MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Kris Ehresmann helped guide Minnesotans through the pandemic and now she’s stepping down.
The director of infectious diseases for the Minnesota Department of Health is retiring next week after 30 years of public service.
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She could have retired in January 2020, before the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Minnesota.
“I’m glad I didn’t,” she said.
But now it’s time.
“Even though COVID-19 hasn’t cooperated, it still seems like the right thing to do,” Ehresmann said.
The greatest challenge of his three-decade career in public health came at the end. The duration and intensity of the COVID-19 pandemic has been grueling, and it has also become politicized – a first for Ehresmann.
“We’ve never had this before,” she said. “So as public health, we were pretty naive and not quite prepared for this.”
The polarization has been a challenge for Ehresmann on a personal level.
“I think the times where it’s been difficult are when the people I know and care about don’t share the same view on the pandemic or the value of vaccines,” she said. .
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As a young woman, Ehresmann studied nursing at St. Olaf, but soon realized she was interested in epidemiology. As a graduate student, she did research under Dr. Michael Osterholm and helped fight the 1990 measles epidemic.
“When I started, nobody knew what an epidemiologist was,” Ehresmann said. “And now everyone thinks he’s an epidemiologist.”
Ehresmann has served on a number of national panels and led Minnesota through the issues of Ebola and the H1N1 pandemic.
As a community, Minnesotans have turned to Ehresmann during the state’s most uncertain times. She was a calm voice providing much needed information.
His job was not easy, but there were positives.
“There were so many people writing notes and sending thank you notes,” Ehresmann said.
She thinks the Minnesota Department of Health has a bright future.
“I feel really happy and proud of my career,” Ehresmann said. “But I’m going to be a sobbing mess when I say goodbye to the team.”
Emily Emerson, the current deputy director of infectious diseases, will be acting director when Ehresmann retires next week. The Minnesota Department of Health announces it will launch a nationwide search for a new director.
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Ehresmann’s last day will be Wednesday.