NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The last two winters brought surges in COVID cases and hospitalizations throughout the US. As temperatures drop, concern about an increase in cases over the next few months continues to grow in Middle Tennessee.

Dr. William Schaffner, a Professor of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt, says that what’s happening in Europe right now may indicate what’s to come in the US, “Europe is often about a month ahead of us here. So we’ve seen this increase in COVID already occurring in several European countries, and that may be a preview of coming attractions, right? And we can anticipate that we’ll get an increase here also.”

New variants of COVID are also something many have questions about. Still, Dr. Schaffner says there aren’t any variants of concern at the moment, “We certainly know that omicron can create variants. And the dominant variant, now the dominant mutation out there, is one we call BA.5, and that’s very well covered in the vaccine. It will continue to create other variants. And the World Health Organization is watching that around the globe. But so far, although there are variants of what we call in public health variants of interest, they’re not yet variants of concern.”

The newest boosters for COVID do offer protection against the most common COVID variants, but a slow uptake of these boosters in Middle Tennessee is a concern.

“We Tennessee Volunteers aren’t volunteering enough. We need to come forward and get this vaccine, and around the country, I must say, there is a certain amount of vaccine fatigue and wanting to get beyond COVID,” said Dr. Schaffner. “We’ve got a lot of other things on our minds. But let’s make sure that we’re as healthy as we can be. And we don’t want to spread this virus to our families and to others in the community.”

COVID isn’t the only respiratory virus out there this time of year. Flu is also a big concern, and you’ll need to get tested to see which virus you have if you get sick.  

“Should you become ill yourself, please pick up the phone or email your provider, they may want to test you, because we have medications, whether for COVID or for flu, that can help prevent development of severe disease. But we’ll have to find out which is which, in order to give you the right medicine.”

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Dr. Schaffner also encourages people to mask up, “Particularly older people, people with underlying illnesses. Diabetes, for example, is so common, heart disease, lung disease, people who are immune compromised, pregnant women, you’ll see those folks putting back on their masks because they want to be as protected as possible. That’s really good advice. And remember, we shouldn’t give those folks a hard time. They have a reason. Maybe they’re caring for someone who’s very ill at home.”