Quick Take:

On Thursday, the Santa Cruz County Health Department announced a decline in positive COVID-19 cases and gave an update on when the county could move into the orange tier.

Santa Cruz can enjoy some good COVID-19 news 一 a substantial decline in positive cases, moving the county toward the orange from the red tier.

During a news conference Thursday, Santa Cruz County Health Officer Gail Newel discussed current trends and community impacts.

“We’re making great ground with our Delta surge,” she said. “Santa Cruz County is seeing a decline in current Delta cases.”

Earlier this week, Santa Cruz County briefly entered into the orange tier before moving back into the red tier, she said. Over the past seven days, more than 200 cases have been reported in Santa Cruz County with around 10 hospitalizations, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Still, Newel said the county has seen daily cases decrease by nearly half, falling from 60 daily cases to the mid-30s. The county is hovering close to entering into the orange tier, or substantial community transmission rate, which is designated as 50 to 100 cases per 100,000 residents per week.

“We have ways to go to yellow,” she said. “Very few counties in the state have moved out of red.”

Two-thirds of California counties are in the red tier, though neighboring Monterey County is in the yellow tier, the second-to-lowest level of transmission in the rubric.

If cases continue to decrease locally once Santa Cruz reaches the orange tier, the county would then move into the yellow tier, which would rescind the current indoor mask mandate. The mandate was reimplemented on Aug. 19. The health department is continuing to encourage vaccination among residents as the main way to reduce the spread of the Delta variant and continue seeing a downward trend in reported cases and hospitalizations.

Deputy Health Officer David Ghilarducci said that 69.7% of the eligible population has at least one dose of the vaccine, less than 1% away from its targeted goal.

“Our goal is to reach 70%,” he said. “Vaccination really is our only path out of the pandemic.”

Ghilarducci noted that the fully vaccinated rates for the 30-and-over demographic have been well above 60%; however, vaccination rates for residents aged 16 to 19 are within 46% to 47%.

Newel acknowledged that the county has seen higher transmission rates in schools during after-school and extracurricular activities such as sports. She is recommending that both students and observers continue to wear masks while attending and participating in events.

Last month, the first Santa Cruz County reported its first COVID-19-related deaths since June. Both were reported in unvaccinated individuals, and Newel confirmed during Thursday’s news conference that hospitalizations continue to decline along with reported positive cases.

The county is continuing its pop-up vaccination clinics throughout the region, including clinics Friday at the Watsonville Farmer’s Market at 2:30 p.m and public vaccinations at the Santa Cruz Food Lounge near 11th Hour Coffee from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m.

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...