DES MOINES, Iowa — As Iowans have been ringing in the new year, they’ve also seen the rise of a new COVID-19 variant. The World Health Organization recently called the XBB.1.5 variant the most transmissible strain of the virus.

MercyOne Infectious Disease Consultant Dr. Aneesa Afroze said XBB.1.5 is a subvariant of COVID-19’s Omicron strain. She called the new variant the most “fit” she’s seen.

She also said people shouldn’t panic. Unlike with previous battles with new variants, this time there’s much more immunity throughout the population as many have either had the virus or are vaccinated and boosted.

“It may cause illness but the illness probably won’t be as severe,” Afroze said. “We probably won’t see as many deaths as we’ve seen in the past. So I think the severity of illness with be low. I think the death rate will be low. We may have an increase in surges but the surges will be well controlled because of the immunity in the population.”

She said the best way for people to protect themselves is to get vaccinated and boosted if they haven’t already.

Afroze also said people don’t need to start wearing masks in most situations. She does recommend masking in large groups where someone is elderly or immunocompromised.