It was mask off, mask on Wednesday morning on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
COVID 2021

Masks off: Santa Cruz health officials remove mandate

After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moved Santa Cruz County to its second-lowest COVID-19 transmission tier, yellow, local officials rescinded the county’s indoor mask mandate Wednesday. They continue to recommend the use of masks, however.

Santa Cruz County lifted its mask mandate Wednesday amid decreasing community transmission levels of COVID-19.

According to the county’s public health division, masks are still strongly recommended for indoor public spaces. The lifted mask mandate does not affect the state of California’s face-covering rules, which require unvaccinated individuals to wear them. Masks will still be required indoors at K-12 institutions and on public transit, among other places, and businesses, venues and organizations can continue to require their use by policy.

“Face coverings and vaccinations continue to be the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect yourself and loved ones from infection,” the health agency wrote in a news release.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its COVID-19 Data Tracker to show that Santa Cruz County has moderate, or yellow, transmission levels. Over the past seven days, the county saw 121 positive COVID-19 cases — a 73% drop-off from the previous seven days.

According to county spokesperson Jason Hoppin, the lower transmission rates are largely due to the county’s high vaccination rates. The CDC reported that 76.1% of the county’s eligible population — people over 12 — currently has had at least one shot, with 68.1% fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Hoppin also attributed the low transmission rates to the county’s “strong measures” against COVID, including masking and social distancing.

Ben Amago of Blue Heron Farms at the downtown farmers market
At the downtown farmers market Wednesday, Ben Amago of Blue Heron Farms said despite the move to the yellow tier, he and his colleagues will still wear masks when the market is open and they are interacting with customers.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“Part of this is just a natural disease cycle,” he added, noting that COVID-19 case numbers are known to ebb and flow.

In addition to strongly recommending masking indoors and in crowded spaces, the county suggests continuing to practice social distancing and, for those who haven’t already, getting a vaccine. The county also strongly encourages people to get a flu vaccine, as flu season and winter approach.

“We don’t quite know what the winter will hold yet,” Hoppin said. “Obviously there’s the possibility of yet another spike (of COVID-19).”

Santa Cruz is one of seven California counties — all in the Bay Area or on the Central Coast — that has moderate transmission levels. Most of the state has high or substantial transmission levels.

California and Connecticut have the lowest community transmission rates among all U.S. states, as overall the two have substantial — or orange — case levels, while the rest of the country has high — or red — levels of community transmission.

Laura Godinez and Victor Rodriguez of San Jose walk with Maxx Rodriguez, 2.
Laura Godinez and Victor Rodriguez of San Jose walk with Maxx Rodriguez, 2, in downtown Santa Cruz on Sept. 29, 2021. Despite the lifting of the mask mandate, the couple said they feel more comfortable wearing masks in crowds.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“I’m relieved (wearing a mask) is not required anymore,” said Phillip Montgomery, a new Capitola resident who said he will wear a mask when it’s required but prefers not to.

But, Hoppin said, while Santa Cruz County’s low transmission rates and mask mandate being lifted are causes for celebration, “We’re not at the finish line quite yet.”


FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this story misstated the percentage of residents who are fully vaccinated.