A fask mask hangs on a Christmas tree
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COVID 2022

‘Potential winter surge’ leads Santa Cruz County health officials to order use of masks indoors

Citing increasing COVID-19 case and hospitalization rates, Santa Cruz County health officials are ordering the use of masks indoors starting at one minute before midnight Sunday, regardless of vaccination status.

Citing increasing COVID-19 case and hospitalization rates, Santa Cruz County health officials are ordering the use of masks indoors in all business settings as well as in private ones with non-household members starting at one minute before midnight Sunday, regardless of vaccination status.

“Unfortunately, a potential winter surge appears to be a significant threat to the health and safety of our community,” County Health Officer Gail Newel said Friday. “As we look forward to spending time with those we love during the holidays, it is important to protect vulnerable friends and family members by wearing a mask indoors.”

The order applies to both public and private settings — including when non-household members are present. Businesses and government agencies must require mask usage, and post signs stating this at entry points. Those working in a closed room, an office by themselves or with members of their household are not required to wear a mask. Additionally, masks are not required when eating or drinking.

An earlier mask mandate went into effect Aug. 20 and was removed Sept. 29 based on lower transmission rates. Health officials encouraged the use of masks indoors after removing the mandate, but have not required them until now.

Santa Cruz County spokesperson Corinne Hyland said Friday that the current order is the same as the August one “but there is no end date.”

As for the reasoning behind the new order, she said that shortly before Halloween, health officials began to see the county’s “effective reproductive number go above one.”

“This means that for every person getting COVID they are giving it to more than one person,” Hyland said in an email. “This is an indicator of a potential surge.”

County health officials have also encouraged those who are fully vaccinated to get a booster shot. Based on current Santa Cruz Health data, 67.5% of the total county population is fully vaccinated, with 72.3% having received at least one dose. California officials have authorized all adults 18 and older who are fully vaccinated to get the booster.

Those who have received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine can get a third shot six months after getting the second one. Those who received a one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine should get the booster two months afterward. Health officials have said mixing-and-matching the vaccines is fine, and those who want a flu shot do not need to worry about any possible interactions.

And on Thursday, Hyland said vaccine administration data for the 5-11 age group countywide is not yet available, but will be in the next couple of days. As of Nov. 8, 58.7% of 12- to 15-year-olds and 51% of 16- to 19-year-olds had been vaccinated in the county.

More from Newel

Newel told Lookout Friday she had been enthusiastic about the downward COVID-19 case trends since mid-August, but she felt the need to reconsider and reinstitute the mask mandate due to the most recent 14-day change.

“For the first time in a long time, the 14-day change showed an absolute increase in cases, up by 29%,” she said.

In addition, Newel and other county health officials had to evaluate the other metrics and what they showed. More county residents are now getting regularly COVID-19 tested, and Newel said those results have shown sharper increases in positive cases. That combination of data convinced Newel that the county is “with the rest of the state of California and entering a winter surge.”

“We were really hoping to avoid having to do this, and hoping that an increase in cases would be mild. But evidence is pointing contrary to that,” she said.

In addressing the coming Thanksgiving holiday, Newel noted that she was worried about an uptick in cases due to different households’ gathering indoors and traveling to be with loved ones. However, she also said we need to learn to live with this virus, and do our best to be safe.

“If you’re feeling well and vaccinated, we should be out and celebrating with loved ones, but doing so more safely,” she said, encouraging “testing before turkey,” gathering outdoors, and increasing ventilation indoors.

Business and community reaction

When the mandate was removed in late September, almost all schools and government agencies continued to require the use of masks indoors, effectively meaning it only applied to private businesses and retail stores. Local businesses had a mix of policies, which Lookout detailed after the earlier announcement.

After Santa Cruz County health officials lifted the mask mandate late last month, businesses have had to decide whether...

Representatives reached Friday pledged to follow the new rules.

At Pottery Planet in Live Oak, employee Michael Nicholson said the store’s owners have been following the county’s masking guidelines and will put their “mask required” signs back up following the latest mandate.

“The majority of people here already wear masks,” he told Lookout.

And a manager at Berdels Westside surf shop, Joshua Bell, told Lookout that what matters most is each person’s comfort level. At their Westside location, he said employees can easily maintain physical distancing and did so after the mask mandate was dropped in September.

With the reinstatement, Bell said employees put their mask requirement signs back up and follow the guidelines. It does feel like a setback after feeling like infection rates were doing better and now they’ve worsened, according to Bell.

“Hopefully it doesn’t last too long this time,” he said.

Not everyone was in favor of the new rules, though. Tom Davis, co-owner at Pacific Edge Climbing Gym in Seabright, said the gym already instituted a mask option for members based on vaccination status, but he was personally not in favor of the decision.

“The entire COVID process has created more unrest and ill ease than I ever imagined something could — this is just one more thing to keep people on their toes and on edge,” he said.

How to get the vaccine

For school-age children, the Santa Cruz County Office of Education has set up numerous clinics. Details are below:

Hours are Fridays 2:30 to 5 p.m. and Saturdays 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

  • Cabrillo College, Parking Lot K, 6500 Soquel Dr., Aptos
  • PVUSD District Office, 294 Green Valley Rd., Watsonville
  • Santa Cruz COE, 399 Encinal St., Santa Cruz

Both children and adults can can also receive vaccines from CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens. The closest available appointments for the 5 to 11 age group through CVS are in Watsonville and San Jose while Walgreens has appointments in Scotts Valley.

And Paul Angelo, emergency management coordinator for Dominican Hospital, recommends people go to MyTurn.ca.gov for vaccination information.

Dominican Hospital will also host vaccine clinics on Thursdays through at least the end of the year — though not on Thanksgiving or other holidays — for individuals who need a booster or their initial vaccinations. Angelo said interest has increased, with the team capping Thursday’s clinic at 500 individuals.