Community Conversation: New Mecklenburg County health director talks about COVID-19 and equity

Published: Jan. 7, 2022 at 6:42 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - New Mecklenburg County Health Director Dr. Raynard Washington is settled into his office.

He became the county’s first African American Health Director on January 1, 2022.

He says he wanted to become an emergency room doctor but that changed after several encounters.

He says public health became his passion.

“The things that really drove me to care about health really were my own experiences,” Washington said. “My family my grandmother with diabetes at 50. The natural sort of trajectory of chronic illness in my family immediately and then the realization that there is a way to prevent things. The real answer to being able to improve health was to catch it before it’s a thing.”

Washington says the pandemic will force people in the county to adopt a new normal.

“Omicron is here,” he said. “COVID is here. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon - so right now we are experiencing an unprecedented surge in our community - numbers that we have not seen ever before in terms of our cases and the case counts - but the reality is we have the tools and assets in this area to be able to live with COVID. We have vaccines that are highly effective and masks that are helpful tools to be able to reduce the risk of transmission.”

The new director says the challenge has been acquiring more COVID tests for residents.

That assignment has been difficult.

The director says thousands of tests are on the way and more changes are being made to accommodate the volume of people wanting a test.

“We’ve been doing a number of activities,” Washington said. “First and foremost working to expand the availability of testing sites in the community - so there are a couple of additional sites that we have been working to either relocate existing sites to places that can take more volume or identify new sites.”

The new director also says the county has purchased two mobile units to help with testing.

There is a holdup in the delivery of the units. Washington hopes they will come sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, Washington has also been in regular contact with Charlotte Mecklenburg School leaders. The county has sent help.

“We’ve actually hired over 140 people as school-based coordinators who we have the last three months hired trained and placed them in almost every school in the district for support,” Washington said. “These are public health staff in the school district to help support principals and administrators with all their COVID response activities.”

Washington hopes him being the first African American Health Director in Mecklenburg County will make a difference when it comes to connecting with some people who sometimes feel neglected.

“Equity is at the center of my passion in public health,” he said. “I believe that everybody deserves equal opportunity to be healthy and we have to be intentional about the work that we do here - to make sure that that actually occurs. It’s one thing to talk about it, but we have to do it and that means we have to be in the communities. We have to go where the people are.”

Washington says he hopes to be the Mecklenburg County Director for a very long time.

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