Q&A with Georgia DPH West Central District Director Dr. Beverly Townsend

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COLUMBUS Ga. (WRBL) – Georgia DPH West Central Health Director Dr. Beverly Townsend is very busy these days with a new peak in COVID-19 cases and the state of Georgia recently passing 20,000 COVID-19 deaths.

She took some time out of her busy schedule to update us on the local fight against COVID-19.

WRBL: You’re the first Black woman to complete the family medicine residency program at what is now Piedmont Columbus Regional and the first Black Director of the DPH West Central Health District, and now your facing the first global pandemic in a few generations. How do you approach these seemingly insurmountable tasks?

Townsend: “I didn’t know they were going to be insurmountable in the beginning, so started out just trying to do my job and do it well. They’re still not insurmountable. They’re just difficult and take a lot of hard work and a lot of support; from the staff that work for me, and that I work with. The challenges are there because of the unknowns that exist as well. I take that very seriously just because we don’t know something doesn’t mean we cant get it done. So we look for new ways and ideas, outside the box thinking to make things happen to get the result that we need in a timely manner that we may need it, just to get the job done.”

WRBL: What’s your advice to people who have gotten vaccinated and can’t social distance because of their job or school?

Townsend: “Well my first advice is everyone should look at what already exists to help us get out of this pandemic, and start doing those things that have been suggested, and recommended—not suggested but recommended throught the CDC through public health guidelines. That includes now at this point in time vaccinations. That includes wearing a mask or face covering, properly. That includes social distancing. Not being around a lot of crowds of people and everything if you don’t have to be, or people outside your household. People do have to work and people do have to go to school, and all those things are very important. Their just has to be a way to do it so that more people don’t get infected.”

WRBL: How much do you think folks refusing to mask relates to folks refusing to follow doctors orders on an individual basis?

Townsend: “In a practice that was called noncompliance. There was certainly a consequence of being noncompliant. Which would include worsening of peoples diseases or development of cancer stroke heart disease all those morbidity things that would occur or mortality things. Basically it’s the same thing at this level because not adhering to things that come from a scientific standpoint and trying to get a handle on this virus with the available tools we have. The same thing existed. The mortality is going up the morbidity is going up. The consequences up to and including death. Up to and including not being able to work, live where you want to live, housing. There’s a lot of issues that’s around not being able to get a handle on this that’s called non-compliance and actually it’s very similar I can relate those similarities. Every action has consequences.”

WRBL: What would you say the biggest change is in your job since the pandemic began?

Townsend: “The biggest change is not knowing what my day is going to look like yes I have a calendar and a schedule, but I may never know because it’s always something interjecting in there. That needs to be handled right then and right there created around the COVID virus scene. Weather it’s vaccines testing information around that. People wanting what they want right now. And not understanding very demanding, and so we do a lot of stopping and turning on a dime. Because it’s necessary or to create platforms and do things that we have to do in order to ensure that we; number one, follow the rules and regulations that’s given to me to push down from my superiors, from the state office and everything. I really don’t even have a routine that’s the biggest change.”

WRBL: What’s your strategy going into this next stage of the pandemic?

Townsend: “The strategy is to go places and provide the vaccine to be accessible to the community who needs the vaccine and that can be anybody so are having not just popup but regular vaccination clinics that we have at all of our health departments throughout our district which is 16 counties. Just make them available and accessible people going to places where people may not have transportation or people may just be walking by or maybe going there. Meeting people where they are. That’s really the goal. Weather it’s church, weather it’s a hospital, weather it’s a beauty salon or barbershop. Any type of events that occur in our general geographical area or community being involved in those. So whatever we can do to put it out there we do home visits for those who are homebound, and cannot get out the list just goes on and on and we do try new and creative ideas to try to come up with ways to get advertising on social media, newspaper, TV, whatever platform we can use to get people to take recognition and do it”

WRBL: How does it make you feel to know that, despite your best efforts to educate people, some folks choose to disbelieve the facts given to them by science and experts?

“The numbers of deaths really now, currently, are really related to the unvaccinated, not the vaccinated. It’s really a sad thing to think about and not having people to believe in the system but have a lot of myths that they believe in and untruths and misinformation out there. That’s why this is occurring as well a lot of misinformation.”

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