Minnesota’s lengthy fight against COVID-19 continues, but as of February 2, one prominent person won’t be on the front lines. Minnesota Department of Health Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann has announced that she is retiring
The retirement brings an end to more than 30 years of distinguished service to Minnesotans in various roles in public health. Ehresmann has become familiar to many Minnesotans as a key leader of Minnesota’s COVID-19 pandemic response, but her work and her impact go back many years.
“Serving as the director of the infectious disease division has been one of the great honors of my life,” Ehresmann said. “Like so many people who have worked in a job they love, I have mixed feelings about saying goodbye. That said, it has been my privilege to work with an amazing team and I have every confidence I am handing the baton to the best in the business.”
She played leading roles in many public health issues in recent decades, including Minnesota’s measles outbreak in 2017 – the largest measles outbreak in the United States that year – Ebola preparedness in 2014, the fungal meningitis investigation and response of 2012, H1N1 pandemic response in 2009, post-9/11 readiness work in the early 2000s, and dozens of other high-profile public health issues.
She has added a Minnesota perspective to many national partnerships, including the National Vaccine Advisory Committee, the Association of State and Territorial Health Offices Infectious Disease Policy Committee, and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). At the time of her ACIP appointment, she was only the second nurse ever named to that advisory panel of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Kris Ehresmann is a true leader, and her experience and skill as a top public health advisor has been instrumental in leading Minnesota through the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Gov. Tim Walz. “It has been an honor to work alongside Kris. Her efforts to keep Minnesotans safe and healthy have left a legacy that will impact our state for years to come.”
“Kris Ehresmann has played a huge role in public health not only in Minnesota but nationally,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. “I have the highest regard for her skill as a public health worker, a communicator and a leader. She has helped guide Minnesota through many difficult public health challenges, and along the way, she cultivated a new generation of talented public health leaders within MDH and across the state.”
“Kris’s expertise and ability to communicate complicated public health messages with clarity and compassion has made her an invaluable gift to the residents of Minnesota,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy and a former state epidemiologist at MDH. “She will be truly missed.”
Emily Emerson, the current assistant director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control Division, will assume the role of interim director. MDH will launch a national search for a new director.
The change in leadership comes as a spike in the omicron variant has wreaked havoc in many ways. For Minnesotans with disabilities, the widespread impact of the illness has meant fewer care workers and people to run facilities, fewer paratransit drivers and constant disruptions in work and education settings. Schools went online or struggled to operate with substitute teachers.
Minneapolis and St. Paul were quickly followed by other cities in implementing masks and proof of vaccination mandates. Many events went virtual or were postponed or canceled.
The state has responded by urging more people to get vaccinated or get their booster shots, and by opening more testing centers.
Walz said in late January that he wants to use $40 million in federal funding to support emergency staffing at hospitals straining to cope with the virus surge. if approved by the federal government, nurses would be hired to work 60 hours per week for 60 days at hospitals experiencing staffing shortages. That money is on to of another $40 million that is eyed for expanded testing.
The governor made the request to the Legislative COVID-19 Response Commission, a bipartisan group of legislative leaders from both chambers that reviews requests from the state’s COVID-19 fund that top $1 million.
MDH is posting detailed and timely information about COVID-19. Go to https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/index.html