CHICAGO -- Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Illinois' top doctor, broke down during Friday's daily briefing as she was reading some of the daily coronavirus numbers.
"Today, we are reporting 3,874 new cases for a total of 364,033 confirmed cases since the start of this pandemic," she said haltingly, before breaking down. "Excuse me, please."
Dr. Ezike remained with her back towards the podium as a staffer left to get a box of tissues for her. The director of the Illinois Department of Public Health took a moment to compose herself, then continued her briefing, pleading for residents of the state to fight the pandemic fatigue that leads to looser personal restrictions and the surge in COVID-19 cases the state is now seeing.
"My message to you is to stay strong," she tearfully said. "I've never run a marathon but I have the utmost respect for those who have been able to train, plan and finish a marathon, but this is a difficult race when you can't actually see the endpoint."
WATCH: IL top doctor breaks down when announcing state's COVID-19 count
She said she shares the overwhelming mental, social and emotional toll of the pandemic, just like many others in our country.
"I'm feeling it and living it myself," she said. "I don't get to live in some COVID-free bubble, exempt from the pain and tragedy of the pandemic."
As of Thursday night, 2,498 people were hospitalized in Illinois with COVID-19, with 511 in the ICU and 197 on ventilators. The total number of COVID-19 cases in Illinois now stands at 364,033, with 9,418 deaths, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported.
"The harsh reality is that the sacrifices we've made, and that we continue to make, do not have a future expiration date," Ezike added.
She also appealed to Illinoisans to stay strong and remember that the actual enemy we're facing is a virus, not each other.
"Putting our people through this again, it's unfortunate. And I'm desperate to find the message that will work," she said. "I'm looking for someone to tell me what the message is so that we can do what it takes to turn this around. The virus has caused this, and instead of pitting one group against another, we need to get that right and fight against the virus."
Our sister station WLS-TV asked her, in the midst of this new wave, what the most difficult part is for her.
"If you're talking about COVID fatigue from having to keep wearing a mask, think about the COVID fatigue for healthcare workers, respiratory therapists who are going to have go through this whole episode again, of trying to fight for people's lives because we couldn't figure out how to control this virus by doing some of the simple measures that have been prescribed," she responded.
When Gov. Pritzker returned to the podium, he took a moment to defend his top doctor.
"Dr. Ezike is a Superwoman," he said. "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."
The governor said Dr. Ezike has seen protesters show up to her home, and through it all has continued to work seven days a week, very long hours every day, and expressed his admiration for her.