Skip to main content

The newest COVID variant XBB.1.5 detected in Minnesota

It's a mutation of two previous omicron subvariants and is believed to be the most transmissible coronavirus variant since the beginning of the pandemic.

The newest COVID variant driving the worry narrative around the globe is called XBB.1.5 and it has been confirmed in Minnesota, albeit at a limited level. 

Minnesota Department of Health officials confirmed to Bring Me The News on Friday that XBB.1.5 has been detected "but in a very limited number of clinical samples to this point." Also known as the "Kraken" variant, XBB.1.5 is believed to be the most transmissible variant to date. 

"What we are learning about this new variant, XBB.1.5, is that it spreads much more easily compared to the previous variants, and almost twice more likely to spread compared to the previous variants," says Dr. Raj Palraj, an infectious diseases specialist with Mayo Clinic Health System.

Palraj said XBB.1.5 can easily attach to a person's nose and throat cells, making it more efficient at infecting and spreading. There is no indication to suggest that it causes more severe symptoms, though its ability to infect people at a higher rate can lead to more hospitalizations, as has been seen in the northeastern U.S. where XBB.1.5 accounts for 75% of all clinically-confirmed cases.

Clinical samples were once believed to be a strong data point to determine how much COVID is circulating in a given location, but with the majority people using home tests it is no longer a trustworthy indicator.

Dr. Caitlyn Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote in her "Force of Infection" blog Jan. 9 that hospitalizations and wastewater are the best data to "judge the latest trends."

Wastewater trends in the latest update from the Metropolitan Council in the Twin Cities metro shows that the amount of coronavirus flowing into the Metro Plant in St. Paul during the week ending Jan. 2 dropped 22% from the previous week, with no mention of XBB.1.5 among the subvariants found in the sewage. 

According to the CDC, XBB.1.5 could overtake BQ.1 variants as the dominant omicron strain in the United States. It accounted for 11.5% of positive tests in the U.S. on Dec. 24, jumped to 18.3% on Dec. 31, and is up to 27.6% through Jan. 7.

The CDC tracks variant prevalence based on geographic regions. Minnesota is in Region 5 with Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. Through Jan. 7, XBB.1.5 accounted for 7.5% of clinically-confirmed COVID cases while BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 were still dominant with a combined 71.3% of all samples. 

Health continues to stress the importance of being vaccinated and staying up to date with booster doses. While vaccinated individuals getting COVID were previously referred to as "breakthrough cases," the new variants are far better at evading vaccine protections than earlier versions. As such, experts now emphasizing that vaccines are most effective at lowering the risk of more severe symptoms and death.

"What we know from the previous variant cycles is that the COVID-19 booster shot helps reduce the risk of severe pneumonia, reduces the risk of getting hospitalized and reduces the risk of death," Palraj said. "We may not be able to prevent infection, but the odds of getting a severe disease is greatly reduced by the vaccination."

Next Up


Two youths seriously injured after being struck by driver in Bloomington

Police say the boy is in a critical condition, while the girl has severe injuries.

Rosedale Center

Two men sentenced for carjacking in Rosedale Center parking lot

Leon Kismit Bell, 49, and Jack Mitchell Piche, 23, were sentenced in U.S. District Court on Jan. 20.

Screen Shot 2023-01-27 at 3.59.30 PM

Police identify White Bear Lake officer shot while serving warrant

The officer is a six-year veteran of the department.

abortion, planned parenthood

Minnesota Senate passes bill codifying abortion into state law

Having already passed in the House, it will now be sent to Gov. Tim Walz for signing into law.

Screen Shot 2023-01-27 at 7.45.44 PM

Tyre Nichols: Initial police version of events bear similarities to George Floyd killing

Memphis PD said Nichols complained of 'shortness of breath' following 'confrontations' with police, who in reality violently beat him.

George Floyd, protest

Twin Cities authorities preparing for community reaction to Tyre Nichols video

The ATF division in St. Paul sent out an alert out of "an abundance of caution."

Screen Shot 2023-01-27 at 2.12.05 PM

Changes at K102's Chris Carr & Company, with Sam Sansevere joining as co-host

She is the daughter of former KQRS morning show personality Bob Sansevere.

Screen Shot 2023-01-27 at 1.16.21 PM

Minneapolis' Royal Foundry Craft Spirits announces closure

The distillery set out to infuse the Minneapolis craft cocktail scene with British flavor.


Shutterfly to cut almost 100 jobs at Shakopee facility

The layoffs are expected to impact multiple positions within the company.



Minnesota's COVID update for the week ending Tuesday, Jan. 3

All eyes on the XBB.1.5 variant taking over the northeastern U.S.


'Hyper-contagious' BA.4, BA.5 COVID variants confirmed in MN

Omicron continues to evolve into a more transmissible virus.


Minnesota health officials watching closely for omicron variant

Health leaders do not yet know how transmissible or severe the new variant is.


Minnesota's COVID-19 update for Friday, February 4

COVID hospitalizations have dipped under 1,300 for the first time in months.

pixabay - covid vaccine record card

Minnesota's COVID-19 update for Thursday, February 3

Hospitalizations have been trending down in the past six weeks.

US Navy Flickr - COVID hospital PPE nurse

Minnesota's COVID-19 update for Thursday, March 24

The latest on Minnesota's response to the coronavirus pandemic.


How the Delta variant is affecting Minnesota's COVID-19 status

The number of cases identified as the Delta variant are rising.