Coronavirus: Masks remain a recommendation in Solano County, not a requirementThe Reporter, by Nick Sestanovich, April 23, 2020
As the global coronavirus pandemic continues to show no signs of slowing down, five Bay Area counties and at least three cities have made it a requirement for residents to wear face coverings when going outside to help stop the spread.
This tally does not include Solano County just yet.
Dr. Bela Matyas, the county’s public health officer, said Solano may consider it down the line if the resources are available but there were a number of things preventing it being a requirement for the time being. The first, he said, was a lack of evidence that wearing masks reduces the transmission of the virus.
“From a public health standpoint, I don’t feel like there’s any reason to implement it, based on the absence of evidence that it provides usefulness,” he said.
The other drawback, Matyas said, was an issue of timing, noting that mandating wearing face coverings would be “making things stricter” at a time when jurisdictions have discussed relaxing their stay-at-home orders.
“It feels a little bit ironic to be, on the one hand, talking about relaxing the order and, on the other hand, implementing something that makes the order stricter,” he said.
Matyas also said that even with the recent orders, there has not been a consensus among Bay Area public health officers about requiring masks. Santa Clara County, for example, has opted not to issue a requirement, despite being the location of the first known coronavirus-related death in the U.S.
Finally, Matyas said that if Solano were to require face coverings, it would be obliged to provide them to residents who are unable to afford or obtain them.
“We can’t, in good conscience, be asking people to do something that they can’t do and then enforce on it,” he said.
However, Matyas said that if Solano were given the resources to provide masks to ensure everyone has one, it would consider a requirement.
“We’re not dogmatically opposed to it by any means, but there’s issues of timing and issues of being able to require something and then making it possible for people to be able to implement that requirement,” he said.
Matyas said the county is also waiting to see if the state requires it.
“This issue has been brought up to the state,” he said. “We’re waiting to see what their response is.”
“The expectation is that we can get something from the state that would be broader in its applicability,” he added.
On April 3, Solano Public Health issued its first notice recommending that residents wear masks when going out in public while still adhering to social distancing guidelines. The notice was not a strict requirement and suggested that the masks be fabric or homemade and not be medical grade.
On April 17, health officials in the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo and Sonoma mandated that people wear face coverings when going outdoors, which went into effect Tuesday. Similar ordinances were also issued in Fremont, Pleasant Hill and San Francisco.
The ordinances tend to vary by jurisdiction, but they do not require masks or face coverings to be worn by children ages 12 and under and children ages 2 and under are prohibited from wearing masks because of suffocation issues. The orders also do not apply to people traveling alone or with family members in their cars or while exercising and are mainly intended for people standing in line at businesses, using public transit or going to a hospital.
Enforcements vary by jurisdiction, but many of the ordinances classify violations as misdemeanors punishable by fine or imprisonment.
Supervisor Skip Thomson said he felt requiring residents to wear masks was “a wonderful idea” but felt that there may not be enough masks available for everyone, particularly homeless individuals, to wear.
“It should be seriously considered, but until we’re able to give out masks to everyone, it just doesn’t work,” he said.
As of Wednesday, there have been 186 confirmed cases since the start of the outbreak — including 21 cases that remain active — as well as 48 hospitalizations and three deaths. The data by city includes 76 confirmed cases in Vallejo, 47 in Fairfield, 26 in Vacaville, 12 in Benicia and 11 in Suisun City. Dixon, Rio Vista and the unincorporated areas of Solano have all had confirmed cases of 10 or fewer, a sample size too small for the county to fully report.
Thomson acknowledged that a lot of residents are awaiting a return to normalcy but felt full testing and tracing needed to be done to paint a clearer picture of the data.
“There’s a lot of work yet to be done before we can reopen this economy,” he said. “As all the experts are saying, if we open it prematurely, we’re gonna have a resurgence of the virus infections. There’s certainly a balancing act between opening up the economy but not opening it up too soon to where we have another spike in cases.”
Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan said the city is following the direction of the Solano County Health Department, and the state of California when it comes to requiring residents to wear masks.
“I strongly recommend residents wear some sort of mask when they go out into public,” Sampayan said.
Sampayan said he has spoken to Matyas about issuing an order requiring masks.
“His position has been that because Solano County is sparsely populated, and not densely populated like other local counties, he doesn’t believe masks should be mandatory here.”
Sampayan said that when he goes out, he sees people not observing the six-feet social distancing requirement and not wearing masks.
“I wish we all would be more concerned about our safety,” he added.
Matyas said masks and face coverings are recommended in Solano in situations where maintaining a distance of 6 feet from others outside their home is impossible. The county recommends the coverings be made from materials such as fabric, scarves, bandanas or towels and worn in a manner that covers the nose and mouth. The coverings are encouraged to be washed frequently, ideally after each use.
For more information, including a video on how to make your own face coverings, go to admin.solanocounty.com:4433/depts/ph/coronavirus_links/faq___face_coverings.asp.John Glidden contributed to this report.