COVID-19 Q&A with Jamie Swift, Ballad Health’s corporate director for infection prevention

Jonathan Roberts • May 3, 2020 at 9:00 AM

As Ballad Health’s corporate director for infection prevention, Jamie Swift has had her eye on the novel coronavirus since the outbreak began in China late last year. 

Recently, the Press spoke with Swift to get her thoughts on the pandemic, her thoughts on its progression and her advice for people preparing to venture out as Tennessee begins a phased reboot of its economy. 

Note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity. 

What’s been your reaction to watching COVID-19 develop over the last few months?

As we watched it, I think a lot of us in the infectious disease world understood it most likely would become a pandemic and that we needed to start preparing and that’s really where my full energy went — preparing my family, friends, community and the health system. We very quickly realized that this could be the disease that become a pandemic and we need to do what we can early to respond, and I think we’ve done that quite well.

How would you describe your thought process as we watched COVID-19 move from Asia, to Europe and, finally, to the United States and Northeast Tennessee?

Honestly, it’s everything I’ve ever learned about a pandemic. To watch it in one small section of the world and then watch it just jump — it certainly reiterates my favorite saying, which is we’re one plane ride away from an outbreak and I think this really just made this real for people.

How well do you think the state has done in combating the spread?

I think we’ve done well. I think you can watch our numbers and the trendlines and I think you can see that the measures we’ve put in place have worked — we’ve certainly slowed it down. Our partners at the Department of Health have been amazing and we’ve worked with them hand-in-hand and so far I think what we’ve done has slowed things down so that our health system can respond.

Why do you think Northeast Tennessee hasn’t seen the same high case numbers our neighbors and the rest of the state have?

I think we did really well in social distancing and I think, to an extent, our geography allows for more extensive social distancing. I think that has helped, I think our community has responded well and I think we’ve really been able to get the message out. I think we’ve really partnered together as a region and we’re really seeing the results of that.

For a time it seemed as if the state had plateaued, but now that we’re seeing new infection numbers rise again — what does that say to you?

I think it just reinforces that the virus is still here. As testing increases obviously we’re going to see those positives, but it should serve as a reminder that the virus is still here and so people need to take precautions. This is a phased reopening of the economy, this is not return your life to normal— this is slowly find a new normal that coexists with this virus.

Do you have any concerns about the plan to reopen the economy?

I think businesses really need to follow the recommendations that come out. I think we need to follow all of the public health guidelines that come out.

As we see more people venturing out as stay at home orders are lifted, what do you think people should keep in mind?

I think people need to understand that the virus is still here. We certainly have seen our social distancing measures work — we’ve seen the spread slow down — but we are still seeing new cases and so, by all means, we need to find a new normal. That means, for now, certainly wearing masks as we go out is going to be key in our prevention for the next few months, sanitizing is important and still limiting travel to those essential trips.

Some health officials have warned of a potential resurgence of the virus later this year, what are your thoughts on that?

Certainly I think we don’t know everything about this virus, and I think every indication is that we will see a resurgence and that we will continue to see coronavirus. To what level, I don’t think any of us can predict that, but I think we’re certainly trying to figure out what this looks like going forward.

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