KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — The Centers for Disease Control said there is a 'low' level of COVID-19 transmission in the community for most of Tennessee.
Just four of the state's 95 counties are in the 'medium' range. Every single other one — including all of East Tennessee — remains in the 'low' category.
Still, local health leaders are watching the trends closely. The Knox County Health Department is seeing an average of 70 new confirmed cases a day, up from about 45 a day two weeks ago.
"That's just the tip of the iceberg. It's not a true reflection of the burden of illness in our community," said Roberta Sturm, Director of Communicable and Environmental Disease at KCHD. "But, if we are seeing those numbers increase, it makes sense that those numbers of at-home tests or tests that aren't being reported are increasing as well."
That's why health leaders are using hospitalizations as a benchmark of community spread. The volume of COVID-19 patients is slowly increasing in East Tennessee hospitals and at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
"That comes from people who previously were unvaccinated or didn't complete their vaccination series ... people who didn't get a booster," said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at VUMC. "It's the booster that really provides much more solid protection against severe disease that requires hospitalization."
Most cases doctors are seeing right now are mild. Sturm said that's one reason testing is so important.
"If you have signs and symptoms of a cold, if you have a runny nose, a fever, anything along those lines, don't chance it," she said. "Go take a test, take an at-home test, call your provider."
If you're immunocompromised or at a higher risk, Dr. Schaffner said it's a good time to start wearing masks again.
"This virus hasn't disappeared," he said. "If you're at risk of severe disease, please be cautious while you're having fun."