East Tennessee doctors to Lee: “Get up there and lead.”

    Screen grab of Gov. Bill Lee at Wednesday's press briefing.
    Gov. Bill Lee at a June press press briefing.

    Two East Tennessee doctors said Wednesday most Tennesseans won’t be able to access a COVID-19 vaccine for a year and decried what they call a lack of leadership by Gov. Bill Lee. 

    Dr. Deaver Shattuck, an internal medicine specialist in Blount County and Dr. Kevin James, a geriatrician who also practices in Blount County, talked about the current COVID-19 crisis in Tennessee in blunt terms during a town hall discussion hosted by State Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville. 

    “The Governor is sitting on his hands not doing anything like ‘merrily we go along,’” said Shattuck. “Get up there and lead. Speak from science. Stressing masking is a good thing. Stop saying ‘it’s a personal choice’ to wear a mask. It’s also a personal choice to spread disease and be a bad leader.” 

    Dr. Deaver Shattuck (Photo: Blount Memorial Hospital)
    Dr. Deaver Shattuck (Photo: Blount Memorial Hospital)

    The pair of physicians painted a grim picture of how the pandemic will continue to affect the state’s residents and hospital systems, saying as case numbers rise, patients with other illnesses will fall victim to lack of resources. 

    “The problem will come taking care of people with dementia, strokes, flu, emphysema. There’s going to be a bad health crisis. We were afraid of this back in May,” said Shattuck. “We are better prepared for it now. Unfortunately, what we can’t stock up on are nurses.”

    James said the state’s health care system isn’t prepared to take care of everyone who gets covid, adding that mild cases burden the system. 

    “This is a very different part of the pandemic,” said James. “This is the part where we begin to see the healthcare system stretched.”

    Both stressed that even with Tuesday’s news Pfizer Pharmaceuticals has selected Tennessee for a pilot delivery program of a vaccine judged to be 95% effective, masks and avoidance of crowded spaces remain the safest strategy for staying well. 

    Front line workers, including physicians, could receive the vaccine as early as next month, Shattuck estimated, but he added it will take up to a year to broadly distribute the vaccine. ‘

    “It’s not enough to keep the (health care) system from being overrun,” he said.

    As for Lee’s refusal to issue a mask mandate — the state is now one of only 14 without a statewide mandate — Shattuck said “the lack of leadership” is hurting health care workers. 

    “Having our state leaders wear a mask wherever they go is helpful. I’d vote for anyone who would wear a mask and lead,” Shattuck said. “They talk about the economy – biology always wins over the economy. I truly don’t know what these people are thinking.”