Gov. JB Pritzker/Twitter
The Illinois Director of the Department of Public Health broke down in tears during Friday afternoon's press briefing on the coronavirus in the state.
While updating the public on the state's rising numbers of COVID-19 deaths, Dr. Ngozi Ezike took a moment to herself, turning away from the podium as she was unable to hold back her tears.
"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. "Today, we are reporting 3,874 new cases, for a total of 364,033 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic."
"Excuse me, please," Ezike said as she paused to compose herself before someone brought over a box of tissues. "I’m sorry."
Gov. JB Pritzker/Twitter Dr. Ezike
As of Saturday, an additional 286 people have died, bringing the total to 9,704, according to a New York Times database.
During her speech, Ezike told Illinois residents that she understands "the mental, social and the emotional toll that this pandemic continues to have on people."
"Not just because I’m asking people, it’s because I’m feeling it and living it myself. I don't get to live in some COVID-free bubble, exempt from all the pain and tragedy of this pandemic. So I understand how pandemic fatigue is striking everyone. It’s real," she said.
"The way we work, the way we live, the way we play has changed, and the harsh reality is that the sacrifices we’ve made, that we continue to make do not have a future expiration date," Ezike added. "And I know that that’s difficult."
Governor Pritzker holds daily press briefing on COVID-19. https://t.co/mVmSutnXsG
— Governor JB Pritzker (@GovPritzker) October 23, 2020
Illinois has been experiencing a rising number of COVID-19 cases, reporting an average of 4,131 cases per day, an 81 percent increase from the average two weeks ago. As of Saturday, there have been at least 370,134 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.
"My message to you is to stay strong," Ezike said. "I have never run a marathon but I have the utmost regard for those who have been able to train and plan and finish a marathon. But this is a difficult race when you can’t actually see the endpoint and I’m sorry that that's the message I have for you. Nevertheless, I’m asking you to fight the fatigue. Fight the urge to give up on social distancing."
Ezike added that residents need to continue wearing a mask, maybe reconsider attending large gatherings and continue to opt for virtual hang-outs.
"This is what we will have to do to bring the spread down in our community... Let's please work together. I know many of you are healthy and don't have a concern in the world of dying from this COVID," she continued. "I would say that of course there are some people whose chances are much lower. But let's please think beyond ourselves. And think about the people we could unknowingly infect who may not be as fortunate."
Across the U.S., as many as 33 states are seeing spiking numbers in what is becoming the third wave of the virus. Throughout much of the Midwest and Rocky Mountain area, cases remain high and new states are rapidly becoming COVID-19 hotspots.
Elsewhere — in states like Florida, New Jersey, Georgia and Arizona — cases may remain low but are also showing rising numbers.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.