The omicron variant of COVID-19 that's quickly sweeping the globe has been detected in Knox County.
"It's been on our radar," said Roberta Sturm, director of communicable and environmental disease and emergency preparedness, told Knox News. "We knew it was probably going to get here at some point. It was just a matter of time."
The Knox County Health Department would not release any details about the patient's age or sex, other than to say that the test results came in Thursday night.
The omicron variant was first detected in South Africa roughly a month ago. Within days it was reported in more than 20 countries. More than two dozen states have confirmed cases of the omicron variant since it was first detected in California on Dec. 1.
“With the omicron variant spreading quickly across the country, and already present here in Tennessee, we knew it was just a matter of time until this variant was detected in Knox County,” Sturm said. “While the variant is new, the strategies to protect yourself and your loved ones are not. As we head into the holidays, take every opportunity you can to keep yourself and those around you healthy.”
Much remains unknown about the new variant, although increasing evidence indicates it spreads more easily. It arrives as the U.S. is already seeing a growing number of infections, largely from the delta variant, as holiday gatherings ramp up.
Knox County has not yet experienced the full impact of the omicron variant, nor has there been a post-Thanksgiving surge comparable to the one seen at the end of 2020. Daily new cases have remained below 100 day for the past month. The seven-day average is 67 new cases a day.
"How severe this particular variant is going to be is still to be determined," Sturm said. "I can't really say what the future holds."
Hospitalizations in the Knox County hospital district, which includes 11 counties, are far below their peak of 757 during the delta surge. Right now, only about 200 people are hospitalized for COVID-19 district-wide. However, hospitalizations have gradually risen from a low of 127 a month ago.
So far in December, 21 Knox County residents have died of COVID-19.
The new variant of the coronavirus is highly transmissible but makes up about 3% of the total cases of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of the omicron patients' illnesses have been more mild than delta. As of yet, no deaths have been attributed to omicron.
Many omicron cases have been reinfections or breakthrough cases, pointing to a highly evasive new strain.
Experiments from the National Institutes of Health suggest that booster vaccines are as effective at preventing infection with omicron as the original two-dose vaccine. Federal experts and Knox County Health Department staffers are urging everyone who has been vaccinated to get a booster — and those who have not been vaccinated to get their shots now.
Vaccines are widely available across Knox County and are approved for people five years old and older. For information on getting vaccinated at the Health Department, visit their website or call the public information line 865-215-5555.
The Knox County Health Department urges anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 get tested.
Vaccines are widely available across Knox County and are approved for people 5 years old and up. For information on getting vaccinated at the Health Department, visit covid.knoxcountytn.gov or call the information line at 865-215-5555. Vaccines and boosters are available at pharmacies.
The Knox County Health Department urges those who have COVID-19 symptoms or believe they have been exposed to get tested.
In addition to getting vaccinated, protect yourself and your loved ones by wearing masks, maintaining physical distance and regularly wash your hands this holiday season.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Omicron variant of COVID-19 detected in Knox County