BA.2 subvariant of COVID-19 increasing in LA County

Although overall COVID-19 case rates remain relatively low, the BA.2 subvariant of the virus was continuing to spread in Los Angeles County, with health officials reporting a sharp rise in the percentage of cases attributed to the offshoot of the Omicron variant, which fueled a winter surge in infections.

According to the county Department of Public Health, the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron accounted for 14.7% of all specially sequenced cases from the week ending March 5 -- more than double the 6.4% rate from the previous week.

Experts have suggested that BA.2 is at least 30% more contagious than the Omicron variant, which was already substantially more easily spread than the original COVID-19 virus.

"Although most of our metrics continue to improve, the county continues to see substantial transmission," county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. "Along with the increasing circulation of the more- infectious BA.2 subvariant, everyone, especially those who are at elevated risk or live with someone at elevated risk, should wear a high-quality mask and get vaccinated and boosted."

RELATED: How many people moved away from Los Angeles in COVID’s 1st full year?

Mask-wearing mandates have been lifted in the county in outdoor and indoor settings, although face coverings remain strongly recommended, particularly for people who are unvaccinated, are at heightened risk of severe illness from the virus or who regularly interact with vulnerable people.

County health officials noted that the growing reach of the BA.2 sub- variant mirrors trends being seen in some East Coast states and in Europe.

The county on Thursday reported 27 new COVID-19 deaths, raising the overall death toll from the virus in the county to 31,561.

RELATED: LA votes to lift COVID vaccine proof requirement, but one hurdle remains

Another 734 infections were also reported, giving the county a cumulative total of 2,827,802 from throughout the pandemic.

According to state figures, there were 351 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Thursday, down from 378 on Wednesday. The number of those patients being treated in intensive care was 52, down from 54 a day earlier.

Get your top stories delivered daily! Sign up for FOX 11’s Fast 5 newsletter. And, get breaking news alerts in the FOX 11 News app. Download for iOS or Android.

According to the county, as of last Thursday, 83% of eligible county residents aged 5 and older had received at least one dose of COVID vaccine, and 75% were fully vaccinated. However, only 30% of children aged 5-11 have been fully vaccinated, the lowest rate of any age group.

Among Black residents, only 55% are fully vaccinated, along with 59% of Latina/o residents, compared to 73% of white residents and 82% of Asians.

Tune in to FOX 11 Los Angeles for the latest Southern California news.