Quick Take:

With COVID-19 cases rising in Santa Cruz County, as they are statewide and nationally, the county’s top health officials joined neighboring counties in asking residents to return to wearing masks in indoor public spaces regardless of vaccination status.

Get those masks back on indoors, Santa Cruzans — yes, even if you’re fully vaccinated.

With COVID-19 cases rising in the county — following a state and national pattern — that was the recommendation Monday from Santa Cruz County health officials, who joined counterparts in neighboring Monterey and San Benito counties, plus Napa County, in urging residents to mask up in indoor public spaces.

“Out of an abundance of caution, people are recommended to wear masks indoors in places like grocery or retail stores, theaters, and family entertainment centers, even if they are fully vaccinated,” the officials said in a news release that came on the heels of similar action Friday from other counties in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Businesses are urged to adopt universal masking requirements for customers entering indoor areas of their businesses to provide better protection to their employees and customers,” the release added. “This will also make it easier for businesses to be sure unvaccinated people are masked.”

Monday’s action doesn’t go as far as that of Los Angeles County, where an order requiring masks indoors in public settings went into effect over the weekend.

Santa Cruz County health data showed Monday that just over 59% of the total population has been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, with nearly 68% having had at least one shot. The total population figure includes children under 12, who are not yet eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Being fully vaccinated affords great protection from serious illness, including from the highly contagious Delta variant, which accounted for 43% of all specimens sequenced in California last month, the release said.

Local businesses seemed to be taking the latest twist in the masking saga in stride, though with some trepidation about pushback from customers.

Megan Arnett, manager at Java Junction's Seabright location
“As a personal preference, I would like to see more people wearing masks,” said Megan Arnett, manager at Java Junction’s Seabright location. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

Megan Arnett, manager at Java Junction’s Seabright location, said Monday’s recommendation wasn’t a big surprise in light of a weekend conversation about rising COVID numbers with a regular who works at Dominican Hospital, who hinted that staff and customers alike might want to think about wearing masks indoors again.

“My fear with going back to requiring [masks] is that you have other people who have gotten used to not wearing masks, and who were at the point where they could come in here and didn’t have to wear a mask,” Arnett told Lookout’s Kevin Painchaud. “Now we’re going to be asking them to put it on again, I feel like there’s going to be some resistance there, especially with people coming from out of town.”

Joshua Baldwin, assistant manager at Ace Hardware’s downtown Santa Cruz location, said he’d seen some resistance to masks previously from even vaccinated customers but that his store would abide by the county’s latest recommendation.

“It’s kind of early to tell if you don’t have any real structured mandates yet like we’ve had before,” he told Lookout’s Kevin Painchaud, “but I think we all believe here that if it’s going to help, we’re going to go along with it.”

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