NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The rise in COVID-19 cases in Middle Tennessee has a Vanderbilt ICU doctor on edge. He says the problem stretches further than a lack of hospital beds.

The problems is also a possible lack of staff to care for sick patients.

“The last 7-10 days or so we’ve seen increased numbers from Davidson and Williamson County coming in through our own emergency department,” says Dr. Todd Rice, the director of Vanderbilt’s Medical Intensive Care Unit. He added, “That’s in the ICU. The hospital [cases] are higher than that. Maybe 4 or 5 times that and obviously going up.”

Dr. Rice says staff there faces two challenges. “It’s a double hit. You get hit with more cases, but you also get hit from fewer people now to take care of those cases.”

It’s a problem people may not consider. “As the number of cases increases in our community, the number of our employees that are positive also increases,” he says.

That forces a team of specialized professionals to stay home. “We’ve had shortages of our nurses, and our nurse practitioners, and our respiratory therapists, because unfortunately, even if they’re vaccinated, and they’ve tested positive, they’re out of work for 10 days.”

Dr. Rice says while the virus is keeping people extremely ill to the point of isolation that’s not its intent because it actually needs its host to stay alive for it to thrive.

“From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s bad for the virus to kill people because the virus doesn’t spread as well. So what’s ideal for a virus is to make you sick – cough sneeze because that’s what spreads the virus, but not isolate or kill you,” he explains.

He hopes further mutations will be less severe. “We haven’t seen all of that with COVID, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we deal with this virus for a long long time.” He adds, “But, it starts to become more like the common cold. Other than something that’s hospitalizing a lot of people.”

Until then, he braces for another wave of COVID patients.

Because of staffing shortages at Vanderbilt, some elective procedures are being postponed – like they were in 2020.