NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists Davidson County as having a ‘high’ Community Level of COVID-19 cases. According to the Nashville Health Department, cases increased by 569 between Wednesday and Friday. The 7-day positivity rate is 20.4% but Metro Health officials have said they preferred that number not to exceed 10%.

“It’s not producing too many hospitalizations, except that more recently, we’ve seen increases in hospitalization, not huge spikes, but nonetheless increases,” said Vanderbilt University Medical Center infectious disease, preventative medicine, and immunization policy expert, Dr. William Schaffner. “That’s clearly because this highly contagious Omicron variant is out there spreading so widely that it’s finding people who are still unvaccinated, we have plenty of them in Tennessee, and also people who are not up to date, they’re still only partially vaccinated. They haven’t taken advantage of the booster.”

He said those are the people who are primarily hospitalized with COVID-19 right now.

“Surely some of these people are on the ventilator because some of them are older and frail and have underlying illnesses or maybe immune-compromised. But by and large, Omicron seems to be causing less severe disease,” Dr. Schaffner explained. “And of course, we’re much better at treating patients earlier. We have antiviral agents that can help. We’re using dexamethasone, that steroid, very early. So we’re managing to prevent many people from meeting the ventilator. This is very different than it was a year and a year and a half ago.”

The Tennessee Health Department reported that 56.8% of people statewide have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 20.8% have a booster dose. In Davidson County, 69.79% of people have at least one vaccine dose and 26.3% have a booster.

“The subvariants —  sort of cousins of the first virus — they’re the ones that are principally out there. The parent Omicron is still out there, but we’re seeing transmission of them all,” said Dr. Schaffner. “Fortunately, our currently available vaccines still do provide pretty solid protection against severe disease with these viruses. So although Omicron and its variants are spreading, that still means we should get vaccinated and complete our vaccination series, if we haven’t gotten that booster.”

We asked Dr. Schaffner how big events like CMA Fest and Bonnaroo could impact transmission.

“Wherever people are gathering in are close together without masks for prolonged periods of time, principally indoors, there will be transmission of the virus here and in other parts of the United States,” he said. “Now, here, we may see an increase in hospitalizations. But a lot of those people are tourists. They’ll probably get on the airplane and take their infections home and spread it further once they get home.”

VUMC announced that considering the rapidly increasing rate of COVID-19 infections in our community and medical center, they’re reimplementing required masking in all indoor, non-clinical areas of VUMC regardless of vaccination status.

“Health care facilities do their best to make sure that we do not infect our patients, or frankly, our patients infect us so we can continue to provide health care. So indeed, back here at Vanderbilt, we’re all putting our masks back on in public places,” he said. “And we’re asking everyone who comes into our medical center. Put your mask back on in order to protect yourself and everyone around you.”

He reminds people that the virus will not simply disappear but we’ve moved from a pandemic to more of an endemic.

“We’re trying to develop a truce with this virus and we’re adjusting the way we go about our daily lives, trying to keep the virus to make as little damage as little illness as possible,” he said. “We’ll have to just keep up with the recommendations.”

Because Nashville is at a high level for transmission, the CDC recommends wearing a mask indoors in public and on public transportation, getting tested if you have symptoms, and if you’re at high risk for severe illness you should consider taking additional precautions.