Williamson Inc. held a virtual town hall with Williamson County Health Department officials and local hospital leaders where medical professionals offered an insight into the state of the COVID-19 response in Middle Tennessee nearly one year into the pandemic.
WCHD Director Cathy Montgomery began the discussion by highlighting the county and state’s efforts so far, which includes the next step of registering Tennesseans 65 and older and staff members of K-12 schools for COVID-19 vaccine beginning on Monday.
“One thing I do want to mention is that while all counties, at least rural counties, are following our state’s vaccination plan, all of our counties are kind of moving through the plan a little differently based on our population size,” Montgomery said. “In Williamson County we have a high demographic of 70 plus population, whereas some of our more rural counties may not have as high of a senior population as we do, which is why they’ll move a little bit faster into other phases.”
Montgomery spoke about the county’s efforts at distributing the free vaccine at the Ag Center on Dec. 21, 2020, the same location where mass testing has been held throughout 2020 in a drive-thru format.
Montgomery said that in just over the first month more than 12,000 vaccines were administered at the AG Center, with an average of about 650 doses administered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and an average of about 450 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Montgomery also spoke some about the new vaccine registration system that the county will transition into on March 15, a system that they hope will alleviate some of the challenges in scheduling and managing the vaccine program.
“Those who have already registered though for a COVID-19 vaccination under the old system do not need to re-enter their information into the new system,” Montgomery said, adding that the new system will see significant upgrades.
Montgomery also said that WCHD is also working to partner with senior living facilities, hospitals, MERCY Community Healthcare, schools and vulnerable populations such as the housing authority, homeless population and correctional facility populations as those groups become eligible for vaccination phases.
Ascension Saint Thomas’ Dr. Brian Wilcox spoke about the reality facing medical workers in early 2021. He noted that while the number of hospitalizations has significantly declined state-wide, Ascension St. Thomas currently has 100 COVID-19 patients admitted, who at this point are hospitalized for an average of 10 days.
“Despite this scary, big number it’s a remarkably better number than when we were well over 300 patients,” Wilcox said. “That was when we were at capacity and we were really struggling to manage all of the patients that were putting pressure on our sites and our emergency rooms.”
Wilcox added that nearly 2,000 COVID-19-positive patients are monitored from home by way of a medical app to connect with medical staff.
“Our positive rate overall through the entire period of testing is 18%, but in late December, early January, our test rate positive was 35-40% -- the good news is that it’s down to the low 20s now.” Wilcox said.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Dr. Tom Talbot also spoke about his experience through the pandemic, noting that Vanderbilt activated their COVID Command Center on March 2, 2020, marking nearly a year of action in response to the pandemic.
Vanderbilt reported similar numbers as Ascension St. Thomas, noting the same trends that saw spikes in hospitalizations and 12% of Vanderbilt’s patient population die from the virus. Talbot said that in response to the surges, Vanderbilt went from having one dedicated Covid unit to three units, one of which is dedicated to an infusion treatment.
Both Wilcox and Talbot spoke with hope about the rollout of vaccines and their ability to help bring an end to the pandemic.
“Getting the vaccine and getting into people’s arms has really been the biggest wave of hope that we’ve seen,” Talbot said. “It’s been hard to be at a hospital and be a healthcare worker during Covid, especially on the frontline we’ve seen a lot, and to see people come and get their vaccine it is really hopeful.”
Williamson Medical Center Director of Marketing Nichole Volk also spoke about the experience, especially as WMC tested the first COVID-19 positive patient in Tennessee on March 5, 2020, noting that 60% of WMC employees are currently vaccinated.
The entire discussion can be viewed below.