SANTA CRUZ—Santa Cruz County on Tuesday moved back to the more restrictive red tier of the state’s Covid-19 reopening plan, meaning that many businesses and services must once again take a step back in their services, and in the customers they can allow in.

According to Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel, the county on Sunday reported 109 new cases, after days averaging only 20 per day.

“That’s a huge increase for us,” she said. “It’s a true spike.”

Santa Cruz County is one of 11 counties that moved to a more restrictive tier, Newel said.

The news came two weeks after the county moved up into the less restrictive orange tier. Several businesses welcomed the shift and began to increase their services, and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk reopened its rides.

Newel said the shift is more concerning as the holiday season approaches, when many typically plan to spend time with family and friends. Also, the cooling temperatures mean that more people will be spending time inside and close together, she said.

Now, county officials are urging that families limit their travel and keep their celebrations small.

Health officers recommend 14 days of self-quarantine for those who plan on traveling out of the Bay Area, or on having out-of-town guests over for the holidays, Newel said.

“We want to remind people that these are very risky times,” Newel said. “A reminder that holidays and celebrations, although we’re all so starved for time with our friends and our families, this is a very risky time especially for elders and those who are medically vulnerable.”

Most of the new cases, Newel said, are linked to people under 19, and in people 20-34, and likely came from a “Halloween event.” A similar spike occurred in the wake of Fourth of July celebrations, she said.

What does the move mean?

The red tier means that restaurants, churches, movie theaters and museums must reduce their capacity from 50% to 25%. Gyms and fitness centers must go to 10%, and bars breweries and wine pubs must close. Wineries must close indoor operations.

Amusement parks, family entertainment centers, non-essential offices and live-audience sports are no longer allowed, Newel said. 

The good news, Newel said, is that the county will soon increase its testing capacity with a new walk-in OptumServe testing site in North County.

In addition, a vaccine is expected in December, Newel said, although it will only be available at first to residents and staff of skilled nursing facilities, as well as healthcare workers who work with Covid-19 patients.

But even with a vaccine on its way, residents should not take that as a sign to relax their safety measures, said Health Services Agency Director Mimi Hall. The public should expect to continue mask-wearing and other safety practices for at least one year, she said. 

“That vaccine is only one part of a community strategy to keep Covid under control,” Hall said. 

Marm Kilpatrick, a UC Santa Cruz epidemiology professor, said that the spike could have been the result of the recent relaxation of restrictions, which could have caused people to ease their safety practices.

The increased numbers could also have come from the businesses reopening, Kilpatrick added.

One of the biggest challenges, he said, is the social awkwardness that comes from asking friends and family to wear a mask or practice social distancing protocol. 

“You don’t want to be giving them the stiff-arm or pushing them off when you’re really excited to see them,” he said. “So I feel like there is a really giant need for some way in a non-rejecting kind of way to ask for that space or a mask or both or move the interaction to a safe place.”

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