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Dr. Gill Wright addresses the Metro Council meeting Tuesday to discuss omicron numbers.

The number of omicron cases has quadrupled in the past two weeks in Nashville, and while hospitalizations have also surged, the patient counts may be misleading.

The omicron variant has quadrupled in the number of active cases in the past two weeks in Nashville, but this hasn’t been reflected in hospitalization numbers.

Dr. Gill Wright of the Metro Public Health Department addressed the Metro Council meeting Tuesday to discuss omicron numbers.

“As many as half the cases we’re seeing in the hospitals are not there for COVID themselves, but they’re incidental,” Wright said. “They had a heart attack, they had a stroke, they were in a car accident, they need to be in the hospital. They were tested because everyone that goes into the hospital is tested. They were found to have COVID, not a lot of symptoms.”

The omicron variant is more infectious than the alpha or delta variant and spreads rapidly. Fifty percent to 75% of Nashville’s COVID-19 cases are omicron. The positivity rate of cases has risen from 9.1% to 34.4% in two weeks, and the case rate per 100,000 has increased to 154.5.

“We’re seeing it, but it’s not overflowing the hospitals and making them, at this point, a problem for them,” Wright said.

Wright said he thinks omicron may peak sooner than previous variants.

“It will probably be over and start to decline fairly quickly, maybe the middle of February, hopefully a little quicker,” he said. “We are going to see a lot of cases for the time being.”

Wright told Main Street Nashville that his speculation is based on worldwide data and national models, but it’s too early to tell for sure.

“Omicron is so new that we don’t know for sure that it is less virulent,” he said. “Each virus is different as far as how quickly they weaken. It is based on virology. We always hope that viruses weaken over time.”

Omicron’s symptoms also appear less severe than those with alpha and delta. One study showed that the variant remained in the upper respiratory system and not in the lungs, which may have reduced the severity of the illness.

“It does appear to be less severe than what we’ve seen with some of our others … at least in some of the mammals (mice) they’ve been testing it in,” Wright said. “We need more studies, but that may account for why it seems to be less severe, not causing pneumonia and some of the other things.”

Wright said the symptoms are what you would expect from the cold or the flu. A sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches and low-grade fevers are common.

Severe COVID symptoms, such as the loss of taste or smell, high fevers and shortness of breath, are less common omicron symptoms.

Mortality rates for omicron are not available at the moment, according to Wright.

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