TENNESSEE (WATE) — Tennessee’s health commissioner has said it’s inevitable that the omicron variant of the coronavirus will make its way to Tennessee within the next several weeks.

Dr. Lisa Piercey said in a media briefing Monday morning that the variant has been confirmed in a border state, Missouri, and expects another neighboring state will confirm a case later on Monday.

“There’s some speculation that it is more transmissible. Maybe, we’ll see. There’s also speculation that it could be less virulent, which means it makes you not as sick. It’s not any worse, it may even be a bit milder. Those are things we don’t know yet but we’re going to be learning over the next several weeks as the omicron variant takes a bigger hold in the U.S. and it inevitably comes to Tennessee.”

Despite the unknowns, Piercey says a vaccine is still the best protection against COVID-19. She mentioned a slight uptick in cases and hospitalizations from the end of November to the start of December, but the state isn’t alarmed over the increase.

She added that a lot of the cases and most of the new hospitalizations are clustered in northeast Tennessee, and they’re still among the unvaccinated. The state health department is keeping an eye on that region because it is not the lowest area for vaccinations in the state. TDH says those cases, to their knowledge, are not the omicron variant.

In the briefing, Piercey also mentioned the release of oral anti-viral medication, but not without difficulties. Those pills are required to be taken for the first three to five days (depending on the brand) of the illness. However, you may not be feeling bad until the second day, and if there’s a delay in testing, it may put you past that deadline. Which makes rapid testing that much more important.

The health department also wants the public to be aware that it is flu season, ad Tennessee has seen a lower vaccination rate for the flu this year compared to the previous two.

Lastly, staying safe during the holidays, TDH says to use common sense and don’t go anywhere if you’re sick. They remind the public that there are nearly no restrictions on who can get vaccinated or a booster shot, so, go get vaccinated, wear a mask and wash your hands.

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