SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A new variant of COVID-19 called “Arcturus” is now in more than 20 countries, including the United States, according to the World Health Organization.

This new variant XBB.1.16 is a subvariant of the omicron strain and has caused an increase in cases in India and Nepal. Dr. Armando Paez of Baystate Health recommends that people get the updated bivalent vaccine as it covers Omicron variants and sub variants.

“Although the bivalent vaccine is specifically targeting B.4 and B.5. It also offers some protection against the other omicron subvariants,” said Dr. Paez.

The CDC recently updated the vaccine recommendations for those 65 years and older and those with weakened immune systems to help protect people, especially those at high risk from COVID complications. Dr. Paez adds that the vaccine is optional for healthy individuals.

We’re already seeing cases in the U.S. Data from the CDC shows that it makes up about 7.2 percent of new cases starting the week of April 9th.

Charlotte Pasquerella of West Springfield says she had no idea about this new COVID variant, “I’m telling you, I’m going home and I’m going to research it because I thought all of this was over. I thought we don’t have to be wearing masks anymore and we’d be getting our lives back and so on.”

Dr. Paez says this new variant does not change the COVID emergency that is set to end on May 11th. COVID cases have gone down but COVID is still here and it is important to stay up to date with your vaccinations.