This article has been updated.
At least one in every 33 Nashville residents has an active case of COVID-19, city officials said Monday.
Nashville is experiencing its most drastic surge of COVID-19 cases yet, due in large part to the omicron variant’s rapid spread. City officials gathered Monday to encourage residents to get vaccinated and get booster doses if eligible.
Nashville’s 7-day positivity rate rose to 36.2% as of Monday — an all-time high. Since Jan. 7, Nashville logged 4,685 cases, bringing the city’s active case count to 22,776.
“To put this in perspective, when we were at our worst days with the delta variant, we had 8,500 (active cases), and we’re now nearly three times that number,” Coronavirus Taskforce Chair Dr. Alex Jahangir said during Monday’s news conference.
Those numbers are likely under-reported. The Metro Health Department doesn’t necessarily receive or track the number of people who test positive using an at-home testing kit, Jahangir said.
The omicron variant is more transmissible than past mutations of COVID-19, and has quickly become the most dominant strain of the virus in the state and the nation. Evidence suggests omicron may cause less severe illness, especially in people who are vaccinated.
But omicron’s capacity to infect large swaths of people has healthcare professionals wary of its potential to overwhelm hospitals already stretched thin after nearly two years battling COVID-19.
Of the 707 patients in Nashville-area hospitals with COVID-19, about 165 are in the ICU, Jahangir said. This a smaller percentage of patients sick with COVID-19 who require intensive care, but hospitals are still canceling non-emergency surgeries to ensure care for those critically ill patients.
“A smaller percentage of a really large number is still a lot of people ending up in our hospitals,” he said.
The population most likely to end up in the hospital are the unvaccinated, Jahangir, Mayor John Cooper and Metro Director of Health Dr. Gill Wright said.
‘Please get your booster’
In Davidson County, 67.8% of residents have received at least one vaccine dose, and 62.9% are fully vaccinated.
Fewer than 168,000 residents have received a booster dose, and “that number needs to go way up in the coming weeks,” Cooper said.
While not everyone is eligible for a booster dose, the qualifications are expansive. Wright said though fewer people seem to be falling seriously ill from the omicron variant, being vaccinated can nearly double an individual’s protection against the disease or lessen its severity.
“If you are part of that large percent of individuals eligible for a booster, please get your booster,” Wright said.
Over a two-and-a-half week period from mid-December to early January, about 70% of new infections, 78% of hospitalizations and 83% of deaths in Tennessee occurred among the unvaccinated, according to the Department of Health.
Officials also encourage residents to stay home if they feel sick or test positive for COVID-19. Individuals who have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 should get tested and stay home until they receive a negative test.
Omicron symptoms are described as similar to a cold or flu: runny nose, congestion, cough, fever and muscle aches.
Wright said “mitigation measures are even more important now,” and encouraged residents to continue social distancing practices, get vaccinated if they haven’t already and use masks — preferably surgical or N95 masks.
Testing, staffing updates
Cooper said last week that he would reinstate a mask mandate in city buildings if he could, but his hands are tied by state legislation passed last year restricting local mask mandate authority.
The new law blocks local officials from mandating masks in government buildings or otherwise unless the governor declares a state of emergency and COVID-19 is spreading above a high threshold in that county.
Nashville is well above that threshold, but Gov. Bill Lee has yet to declare another state of emergency. Lee allowed his previous emergency declaration to expire in November.
The Nashville Fire Department has 121 employees off work due to COVID-19, including employees who have tested positive and those who were exposed to people who tested positive.
About 250 of Metro Nashville Public Schools’ roughly 10,000 employees reported new COVID cases last week, and another 80 reported being in quarantine as of Jan. 9. Metro police have 58 of their 1,900 employees out, and the Nashville Department of Transportation has 10 employees at home out of its total 294.
Test demand ballooned before the holidays as people made plans to visit family and attend events requiring negative tests, and is anticipated to grow well into January. The city and its partners added more lanes to current sites and expanded testing and vaccination services to Saturdays through the month of January in response to the onslaught of people in need of tests.
The city’s testing sites test an average of 1,600 people per day and administer around 90 vaccines per day. Around 30% of the people served at Nashville’s sites are from nearby counties, according to Nashville Fire Chief William Swann.
Reporter Brett Kelman and Meghan Mangrum contributed.
Reach reporter Cassandra Stephenson at email@example.com or at (731) 694-7261. Follow Cassandra on Twitter at @CStephenson731.