To consider the past 14 months of COVID-19 and the impact the pandemic has made on various sectors within Williamson County, perhaps it’s best to return to the very beginning.
It was March 3 of last year when Williamson Medical Center was asked to run a test on a patient who had traveled outside Tennessee and returned with symptoms of the coronavirus. The results of his test revealed two days later that he did indeed have the virus, thus making him the first individual in the state to have the disease.
That, of course, marked the epicenter of what has been a year of upheaval for not only the staff at Williamson Medical but also the countless others who have been affected by the virus.
“The unprecedented year that followed was one that none of us could have really prepared for,” said Nicole Volk, WMC marketing director. “But from protocols to policies, through fatigue and fear, the Williamson Medical team showed up and cared for the community in the most challenging health crisis in our recent history.
“While precious lives have been lost due to COVID-19, we have also discharged over 800 COVID patients from Williamson Medical Center.”
The challenges and the triumphs over the past year and two months were the topic of discussion at Franklin Tomorrow’s Breakfast with the Mayors held Tuesday morning at Rolling Hills Community Church and online. Facilitated by Franklin Tomorrow Executive Director Mindy Tate and hosted by Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson and Franklin Mayor Ken Moore, panelists touched on the event’s theme titled "A Year of Recovery: Where We Go from Here."
In addition to Volk, other panelists were Williamson County Schools Superintendent Jason Golden, Franklin Special School District Director of Schools David Snowden, Visit Franklin interim CEO Lauren Ward and Mercy Community Healthcare CEO Cindy Siler.
Even in difficult times, panelists agreed there have been positive signs and a few surprises along the way. Anderson, for instance, pointed out rather startling numbers for real estate-related transactions for the unincorporated areas of the county in March.
“We are beginning to get back to some kind of normalcy,” he said. “The month of March we had record-breaking building permits for the month. Normally in March we don’t have as many building permits come in. It’s usually between 35-50, and this year we had 103. That’s the single-largest month for building permits since we’ve been keeping records.”
Anderson also mentioned that, as of Monday, nearly 80,000 vaccinations have been delivered at the Williamson County Ag Center, which opened last year for coronavirus testing and now vaccines. In all, nearly 145,000 county residents have been vaccinated, or close to half the population.
Both school districts have had relatively few bumps and bruises in the COVID school year.
“We had a great year, even for a normal year, much less a COVID year,” Golden said. “This year we had 51 national merit scholars. This is the third straight year Williamson County Schools has had over 50 national merit scholars. We had three sophomores get perfect scores on the PSAT, unprecedented. We have, so far, 41 perfect ACT scores. That is our highest number ever.”
Golden also mentioned accomplishments in athletics and the arts, as well as touching on other aspects of the school year.
Snowden, meanwhile, spoke to how parental support and teacher and staff creativity have allowed for the eight schools in the FSSD to remain open for the most part.
“Our goal was to have students attend in person and to do it in as safe a method as possible,” he said. “The only way that happened was through the great support and cooperation from our parents and our students. We were told that students aren’t going to wear masks. Well, our students have been phenomenal. It’s amazing. They have been real troopers.
“Our teachers and staff members and administrators should be put on a pedestal. Just think about the creativity they have had to really concentrate on to do [their jobs] because school has looked so different.”
From the standpoint of the Williamson County Convention & Visitors Bureau, there are mixed signals. Ward pointed out that the tourism industry brought in about $497 million to the county, or about $1.36 million from tourists per day.
“Then COVID came and we saw a significant drop,” she said. “We usually see 80 percent occupancy in hotels, and this time last April it got down to 14 percent occupancy. It’s been a slow climb back.”
By October the number had increased to around 30 percent, and now occupancy at hotels in the county is in the 50 percent range. While Ward said that is encouraging as the heavy tourism season approaches, there are still concerns over conventions and business travelers.
“Williamson County is known for business travel, so we’ve always been a strong midweek travel destination,” Ward said. “The weekends are doing great right now. Many of the hotels are sold out, people are coming in for spring break or family trips. But it’s going to take a while for that business traveler to come back.”
The entire Breakfast with the Mayors can be view through the Franklin Tomorrow Facebook page.
State of the City
On a similar topic, Mayor Moore will be making his annual State of the City address Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Franklin Park in Cool Springs.
Using the theme “Making Lemonade out of Lemons,” the event is being held at the outdoor amphitheater located at 6100 Tower Circle, to reduce the risk to COVID-19 exposure. Seating will comply with recommended CDC guidelines for gatherings, and capacity has already been reached. Moore will discuss how, even during a pandemic, the community came together and continues to make a stronger Franklin for the future.
Featured guests include Mayor Anderson, Williamson County Emergency Management Director Todd Horton, Williamson County Health Department Director Cathy Montgomery, and Volk from the Williamson Medical Center.
The State of the City will be streamed live on the city’s Facebook page.