Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

MDH's Kris Ehresmann on omicron variant, holiday travel in Minnesota

A traveler pulls a ski bag on the way to an airport check-in counter
A traveler pulls a ski bag on the way to the check-in counter for United Airlines in a terminal of Denver International Airport on Friday, Dec. 24, 2021, in Denver. Major airlines canceled hundreds of flights over the holiday weekend amid staffing shortages tied to the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
David Zalubowski | AP

It hasn’t taken long for the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus to become the dominant strain in Minnesota, only a few weeks after it was first detected in the state.

Millions across the country traveled for the holidays, which could drive up COVID-19 case numbers that are already surging in major cities.

A woman stands at a podium with a man behind her.
Minnesota Department of Health director of infectious disease Kris Ehresmann.
Christine T. Ngyuen | MPR News 2020

Kris Ehresmann is director of the infectious disease department at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). She joined host Cathy Wurzer with an update on the pandemic in Minnesota.

Case numbers in Minnesota had dropped before Christmas, but Ehresmann anticipated that they might rise again.

Ehresmann reported that, due to omicron, the MDH has seen a greater number of breakthrough cases of COVID-19 in people who have been vaccinated and received a booster shot, but, she said, “we’re seeing good protection against hospitalization and death.”

Early studies suggest omicron may cause a milder illness than previous variants of the COVID-19 virus, Ehresmann added, but experts are concerned that omicron may be so much more transmissible that it still could lead to patient loads that overwhelm the health system.

Ehresmann told Wurzer that Minnesota is working to ramp up access to COVID-19 testing. She admitted that Minnesotans may have had trouble getting tested in the week leading up to Christmas due to the surge in demand and that omicron may present further challenges, but she believes that “so far, we’ve been able to keep up.”

Ehresmann said that at the end of the day, it’s hard know what to make of new developments in the pandemic: “If I’ve learned anything in the last two years, I guess it’s to be a little bit cautious about predictions.”

“This virus is definitely in charge, and we have to be a little bit humble with it,” Ehresmann said. She encouraged Minnesotans to continue getting vaccinated, masking and social distancing.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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