SANTA CRUZ (BCN) – Santa Cruz County will require residents to wear a face covering indoors regardless of their vaccination status following a health order issued Thursday by the county’s health officer.

The health order, which goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. Friday, is the result of rising COVID-19 case and hospitalization rates across the county, particularly among unvaccinated residents, as well as the prevalence of the ultra-contagious Delta variant.

“While vaccination remains the best and most effective tool in preventing COVID-19, the Delta variant spreads quickly among the unvaccinated and may even be passed between vaccinated persons, although their symptoms are usually mild,” county Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel said in a statement. “Face coverings will provide added protection until everyone is able to be vaccinated, especially children.”

According to county officials, the mandate will remain in effect until the county’s community transmission rate, as determined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, returns to “moderate,” rather than its current state of “high transmission.”

As recently as last week, Newel had expressed a desire to avoid a new indoor mask mandate even as much of the Bay Area issued its own masking orders, arguing that those who are already unvaccinated and not wearing a mask are unlikely to comply with a new mandate.

County officials have noted that the current wave of cases locally has different contours than previous waves as a majority of new cases are among residents ages 25 to 50, who are less likely than other eligible age groups to be vaccinated and more likely to congregate with others.

Under Newel’s order, local businesses and government entities will be required to post clearly visible signage about the mask requirement indoors.

Workers will also be required to wear a face covering indoors unless they work at home or in a closed room or office by themselves or with members of their family.

Masks will not be required indoors in a handful of contexts, including while eating, drinking and swimming.

As of Thursday, 17,663 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed countywide, including 209 deaths.

Roughly 824 known cases of the virus remain active in Santa Cruz County.

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