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The biggest challenge in Kris Ehresmann’s 30-year public health career came at the end – WCCO

Originally released January 28th

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Kris Ehresmann has helped guide Minnesota residents through the pandemic, and now she’s resigning.

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The infectious disease director of the Minnesota Department of Health is retiring next week after 30 years of public service.

She could have retired in January 2020 before the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Minnesota.

“I’m glad I did not,” she said.

But now is the time.

“Even though COVID-19 has not collaborated, it still feels like the right thing to do,” Ehresmann said.

WEBEKSTRA: Full interview

The biggest challenge of her three-decade public health career came at last. The duration and intensity of the COVID-19 pandemic was grueling, and it was also politicized – the first for Ehresmann.

“We’ve never experienced that before,” she said. “So as public health, we were pretty naive and not quite prepared for it.”

The polarization has been challenging for Ehresmann on the personal level.

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“I think the times it’s been tough are when people I know and care about do not share the same view of the pandemic or the value of vaccines,” she said.

As a young woman, Ehresmann studied nursing at St. Olaf’s, but soon realized she was interested in epidemiology. As a graduate student, she researched under Dr. Michael Osterholm and helped combat the measles outbreak in 1990.

“When I started, no one knew what an epidemiologist was,” Ehresmann said. “And now everyone thinks they’re an epidemiologist.”

Ehresmann has served on a number of national panels and has led Minnesota through Ebola problems and the H1N1 pandemic.

As a community, Minnesota residents have turned to Ehresmann in the state’s most uncertain moments. She has been a calm voice who has provided much needed information.

Her job was not easy, but there were bright spots.

“There were so many people writing notes and sending thank you notes,” Ehresmann said.

She believes 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 assistant director of infectious diseases, will be the interim director when Ehresmann retires next week. The Minnesota Department of Health says it will launch a national search for a new director.

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Ehresmann’s last day will be Wednesday.

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