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Though he expressed hope that the country can finally get a handle on the COVID-19 pandemic this year, Dr. Andy Russell of the Williamson Medical Center said Monday morning that the road to recovery still has many bumps.

Russell, chief medical officer for WMC, told a Zoom audience at January’s FrankTalks lecture that the gradual release of a vaccine earlier this month and the continued cooperation from the community in wearing masks, social distancing and washing of hands should eventually make a difference and create a herd immunity.

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Dr. Andy Russell

“But this is going to take several months,” said Russell, one of five panelists who spoke at the event hosted by Franklin Tomorrow. “Even with the vaccine out now, we still expect this pandemic to last through May or June at least. So this is not going away anytime soon.”

The topic for this month’s FrankTalks was titled 2021 & the Year Ahead, and in addition to Russell, it featured Franklin Mayor Ken Moore; Matt Largen, CEO of Williamson Inc.; Chris Whitney from OneGen Away; and Lorie Layman, president of the Williamson County Association of Realtors. Franklin Tomorrow Executive Director Mindy Tate moderated.

The focus, of course, was meant to shine a light on what 2021 might have in store after such a troubling 2020.

As the main health care facility in the county, Williamson Medical has been at the epicenter of the coronavirus since the first case here was reported March 5 of last year. Russell pointed out that while virus cases were a bit more manageable in May and June, they began to spike in July and have basically kept an upward trend since.

“Since Thanksgiving,” Russell explained, “we’ve been averaging 45-50 [COVID] patients in house at any one time. For a 200-bed hospital, you can do the math. Almost a quarter of our beds are full of COVID patients on any given day. 

“We admitted over 800 patients in 2020. We’ve had to make lots of changes in our normal daily processes to accommodate that. We’ve had to stop elective surgeries periodically just to make sure we have enough room for sick patients and enough staff to care for the patients. We’re still not on a normal surgery schedule. We’re still facing increasing numbers of COVID patients and having to battle issues with staffing.

“It’s a constant learning process every day about how to provide the best care for these patients and also how to keep our staff safe and healthy.”

To that end, Russell said, WMC received 1,171 doses of the Pfizer vaccine a little more than three weeks ago and an additional shipment last week of the Moderna vaccine. It was barely enough to get all the more than 2,000 hospital employees vaccinated.

The pace of vaccine distribution for the larger community is uncertain, but Russell said the critical factor is the number of people willing to be vaccinated. 

“The biggest issue is getting enough people to get the vaccine,” he said. “Projections show that 70-90% of the U.S. population will need to take the vaccine before we reach the herd immunity threshold. 

“Getting vaccinated, wearing masks and social distancing — those are the best things we can do to help keep ourselves, our families, our friends and other community members safe, and that’s going to be the quickest way to end this pandemic.”

Let’s cool it on social media

While the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly been the country’s biggest concern and challenge over the past year, there has also been heightened tension over social injustice and, more recently, over presidential election results in the past couple of months or so. 

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Franklin Mayor Ken Moore.

The divisiveness created by President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that he won the November election instead of President-elect Joe Biden came to a boiling point with the riots last Wednesday in Washington, D.C. 

That incident was fueled with physical violence, but Mayor Moore said Monday that words can be just as damaging — specifically, the hateful diatribes taking place on social media.

He’d like to see the community cool it when it comes to expressing cyber viewpoints, and recommends county citizens to sign off social media for a period.

“I mention this right now because we are at a divisive time in our country,” Moore said. “There’s a lot of opinions floating around out there. I’m concerned that we’re putting things on social media that we would never say to each other. I’m hoping that people can tone down that rhetoric and we can work together for a stronger and more meaning 2021 for all of us.

“I know that this has been a very stressful time as far as mental health and I don’t think some of the things I’ve seen on social media are going to help anybody’s mental health. So I’m going to suggest that somehow or other we work out a day or a week in Williamson County where we have a moratorium on using social media, and see what happens. 

“I don’t think any of us will go into delirium tremors or any of those withdrawal-type things. We can quit using it for a day and try to use that energy for something else positive.”

Visit Franklin Tomorrow’s website, Facebook page or YouTube channel to see the whole FrankTalks program from Monday morning.

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