Dr. Daniel Lewis


I almost died from COVID-19 a year ago. We’re still fighting it, and our best weapon is vaccination.

As I reflect on the changes wrought by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) over the last year, it’s difficult to put its effect into words.

The initial wave hit about a year ago, as we saw our first cases and a global shutdown in businesses and life in general. That time is noteworthy to me personally, with my hospitalization and near death from COVID-19, along with my recovery gifted to me by the Lord above.

Then, the second wave crashed in the summer, and cases spiked across the country. While our rural communities were not as affected by the second wave, it left a taste of what was to come – a deadly third wave that hit our region late in the year.

The winter surge at one point pushed Greeneville and the entire Appalachian Highlands region to some of the highest infection rates per capita in the United States, resulting in nearly 400 locally hospitalized patients and outbreaks in several of our area nursing facilities.

Hope for control of the pandemic was buoyed by the development and release of two COVID-19 vaccines in late December, but we knew it would take time for the vaccines to take effect. Those of us in hospital operations held our breath to see how high the peak would go and were immensely relieved our caseloads never outstripped our capacity to continue to offer COVID-19 resources, elective surgeries and other necessary procedures.

As spring blooms in our beautiful Greene County, the threat of COVID-19 remains a concern in our area. In recent weeks, we saw a fourth wave of cases and hospitalizations, with the B117 variant first detected in the United Kingdom gaining more of a foothold in the area, now accounting for 35% of Tennessee infections. That variant has a propensity to infect younger individuals and carries a higher risk of morbidity and mortality.

So, what can we do? Can we just expect to live in our “COVID-19 bubbles” forever? I certainly understand the desire to get back to normal as soon as possible, and I would offer two solutions:

First, it’s important that our community members don’t let up on masking and physical distancing, especially if you haven’t had a COVID-19 vaccine. We must continue to be diligent. Even if masks aren’t required, it’s your choice to protect yourselves and, even more so, vulnerable people in our populations.

My second solution is to vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate. Everyone in our region over the age of 16 is eligible to receive a vaccine, and the vaccines are proving themselves to be very safe and effective, even against spreading variant strains.

Even if you catch COVID-19 after taking the vaccine, the vaccine offers nearly 100% protection from severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19. This is the ultimate end goal – to prevent significant infections and unnecessary death.

You can receive the vaccine through the health department, local pharmacies and Ballad Health’s Community Vaccination Centers (visit www.balladhealth.org or call 833-822-5523 to make an appointment or find a center near you).

We will talk more about what the future might hold for COVID-19, as far as its long-term effects, its continued presence, the need for possible booster vaccinations and the like.

But for now, if you haven’t already, please – go get your shot!

If you have any recommendations on health topics that are important to you, please let us know at michael.stone@balladhealth.org.

Recommended for you