NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The fear at family gatherings this holiday comes in the form of a new COVID-19 variant that has infiltrated the area explains Vanderbilt infectious disease doctor, William Schaffner.

“All the variants of real concern have occurred elsewhere, and then have been imported here,” Dr. Schaffner said.

Now circulating in Nashville, the omicron variant, which a study suggests could multiply 70 times more effectively in the nose and throat than the delta variant making it that much more contagious.

“It looks as though omicron may become the dominant variant here, and all over the United States, perhaps as early as the middle of January,” Schaffner said.

It’s the number of omicron break though cases that give doctors pause explained Dr. Alex Jahangir who sits on the Metro Nashville Coronavirus Task Force.

“That is something that obviously gives some people anxiety here,” Dr. Jahangir said. “But I think the key take-home message here is that the person did not have to be hospitalized.”

Schaffner said it’s unclear how the omicron variant will affect unvaccinated individuals.

“We don’t have enough experience yet to say whether we can comfort you and say it’s going to be less severe. We’re still worried that it can put you into the hospital the way delta is doing for the most part right now,” he said.

This is why Dr. Schaffner urges families to gather smartly this holiday season.

“I think there should be a rule, you can come if you’re vaccinated. In addition, if we want another layer of protection, everybody who gathers could be tested that morning. And if we’re all negative, then we can relax and really celebrate.”