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Minnesota infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann to retire

Besides coordinating the tracking of outbreaks, Ehresmann served as a regular point of contact for the state's unprecedented and often highly scrutinized pandemic response communications. Her retirement comes after 30 years in public health.

Kris Ehresmann.jpg
Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director at the Minnesota Department of Public Health, is seen in this 2020 file photo.<br/>
Dave Orrick / St. Paul Pioneer Press
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ROCHESTER — Minnesota Department of Health Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann will retire on Feb. 2, ending a 30-year career in public health.

Ehresmann made the announcement in a Thursday, Jan. 20, news release.

A regular presence alongside Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm during daily briefings throughout the pandemic, Ehresmann was charged with coordinating the state's response to outbreaks and communicating often complex data sets pushed to the forefront of state policy by the spread of COVID-19.

Her tenure was characterized by an equanimity in toggling between advanced principles of epidemiology and ground-level best practices for infection control. The role tasked her with communicating the rationale for a host of unprecedented pandemic mitigation measures to a lay audience that often parsed every word.

The news comes nearly two weeks after Ehresmann relayed that she herself had developed a likely case of COVID-19.

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“Serving as the director of the infectious disease division has been one of the great honors of my life,” Ehresmann said in a statement . “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.”

According to MDH director of communications Michael Schommer, Ehresmann has been eligible for retirement for two years but stayed on to contribute to the pandemic response. Schommer said she has recovered from her illness, and is announcing a decision made much earlier.

Gov. Tim Walz said he was honored to work with Ehresmann.

“Kris Ehresmann is a true leader, and her experience and skill as a top public health adviser has been instrumental in leading Minnesota through the COVID-19 pandemic,” Walz said in a statement. “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.”

In addition to her work during the pandemic, Ehresmann served during Minnesota's measles outbreak in 2017, the response to Ebola in 2014, a fungal meningitis investigation and response of 2012, an H1N1 pandemic response in 2009, post-9/11 readiness work in the early 2000s, and dozens of other high-profile public health issues.

“Kris Ehresmann has played a huge role in public health not only in Minnesota but nationally,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said. “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.”

Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research, said Minnesotans will miss Ehresmann.

“Kris’ 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 Osterholm, a former state epidemiologist. “She will be truly missed.”

Paul John Scott is the health correspondent for NewsMD and the Forum News Service. He is a novelist and was an award winning magazine journalist for 15 years prior to joining the FNS in 2019.
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