SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — The holiday season may be winding down but between travel and gatherings health experts say COVID is now ramping up and the emergence of a new strain of could speed things up even further.

As health experts brace for COVID-19 cases to continue to climb after a record-breaking holiday travel season, a new offshoot of the omicron variant is causing concern.

“People are starting to get a little sicker and we’re starting to see more people in the hospital,” said Dr. Tim Connelly, an Internal Medicine doctor from Memorial Health.

The new strain XBB.1.5 variant hasn’t been around long but already estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show it’s responsible for many of the new infections we’re seeing across the U.S. 

“The thing that’s making the XBB take over so quickly is the fact the genetic distance of this particular variant is very far from the original COVID,” Connelly said. 

Connelly of memorial health says this means unless you’ve received the new bivalent booster you likely aren’t as protected against these newer strains.

“People that received the original vaccine don’t have as much protection against this new variant, in fact really only those people that got the bivalent vaccine are really showing any protective and significant numbers with this new variant, so it is spreading very quickly,” Connelly said. 

Connelly said so far the XBB.1.5 variant isn’t making people as sick as the early COVID variants but that it is showing some concerning similarities.

“We’re seeing a small number of people that have the lung findings that we saw two years ago with COVID and that’s concerning for us,” Connelly said. “Those small percentage of people that are actually having breathing problems, like we have three people right now on a ventilator with COVID, that is somewhat concerning, that there is the possibility that we’re seeing this new XBB variant that could potentially, and we can’t say for sure, cause more problems.”