the record-breaking numbers to “create fear” before the election, presumably to hurt his chance of a victory.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.