MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Omicron variant is not only in Tennessee, but it now makes up more than 80 percent of the cases and could reach to 95 percent by next week.
Just days before Christmas, Tennessee’s Health Commissioner Lisa Piercy warns residents that the Omicron variant is “here and here in a big way.”
“It came very, very quickly,” Piercy said. “Just to put it into context, it took about three months for the Delta variant to be the predominate variant. It took Omicron about three weeks.”
The state health department is also seeing and uptick in COVID cases. The state’s average infections per day, which stands around 2,200 infections, has more than doubled since November, but what could be causing some confusion about the case numbers is the demand for at home testing.
“At-home testing sometimes gets reported to us, occasionally gets reported to us, but we believe the vast majority of at-home testing is not coming across our radar,” Piercy said.
What is also unclear is Omicron’s full impact on patients.
“There is some early indication that Omicron may cause less severe disease,” Piercy said. “So, that’s a hopeful sign, if that holds, that we might not have as big of a hospitalization spike as we had during the previous Delta and Alpha waves.”
Another challenge is the low supply of the monoclonal antibody treatment to treat Omicron.
“Essentially, we are in extremely scarce supply of monoclonal antibodies,” Piercy said. “The good news, if there is any good news, we’ve gotten used to doing this over the last two years.”
Dr. Piercy also said the best protection against the virus is getting vaccinated and getting a booster shot.
“We do know vaccinations and just the primary series does appear to protect you from those severe outcomes like hospitalization and death,” she said.
Beginning in January, the state health department will move away from daily case counts as the main pandemic indicator because of the popularity of at-home testing.