MEMPHIS, Tenn.– As Mississippi reports its first case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus Monday afternoon, it’s only a matter of time before it makes its way into Tennessee.

As Tennessee experiences a slight uptick in COVID-19 cases, State Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said many of the cases are clustered not in Memphis and West Tennessee, but in other parts of the state.

“Interestingly, a lot of the cases and new hospitalizations are clustered in Northeast Tennessee, and they are still amongst the unvaccinated population,” she said.

The state is also bracing for the Omicron variant. The variant has been detected in 17 states, including Missouri.

“I was speaking to a colleague in another border state this morning and they plan to release case today. So, we will have at least two border states. So, it’s just a matter time before Omicron is here in Tennessee,” Dr. Piercey said.

What’s not known is whether Omicron is more transmissible or will it make people sicker.

Dr. Piercey said even though many people are vaccine weary, she said getting your shots are the best protection against COVID-19 and the return of the flu.

“There are a lot of questions out there does the vaccine protect against the Omicron variant. we don’t know that yet, but what we do know vaccination is the absolute best way to protect yourself not only from protection, but hospitalization and death from any variant,” she said.

When it comes to vaccinations, especially children ages five to 11, only 7% have gotten their shots. 

“Our kids are the ones to, although they may not get as sick as adults do. They still can have not only problems from the infection, but they can transmit it to to others,” Dr. Piercey said.

The transmission of the flu could be back. So far, only 21.6% of Tennesseans have received their flu shots, far fewer than in the past two years.

“We essentially didn’t have a flu season last year. That’s going to be different this year. We are already starting to see a pop up in certain areas of the country and we’re having a few cases in trickle in Tennessee. We do expect much more of normal flu season this year,” she said.

The Tennessee Health Department is anticipating a flu season this year. It’s why a statewide influenza event was held recently across the state.