Home Community News Dr. Ngozi Ogbunamiri-Ezike leads Ilinois response to Coronavirus

Dr. Ngozi Ogbunamiri-Ezike leads Ilinois response to Coronavirus

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Alicia Tate-Nadeu (left) is the first woman to serve as director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. Dr. Ngozi Ezike leads the Illinois Department of Public Health. A former general and a former medical director of the largest juvenile detention center in the country are heading Illinois’ efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker appointed the former Illinois National Guard brigadier general, Alicia Tate-Nadeau, last year to lead the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. She’s the first woman to lead the state agency.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike heads the state’s Department of Public Health after being the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center’s medical director during 15 years working for Cook County Health.

Ezike says she is on the phone daily from as early as 7:30 a.m. to as late as 10:30 p.m. with everyone from Vice President Mike Pence to former state health directors, speaks with Pritzker once a day and texts with him throughout the day.

Somewhere in there, or sometimes in the middle of the night, Ezike says she will find a moment of “quiet” to put together what she’s learned into a plan.

An internist and pediatrician, she oversaw medical care at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center during the 2009 H1N1 flu virus pandemic.

“It’s very similar to a nursing home, where you have a very vulnerable population in an environment that puts everyone in close quarters,” Ezike says. “We had 300 to 400 kids at any time during that outbreak and about 600 to 700 staff that worked there. That was a really trying time but gave us opportunities to institute quarantines and identify staff that could be at risk.”

Ezike oversaw care for measles scares, shingles, chickenpox and less life-threatening illnesses and says the experience trained her to handle outbreaks in a contained setting.

Alicia Tate-Nadeau (left), the director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Illinois’ public health director, stand by as Gov. J.B. Pritzker discusses the state’s response to COVID-19 at the state Capitol.
Alicia Tate-Nadeau (left), the director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Illinois’ public health director, stand by as Gov. J.B. Pritzker discusses the state’s response to COVID-19 at the state Capitol. 
AP

In Illinois, she says the coronavirus outbreak is being handled by an “expert team” that includes a preparedness group with Tate-Nadeau at the helm.

“H1N1, Zika, Ebola … she has seen all of those outbreaks and brings a decade of experience,” Ezike says of Tate-Nadeau.

She’s also in touch with an advisory team at the University of Illinois at Chicago “full of people who have worked for decades on infection diseases and who have worked on previous outbreak investigations.”

She says the state is trying to move “proactively.” For instance, she says, “We want the nursing homes to become much more stringent with allowing visitors, effective immediately, and not wait until there is evidence of wide transmission.”

The approach to cases of infection is “not a one-size-fits-all,” she says. “As we move forward and we keep track of what’s going on, we will make individual, calculated decisions with local health departments and schools or businesses or whatever communities to see what the right fit is.”

“Today is one day, and tomorrow the picture could look very different,” Ezike says. “So we’re just staying very diligent and want everyone to think of the what-ifs.”

Tate-Nadeau, who also is the state’s homeland security director, has a background in chemical, biological and radiological emergency management.

She was the first woman to hold the rank of brigadier general in the Illinois National Guard and served military tours in Iraq and Israel.

Tate-Nadeau worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to lead the federal response to the water and lead-exposure crisis in Flint, Michigan, and ran Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management & Communications.

Her duties with the National Guard included going into chemically contaminated areas, getting people out of collapsed buildings and coordinating medical groups on assessments and decontamination, according to her resume.

“I feel like the last 32 to 35 years has prepared me for what I’m doing today,” Tate-Nadeau says. “I’m drawing on the relationships with people, internationally and with our federal government and at the local level, to be able to work in response and to react.”

Last year, state officials did a “tabletop” exercise to work on how to deal with an outbreak of a virus from China. Pritzker has cited that preparedness drill, which Tate-Nadeau says included preparations for having plans in place in advance to deal with an outbreak.

 

Tate-Nadeau says the governor has pushed to get personal protective equipment for medical workers.

“We’re being very proactive and making sure that should we need it, we already have it,” Tate-Nadeau says.

The governor’s office says the Illinois Department of Public Health will get “at least $14.7 million” from a federal emergency appropriation approved a week ago that will go toward patient monitoring, lab testing and getting test kits and protective equipment as well as to local health departments.

“At the end of the day, Illinois is better positioned for the future,” Tate-Nadeau says.

Source: ChicagoSunTimes

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