WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN ) — More than a quarter of a million Americans have now died from COVID-19, and the virus has claimed the lives of over 4,000 Tennesseans. 

“It takes a vibrant normal person, and in a fairly short period of time, they lose their life,” says Dr. Tufik Assad, the director of critical care at Williamson County Medical Center. 

Doctors like Assad say they’re legitimately worried for what’s to come. And what COVID-19 has already done has left one more Tennessee community in pain. 

“He was somebody who almost couldn’t wrap his head around the fact how ill he was because he didn’t feel all that bad,” Assad says.  

BJ Howard was working on his Ph.D. while in intensive care. His oxygen levels were low, but his body wasn’t fully giving him the signs.

“He would text me from intensive care until he went on the ventilator,” says Williamson College President Ed Smith.

Smith was one of Howard’s closest friends and a colleague. He took a FaceTime call from Howard the night before his condition took a dive. 

“He had two breathing apparatuses on his face, labored breathing, and for about 15 minutes just the most positive spirit,” Smith says. “I just couldn’t get over it.” 

Smith says Howard was a man of faith. He was hopeful for a vaccine and often talked about how he could serve his community during the pandemic. 

“He’s one of the most giving people I’ve ever been around,” says Smith.

Howard was also on the board of the Better Business Bureau of Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky, and a partner at a business consulting firm, always in search of ways to help others. But he himself could not be helped, spending five days on that ventilator, never to recover.  

Smith calls losing his friend gut-wrenching, agonizing. and hard to process. 

“The reality is going to set in, I’ve just never had a friend like him who understood me at the depths, and I understood him,” says Smith. 

Thursday, 80 more people died from COVID-19. Every number, each victim, with a personal, important story. The warnings from medical experts will continue. 

“This is just one example of many, where I interact with a patient and their family, and I’m explaining to them their otherwise young and healthy, and vibrant loved one, isn’t going to survive,” Assad says. “I think people cannot be desensitized to the risks of this virus.”