CHICAGO (CBS) — Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the state’s health department and the person who took center stage at news conferences during the COVID-19 pandemic addressing the dangers of the virus, is stepping down.

“It’s just been my tremendous pleasure to serve the people of Illinois. I am so blessed to have been able to bring some measure of comfort to Illinoisans to quiet some of the chaos and infuse some calm,” Ezkie said. Her last day will be March 14.

“And (I’m) glad that I served as a role model to young girls, girls of color, little Black girls, that they can be leaders in any field. And I’m proud to show our young boys as well the future men of our society. Examples of women in leadership I’m proud to exemplify that empathy and strength can exist in the same body and in the same breath.”

Speaking at Rush University Medical Center, Governor JB Pritzker thanked Dr. Ngozi Ezike for her tireless efforts over the last three years.

“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,” Pritzker said, who added that while he respects her decision to leave, he appreciated her dedication.

“It is a change that I’m loathe to accept but perhaps she can finally get a good night’s sleep and precious time with her husband and her four kids. And boy it is well deserved,” Pritzker said. “She will go down in the Illinois history books as a woman who changed our state for the better. She saved lives, many thousands of lives.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to lead #TeamIDPH. IDPH consists of a team of unsung heroes that by nature and definition works behind the scenes who’s committed to public health. And that commitment gave me strength every day,” Ezike said.

The governor issued a proclamation, naming March 1, 2022, as #DrEzikeDay. Pritzker said Amaal Tokars, who serves as the Assistant Director of IDPH will be the interim head of the agency. A nationwide search will be conducted for her replacement.

“Dr. Ngozi Ezike has led the Illinois Department of Public Health for over three years, her tenure defined not only by her ability to provide the latest expertise and data, but also her empathy and compassion – becoming a beacon of stability for millions during a time of tremendous uncertainty,” Pritzker said. “No number of sleepless nights and endless days could wear down her commitment to think first and foremost of Illinois’ most vulnerable.”

“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. “I want to thank Governor Pritzker for the opportunity he provided me and for his dedication to the people of this great state. The dedicated men and women of IDPH, will continue their mission-driven work to protect the health and safety of all Illinois residents.”

Pritzker said her service to the state didn’t go without difficult days, early in the pandemic, and she met the challenges of educating the state about COVID and the vaccine to protect residents.

“I have watched Dr. Ezike mourn the loss of every one of the 32,000 Illinoisans who have died from COVID-19. This pandemic is a collective trauma that has, for many, numbed their ability to comprehend death on a massive scale. Not Dr. Ezike. No number of sleepless nights and endless days could wear down her commitment to think first and foremost of Illinois’ most vulnerable,” he said.

Dr. Ezike didn’t elaborate on why she was leaving, but said because numbers are now low throughout the state, it was a good time to take a step back.