New head of Illinois Department of Public Health has expertise in pediatrics and politics

A pediatrician with expertise in governance and law will lead the Illinois Department of Public Health as the state continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. JB Pritzker announced Tuesday.

Dr. Sameer Vohra, associate professor at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, replaces Dr. Ngozi Ezike, who became a household name at the height of the pandemic.

Vohra congratulated IDPH staff and said in a statement, “I am honored to lead this agency into the future, continuing to protect us from emerging diseases, supporting our public health workers and promoting good -be in every community in Illinois.”

Vohra is the founding chair of the SIU Medical School’s Department of Population Science and Policy and interim director of the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership, which works to expand services to youth.

“His experience and training transcend industries and domains, bringing a comprehensive perspective to this agency,” Pritzker said in a statement.

Ezike left IDPH in March after an unprecedented surge of the omicron variant of COVID-19 over the winter began to subside.

Cases are now rising, according to IDPH data, although they are nowhere near December 2021 to February levels.


        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

The daily number of new virus cases hit 6,075 on Tuesday, higher than the seven-day average of 4,957. And that tally is nearly 40% higher than a week ago on July 5, when the average was 3,562.

“We’re seeing a lot of cases,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwardy noted in a weekly update Tuesday. “But we don’t see a major push.”

The spike is due to the latest highly infectious COVID-19 variants, BA.4 and BA.5. Those two strains account for about 75% of cases in the Midwest and Chicago area, Arwady said.

Another challenge for the agency is an outbreak of monkeypox in Illinois and across the United States. The virus causes flu-like symptoms and swollen lymph nodes that can progress to a rash.

Monkeypox is not as contagious as COVID-19 and requires close contact for transmission.

Meanwhile, the state is trying to prepare for an influx of women seeking abortions as neighboring states reduce access to the procedure after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

Vohra holds a law degree from the SIU and earned a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Chicago, where he also completed his residency in pediatrics.

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