NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Tennessee Health Commissioner, Dr. Lisa Piercey, addressed the slight increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations Monday, explaining the uptick is seen mostly in the Northeast portion of the state and largely among the unvaccinated.

“The thing that’s interesting about that is the vaccination rates in Northeast Tennessee are not the lowest in the state. It’s just that right now, that’s where most of the new hospitalizations are,” explained Piercey.

Medical professionals are closely monitoring the presence of the newest variant, omicron, as it spreads across the country moving closer to Tennessee. “It’s just a matter of time before omicron is here in Tennessee,” said Piercey.

“Missouri has a confirmed case, again there will be another border state that comes out today with a confirmed case. So logic would tell us that people who live closer to those states may have a higher likelihood of having those variants first.”

While what catching the omicron stain of COVID actually means is still unclear, Dr. Piercey explained trends indicate the omicron variant is more transmissible.

She continued, “There is also some speculation that it could be less virulent, which means it makes you not as sick. It is only speculation right now.”

Another unknown question is, will current vaccines protect against this new strain? “We don’t know that yet. But what we do know is that vaccination is the absolute best way to protect yourself, not only against infections but specifically hospitalization and death from any variant,” Dr. Piercey said.

She reminds Tennesseans older than 18 are eligible for a booster shot and mixing vaccine products is proven to be effective and safe. “It is not only possible but in some cases recommended to mix and match the products.”

As of Monday, half of Tennesseans (49.9%) are fully vaccinated.