SANTA CRUZ (CBS SF/BCN) -- Citing a countywide-declining infection rate, Santa Cruz County lifted its indoor mask mandate Wednesday.
County officials lifted the mandate, effective immediately, after Santa Cruz County moved into the "moderate" tier of community transmission, the second lowest level of viral spread as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sonoma, Marin, Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Monterey counties are also in the moderate tier, according to the CDC.
Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel issued the mask mandate last month amid the region's surge in cases of the ultra-contagious delta variant.
The county's last five COVID-19 deaths have been due to the delta variant and were among unvaccinated residents.
Santa Cruz County officials advised residents to continue wearing face coverings indoors when possible as a means to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
However, some businesses are opting to keep mask requirements in place.
"For this round, we're going to keep asking people to mask, both our staff and our customers," said Casey Coonerty Protti, the owner of Bookshop Santa Cruz. "Until children can get vaccinated and we really reach that herd immunity number, we just feel like we want to air on the side of caution."
Dr. Jorge Salinas, an epidemiologist at Stanford University, says he expects safety measures will come and go as they have throughout the different waves of the pandemic.
"I think it's promising in the short-term - it speaks about our outlook over the next few weeks, maybe a couple of months," he said. "We just need to be ready to implement and de-implement certain measures based on the levels of transmission and the levels of vaccination."
Masks will still be required indoors for unvaccinated residents and in schools, medical facilities and senior care facilities.
The county also encouraged residents to get vaccinated if they have yet to do so, saying it remains the most effective way to prevent contracting and spreading COVID-19.
Information about getting vaccinated in Santa Cruz County can be found at the county's website.
As of Wednesday, 77.4% of the county's residents ages 12 and up have received at least one dose, according to CDC data.
Max Darrow contributed to this story.
© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
for more features.