An employee and patrons wearing masks at Greater Purpose Brewing Company.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Masks off again: Santa Cruz County to align with state next week as Omicron tapers off

Vaccinated individuals will no longer be required to wear masks indoors as of next Wednesday; the mandate remains in place for those who haven’t been vaccinated and in K-12 schools, health care settings and on public transit.

With the Omicron surge seemingly dissipating, Santa Cruz County is joining Bay Area neighbors in relaxing COVID-19 masking rules as of next Wednesday, Feb. 16.

Vaccinated individuals will no longer need to wear masks in most indoor settings, though they will continue to be required in K-12 schools and daycare, health care facilities and on public transit. Anyone over 2 who hasn’t yet gotten a COVID vaccine must still wear a mask under the new guidelines.

Private businesses can still require patrons to wear masks.

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“Omicron was an immense stress test on our system, and although it presented many difficulties because of the sheer number of people who became infected, the partnerships that have been built over the course of the pandemic allowed for increased testing, vaccinations and boosters,” Santa Cruz County Health Officer Gail Newel said in a news release Wednesday. “We as a community know how we can prevent severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths. We want people to continue to be cautious and layer their defenses through masking and other measures when the situation requires to protect family, friends and the community. Being vaccinated and boosted remains the best protection against future variants of the virus.”

The order announced Wednesday will align Santa Cruz County with the state of California as a whole after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced earlier this week that the state’s mask mandate would expire next Tuesday.

Newel had reinstituted indoor masking guidelines in November, citing the “significant threat” of a winter surge ahead of the holiday season.

Even as indoor mask orders in Santa Cruz County and across the state are set to expire next week, health officials are...

Changes in the state’s mask guidance for schools are coming soon, per Wednesday’s news release, with the California Department of Public Health promising new policies in the weeks ahead.

COVID case rates in Santa Cruz County have declined to a seven-day average of 117 per day as of Monday, per county data, after hitting an average of 1,263 on Jan. 20. Hospitalizations have also begun to decrease.

While San Mateo, Monterey and San Benito counties are among the Santa Cruz neighbors implementing new guidelines next week (along with Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, Solano and Sonoma counties), Santa Clara County plans to stick with indoor masking for the time being.

Santa Clara County’s continued high case rate has Health Officer Sara Cody standing pat, she said Wednesday.

“Ultimately, our job is to follow the science to keep our community as safe as possible,” Cody told the San Jose Mercury News. “We cannot lift the indoor mask requirement with the community transmission rates as high as they are now.”

Health officials continue to urge vaccines and booster shots, as well as masking up in crowded settings and areas with poor ventilation. Masks should be N95, KN95 or a double layer of cloth over a surgical mask.