Tag Archives: #Masks4ALL

Dr. Richard Fleming: Open Letter to Benicia City Council on Mask Mandate

Thanks!  And about the data we use for our decision-making…

Richard Fleming, M.D., Benicia, CA

Benicia Mayor and Council Members:

Thank you for continuing the mask mandate at your meeting last night. I really appreciate the time and attention you have been devoting to this issue. And I’m sorry to keep writing you, because I know you are all very busy. But I hope you can take a few minutes to read this email.

I am writing to express my concern with using only one metric — and a problematic metric at that — as the basis to decide to lift the mask mandate. And I also feel that the mask mandate should not be automatically lifted without further discussion at a meeting of the city council, even if one or more metrics are met.

Problems with case rate metric. There are two problems limiting the use of the case rate as a metric for measuring community transmission of covid-19. As Councilmember Largaespada has pointed out, the case rate depends on how many people are being tested. The second flaw is that increasing numbers of people are doing at home covid tests, and data from these tests does not get captured in the official case rate numbers. The use of at-home testing will continue increasing in the weeks and months ahead for obvious reasons. The case rate should be looked at, but is not in and of itself an adequate measure of covid in our city.

Other metrics can help. Eight of the nine Bay Area counties are using 3 metrics, as has been discussed previously. City data is available on two of the three, and county data is available for hospitalization rates. Using 3 metrics in combination would provide more clarity about the extent of the virus’ presence in Benicia. If only one metric is going to be used, either the vaccination rate or the (county) hospitalization rate would be less subject to sampling bias than the case rate. But since all three data points are available, why not use them? Each metric has some validity issues, so using all 3 together provides a more accurate picture.

Vaccination rate. There was some discussion at your meeting last night over how to view the vaccination rate. The specific issues were whether to use a numerator of people who have gotten at least one shot or those who are fully-vaccinated, should the denominator be the entire population or those eligible for vaccines, and differing vaccination rates by age.

(a) The fully-vaccinated rate is most meaningful. Data shows that a single shot (Pfizer) reduces risk of infection by 52%, while the second shot reduces risk by 95%. Similar date is available for Moderna. But immunity wanes over time. At 6 months after the second vaccine dose, people’s immunity is roughly the same as if they had only gotten one shot. Far fewer than half of fully-vaccinated people have received boosters yet, so the fully-vaccinated percentage overstates the proportion of the population who are well-protected. As far as what denominator to use, while I feel the best denominator is the entire population, it is reasonable to use a denominator of those eligible for vaccination, i.e. five years of age and up. According to California’s Department of Health and Human Services, 73.3% of Benicia’s population over age 4 is fully vaccinated as of November 30. (My statement last night that 67.7% were fully vaccinated was based on numbers from early November and using the entire population as the denominator). While 73.3% is a good number, we are still lower than the fully-vaccinated rate of most Bay Area counties.

(b) Vaccination rates by age. While older people are more vaccinated than younger, it is still important to try to safeguard younger people from this virus. Though the risk of death for younger people is lower, there is growing data on the prevalence of long-lasting symptoms among young people after covid infection. So, even though most of our city’s elderly are fully-vaccinated, we should not relinquish our efforts to protect all age groups. The virus is having a serious impact beyond hospitalizations and deaths.

Hospitalization rate. This metric is less subject to the vagaries of the officially measured case-rate data, but is not specifically available for our city. Another factor with this metric is that as treatment options improve, hospitalization rates will likely decline even if actual cases were to be increasing. Nonetheless, this metric can be helpful in combination with the other two metrics. As was noted at your meeting last night, hospitalizations for south county residents may well be lower than for north county residents. Nonetheless, the county’s hospitalization rate is a proxy for Benicia’s hospitalization rate, even if the actual number for Benicia is lower than the county’s. Solano’s current hospitalization rate is 10/100K. This is much higher than any other Bay Area county, and is also higher than the state’s hospitalization rate (9/100K). Even if Benicia’s residents are being hospitalized at a lower rate than the county, it is still most likely a higher number than in many other Bay Area communities.

Looking to the future. As was clearly articulated by several speakers at last night’s meeting, we need to not only look at the past, but try to anticipate the future. Looking at our hospitalization and local case rates trending down and vaccination rates trending up is indeed reassuring. As several of you said at last night’s meeting, the susceptible population in Benicia is shrinking. This bodes well for the future. But please take note of and keep in mind the following — even though all other Bay Area counties are much better vaccinated than we are, the case rates are trending up significantly in 7 of those 8 counties. Hospitalizations are also trending up in 5 of those 8 counties. Vaccination status is protective, yes, but recent trend lines in those counties point to a problem, likely due to cooler weather, holiday activities, and some degree of waning immunity.

Based on the above, I strongly urge you to do two things:

1. Switch to using 3 metrics to make decisions about public health safety measures to confront covid-19. Three metrics will provide a more accurate picture of the pandemic’s status in Benicia.

2. Do not lift public health measures based on auto-pilot, certainly not using one metric, but even if you decide to use 3 metrics. Instead, when the metrics are met, I urge you to then discuss the issue at your next city council meeting. There are so many other factors which may be at play even if the metrics are met, and a decision which can have such an impact on so many people’s health and welfare should be carefully thought through and discussed.

Thank you,

Richard Fleming, MD
Benicia, CA

ALERT – On December 7, the Benicia City Council will make a potentially life-or-death decision

With Winter coming and the Omicron variant looming, the City Council’s Dec. 7 mask mandate vote is crucial

Stephen Golub, Benicia – A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

On Dec. 7, the City Council will make a potentially life-or-death decision: whether to extend Benicia’s indoor mask mandate. If it fails to do so, the mandate will end that evening.

Such a failure will be a de facto vote for Covid and against public health. Here are a few of the many reasons why:

  1. The omicron variant is here. More specifically, the first case of this new, potentially dangerous Covid variant has been detected in San Francisco, in a vaccinated individual. https://www.sfchronicle.com/health/article/First-U-S-omicron-case-found-in-San-Francisco-16666493.php  The World Health Organization warns that it “poses a ‘very high’ global risk because of the possibility that it spreads more easily and might resist vaccines and immunity in people who were infected with previous strains.” https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/11/29/1059723751/omicron-variant-latest-high-risk-world-health-organization  I don’t want to sound too alarmist, since we will not know until later this month (at the earliest) whether omicron is a false alarm or a five-alarm fire. But that’s all the more reason to be cautious and maintain the mandate.
  2. Winter is coming. It brings the likelihood of a surge in Covid cases and resulting deaths due to more people being indoors and at holiday gatherings. We’ve seen last winter’s Covid wave and other waves caused or exacerbated by relaxing precautions prematurely, even after vaccines were made available. The Council must learn from experience and not make that mistake. And again, it’s best to err on the side of caution.
  3. The overwhelming consensus among scientific studies and experts is that face masks help protect against Covid, even for the vaccinated. Further information and links to the research can be found at The Benicia Independent blog, including its reposting of the excellent letter Dr. Richard Fleming of Benicia sent to the Council last month (http://beniciaindependent.com/open-letter-to-benicia-city-council-dr-richard-fleming-on-mask-mandate/) and my own letter at that time (http://beniciaindependent.com/10-reasons-to-extend-benicias-face-mask-mandate/). The pro-mask/mandate consensus has been further represented by almost all Bay Area counties’ health officials, the State health department, the CDC, the Napa-Solano Medical Society, thousands of medical and public health authorities and the numerous Benicia-based medical and public health experts who have called in to Council meetings in support of the mandate. The one partial exception to this overwhelming consensus is the Solano Country health officer. But as Dr. Fleming’s letter points out, he has not provided any data in support of his position.

Those wishing to let the Council members know of your opinion on the masks mandate may contact them at:

You can also contact City Clerk Lisa Wolfe, LWolfe@ci.benicia.ca.us, who forwards emails on such matters to the Council and staff.

If interested in participating in the December 7 meeting via Zoom or call-in, the Office of City Manager Eric Upson will have the relevant information, at 707-746-4200 or EUpson@ci.benicia.ca.us.

Stephen Golub

Solano County reverses position: staff and visitors will have to mask up in Vallejo libraries

By Roger Straw, September 15, 2021

In 4-1 decision, Solano County Board of Supervisors recognize primacy of Vallejo indoors mask mandate

Just yesterday, I highlighted Times-Herald reporter Richard Freedman’s story, “Vallejo libraries immune from mask mandates.”

The news then was that Solano County’s lack of strong leadership on masking indoors would prevail over Vallejo’s mandate because the libraries in Vallejo are run by the County.

I invited everyone in Vallejo to come to Benicia libraries, which are not run by Solano County.

But later yesterday morning, our Solano County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to respect local mandates in facilities run by the County.  (The Board would not recognize the importance of masking indoors in the rest of the county – they failed to even bring that issue to a vote.)  But as of today, if you visit or work in any of Vallejo’s Solano offices, including the Superior Court building and the libraries, you are obligated to follow Vallejo’s mask mandate.

>> Download details of the Vallejo Mask Mandate

Residents can feel a bit better about entering County buildings in Vallejo now, but you may want to stay away from County facilities in Fairfield and Vacaville.  And I want you to know that you’re STILL welcome here in Benicia, where ALL public indoors facilities require masks for workers and visitors alike.

Solano Board of Supervisors backs Bela on masks and vaccinations, but gives nod to Benicia and Vallejo mandates

[BenIndy Editor: Note that the Board never even addressed Supervisor Brown’s request for a countywide indoors mask mandate like we established here in Benicia and Vallejo.  Benicia and Vallejo are clearly on our own here in Solano County.  Concerned up-county residents should consider shopping and doing business down here in Benicia/Vallejo.  And Solano employees might want to start looking for a new job!  – R.S.]

Divided board won’t mandate vaccines for Solano employees

Solano County Supervisor Erin Hannigan speaks while debating mandated vaccines and masks for Solano County employees during a Board of Supervisors meeting at the Government Center in Fairfield, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (Aaron Rosenblatt/Daily Republic)
County workers must adhere to mask policies in communities where they work

Fairfield Daily Republic, By Todd R. Hansen, September 15, 2021

FAIRFIELD — Solano County employees will not be required to get Covid-19 vaccinations, but will have to honor mask requirements in city jurisdictions that have them.

Benicia and Vallejo temporarily require everyone – vaccinated or not – to wear a mask in indoor public places. The state has the same mandate for individuals who are not vaccinated.

Masks are required in all medical facilities, and in schools.

Benicia Mayor Steve Young

Benicia Mayor Steve Young was one of 17 individuals who called into the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday. The county also received more than 100 written correspondences, two-thirds of which opposed the policies. The callers were slightly weighted in the other direction.

Young urged the board to enact its own mask mandate, though that issue was never formally up for consideration.

A county mask mandate for public indoor places was expected to be one of two issues considered by the board, but Supervisor Erin Hannigan, who had raised the mask requirement and the county vaccination mandate, backed off the full mask mandate in favor of requiring that county employees adhere to the rules of other jurisdictions.

The new mandate mostly affects county employees who work at county buildings in Vallejo. The board supported the policy on a 4-1 vote with board Chairman John Vasquez dissenting without comment.

The supervisors voted 2-3, with Vasquez, Supervisor Jim Spering and Supervisor Mitch Mashburn in the majority, to defeat Hannigan’s motion to mandate vaccinations for county employees and contractors. Supervisor Monica Brown supported the action.

“The only way we are going to get out of this pandemic is everyone get vaccinated,” Hannigan said.

Those who argued against the vaccines for county employees, also largely argued against the mask requirement, framing the issues as ones of personal freedoms and choice.

Some took great exception to anyone telling them what they must inject into their bodies. Others were less forceful, and even noted they, too, had been vaccinated, but were in no position to tell others what to do, and strongly believe government should stay out of personal medical decisions.

Corianne Tunstall comments as the Solano County Board of Supervisors debate mandated vaccines and masks for Solano County employees during a Board of Supervisors meeting at the Government Center in Fairfield, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (Aaron Rosenblatt/Daily Republic)

But Corianne Tunstall, a local hairdresser, said those “personal decisions” do not only affect those individuals, as she is frequently exposed to clients who have not been vaccinated, and who refuse to wear masks even though state law requires them to do so.

She told the board she could not afford to get sick and miss work, and felt it was wrong that others could choose to expose her and she could, in turn, expose her family.

Dr. Seth Kaufman is the chief medical officer for NorthBay Healthcare. (Courtesy photo)

Others who supported the policies included Dr. Seth Kaufman, chief medical officer at NorthBay Healthcare. He called the vaccines and masks critical pieces in the fight against Covid-19.

“We are off the charts on the number of patients we are seeing,” Kaufman said. “Our hospitals are full; our clinics are overflowing with Covid patients.”

The public discussion followed a Covid-19 status update by Dr. Bela Matyas, the county public health officer.

Dr. Bela Matyas, Solano County public health officer

He told the board that the county is emerging from the latest Covid surge that started shortly after July 4, and that includes lower number of individuals being hospitalized.

Matyas reiterated his position that a mask policy will be ineffective because the data show transmission is not taking place in public settings, but rather at private social gatherings and at home. He noted that the vast majority of counties that have mask mandates are not seeing their disease rates fall like they should if the policy worked.

However, he also reiterated his position that the best way to defeat Covid-19 is to get vaccinated.

About 64% of the residents 12 or older have been fully vaccinated, while 76% have received at least one shot. That leaves about 135,000 residents who are eligible for vaccines who have not been innoculated, Matyas said.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data Friday that indicate people who are unvaccinated who contract Covid-19 are 11 times more likely to die than are those who are vaccinated.

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