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'Omicron is here:' Tennessee health leaders note speed of variant spread

Dr. Lisa Piercey
Posted at 12:20 PM, Dec 22, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennessee's key health leader announced Wednesday that the new variant of COVID-19 now accounted for more than 80% cases in the state.

The omicron variant — which was just detected in the state three weeks ago — has now become the primary variant in those who contracted COVID-19, according to the Tennessee Department of Health commissioner Lisa Piercey.

"It’s here in a big way," Piercey said. "It came very quickly. It took about three months for delta. It took omicron for three weeks. That’s how fast this thing is spreading. We believe our case numbers is 80%. That number won’t age well. We don’t have any reason to believe it won’t be at the 95% level by next week."

Piercey also noted an uptick in cases, but said she didn't believe that number was accurate because of the rate of at-home tests. She said those results weren't always reported to the state, so the number of true cases in the state was probably more than reported.

Additionally, Piercey said the monoclonal antibody needed to treat omicron remained scarce. Of the three antibody treatments available, only one worked against the newest variant, causing doctors to have to figure out how to handle dealing with so little.

"Hospitals are telling us that they are running low," Piercey said. "Over the last couple of days we are having a dramatic shift. Doctors are accustomed to working with low supply products every now and then. We figure out how to privatize and which patients need it the most. They will have to take this scarce resource and apply it to those in most need."

Starting at the beginning of the year, the agency will also take a step back from reporting daily case counts after dealing with the pandemic for nearly two years. Piercey said the department needed to let its regular duties and COVID-19 work blend together. As a result, the department will report those numbers weekly along with hospitalizations.

"We need to normalize this into our daily routine," she said. "You will start to see us do more and more of that. You will see a change in the cadence in data reporting frequency. It’s not sustainable in perpetuity. We will report data like we do others. We report weekly flu and covid numbers to the CDC. We will still report COVID-19 hospitalizations and COVID-19 deaths weekly."

For more information about COVID-19, visit the state's website for testing sites and vaccine opportunities.