It began with a social media post of various employees of a Raley’s store in Benicia, smiling for pictures around tables at a potluck holiday party on Christmas Eve — many not wearing masks.
The usual comments began — people horrified that a store would ignore both social distancing and masks, especially while eating. Then “anti-maskers” chimed in about how the virus is overblown. Most importantly, rumors began to spread that several employees at the Benicia store have been out sick.
One employee of Raley’s told the Times-Herald that at least one person at the potluck has contracted COVID-19.
“I was told by a manager in confidence that there have been 21 people total who have gotten COVID-19 who work here,” said the employee. “They are trying to keep it a secret.”
The employee spoke to the Times-Herald on condition of anonymity.
City of Benicia officials say they were told by store management that the store was “currently are not aware of any cases.”
Richard Rodriguez, team leader and general manager at the Benicia Raley’s, denies that 20 employees have been sick with COVID-19.
“No,” he laughed, “that’s not true not at all,” but he said that all further questions should be directed to Ashley Campas at the corporate office, who was not available for comment.
The city, meanwhile, released a statement about the store:
“It has been brought to our attention … that word is spreading on social media of a large number of employees at Raley’s testing positive for COVID-19 … City staff have contacted management and they have indicated that they currently are not aware of any positive cases, although a potluck was held over the holidays.”
“It’s a lie. It’s just a lie,” said the employee. “And that’s what’s concerning me. With everybody that is sick now — the first COVID case here was back in March, so you have to understand that this has been going on for a long time.”
“The city is aware of the party that was held at Raley’s and the concern it has generated,” Mayor Steve Young told the Times-Herald. “We are waiting for confirmation as to whether there are, in fact, employees who have tested positive. Our first concern remains the health and safety of the community as well as the workers.”
The Benicia Independent says that the Solano County Public Health department is investigating, something the Times-Herald has yet to be able to corroborate. But photos show that the store has gone against state regulations for essential workers, with employees at the potluck not wearing protective face coverings and gloves. The State of California requires that all employees wear face masks or coverings at all times.
As for the denial from store general manager Rodriguez, the employee was miffed that their manager would laugh at the question.
“It hurts my heart that the management thinks this is funny or is a joke,” they said, adding that many there feel that they have to live with the risks involved with working there because they need the job. According to the source, they aren’t given gloves by the store and there is no organization around getting masks or other precautionary things.
“The health department came in yesterday so guess what? I got my temperature taken today and we suddenly have hand sanitizer.”
“In the midst of this dangerous surge of the virus, it is so important that every business and citizen respects and follows the safety protocols put in place for our protection,” Young said.
Social Media Posts on COVID Cases in Employees of Local Grocery Store.
It has been brought to the attention of the City of Benicia that word is spreading on social media of a large number of employees at Raley’s testing positive for COVID-19.
Additionally, we understand through social media that their staff may have participated in an event that is in conflict with current state guidance.
City staff have contacted management and they have indicated that they currently are not aware of any positive cases, although a potluck was held over the holidays.
City staff is working with Solano County Public Health officials on this concern and will advise if this becomes a public health issue.
As a reminder, we continue to see cases surging throughout the state and urge members of our community to follow current orders and guidance. This includes frequent hand washing, wearing face coverings, maintaining social distancing, limiting outings to essential activities and not gathering.
Raley’s facebook page (below) confirms a report that is circulating on social media and among Benicia residents that a serious violation of State and local COVID-19 orders occurred at Raley’s recently.
The images on Raley’s facebook page document a December 24 holiday party of more than two dozen employees, gathered at first in close proximity masked, and then sitting without masks at tables to eat. [Images preserved here on Google Drive]
City of Benicia officials confirm that they learned of the alleged violation from a private posting on social media, and notified Solano County Health Department. The Health Department had not been aware, and has initiated an investigation.
The City of Benicia plans to issue a public statement once the allegations are substantiated. Meanwhile, no hard facts or data has been gathered as to Raley’s employees testing positive, and if so, what exposure and potential spread would require quarantining. City staff has reached out to Raley’s management for a response.
Stay tuned for more information. Meanwhile, you might want to think about taking extra precautions if and when you choose to shop at Raley’s.
Raley’s Benicia held a large group indoors gathering on Dec. 24, no social distancing, food that required no masks while…
[Editor: The Fairfield Daily Republic is the only news agency in Solano County that covers meetings of the Solano County Board of Supervisors. Their coverage is decidedly conservative, but regularly contains valuable news about Solano’s response (and lack of adequate response) to the COVID-19 crisis. In today’s story, I will highlight several highly concerning quotes, followed by my critical observations below, after the Daily Republic article. – R.S.]
Solano close to ‘purple,’ again; Hannigan calls for public campaign
FAIRFIELD — Dr. Bela Matyas, the Solano County health officer, told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday that the state’s testing adjustments are not likely to save the county from regressing into the state’s most-restrictive purple tier if the case rate is not lowered.
“The county’s current experience with Covid-19 has not been good,” said Matyas, noting a case rate nearly as high as 80 per day over the weekend.
Add that to the 136 cases reported Friday, that four-day average was 93.2 cases – more than three times higher than the 30.7-case average the county needs to be at or below to stay in the red tier.
There were 64 new cases reported in Tuesday’s Public Health pdate, which would put the five-day average at nearly 87.4.
“Our current case rate is nearly as high as our peak (during the novel coronavirus pandemic),” Matyas said.
The update to the board included the usual discussion of the cause of the case increases, which in Solano County comes back to the usual response: social gatherings of friends and family.
Matyas noted that Public Health hears people say they are concerned about meeting strangers in public so they take precautions, but they do not take the same precautions around family and friends.
He also said that if the county does not want its businesses harmed, it needs to convince the governor’s office that the care rate has nothing to do with businesses.
“I think we need a mask and social distancing campaign,” Supervisor Erin Hannigan said.
She proposed a media campaign using social media, TV, radio, school education and even the back of buses to get the message out to wear face coverings and keep a safe distance no matter what the setting: work, home or in the community.
Supervisor Jim Spering was not convinced the expense would necessarily have the desired results, but he is increasingly frustrated that it will be businesses that will pay the price for the choices being made by county residents. “They are just ruining more lives, more businesses ; it’s unconscionable,” Spering said.
However, the board heard from several members of the public about their beliefs that face coverings do not work, and that the county should stop promoting it.
In addition to the state guidelines, face coverings are part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols and fully endorsed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Hannigan’s campaign idea, because it would educate children who would presumably take the lessons home, was also likened to a Nazi Germany propaganda approach.
The board also was urged, again, to take down from its website the phone number locals can use to report Covid-19 protocol violations by businesses.
Terry Schmidtbauer, the acting director of the Department of Resource Management, reported that since August, the county has received 267 complaints, which resulted in 203 site visits. Only seven of those have required a third inspection, which triggers the county referring the matter to law enforcement or state agencies.
In general, he said, the businesses are following the regulations.
Matyas said the Halloween numbers are starting to show up in the Public Health data as well, noting that the new surge is mostly younger residents. That means the hospitalization numbers are not spiking like in past surges , but the disease has made its way into 15 care facilities, and some of those who are transmitting the disease, Matyas said, are medical staff who have participated in social gatherings but without following safety protocols.
It is in those facilities where the fatalities begin to rise. The past three deaths in the county were in a memory care facility in Vacaville, bringing the total to 79.
The Public Health Division reported that with the 61 news cases, the countywide total is 8,430.
Matyas said he fully expects the state to put the county on notice, and while Solano will appeal the state’s position next week to put off a final state decision, in two more weeks the county could be going back to “purple.”
The other key piece to the state’s decision is the seven-day testing rate, which was reported Tuesday at 10.1% – well above the purple tier threshold of 8%.
California’s color-coded monitoring system designates the purple tier for counties where transmission of the novel coronavirus is considered to be widespread. Shutdown orders for counties in the purple tier are the most severe. The red tier is for counties with substantial spread of the virus. The orange tier designates moderate virus transmission, while the yellow tier is reserved for counties where the spread of the virus is deemed to be minimal.
Restrictions to slow the spread of the virus are eased as counties move from purple to red, red to orange and orange to yellow.
Hospitalizations across Solano County were at 31 Tuesday, the same as Monday ; and the number of active cases continues to rise, up from 577 to 580. [continued…]
Quote from the Daily Republic:
“[Matyas] also said that if the county does not want its businesses harmed, it needs to convince the governor’s office that the care rate has nothing to do with businesses.” Commentary: This sentence perfectly captures the business-centric approach expressed time and again by our Public Health Officer and by one or more of his employers who sit on our Solano County Board of Supervisors. I wish our businesses well, but it is not at all clear to me that “the case rate has nothing to do with businesses.” Solano’s contact tracing may show more transmission due to private social gatherings, but there is no doubt in my mind that our businesses remain a threat to viral exposure as well. Too often, our County leadership fails to properly call out businesses to enforce masking or face consequences. And our County leadership completely fails to acknowledge the value of returning to business and community shutdowns when the numbers indicate a return to the purple tier.
Quote from the Daily Republic:
“Supervisor Jim Spering was not convinced the expense would necessarily have the desired results, but he is increasingly frustrated that it will be businesses that will pay the price for the choices being made by county residents.” Commentary: Supervisor Spering has consistently over the years promoted business interests at the expense of human welfare on issues like air quality and regulation of Bay Area refineries. “Businesses will pay the price”?! While people are sick and dying? This sounds like the voice of a die-hard (as it were) right-wing doubter, not unlike the anti-government protesters spreading misinformation and casting nasty names at Board meetings.
Quote from the Daily Republic:
“Matyas said the Halloween numbers are starting to show up in the Public Health data as well, noting that the new surge is mostly younger residents. That means the hospitalization numbers are not spiking like in past surges…Hospitalizations across Solano County were at 31 Tuesday, the same as Monday…” Commentary: Well, we have learned directly from Dr. Matyas (in an email to me on November 7) that his office goes back periodically and adds large numbers of hospitalizations after the fact. This practice increased the total hospitalizations by 106 in a single day on October 29, a single-day increase of 25%. How can he with a straight face report that “hospitalization numbers are not spiking like in past surges,” when he knows from experience that he will likely need to go back and add hospitalizations at a later date?
Quote from the Daily Republic:
“Matyas said he fully expects the state to put the county on notice, and while Solano will appeal the state’s position next week to put off a final state decision, in two more weeks the county could be going back to ‘purple.'” Commentary: Solano’s kneejerk stance is to appeal. At every step, Solano has resisted the direction of our State health officials. Matyas has been featured on several Bay Area news media expressing disapproval of our State’s best guidance. He seems to fear “going back to ‘purple'” more than overseeing a surge in illness and death that is spreading throughout the nation.