NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee reported the highest COVID-19 deaths per capita late last week.

“We hope for the best but prepare for the worst,” said Dr. William Schaffner, Professor of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University.

Deaths typically follow weeks after COVID infections and initial hospitalizations. Tennessee is among states leading in COVID cases and deaths.

“I think at the current time we’re in a critical transition period, we’re seeing omicron spreading widely, still creating many cases,” Dr. Schaffner said.

Despite the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant, areas of the United States and parts of the Volunteer State are seeing signs of good news.

“But in many parts of the country including here in our own, we seem to have a plateau in the number of hospitalizations and even in some places a downturn. Now it’s still early days. We can’t celebrate yet, but if this trend continues, then perhaps sometime in February we might finally get ahead of this virus,” Dr. Schaffner said.

As of right now, there is a spike in hospitalizations of Tennessee kids. Dr. Schaffner said he would like to see an increase in COVID vaccination for children.

“COVID is less apt to produce serious disease in young people, in children, than adults; less apt if it spreads widely. That means it will reach some children and make them very ill and hospitalized— we’re still seeing that,” he said.

Tennessee’s Department of Health has chosen to do away with daily COVID-19 data.

Fifty-two percent of Tennesseans are vaccinated, with the possibility of more COVID variants down the line.

“Yes, there could be another variant, the way to prepare for that is, of course, to be vaccinated and you know we’re going to go down to some sort of what we call in a fancy word ‘endemic’ level. That just means this virus and we will have a treaty — we’ll be in some sort of a balance. The virus is not going away in order to keep that level as low as possible it’s better than the proportion of the population vaccinated be very high,” Dr. Schaffner said.

According to data reported to the CDC, by the end of last week, Tennessee had a seven-day average of 16,873 cases.

So far, 21,694 people have died since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Tennessee.