SPRING CITY, Tenn. (WATE) — It was another busy Thursday at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant as Gov. Bill Lee made a visit.

“Clean energy production,” he said. “Anything we can do to support that it’s going to be important for the state.”

However, the governor was fielding more questions about COVID-19 in Tennessee than nuclear power.

“We’re in a really different place in this pandemic than we were before,” Lee said.

The governor asserted coronavirus case counts are not the metric that should be used for mitigation strategies.

“We really don’t even know the case counts when we considered the amount of people taking tests at home, so we have to look at other metrics,” Lee said. “The most important being those that are in the hospital. We’re working really hard.”

Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey reported Wednesday COVID-19 cases are “starting to plateau” in major metro areas but indicated cases in Knoxville keep going up.

“The reason when you go back to looking at the magnitude of the current spike compared to others is because of the very, very high transmissibility or contagiousness of the omicron variant,” she said. “Omicron is 98% of the cases in the U.S., and we believe it is close to that here.”

Lee said he and his staff speak with the CEOs of the state’s major hospital systems on a regular basis.

“We’re working with the Tennessee Hospital Association to make sure we do everything we can from the state level to provide care for the people across the state,” he said.

Lee also acknowledged the hard work of teachers and school district employees during the pandemic in the face of rising cases.

“In-person learning is incredibly important,” he said. “President (Joe) Biden said it yesterday. We’ve recognized across this country that keeping schools open is the best approach for children and that we got to do whatever we can to keep those schools open.”

Lee is encouraging anyone who hasn’t had a coronavirus vaccine to get fully vaccinated. He plans to deliver his annual state of the state speech on Jan. 31. Lee is seeking reelection this year.