KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said the current COVID-19 surge is “starting to plateau and starting to drop off in our metro areas” during a state House Health Committee meeting on Wednesday in Nashville.

While the update was encouraging, the commissioner noted that rural areas “aren’t quite there yet” but historically those case numbers have lagged behind by a week to three weeks.

In a slide presentation of COVID-19 case counts through Jan. 15, numbers in Memphis and Nashville are seen as dropping, but numbers are still rising in Knoxville and Blountville.

“When you look at a graph like this, is even as high as this spike is, it’s a significant underestimate of what the actual disease burden is,” she said, noting that asymptomatic cases don’t usually test and home test kits are not reported to the state.

Piercey recommended that everyone take advantage of getting up to four COVID-19 home health kits from the federal government website.

Piercey says the “very, very high” transmissibility of the omicron variant has contributed to the recent surge. The variant accounts for 98% of cases nationally.

Unlike previous surges though the “incidental finding” rates are much higher. Piercey said people are going to the hospital for another reason other than COVID and finding out they have the virus. Nationally 30% to 50% of COVID patients nationally are incidental findings she said.

However, the commissioner said the majority of hospitalizations are unvaccinated and are there for treatment from the virus.

“There are some really sick people in the hospital with COVID,” she said. “I do not want to diminish that at all. A majority of people that are in the hospital with COVID are there because of COVID and they’re very sick and should be taken seriously.”