KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Friday marks one year since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Knox County.
As the mission to achieve herd immunity is in full swing, Knox County Health Department Director Martha Buchanan took a moment to reflect on the last 12 months, and the months ahead.
One year ago she didn’t expect more than 40,000 infections and more than 500 deaths; likewise, she also never imagined a vaccine would be as widely available as it is today.
The local vaccination effort has seen many recent wins, including opening up to a new phase Monday, opening a long-term vaccine site Friday, recently launching a new waiting list system, and hitting a record-number of vaccinations.
While Dr. Buchanan believes vaccination has gone well overall, and in a “pretty rapid fusion,” she spoke about the size of the task and the dependence local health officials have on vaccine supply and case count.
She further explained some of the challenge and troubleshooting their team endured.
“Maybe we should have anticipated the strong demand we have for vaccine right now, but we didn’t… there are a lot of unknowns, so it’s hard to plan when you don’t know when you’re going to get vaccine, how much you’re going to get, and how that’s going to work. I think right now the system we have is working. the public seems to be responding to it well,” she said.
One of the challenges, unique to the health department as compared to a major retailer, such as Walmart, has been available space. Many of those companies, she explained, already have multiple locations, scheduling infrastructure, and clinics.
This highlights the significance of the six-month agreement to use the old Food City location on North Broadway as a vaccination site.
While more vaccine is becoming available, Buchanan urged the public to stay the course and continue following the five core actions.
“Even though you’re tired of it, even though you want it to go away, I want it to go away, we’ve got to continue doing that. I know the CDC put out some guidelines for folks who are fully vaccinated. People can follow those guidelines, but those guidelines still say social distancing and masking still needs to be done when you’re in public,” she said.
With fewer than 20% of the county population having received at least one dose of vaccine, she noted, apathy could result in a rise in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
The vaccine rollout has offered its share of tough days, too. Buchanan reflected on the day she learned 975 doses of vaccine were mistakenly thrown away.
“It was really disappointing and upsetting for all of us, for everyone involved. we immediately began trying to understand what happened so we absolutely don’t let that happen again. we’ll be sharing more information about all the things we put in place, soon, to help secure that things like that don’t happen again,” she said.
While she repeatedly mentioned the fight against COVID-19 is ongoing, she did take time to express her appreciation to her team, and the public, for the last twelve months:
“I’m very proud of the job my team has done. I’m very proud of the decisions and recommendations we’ve made…I think Knox County can be proud of their health department, how they’ve responded, and how they continue to respond to this pandemic.”
Buchanan also believed the virus is here to stay, and says she wouldn’t be surprised it vaccinations against the virus become routine.