Katie Harry, Minnesota Department of Health, Virology Unit of the Infectious Disease Lab
Kattie Harry

Kattie Harry

My name is Katie Harry and I work at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) in the Virology Unit of the Infectious Disease Lab. Typically, my job is to perform testing for rabies as well as various other viruses. However, since March of 2020, the Infectious Disease Lab has also been doing COVID testing. COVID testing was added as a responsibility and did not replace any of our regular work. A lot of people have overlooked this fact. Full-time staff was not hired for COVID testing. Instead, about 60 employees have been working the equivalent of two jobs for the past 17 months.

The extra hours have taken a significant toll on my family and myself. I have worked six days a week with a lot of 12–13-hour days. At the height of the pandemic, I would get to work around 7 a.m. and I did not know when I was going to be able to leave. Testing for COVD is like an assembly line. Each person has a role to complete before it can move on to the next stage of testing. Therefore, our team relies on each other to get our jobs done so the next person can do theirs. There has been a lot of pressure and stress to get through massive amounts of testing.

For a while, MDH was the only center for COVID tests in the state. Eventually, some private companies and Mayo also started doing testing. It was not until December 2020 that MDH brought on temporary contract workers to help with this work. They were only hired through June of 2021, so that limited help is now gone, just when the Delta variant is rising and our workloads have increased again.

I have two young children who were in virtual kindergarten and second grade last year. My husband’s full-time job turned remote, so he was able to be at home with the kids while they were distance learning, but most of the kids’ learning experience was put on him since I had to continue going into the lab. Juggling family responsibilities with constantly working overtime is stressful. There have been times before COVID that I have felt burnt out, but now I know what that really feels like. I am exhausted. My team is exhausted. We have been working tirelessly for our fellow Minnesotans and have given up personal time, time with family and our safety.

Our lab is on the Capitol complex. We have had several security risks during the pandemic and are now often required to go through security checkpoints. During civil unrest near the Capitol we were evacuated and saw armed guards on the roof outside our windows. The security protocols have added an extra layer of stress and uncertainty while we just hoped to get through a full day in the lab so we do not fall further behind.

I am thankful for the $250 million in Frontline Worker Funding. We know there will not be enough to go around to everyone and hope more funding will become available because so many frontline workers have sacrificed a lot for their fellow Minnesotans to help us as we continue to get through this pandemic.