A family walks on a Santa Cruz County beach in masks.
A family walks on a Santa Cruz County beach in masks.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
COVID 2021

OK to ditch that mask? What Santa Cruz County officials want you to know ahead of Tuesday’s reopening

It will be back to normal for most businesses indoors and out as California lifts COVID-related restrictions on its economy Tuesday, with masks not required in most situations for vaccinated individuals -- though Santa Cruz County officials reminded that private establishments are still allowed to mandate them.

With California set to lift COVID-related restrictions on virtually every sector of the economy Tuesday, Santa Cruz County health officials gave an update Monday on local COVID-19 cases and regulations. Here’s a brief overview of the main changes for the general public:

  • Businesses can return to normal operations indoors and outdoors, with the exception of “mega events” of 5,000 or more indoors and 10,000 or more outdoors.
  • Masks are not required for fully vaccinated individuals, except in the following situations:
    • Public transit
    • Indoors in K-12 schools and other child care settings
    • Health care and long-term care facilities
    • Correctional facilities and detention centers
    • Homeless and emergency shelters
  • Masks continue to be required for unvaccinated individuals in indoor public settings and businesses.
  • Private businesses can choose to continue to require customers to wear masks, and they are not allowed to offer incentives or special treatment to encourage customers to remove masks.

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New guidance that could allow fully vaccinated workers to go without masks in most workplaces and end social distancing requirements for most workers could come Thursday.

Local officials reminded the public during Monday’s news conference that while the pandemic is entering a new phase, this is likely not the final chapter.

“The pandemic is certainly not over, but I’m looking forward to a very healthy and happy summer here in the county of Santa Cruz,” county health officer Dr. Gail Newel said. She cautioned residents to “remember that we are just one small community in the midst of a global pandemic, and many other communities around the world are suffering immensely now.”

Deputy health officer Dr. David Ghilarducci and health services director Mimi Hall noted that despite significant progress in vaccine distribution, many people in the community have not been vaccinated, which could become a vulnerability if local infection numbers begin to rise again. Even now, with very low case numbers, unvaccinated individuals in Santa Cruz County continue to fall ill, and one unvaccinated person died of COVID-19 over the weekend.

“We think in the fall, we may see some clusters of cases and continued disease and death,” Ghilarducci said. “There continues to be an equity mismatch that those who are the least advantaged in our community continue to have lower vaccination rates — although I will say in Santa Cruz County we’ve made some tremendous progress in trying to get some equity.”

Ghilarducci said that vaccination rates have fallen from a high of about 3,200 per day to about 912, and Hall pointed out that many unvaccinated people are members of disadvantaged groups that have been the most vulnerable throughout the pandemic.

“Today we’re looking behind us, [at] all the success that we’ve had, but also the loss that we’ve experienced, and we’re looking ahead,” Hall said. “Our work definitely isn’t over. There are many, many more months of work for us to do.”

Other key points from Monday’s update:

Local vaccination numbers

  • Ghilarducci said that 73.5% of eligible Santa Cruz County residents have received at least one shot. “This is a remarkable number,” he said, adding that it “makes a huge difference in terms of our ability to control those going forward.”

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Variants in Santa Cruz County

  • The “Delta” variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 has become a global cause for concern, with scientists believing it to be more transmissible. This variant has not been detected in Santa Cruz yet, although it is “probably just a matter of time,” Ghilarducci said. “We know it’s in the Bay Area.” So far, the most common variants detected in Santa Cruz have been the “West Coast variant” — also called the B.1.427 or B.1.429 variant — and the B.1.1.7. variant believed to have originated in the United Kingdom.

Shifting vaccination efforts

  • The county is moving away from mass vaccination and has shut down the fairgrounds vaccination clinic. ”Our efforts now are directed more to targeted groups, so we have pop-up clinics in certain areas like the swap meet at the fairgrounds,” Ghilarducci said. “Generally speaking we need to get to the point where these kinds of activities are then taken up by our health care system.”

Watch the full news conference below: