Kris (Rosdahl) Ehresmann '80

Nicole Sheldon

All COVID All the Time:  It's Been A Tough Year

Kris Ehresmann is the Director of Infectious Disease at the Minnesota Department of Health. What has that meant this last year? All things COVID-19. “It’s all COVID all the time—it’s literally been 14 months of working 7 days a week and long days. We thought that with the vaccine that it was the light at the end of the tunnel. That roll out and all the details brought its own challenges. COVID really has taken over my life. It has been a challenging year in public health. My friends will remind me that I spent my entire career training for ‘this moment.’ That gives me some encouragement—but I do have to be honest and say it has been a really tough year.” 

Kris and her team started doing pandemic planning back in ‘99 when they got a small grant. They had lived through the 2009-10 influenza pandemic, but that was different than responding to the coronavirus. “We had things we knew and could build on with our pandemic influenza experience, but coronavirus was different. When we went into the shut-down, that was really when we knew it was a big deal.”  The MN Department of Health has never shut everything down. Last fall, having 9,000-10,000 cases a day was “mind-boggling. Even now we say to each other, ‘Did we ever think we would have a half million cases?’ Those are all striking things for us in public health.”

How Kris Started in the Field of Infectious Disease

Kris started in this field while she was in graduate school for epidemiology, when she got a job at the MN Department of Health as a student worker. She has always worked in the infectious disease area and worked her way up the ladder: she started as a graduate student worker, then moved to epidemiologist, became a supervisor, then manager, and is now the director of infectious disease. Kris is a career scientist, not a political appointee, and she has worked under several administrations. “It’s been a really interesting job with lots of variety—public policy, legislative work, the media, team research; it’s been an interesting career for me and I have really enjoyed it.”  

“But I certainly don’t want to do this year over again. I have learned many things about myself. I have really seen the love of family and friends that has kept me going—that has been significant."

 

"I’d like to give a ‘shout out’ for public health workers—that whole team of people behind the scenes at the state and local level who have worked so hard and that are worthy of recognition.”

Grateful For Her Years at MA

Kris cannot say enough about how grateful she is for her years at MA. “What’s really ironic is, when I was thinking about my key teachers, I think of Herr Kauls (German) and my English teachers Mrs. (Janet) Johnson, Mr. Lindmark, Ms. (Barbara) Olson.  All of the teachers that were quite significant weren’t necessarily in the math and science area, which is my whole life now! But I think that’s good—it made me a well-rounded person. I didn’t even know what epidemiology was in high school or in college!  It was originally a volunteer opportunity that changed my career focus. You’ve got to be open to lots of different things.” 

“MA really was a very happy time for me.  I am grateful for all of the friends and connections from MA that I still have.”

 

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