Quick Take:

County Health Officer Gail Newel announced a mask mandate beginning Friday, Aug. 20 at 11:59 p.m. That puts Santa Cruz County in line with most other neighboring counties of the Bay Area.

JUST IN: A lookout exclusive with Gail Newel

It seemed like it was bound to happen sooner rather than later — especially as other Bay Area counties had re-issued an indoor mask order weeks ago. But indoor masking will officially become a mandatory thing in Santa Cruz County as of Friday.

Santa Cruz County Health Officer Gail Newel issued a statement Thursday afternoon that masks will be mandatory indoors for all individuals regardless of vaccination status.

“While vaccination remains the best and most effective tool in preventing COVID-19, the Delta variant spreads quickly among the unvaccinated and may even be passed between vaccinated persons, although their symptoms are usually mild. Face coverings will provide added protection until everyone is able to be vaccinated, especially children,” Newel said in a statement.

The decision aligns with CDC guidelines regarding communities that have seen transmission levels return to “moderate,” or in this case the yellow phase for Santa Cruz County. The county has seen a rapid increase in Delta variant cases along with notable COVID-19 outbreaks at several businesses and venues throughout the region. In addition, the county had the first COVID-19-related deaths since June earlier this month.

“There’s evidence that it’s slowing down, but we’re waiting for the reproduction rate number to go below one,” county spokesperson Jason Hoppin said. “A lot of people are already wearing masks — compliance on this is really good so far.”

The order differs from Newel’s previous sentiments in two press conferences just last week. With other county health officials on Aug. 12, Newel noted a mask mandate would be difficult to enforce, as those who aren’t currently wearing masks likely wouldn’t do so with the regulation.

Yet, the county has also seen an uptick in daily COVID cases over the last week— which aligns with Newel stating Santa Cruz County has been trending three weeks behind other Bay Area counties.

“Epidemiologists in the state predict we’ll see a peak at the end of August, and that it may be essentially gone by mid-October,” she said last week. “Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito have lagged behind other parts of California, so let’s see how things look in mid to late October.”

The mask mandate goes into effect at midnight Friday. The health department is recommending all businesses have necessary signage at all entry points. Currently, 67.24% of residents in Santa Cruz County have at least one vaccination dose, with 59.53% of the total population fully vaccinated, according to county health department data.

Follow Neil Strebig on: Twitter. A chef-turned-journalist, Neil has a track record for covering the hospitality industry and local businesses. Neil joins Lookout as a Report for America Corps member. Previously...

Grace comes to Lookout from just over the hill, originally from Sunnyvale but with a variety of journalism experience from across the country.After doing her undergrad at Seattle University, Grace earned...