Grace Grinager, public health supervisor for Cook County, has been honored by the Norway House in Minneapolis for her humanitarian work during the pandemic. Even though Grinager is of Norwegian descent, she received the “Going Viking” award for her efforts in keeping positive COVID-19 cases low and vaccination rates high in the county.

“I am very proud to receive this honor in recognition of my role in the public health response to the pandemic in Cook County, where I live and work,” Grinager said. “I see this honor as a reflection of the hard work, collaboration, and dedication of my entire community and not just myself as a public health professional.  We’ve really come together for the pandemic response and I think it’s made a huge impact.”

The Norway House is an “international business and culture organization in Minneapolis, Minnesota dedicated to establishing, renewing, and advancing connections between contemporary Norway and the United States through education and partnerships centered around the arts, business, and culture,” according to their website.

Grinager was nominated by a local Cook resident for the “Going Viking” award, which celebrates those “who embody the adventuresome and bold spirit of the Vikings by inspiring their communities to explore and discover new frontiers with courage and determination,” according to Norway House.

“I was very surprised! I didn’t know that I had been nominated,” Grinager said.

For Grinager, the award focuses on her work during the pandemic, however her grandparents are direct Norwegian descendants and taught her how to appreciate their cultural heritage growing up.

“I would love to visit Norway someday,” Grinager said.

Grinager, a Red Wing High School graduate, has a master’s degree in anthropology and public health from Oregon State University. Throughout her career, she has donned many hats as a health educator, grant writer, program supervisor for a sexual health education program and more. 

In 2018, Grinager and her family moved to the Grand Marais area and she started working as a public health supervisor for the Cook County Public Health and Human Services Department.

“My position works in all areas of public health, including controlling the spread of infectious disease and preparing for/responding to public health emergencies,” Grinager said.

When the pandemic hit, most of Grinager’s work transitioned to trying to keep positive COVID-19 cases down and eventually encouraging people to get vaccinated.

Cook County has seen low positive COVID cases and high numbers of vaccinated individuals, which in part is attributed to Grinager’s efforts.

“The ‘public’ in public health includes everyone, so we’ve tried to make sure that we are supporting one another throughout different parts of the community,” Grinager said. “This has meant that in public health we’ve worked to support our local businesses in making their operations safer for customers/staff, to support our schools in being flexible and changing their day to day operations to make school a safer place for students and staff, and to support community members in knowing the public health advice and finding the resources to connect to things like testing and vaccination.” 

The Cook public health team also localized their contact tracing system with their partners at Grand Portage Health Services, which meant that both, people who tested positive and those they had been in close contact with, were contacted to further a plan.

The county’s vaccination efforts were also a collaboration between their clinics, hospitals and the health department.

Grinager believes that the county’s vaccination rates are high due to the health department’s education work.

“We worked to get lots of clear information  about vaccination out very early on, and to make our events easy for community members to access,” Grinager said. “We’ve also done lots of education and communications about the vaccines themselves on a community level.  We’re always happy to talk to people about vaccination if they have questions.” 

Grinager plans on continuing her work against the pandemic and said she is honored to be recognized for her current accomplishments.

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