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County Mask Recommendation A Dilemma For Businesses

Jerimiah Oetting
New signs outside of Shopper's Corner Market in Santa Cruz alert customers to their revived mask requirement.

The freshly printed sign taped to the brick wall of Shopper’s Corner Market in Santa Cruz says it all: masks are required. On Monday, Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito joined a growing list of counties across California that are urging people to, once again, wear mask indoors.

But the recommendation isn’t a mandate. Andre Beauregard, the third generation owner of Shopper's Corner, said requiring his customers to wear masks again was a difficult step to take.

“It sucks to take a step backward. But everyone's got to feel safe,” Beauregard said. “Not everyone is going to be happy no matter what you do.”

The delta variant dimmed California’s bright outlook from early summer. The variant is more than twice as transmissible as the original COVID-19 strain. Scientists estimate it is responsible for 83% of new infections in the United States.

Health officials from 17 counties in California have recommended that people wear masks in indoor public spaces, regardless of their vaccination status. But only Los Angeles County has issued a mandate.

Beauregard said that leaves it to individuals to decide whether to mask up — and forces businesses to decide whether to return to mask requirements.

“There's not a mandate enforcing it,” he said. “At least we had that before, where we could be like, ‘Hey, this is a rule.’”

Santa Cruz County health officials say its too early for a mandate, but the recommendation was based on climbing COVID-19 cases, stagnant vaccination rates, and the threat of the delta variant.

At a press conference on Thursday, Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel said the delta variant is currently responsible for at least 11 COVID-19 cases in the county. She emphasized that vaccinations are the safest way to avoid increasing case rates, which could lead to mask mandates and other public health restrictions.

“The time (for vaccinations) has never been more urgent,” she said.

Dr. David Ghilarducci, Santa Cruz County’s deputy health officer, said vaccines are the best defense against COVID-19.  In Santa Cruz County, about 56% of people have been vaccinated. All of the patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the county are not vaccinated.

If case rates keep rising, Ghilarducci said the mask mandates could return.

Shopper's Corner Market is one of KAZU's many financial supporters.

Jerimiah Oetting is KAZU’s news director. Prior to his career in public media, he was a field biologist with the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service.
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