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Boreal Community Media

A Boreal Exclusive: Meet Grace Grinager, Local Public Health Crusader for Cook County

Mar 18, 2022 05:48AM ● By Editor
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From Boreal Community Media - March 18, 2022.

What an unprecedented past two years it has been for you. You have worked tirelessly and helped Cook County stand out on the maps with the low COVID case counts and high vaccination rates.   Did you ever imagine when starting out in your career that you would encounter this?

I didn’t imagine that I would wind up working in pandemic response as part of my career.  While the pandemic has been extremely challenging both for the community and for public health, there have been parts of the pandemic response that have also been very rewarding.  For example, helping community members to access accurate information, as well as to access tools like COVID-19 testing and vaccines.  It’s also been quite rewarding to have the opportunity to collaborate with people from so many parts of the community, working with local businesses, schools, and healthcare.  My goal has always been for our local public health team to be a supportive force for the local community as we try to find our way through the pandemic together, while minimizing severe disease and human suffering.

How did you practice self-care during this time to avoid burnout?

It’s been an ongoing challenge.  I try to make sure that I keep up with all the basics—eating well, sleeping, and trying to build physical movement into my days.  I try to unplug from the news and social media periodically and instead spend time enjoying the outdoors.  I’m very intentional about connecting with my family each day.   I’m very grateful to have a supportive spouse to help support me and our children each day.

You are an amazing role model to so many, including your own family.  How old are your children?  Are they enjoying Cook County living? 

I have two sons who are 5 and 2.  My youngest was born just before the pandemic began.  They love living in the woods and exploring.  The youngest isn’t too sure about the snow, but I think he’s come to at least tolerate it this winter!  They’ve got lots of friends through daycare.  The oldest is now able to bike, snowshoe, and cross-country ski, all of which have expanded our adventures as a family.

Living and working in Cook County is a dream to so many.  Where are your favorite spots to go to in the County? 

I’ve got so many (and am looking forward to exploring many more).  I love exploring anywhere along the shores of Lake Superior, going on day hikes along the Superior Hiking Trail, and finding good swimming spots in the summer months.

Lessons learned from the pandemic?  Both professionally and personally?

Professionally, the pandemic has really emphasized for me how important it is to try to communicate clearly with the community as a public health professional.  I think explaining both what we know about COVID-19 and what we don’t know yet about COVID-19 has been an ever-evolving challenge, and really important in trying to build trust with the community.  COVID-19 is a new virus, and we have seen several very different variants emerge over the past two years. This has meant that our understanding of the virus and subsequent public health recommendations have shifted and evolved over time, which can be understandably confusing for people. And personally, the pandemic has made me feel a deeper sense of gratitude for things that are most important to me in life, including my friends and family.

You were awarded the "Go Viking Award" by the Norway House last year.  Tell us a little about that.  

It was both a surprise and an honor to receive the award.  I have a strong Norwegian heritage within my family, so to be recognized professionally by the organization for my work in public health was very meaningful for me.

Any hobbies or travel plans that you are looking forward to enjoying in the near future?

I’m looking forward to spending some time in the Boundary Waters with my family and for a trip to the Oregon Coast with extended family over the summer.  More immediately I’m looking forward to gardening as spring emerges here in Cook County.

Best advice you were ever given?

Make time for the things that are important to you.  It’s been key to helping me try to keep things in balance for myself personally throughout the pandemic.