After 437 days of handling the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Williamson County Health Department shut down operations Thursday at the county’s Ag/Expo Center.
Health care workers, members of the Emergency Management Agency, National Guard personnel and numerous volunteers administered 90,670 coronavirus vaccinations, provided 57,000 COVID tests and handled 22,800 virus-related phone calls at the Center, which will next become the sight of the Williamson County Fair in August. For the past year and 72 days, it served as the county’s center of operations in the fight against COVID.
“Never in my 22 years in public health would I have imagined working with such a dedicated, compassionate group of people,” Health Department Directory Cathy Montgomery said. “Throughout the pandemic you worked long hours, weekends and holidays to ensure the safety of our community, always thinking about the greater good.”
Montgomery was specifically addressing her Health Department staff, who had joined others involved in operations at the Ag/Expo Center for a celebration concert and luncheon to mark the end of an era of sorts. The music came from Stokes Nielson of The Lost Trailers and special guest Corbette Jackson.
Nielson came up with the idea to hold a special celebration for a very simple reason:
He was one of the first people in Williamson County to be diagnosed with the coronavirus, having contracted it in early March of last year, and his bout with the illness led him to look for ways to help prevent others from catching it.
“My experience was not a good one,” said Nielson, a Brentwood resident. “In fact, on my third day after I was diagnosed I woke up at 2 a.m. and I couldn’t breathe. I prayed that somehow I would make it through. I didn’t want to go to the hospital because at that time I didn’t know if I could get a ventilator or anything like that. I asked God for a sign.
“I must have passed out. I woke up and there were four kids from Edmondson Elementary School outside my window with a sign that said, “Get well soon, Stokes.’ That was one of the best days of my life. After that I pledged that I was going to work as much as I could to help so nobody else had that experience.”
The first step he took was to become the first convalescent plasma donor in Williamson County, and then working with Blood Assurance across the state. He later volunteered with the Medical Reserve Corp and worked at the health department’s call center to assist people with questions about vaccinations.
Nielson was able to see first-hand how much work all the different agencies and people were putting in toward ending the spread of the virus, and he thought the efforts were deserving of a finale concert and just folks relaxing and having a good time for a change.
“What has happened here is a special, special moment in this community, and I just wanted to say thank you,” he said.