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Check in with the doctor leading the fight against COVID in the Lowcountry

Check in with the doctor leading the fight against COVID in the Lowcountry
December 2020

Dr. Katy Richardson tells us what to expect from a vaccine

Born: In Barnwell, South Carolina - Lives: In West Ashley with her husband, David Bundy, and their three children, Eli (16), Maya (14), and Sam (10) - Self-care: Prioritizing healthy eating, physical activity, and sleep, including running, walks with her family, and spending time at Edisto

Dr. Katherine Richardson began her career as a primary care physician at community health centers in rural North Carolina and inner-city Baltimore. Working in these safety-net clinics, caring for migrant farmworkers and refugees fleeing persecution, the South Carolina native felt called to public health. “I wanted to better address social determinants of health, like education, housing, and transportation,” says the West Ashley mother of three, who volunteered at the Barrier Islands and Shifa clinics when her children were younger. Now, this steadfast public servant looks after the well-being of more than one million South Carolinians. As the State Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Lowcountry regional medical director, Dr. Richardson advises health-care providers on how to prevent and treat communicable diseases, and for the past nine months, she has helped lead DHEC’s response to the pandemic. Here, Dr. Richardson talks about a potential vaccine and how to stay safe during the holidays

CM: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced personally in helping manage the response to COVID-19?
My biggest challenge has been balancing pessimism and optimism; pessimism that so many have suffered and died, especially those most vulnerable in our communities, but also optimism that we will get through this as a family and a community with care for one another, medical technology, and adherence to public health guidance. 

CM: Where do we stand with a vaccine?
DHEC is working closely with public and private partners to develop South Carolina’s COVID-19 vaccination plan. Our overarching goal is the safe and equitable distribution of the vaccine based on the most current federal guidelines. We’re awaiting additional federal guidance as to when the vaccine may be available. It‘s expected to be limited in supply and not available for everyone right away. Safety is the top priority in any vaccine development, and no vaccine will be released until it has undergone the rigorous scientific and clinical testing that’s required.

CM: How can we celebrate the holidays safely?
Decisions around socializing with extended family and friends aren’t easy, but I am impressed with the efforts made by so many to keep our families and communities healthy. Limiting close contact is key. Gather outdoors when possible, and keep guests to a minimum. Don’t host or attend in-person festivities if you or someone in your household has been recently diagnosed with, has symptoms of, or has been exposed to COVID-19. We must remember how interconnected and vulnerable we all are—our well-being depends as much on what those around us do as our own decisions.