OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (WATE) – While this will be a special weekend for families across East Tennessee, this Christmas is even more special for those who spent the holiday alone last year due to COVID-19. Families are reuniting in large part because of widely-available vaccines — and boosters.

It’s been tough for residents, their families, and staff at Patriot Hills Assisted Living. “We all want to be around our families and be able to reach out and touch them, hug them, and they weren’t able to do that,” facility administrator Jerry Turbyville said.

Many holidays, birthdays, and other special dates were spent alone because of the threat of the novel coronavirus — especially to the most vulnerable. “The best we could do was, they were able to meet through a window or something like that. That’s just not the same as being able to have that contact with a loved one this time of year,” he said.

This time last year he was still waiting to find out when the facility would get their first shipment of vaccine. Turbyville said this year residents and staff are fully-vaccinated and, as of a about a month ago, they’re boosted, too. The facility will welcome visitors for the second major holiday since the pandemic started, but the first Christmas.

They’re combining cheer with caution to make it all happen. “We want to prevent that isolation, the depression, especially over the holidays,” Turbyville said.

Visitors will have to wear masks and get their temperatures checked at the door. All residents and staff received negative COVID-19 tests Wednesday. “We’re confident that we can keep the Omicron variant out of this facility. If I have anything to say with it we will, because that stuff is not fun to deal with,” he added.