KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)- The omicron variant of COVID-19 has made its way to Knox County.
The Health Department confirmed the first reported case Friday in Knox County and said it was just a matter of time. They’re continuing to urge people to get vaccinated and get the booster shot if they haven’t yet.
One family is echoing that message because of the impact COVID-19 has had on their lives.
Anderson County-native JC Townsend said his 58-year-old father was in perfect health before testing positive for the virus in August.
“No health problems, no medicine, no nothing,” JC said of his father Freed Townsend. “So it pretty much just destroyed his lungs.”
Freed Townsend was hospitalized in East Tennessee for several months and is now at a hospital in Florida waiting on a lung transplant list.
“He’s a real good example of how serious the virus can get,” JC said.
Now health experts say the new variant of the virus here in Knoxville could be of concern.
“The omicron variant is a fast mover,” said KCHD’s Director of Communicable and Environmental Disease and Emergency Preparedness Roberta Sturm. “It’s more transmissible than what we’ve seen in previous variants.”
Sturm adds the delta variant has been predominant in Knox County overtaking previous variants. They’re not sure if omicron will do the same.
“The news of omicron really just happened in the last several weeks on a global scale so there’s still a lot of information that we’re trying to learn about it,” Strum said.
She along with other health officials continue to say, no matter the variant, the vaccine is the public’s best line of defense against COVID-19.
“Research indicates that the vaccine is still very very effective at reducing the likelihood of hospitalization or the risk of death,” Strum said.
JC Townsend wants others to listen to that advice.
“My biggest message to everyone who could face this problem is to keep hope, to keep fighting, and I’m a big believer in the vaccine,” he said.
Townsend said his Christmas will be very different this year. They may try to celebrate with everyone next summer if possible.