Haywood County Health Director Patrick Johnson will retire Oct. 30.
While there has been plenty of extra stress surrounding COVID-19 in Haywood County, being the person who calls the shots when it comes to dealing with a pandemic has actually been the highlight of his career in public health.
“It’s just time,” Johnson said of his pending retirement. “I had planned to make sure we got through accreditation before I left and that’s happened. There’s no perfect time to leave, so I’m just sticking with the original timing I had set.”
When Johnson announced his decision, COVID-19 cases had dropped from a high point of 62 cases a day to between three and five cases a day. While he said he would like to see the positive cases go back to the original baseline in Haywood, which was between two and three a day, that all depends on how well people manage risk.
“I think the primary reason cases are down is how well people have responded with wearing a mask. If folks continue to do that, it’s our best hope until people get vaccinated,” he said.
Johnson admitted his hours have been crazy since March when the county convened a special coronavirus response team that was under the direction of the public health director. Public health workers were often working seven days a week and put in far longer hours than normal.
“It’s nonstop — not just for me but for so many working this,” Johnson said. “I was working yesterday (Labor Day) on my wife’s birthday for heaven’s sake. But in my 36 years in public health, this has been the highlight — responding to COVID and working with so many folks in public health here. I’m so proud of how we responded to COVID.”
In his retirement, Johnson said he is looking forward to tackling projects around the house, taking the Great Smokies writing course and running when it’s light outside.
Lately, he’s been getting up at 4:45 a.m. to run and work out every day.
“I would just like to run during the daylight for a change,” he said.
The county will be advertising for a new public health director, said County Manager Bryant Morehead, but the time frame hasn’t been developed yet.