By Erin Hassanzadeh

Originally published on Jan. 28

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Kris Ehresmann has helped guide Minnesotans through the pandemic and now she is stepping down.

READ MORE: Wisconsin Republicans Reject Recalling Biden Votes, Removing Vos

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

She could have retired in January of 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 has not cooperated, it still feels like the right thing to do,” Ehresmann said.

WEB EXTRA: Full Interview

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

“We have never had that happen before,” she said. “So, as public health, we were rather naive and not quite prepared for it.”

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

READ MORE: Tow Boat Hits Lock And Dam On Mississippi River In Wisconsin

“I think the times it’s been hard is when people that I know and care about don’t share the same viewpoint on the pandemic or the value of vaccines,” she said.

As a young woman, Ehresmann studied nursing at St. Olaf, but quickly realized that she was interested in epidemiology. As a grad student, she did research under Dr. Michael Osterholm and helped battle the 1990 measles outbreak.

“When I started, no one know what an epidemiologist was,” Ehresmann said. “And now, everybody thinks they are an epidemiologist.”

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

As a community, Minnesotans have turned to Ehresmann during the state’s most uncertain moments. She’s been a calm voice providing much-needed information.

Her job wasn’t easy, but there were bright spots.

“There were so many people who wrote notes and sent notes of thanks,” 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 infections 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.

MORE NEWS: Minneapolis North H.S. Principal Will Now Finish School Year

Ehresmann’s last day will be Wednesday.

Erin Hassanzadeh