'A much better place than it was months ago': Meet Dr. Joel McCollough, now leading the LFCHD

Posted at 4:59 PM, Mar 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-11 07:36:31-05

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — The new commissioner of the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department previously worked in Spokane, Washington. So despite some urgent health matters to discuss, we had to first dive into a really important topic: Who Dr. Joel McCullough would be rooting for should the NCAA Tournament bracket give us a Kentucky vs. Gonzaga matchup. (Gonzaga is located in the eastern Washington city of Spokane.)

Dr. McCollough is one month into his new role, arriving in Lexington as the COVID-19 metrics started to trend in the right direction. But he warns that it’s not over yet.

“As of this morning we’re still in the high category,” Dr. McCollough said. “But our community immunity is in a much better place than it was months ago,” he added.

For that reason, Dr. McCollough said he’s pleased that the Fayette County school district is continuing to require masks indoors. He’s also happy to be working in a city whose mayor has worked with rather than against the Governor since the beginning of the pandemic two years ago.

“It can be challenging in other places when there’s not the coordination, or everyone is not really rolling in the right direction,” he said. In Washington, he experienced a little of both. Cities up and down the I-5 corridor such as Seattle, Yakima, Bellevue, and others were cautious when it came to pandemic guidelines, and receptive to adhering to those. But on the eastern side of the state, Dr. McCollough said he got a little more resistance from local officials.

Before his stint in Spokane, Dr. McCollough served as an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He said the scope of COVID-19 was very hard to predict even for the top specialists in the field.

“SARS and MERS were our most recent experiences with coronaviruses, so I think many people were thinking that would be the extent of the potential infection” (with COVID), he said of the two respiratory ailments that were prevalent years ago, but never reached a pandemic level.

“…It was definitely something of concern, but we didn’t know the extent of what was to come,” he added.

Dr. McCollough said he was saddened, but not overly surprised by the resistance to the vaccine, or use of face coverings.

“It wasn’t something to do just for yourself, but for family, neighbors, and the community,” he said. Given his background with the CDC, Dr. McCollough said he’d certainly be inclined to adhere to their recommendations concerning COVID, or any future health-related matters, but said that he wouldn’t hesitate to see what guidelines might work better for this community.

“It’s not a one size fits all thing,” he noted of CDC recommendations.

Neither apparently is choosing a side in college basketball. “Well, I haven’t developed roots here, so I’d have to go with the Zags. “But, if overtime if I find a greater affinity to UK and the Wildcats, that might shift.”

So, much like CDC safety recommendations, it can be subject to change.