WORCESTER, Mass. - A new variant of COVID-19 discovered in South Africa is spreading and a local doctor says there are a number of mutations in this one and it could become the primary variant going forward.

Omicron has led at least 44 countries including the U.S. to impose travel restrictions from several African countries. There are currently no known cases in the U.S., but UMass Memorial Health internal medicine specialist, Dr. Robert Klugman, says there's a high chance there will be.

Dr. Klugman says it's being monitored in other countries to see if it makes patients more severely ill or if it's more contagious. Dr. Klugman says his message to the community is now is not the time to let our guard down.

"Use your masks, distance and think carefully about where you go, what you do and who your with because you can still catch and pass the delta variant and likely you'll be able to catch and pass this omicron variant as well," Dr. Klugman said. "So if you give it to sicker people with more immunocompromised, the elderly people with obesity, diabetes other medical problems they can get very sick and die even if they've been vaccinated."

Dr. Klugman says its unknown how much protection the COVID vaccine will have against this variant, but says he's sure it will provide some protection.