Physician and Former Cookeville Mayor Fears Hospital “may have some very tough days” as COVID spreads

My name is Dr. Charles Womack and I’m a retired physician in Cookeville, TN.  I grew up in the Mississippi Delta.  After coming to camp in Tennessee as a teenager, I fell in love with this state.  I attended college at Vanderbilt and medical school in New Orleans at Tulane.  During that time, I met and married my wife Sally, a registered nurse, and we moved to Cookeville in 1975.  We have raised  our  four children here, and I have even been elected mayor of Cookeville twice, and I still serve on the City Council.

Dr. Charles Womack

We are very fortunate to have a 250-bed hospital here, the largest hospital between Nashville and Knoxville.  Our hospital serves a multi-county region in the Upper Cumberland, including southern Kentucky.  I am very proud that as a community, we have been able to keep our hospital locally owned and governed.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit Putnam county and our surrounding counties very hard.  The rate of infection here is quite high and our hospital is quite full.  The rate of testing has gone down so there are likely many more positive cases than we know about. 

We know that hospitalizations lag positive infections by about 3 weeks, and I worry that we may be in for some very tough days in the coming months if our hospital fills up.  Flu season is upon us, colder weather will bring people indoors, and the holidays usually involve large family gatherings – all of which are problematic for spreading this virus.

We know what works.  Vanderbilt has released studies showing that masks cut down on the transmission of COVID19.   I am proud to say that, here in Cookeville, our city council meetings are 100% masked.  Our doctors and pediatricians convinced the local school board that masks should be required when schools reopened.  In general, I observe older citizens wearing masks.  But, it takes all of us doing our part to protect each other and  keep our community safe.

The time has come for decisive leadership from our Tennessee Governor.  Governor Lee’s county-by-county approach has not worked.  The most recent study from Vanderbilt tells us that death rates in counties without mask mandates are twice as high.  Yet, Governor Lee continues to ignore the scientists and health experts who have said – for months – that Tennessee needs a statewide mask mandate.  Now things are worse than ever, breaking daily new case records.

Governor Lee, our schools, businesses, local mayors and communities shouldn’t have to fight this global pandemic on their own.  We CAN defeat COVID, but it depends on Tennessee having a coordinated statewide plan, including a mask mandate, social distance requirements, and limited group sizes in bars and restaurants, and most of all DECISIVE LEADERSHIP from you.  

Many of our surrounding states have implemented mask mandates. In fact, Tennessee is one of only 14 states in the country to not do so. If Arkansas, Alabama and Kentucky can have statewide mask mandates, Tennessee can do it, too! Wearing a mask protects yourself and others.

Governor Lee, Tennesseans can’t do THEIR job until you do YOUR job – get the COVID-19 health crisis under control so that we can all get safely back to work and to school.