At its meeting last night, the Benicia City Council debated and approved a proposal to hold a special meeting next week to consider instituting a Citywide indoor mask mandate.
The meeting will be held next Tuesday, August 24 at 6pm. Here’s the Agenda.
Some observers at yesterday’s meeting felt that Council members Trevor Macenski and Lionel Largaespada indicated likely opposition for the measure. They have invited Solano County Health Officer Bela Matyas to attend next week. Matyas is the ONLY county health officer in the Bay Area who has not instituted masking requirements to head off the spread of the Delta variant. His presence next week will no doubt muddy the waters.
We can only hope that Council will get the required three votes. It’s so sad that face coverings have become a political issue here in Benicia and Solano County. We remember fondly how in March of 2020 our previous City Manager and City Council took charge and declared emergency action in the absence of leadership from the County.
Video of the August 17 City Council discussion and Public Comments on the mask mandate
NOTE: the Council discussion, public comments and action on the issue takes just under an hour, beginning at 1:37:53. Public comments begin at 2:02:30. Final discussion by Council begins at 2:23, and ends with the unanimous vote at 2:30:50. (From there if you’re interested, the Council discusses COVID protocol for reopening the Council Chambers.) And… if the above video does not work for you, you can click here to go to the City website to view the video clip on the mask mandate.
[BenIndy Editor: Here in Solano County, our Public Health Department scaled back on virus reporting a month ago, on June 23. Solano now updates its COVID-19 Dashboard only on Mon., Wed. and Fri.. Previously, the dashboard was updated 5 days a week M-F. – R.S.]
OMAHA,NEB.>> Several states scaled back their reporting of COVID-19 statistics this month just as cases across the country started to skyrocket, depriving the public of real-time information on outbreaks, cases, hospitalizations and deaths in their communities.
The shift to weekly instead of daily reporting in Florida, Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota marked a notable shift during a pandemic in which coronavirus dashboards have become a staple for Americans closely tracking case counts and trends to navigate a crisis that has killed more than 600,000 people in the U.S.
In Nebraska, the state actually stopped reporting on the virus altogether for two weeks after Gov. Pete Ricketts declared an end to the official virus emergency, forcing news reporters to file public records requests or turn to national websites that track state data to learn about COVID statistics. The state backtracked two weeks later and came up with a weekly site that provides some basic numbers.
Other governments have gone the other direction and released more information, with Washington, D.C., this week adding a dashboard on breakthrough cases to show the number of residents who contracted the virus after getting vaccines. Many states have recently gone to reporting virus numbers only on weekdays.
When Florida changed the frequency of its virus reporting earlier this month, officials said it made sense given the decreasing number of cases and the increasing number of people being vaccinated.
Cases started soaring soon after, and Florida earlier this week made up up one-fifth of the country’s new coronavirus infections. As a result, Florida’s weekly releases — typically done on Friday afternoons — have consequences for the country’s understanding of the current summer surge, with no statewide COVID stats coming out of the virus hotspot for six days a week.
In Florida’s last two weekly reports, the number of new cases shot up from 23,000 to 45,000 and then 73,000 on Friday, an average of more than 10,000 day. Hospitals are starting to run out of space in parts of the state. With cases rising, Democrats and other critics have urged state officials and Gov. Ron DeSantis to resume daily outbreak updates.
“There was absolutely no reason to eliminate the daily updates beyond an effort to pretend like there are no updates,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat from the Orlando area.
The trend of reducing data reporting has alarmed infectious disease specialists who believe that more information is better during a pandemic. People have come to rely on state virus dashboards to help make decisions about whether to attend large gatherings or wear masks in public, and understanding the level of risk in the community affects how people respond to virus restrictions and calls to get vaccinated.
“We know that showing the data to others actually is important because the actions that businesses take, the actions that schools take, the actions that civic leaders take, the actions that community leaders take, the actions that each of us individually take are all influenced by our perception of what the risk is out there,” said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, who leads the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.
Associated Press Writer Bobby Caina Calvan contributed to this report.
California and its big coastal cities have embraced vaccines to beat back the COVID-19 pandemic. But a Bay Area News Group analysis shows not only are cases rising fast in much of the Golden State, they are soaring in many urban counties that boast high vaccination rates.
Five California counties have both a higher percentage of their eligible residents fully vaccinated and a higher average daily case rate than the statewide average: Los Angeles, San Diego, Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco. The five counties with falling case rates — Modoc, Glenn, Lassen, Del Norte, San Benito — have below-average vaccination rates.
That doesn’t mean the vaccines don’t work — rates for infection and hospitalization remain vastly higher among the unvaccinated. So what’s going on? Experts point to two things: the extraordinary ease with which the virus’ now-dominant delta strain spreads, and the fact that no vaccine offers impenetrable protection.
“I am not so surprised that transmission rates are not neatly tracking immunization rates,” said Dr. Stephen Luby, a medical professor specializing in infectious diseases at Stanford University.
“There are a number of issues that contribute to transmission,” Luby said. “In high density urban settings, for example, even with a higher level of vaccine coverage, there can still be a lot of exposure to unvaccinated folks and potentially to folks who are vaccinated but are asymptomatically shedding the delta variant.”
The soaring case rates spurred action and pleas this past week from public health officials in the Bay Area and politicians in some of the most vaccine-resistant parts of the country. Health officials in Santa Clara, San Francisco and Contra Costa counties urged employers to require vaccinations for all workers. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell implored the unvaccinated to get their shots and ignore “demonstrably bad advice,” while the Republican governor of Alabama — the least-vaccinated state in the country — said “it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks” for the virus’s continued surge.
The delta variant, which devastated India in the spring, is highly contagious and has since spread globally and throughout the U.S. and California where it accounted for 82.8% of sequenced viral specimens as of Wednesday, up from 48.8% a month earlier.
There have been mixed reports about the vaccines’ effectiveness against the variant, most of which indicate they still offer broad protection, and case rates show the fully vaccinated remain well protected.
The California Department of Public Health reported Friday that between January 1 and July 14, 99% of the state’s cumulative cases have been among unvaccinated people. For the week of July 7-14, the average daily case rate per 100,000 among unvaccinated Californians was 13 while the rate for the vaccinated was 2, the CDPH said.
A similar picture emerges locally. In Contra Costa County, which reports case rates by vaccination status, the average rate per 100,000 among the unvaccinated was 27.8 on July 16 — six times the 4.5 rate reported in the vaccinated population. In Sonoma County, the rate was 15.1 among the unvaccinated, and 3.7 for the vaccinated.
But although the vaccines do a good job bolstering the body’s ability to fight infection, they aren’t impenetrable shields. Because vaccinated people are being exposed to higher levels of a more contagious variant circulating in densely populated urban areas, their chances for contracting one of the few vaccine “breakthrough” infections are greater.
“The best, most waterproof raincoat is protective, but not when it’s storming outside or you’re in the middle of a hurricane,” said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a professor of epidemiology at UC San Francisco.
She and Luby added that some vaccinated people may be spreading the virus without knowing they have it while their bodies fight it off.
And since California’s June 15 reopening, when the state retired its face mask mandate and color-coded system of pandemic restrictions based on case rates, people have been venturing out more without masks to stores, restaurants and events that no longer have pandemic crowd limits. Although many people still use masks in places like the Bay Area, that can only do so much.
“It’s definitely depressing to see how quickly things turned,” Bibbins-Domingo said. “But the threat of the virus has always been there. Delta is a highly transmissible variant, something we have to respect. Even with some of the masking, we’re moving around a lot, we’re going along with our usual patterns of behavior. Put those together and you can quickly see, even though we’re wearing masks, we have vaccination, there’s no margin for error any more.”
While vaccination levels are relatively high in California and the big cities where the virus is spreading, there still are many who haven’t had or can’t get the shots.
According to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, California’s 61.1% vaccination rate of those 12 and older compares favorably to the 55.3% in Florida and 53% in Texas, and isn’t far behind New York’s 65.4%. But many, including kids under 12 and people with medical issues, can’t get the shots. Just over half California’s nearly 40 million people — 52.1% — are fully immunized.
“Once you put in the full population denominator, it’s not as high as we think,” Bibbins-Domingo said.
The rapidly worsening pandemic picture — coming at a time when many hoped the virus would be a fading memory — has led many health experts to call on federal and state authorities to reverse course and impose more face mask requirements and restrictions.
Both the CDC and California Department of Public Health have maintained that the answer remains simply getting more people vaccinated. But resistance among some people will be hard to overcome.
For now, many local health officials have been stepping in, urging people to resume wearing masks indoors, where the virus spreads more easily, regardless of vaccination, and employers to require that their workers get the shots. Some businesses, including San Francisco bar owners, are considering requiring their customers provide proof of vaccination, fearing a return of the pandemic restrictions that closed them down entirely.
Health experts like Bibbins-Domingo support all of that, and sympathize with the messaging dilemma facing public health officials.
“The challenge in public health communication is we ultimately do want more people to be vaccinated,” Bibbins-Domingo said. “And the concern is communicating that we also need to wear a mask right now will then dilute the message that we need to be vaccinated. The challenge is that both things are true.”
[BenIndy editor: Solano County Public Health officer Dr. Bela Matyas needs to wake up. We are in another surge, and the consequences are plain. Everyone please return to wearing masks in stores, restaurants, churches, and any crowded indoors areas. Before shaking hands or sharing hugs, don’t be afraid to ask: “Are you vaccinated?” Encourage anyone you know who is not vaccinated, to get the shot. – R.S.]
Despite increase in COVID-19 cases, Solano County not changing stance
When many people think of the Fourth of July, they think of the colors red, white and blue. Thankfully, they won’t also be seeing purple.
Despite the number of COVID-19 cases doubling since July 4, the Solano County Health Department said no rules are being changed yet on whether or not one should wear a mask for indoor events. This comes as a relief to some, as the county would be in the least restrictive purple tier if it was still following the old tier system used before the state reopened in early June.
As of Wednesday afternoon the county has had 34,761 cases, and its death toll has remained at 245 for about two weeks. However, the 7-day positivity rate has climbed to 11.9 this week. It was at 10.2 a week ago and 13.2 two weeks ago.
While some nearby counties like Alameda, San Francisco, San Mateo, Contra Costa and Santa Clara have recommended wearing masks more indoors due to the Delta Variant, Solano County Health officials like Jayleen Richards said the cause for the spike in cases doesn’t come from the variant, but instead the recent July 4th holiday.
“Solano Public Health will continue to follow the guidance of the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Richards said. “At this time, both agencies are not recommending a tier system or asking vaccinated people to wear masks indoors. We will continue to follow the guidance provided by these agencies.”
Solano was seeing 15 tp 20 cases per day prior to the July 4th holiday, according to Richards. Between July 7 and July 20, the average daily cases increased to 46 per day. Most of these cases are attributed to the holiday.
“The number of cases in Solano County and across the state and country is disproportionately impacting those who are not vaccinated,” Richards said. “In Solano County, the unvaccinated tends to be a younger population. In Solano County, more than 85 percent of residents 65-74 years of age are vaccinated and nearly 84 percent of residents older than 75 years of age are vaccinated. Older populations are the most at risk for hospitalizations and death due to COVID-19. We are concerned that the number of cases is increasing in Solano County, and we are pleased that the hospital systems are not being stretched thin, due to the increases in the number of cases, as we saw earlier this year.”
With these stats, Solano isn’t recommending yet that it should wear masks inside, but it strongly is recommending for people to get the vaccination.
“Public Health officials and providers urge everyone eligible to get a vaccine,” Richards said. “A person who receives a vaccine is protecting themselves and their loved ones from the disease. Among people who are vaccinated about 10 percent remain susceptible to the virus because they haven’t formed immunity. These people are as susceptible as those who are unvaccinated. Both of these groups being impacted by the Delta Variant of the virus in increasing numbers. The virus has many variants among which the Delta Variant is most easily transmitted. If people continue to wear masks and socially distance their chance of getting COVID is significantly reduced. The likelihood of severe illness seems to be similar for all of the variants.”
The California Department of Public Health developed a variant tracking page that explains how, which, and why variants are tracked. At the bottom of the webpage, the state provides information on known variants and what proportion of variants have changed over time. The link to the site is www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/COVID-19/COVID-Variants.aspx.
A table on that site says the numbers of specimens that Solano County is aware of. Of the people in Solano County that have the virus, 78 percent of them have the Alpha version, according to that table’s study. Another 14.29 come from the Delta Variant, while 5.84 percent comes from the Gamma and 1.30 percent comes from the Beta.
While Richards and the Solano County Public Health Department are closely monitoring what California Gov. Gavin Newsom says, Solano Public Health has worked closely with the state to provide 16 vaccine clinics at McDonald’s restaurant locations across the county. Two hundred and five people have been vaccinated at these clinics, according to Richards. Solano held the most events at the McDonald’s locations than any other county in the state.
Nationally, many health experts have called on the federal government to change its guidance that the vaccinated don’t need to wear masks again indoors.
But talk of vaccine passports has all but vanished in the months since vaccinations became widely available and infection rates began to plummet as a result. And with Newsom facing a recall election in September driven largely by critics of his handling of the pandemic, there is little appetite for renewed statewide restrictions on businesses and schools.
“We’re very mindful of the Delta Variant,” Newsom said Wednesday, calling a statewide mask order or vaccine passport unnecessary. “The most important thing we can do to get this pandemic behind us is to get vaccinated.”
Last week Vallejo Mayor Robert McConnell urged people to continue wearing masks and asked citizens why they would want to take a chance.
“What’s reality with the statistics is that you’re not likely to contact the variant if vaccinated, but there is still a chance you can,” McConnell said. “If you get it, then possible long-term effects could have an impact on your bodies and your breathing. You don’t want to be that one person. Why increase the chance of being that person? It’s a losing bet.”
— Bay Area News Group reporters John Wolfolk and Rachel Oh contributed to this report.