Talking Covid: Montgomery addresses Noon Rotary

Executive Director of the Hamblen County Health Department Sherrie Montgomery discusses COVID-19 response with the Noon Rotary Club Wednesday.

Executive Director Sherrie Montgomery and the Hamblen County Health Department workers have lived up to the Rotary Club motto “Service Above Self” this past year.

“They certainly remind of that with their hard work and efforts to keep us all safe in the past year during the pandemic,” Rotary member David Culvern said. “I’m sure they didn’t sign on thinking, ‘Hey, I’m going to do this during a pandemic, ‘but I bet they thought a lot about it when they met the public and they provided that service.”

Montgomery addressed the Noon Rotary Club at the Country Club Wednesday. Montgomery presented a power point presentation highlighting the health department’s service to the public in the last year.

“We represent all of the people who really done the work,” Montgomery said. “I’m just a mere representative of all of those arms and legs. They have gone nonstop for the past year. I appreciate them more than I ever have.”

Montgomery said when one combines history, public health and a pandemic, it’s not a matter of if a pandemic will occur, but when. Public health workers do the drills and exercises for such a time as this pandemic.

“A lot of job skills we practice in our regular health department programs also serve us very well in a pandemic,” she said.

The health department is known as the agency that gives shots, birth certificates and death certificates, but residents found out they were much more than that this year. They administer guidelines regarding a food borne outbreak if it is a reportable disease, which could be hours of case investigating. An active tuberculosis case requires nurses to go to the house of the active case daily, including weekends and holidays, and give medicine, making sure the patient swallows it before leaving.

When Montgomery became director of the health department, her department was preparing for a resurgence of smallpox that never came. The next health crisis was the H1N1.

Montgomery brought a copy of a 1958 Morristown Daily Gazette and Mail article about polio shots being given by the Health Center, when the department was located on Buffalo Trail.

“It talked about the polio vaccination program was a ‘race against time,’” she said.

Children received the Salk vaccine for $1.

When COVID-19 came in, the response drill processes ended up having to be used, according to Montgomery.

“This made real the things that we had only done case studies of in textbooks,” she said. “A lot of these things really came to light.”

COVID-19 preparations began in February, 2020 with the first rumblings. Hamblen County Emergency Management Agency Director Chris Bell came to Montgomery saying that there needed to be a local response to the upcoming pandemic.

“We needed to get a local group together and educating ourselves about this and just be sure our community is prepared,” she said. “The Coronavirus Task Force started meeting on a weekly basis to educate and make preliminary plans to get that communication network going.”

Knowing who could get things done the fastest and most efficient proved to be a plus for the group, according to Montgomery.

“It turned out to be a very valuable tool,” she said.

The pandemic escalated in March and COVID-19 testing began. As a result, 32,690 PCR (swabs) tests were administered through Tuesday. The testing quickly moved from onsite facilities to offsite locations, including the first event at Walters State Community College Expo Center in White Pine April 25.

“That required a lot of planning,” she said. “We planned to be out in the gravel parking area, but after we got to looking at that facility, the warm-up arena turned out to be the ticket. It was perfect for us.”

Almost 900 people went through the COVID-19 testing that day.

Spanish speaking residents had an off-site event at Saint Patrick Catholic Church shortly afterwards.

Another event took place at Lincoln Heights Elementary and Middle School. The event was scheduled from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., but the event ended at 9 p.m.

“(Hamblen County Superintendent of Schools) Dr. Jeff Perry came through with popsicles for the nurses,” Montgomery said. “It was a hot evening, but we only had one nurse to pass out.”

COVID-19 testings continue, but a self-testing kit is available for those with a smartphone and email access. On-site PCR testings are still available from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

When vaccines became available, there have been a lot of off-site vaccinations, including now drive-through administrations. Bell was instrumental in procuring tents the nurses use for inoculations.

So far, 19,772 people have been given vaccines at the health department since Dec. 22, with 68 percent representing Hamblen County residents. The rest of the vaccines were given to residents from at least 65 other counties, with 16% coming from Jefferson County. The number of Hamblen County residents vaccinated as of Tuesday is 33,957. Montgomery said almost 25% of the Hamblen County population have been vaccinated, whether it be at the health department or by going to other places.

For information on joining Rotary, contact Todd Quillen at 865-770-0098.