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California's Santa Cruz County mandates mask-wearing in private homes

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An indoor mask mandate has been reinstated in Santa Cruz County, California, after a surge in winter coronavirus cases has led to increased hospitalizations.

The county health department is requiring that people wear face coverings in indoor settings, including in private homes. The mandate went into effect on Sunday at 11:59 p.m, after the county reported a seven-day average of 72 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people — placing it in the "substantial" transmission category, according to the CDC.

"Unfortunately, a potential winter surge appears to be a significant threat to the health and safety of our community," Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gaill Newel said in a statement.

Both people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and those who have not are required to wear face coverings indoors. Business and governmental entities are being told to require their employees to wear masks and to post signage at points of entry for their indoor settings to alert the public of the mask requirement.

Anyone who works in a closed room or office by themselves or with members of the same household does not have to wear a mask. The health department's statement also clarifies that masks are not required during indoor activities where they "cannot be worn safely," which includes eating, drinking, swimming, showering in a fitness facility, or obtaining medical or cosmetic services.

However, people in private settings — including their own homes — are required to wear masks if they are visited by anyone outside of their households.

"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," Newel said.

"Everyone who has not been vaccinated should get their first dose as soon as possible, and anyone who was vaccinated more than six months ago should seek out a booster."

Santa Cruz County has among the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates of any county in California, with 70.8% of the population fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

California currently has one of the lowest coronavirus infection rates in the country, with only 1.9% of people testing positive for the virus last week, according to the state's COVID-19 dashboard. And while coronavirus hospitalizations in the state have fallen about 14% over the last month, officials are raising concerns about a potential surge of cases over the holidays.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday urged state residents to get vaccinated and wear masks over the holidays, observing that at least 27 other states have seen at least a 10% increase in COVID-19 cases in the past week.

"Ask the governor of Michigan (or) Colorado how they are doing," Newsom said. "States are struggling because people are taking down their guard or claiming 'mission accomplished.' ... I don't want to see that happen here in California."

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