RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — After COVID levels remained fairly low for much of the fall, they’re on the rise again and we’re dealing with a new variant some are dubbing “Kraken.”

The newest COVID variant, XBB.1.5 is spreading across the country.

“It is much more infectious than any of the others,” noted Dr. David Weber, an infectious disease expert with UNC Health.

Weber says this subvariant of omicron is able to more easily escape antibodies from vaccines or previous infection which is why we’re see more people with COVID. Some are sick; others don’t even realize they have it.

Weber explained that UNC Medical center tests patients coming in for procedures or other reasons unrelated to COVID. “Last week 7% of asymptomatic people with no COVID symptoms were positive for COVID,” he noted.

While experts say this new strain may more easily escape our first line of defense, neutralizing antibodies from vaccines or previous infection, that’s not the body’s only way of fighting COVID.

“The good news is  there’s a second line of immune defense that involves what we call cellular immunity; the T-cells kick in that are able to kill infected cells,” Dr. David Montefiori, an infectious disease expert at Duke health explained.

That’s why doctors say vaccines — especially the bivalent booster — still play an important role.

“The vaccines are still working fairly well in terms of preventing serious illness, hospitalizations, and death in most people,” said Montefiori. He added that he does not expect to see the kind of surges that will overwhelm hospitals because so many people have been vaccinated and/or previously infected and have that cellular immunity offering some protection from severe disease.

Still, the sheer number of people getting infected means those numbers are rising.

“Countrywide, we have now surpassed 500 deaths per day,” said Weber. “Imagine losing one or two jumbo jets of people every single day to this disease. That is a horrific toll.”

Some are calling XBB.1.15 “Kraken” after the deadly sea monster found in folklore and mythology. While he urges everyone to take the variant seriously, Dr. Weber says he’s not sure about the moniker.

“It’s not more likely to cause more death; it’s just much more transmissible,” he said. “Not to mention, what do you call the next variant?”