On Friday, Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel issued a health order requiring individuals to wear a face covering when indoors, regardless of their vaccination status.
The order, effective at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, cites an increase in COVID-19 cases and an increase in hospitalizations ahead of the holidays and winter months.
“Unfortunately, a potential winter surge appears to pose a significant threat to the health and safety of our community,” Newel said in a prepared statement.
Masks should be worn in private places, including your home, when non-household members are present, the county noted. Newel said this was to protect vulnerable friends and family members.
To help ensure compliance, all businesses and government entities are called upon to require employees to wear masks and post visible, easy-to-read signs about masking at all entry points to indoor environments. Newel told the Sentinel Friday afternoon that entities must do so by Monday morning.
When alone, Santa Cruzans do not need to wear a mask in a room or office as long as it is only used by them or members of their household.
The county also does not expect residents to wear masks during indoor activities in which it is logistically difficult, such as eating, drinking, swimming, showering in a fitness center or when obtaining medical or cosmetic services.
“If you are gathering with extended family and friends, especially those who have traveled from outside the region or are unvaccinated, caution is advised,” Newel said, adding that people who don’t want to wear a face covering can also gather outdoors. . “We want to try to get used to the idea of living with this virus and getting back to some sort of normalcy in activities, including being able to get together with people we love and not having to hold ourselves back from our children, our grandchildren or our grandparents.”
Newel said there is no expiration date for this order, but his team will closely monitor three metrics to determine when it is appropriate to cancel the order: case rate, reproduction count of the virus and the test positivity rate. The reproductive number determines the number of individuals per infected person who catch COVID-19 from it – or, in other words, community transmission.
“Those are the three main things to watch, but our big concern is also to save lives, so we will be watching for deaths and, additionally, the impacts on our health care system,” Newel said. “There’s been a pretty significant increase in hospitalizations over the last week to two weeks.”
Just across the border from Santa Cruz County, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday suspended an order requiring people to wear masks inside the county, citing unreliable federal health data .
In a 3-2 vote, supervisors decided to end the order after County Administrative Officer Charles McKee informed them that Monterey County still had ‘substantial’ transmission according to the data from the CDC, the Monterey Herald reported. McKee suggested he doesn’t trust the CDC numbers over local tracking of COVID-19.
This isn’t the first time Monterey and Santa Cruz counties seem to be on a different page — or even pulled from a different book. Some levels of divergence may be related to varying transmission rates. For example, Santa Cruz County’s COVID-19 transmission rate was moderate when it dropped its last indoor mask mandate in late September. But Monterey County’s mask mandate was flagged by a substantial transmission rate in early November.
Today, the county finds itself in the position of Monterey County with numbers far higher than when the last term was overturned. Sentinel records show that at that time, the CDC reported that Santa Cruz County had 121 new cases of COVID-19 over a seven-day period at that time.
To improve local numbers, Newel said, the key remains vaccination. On Friday, the CDC announced that everyone 18 and older who is six months away from their second Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or two months away from their Johnson & Johnson vaccine is eligible for a booster shot.
“When I help family members (find appointments), if you increase the mileage, there are often openings at the CVS Pharmacy in Felton and the vaccination center in Watsonville. The vaccination center takes walk-in appointments and often has open ones,” the health official said.
For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine and a list of vaccine providers, visit santacruzhealth.org. For more information about COVID-19, visit santacruzhealth.org/coronavirus or call 831-454-4242 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
By the numbers
Total number of cases: 20,721
Active cases: 455
Current intensive care hospitalizations: 0
Current hospitalizations: 9
Intensive care beds open: 3
Negative tests: 222,522