With many COVID-19 public-health mandates now lifted, Los Angeles County officials this week urged people who may be more vulnerable to severe illness from the virus to continue taking precautions to reduce risk, particularly with growing spread of the latest highly transmissible variant.

Most mask-wearing requirements have been lifted in the county and across the state as infection numbers dwindle, but face coverings are still strongly recommended, particularly for people more at risk.

“With the more infectious BA.2 (variant) circulating and more holiday gatherings in the coming weeks, the millions of residents at elevated risk, including children under the age of 5 who are not yet eligible for the vaccine, should take steps to protect themselves and their families,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement Monday. “Getting vaccinated or boosted, wearing a mask and getting tested before and after gatherings can help keep transmission as low as possible, which is key to protecting our healthcare system and our vulnerable residents.”

The county urged safety precautions for people who are unvaccinated, who are considered immunocompromised, have underlying health conditions or are subject to increased exposure risk due to their job or lifestyle. Officials suggested those people wear high-grade face coverings, get vaccinated and get tested after attending large gatherings.

Officials also urged precautions for people planning to travel or attend family gatherings for Easter, Passover or Ramadan.

Ferrer last week said the highly infectious BA.2 subvariant of COVID-19 was increasing its influence in the county, representing 32 percent of cases that underwent specialized laboratory sequencing to identify strains of the virus for the week ending March 12. That was nearly double the rate from the previous week.

BA.2 has been driving up infection numbers in nations around the world, most notably Australia and parts of Europe.

Ferrer said the strain–an offshoot of the Omicron variant–likely accounts for an even higher percentage of cases locally, since the most recent figures were two weeks old. But she again stressed that the spread of BA.2 has not led to a rise in hospitalizations.

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