Minnesota health officials share COVID-19 lessons learned

“I think that we have been a bit naïve in terms of the public’s appetite for being able to follow what feels at this point, 8 months in, as restrictive guidance.”

ST PAUL, Minn — Top state health officials took a moment Wednesday to look back on their coronavirus response and share what lessons they’ve learned.

Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said on a briefing call with members of the media that one of her takeaways is not to underestimate the importance of the public’s response in the ability to succeed.

“I think that we have been a bit naïve in terms of the public’s appetite for being able to follow what feels at this point, 8 months in, as restrictive guidance,” she said. “And I think that’s definitely a sobering lesson learned.”

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said that one big takeaway is the need to focus more on long-term care preparedness.

“We have a fresh appreciation for the fact that long-term care is a vital part of the whole health care continuum,” she said.

Malcolm acknowledged that before COVID hit, planning was largely centered around hospitals and acute care when it came to emergency preparedness, infection control, personal protective equipment and training.

“Infection control has been an issue in these facilities for a long time, compounded by staffing challenges and other things,” Malcolm said. “So going forward, we just absolutely have to learn from this renewed focus.”


Dr. Ruth Lynfield, the state’s medical director, weighed in on what she sees as the scientific and medical lessons learned over the past months.

“I think that there have been advances in the care of patients,” she said. “When we look at our data, we do see a shorter length of stay that is occurring over the course of the months of the pandemic.”

Lynfield likened the pandemic response to the metaphor of “building a plane while you’re flying it.”

With schools, Lynfield said MDH has recognized the “key importance” of trying to make in-person learning available to families as much as possible.

In general, she said, as officials have learned more about the virus, they have been able to allow more activities – rather than less.

“Over the course of the pandemic, learning which activities really are high-risk activities,” she said. “That has certainly helped us refine our guidance and our approach.”

Lynfield said she and other health officials are aware of the “unintended consequences” of prevention measures.

“This is so hard,” she said. “We know that people are making a lot of sacrifices, we know that a lot of people have been hit very hard economically.”

Minnesota will continue learning from other states, including New York, which Lynfield said has been able to keep its positivity rate under 1% for more than a month and a half.

“I really, really hope that Minnesotans will pull together,” she said. “Because we can and we really need to.”

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