Tag Archives: Solano County Health Officer Bela Matyas

California public health juggling the numbers, easing restrictions too soon, doing away with color-coded tiers

Solano County Public Health overly optimistic

[Editor: Note five highlighted references to Solano County.  – R.S.]

California plans to retire color-coded tiers, as more Bay Area counties poised to enter orange

San Francisco Chronicle, by Aidin Vaziri, April 2, 2021
Sam Benson (left) serves water as co-partner Tanner Walle greets guests March 12 at Valley Bar & Bottle, a new wine shop, bar and restaurant in Sonoma.
Sam Benson (left) serves water as co-partner Tanner Walle greets guests March 12 at Valley Bar & Bottle, a new wine shop, bar and restaurant in Sonoma. Yalonda M. James / The Chronicle

California is preparing to retire its color-coded tiered reopening plan as vaccination rates improve and coronavirus cases continue to drop, state officials said Friday, as several Bay Area counties prepared to move into a less restrictive tier next week.

Details about a so-called green tier — which would presumably allow almost all activities to resume in counties with very low threat from the virus — will be “coming soon” as part of the state’s transition toward shutting down the tiered system entirely, said Dee Dee Myers, the state’s top economic adviser.

“We said we would reopen the economy as soon as it was safe to do so,” Myers said during a Friday briefing during which she and the state health officer introduced guidance bringing back indoor events and large private gatherings.

The optimistic update from the state came as cases continue to climb in other parts of the United States and public health officials nationally and locally advised extreme caution in reopening the economy.

Cases are still declining in California, though they’ve flattened in some counties, and the state plans to open vaccine access to everyone 16 and older in less than two weeks as supply improves. Only three counties — none in the Bay Area — remain in the most restrictive purple tier of California’s pandemic reopening plan.

The four Bay Area counties in the red tier, the second most restrictive, could all move to orange next week. Only Sonoma County is currently meeting the state’s orange tier metrics, but the other three — Contra Costa, Napa and  Solano  — could move too, based on an expected readjustment to the metrics tied to vaccine equity.

The new metrics could also allow San Francisco to move to the least-restrictive yellow tier a bit faster, though the earliest it would be eligible is April 13.

Sonoma County, which had been stuck in the purple tier for more than six months before moving to red three weeks ago, is poised to move into orange on Tuesday unless its numbers suddenly tank — as happened with Napa County last week, when it just missed moving to the orange tier.

“It’s hard to predict for sure, but at the moment, it looks likely that we’re on track to enter orange tier sometime next week,” said Kim Holden, a spokesperson for the county’s Public Health Department.

The move would mean wineries could open indoor tasting rooms and bars, and music and sports venues could open outdoors with limits. Sonoma County would join San Francisco, Marin, San Mateo, Alameda and Santa Clara counties in the orange tier. The state announces new tier assignments every Tuesday, and the relaxed restrictions take effect on Wednesday.

The three other Bay Area counties that remain in the red tier don’t currently meet metrics to move to orange. But they will once the state readjusts those metrics.

California announced a plan in early March tying the number of vaccinations in low-income communities to an accelerated reopening system. The tier assignments already were loosened once, when the state reached 2 million vaccinations in those communities. They will be further loosened when the state hits 4 million vaccinations.

As of Friday the state was at 3.7 million vaccinations in low-income communities. “It’s very possible that sometime next week we will be crossing that (4 million) threshold,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, the state health officer, on Friday.

Currently, counties need to report fewer than 3.9 cases per 100,000 residents, adjusted based on the amount of testing they do, to move to the orange tier. Contra Costa, Napa and  Solano  counties are all above that rate. But when the metrics are readjusted, the new maximum case rate for the orange tier will be 5.9 per 100,000. All three counties meet that metric.

“We are currently holding steady and well within the red tier at 5.5 cases per day per 100,000, and especially so when the state closes in on the 4 million doses,” said  Shai Davis, a spokesperson for Solano County’s health department . “We aim to see a downward trend in daily new cases and be able to progress to the orange tier when eligible.”

The tier adjustments also would lower the case rate for the yellow tier — from 1 case per 100,000 currently to under 2 cases per 100,000. San Francisco is meeting the second goal, but under state rules it must remain in the orange tier for at least one more week before moving to yellow.

Despite the encouraging signs, the  Solano County Department of Health and Social Services  on Thursday urged residents to continue to adhere to coronavirus mitigation measures through the upcoming religious and spring break holidays, noting an uptick of new cases.

“The rising number of COVID-19 cases is concerning, especially as we approach the holidays where the risk of spread can increase,” said  Dr. Bela Matyas, the county’s health officer , in a statement. “Being in the red tier does not mean we can let our guard down.”

Santa Clara County’s public health officials also cautioned vigilance as they are continuing to see increases in the number and proportion of confirmed cases of coronavirus variants.

“We’re already seeing surges in other parts of the country, likely driven by variants. Combined with the data we are seeing locally, these are important warning signs that we must continue to minimize the spread,” said Dr. Sara Cody, the Santa Clara County health officer.

As of last week, every variant of concern has been detected in Santa Clara County, including variants that are more infectious and may be partially resistant to vaccines. Officials said the county continues to face inadequate vaccine supply.

“If we can’t get more supply, and continued adherence to behavior like wearing masks, then we do anticipate another surge. I would hope it would be a swell, not a surge,” Cody said. She defined a swell as a less intense surge.

“We need people to hold on just a little bit longer,” she said. “Don’t indoor dine, don’t host an indoor gathering, don’t travel. Even if it’s allowed under the state rules, don’t do it. It’s not safe, not yet.”

Slanted coverage of Solano’s poor response to recent COVID surge

[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 Daily Republic, By Todd R. Hansen, November 11, 2020
Dr. Bela Matyas, Solano County Health Officer

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.


Solano County does not have reliable information on each day’s new COVID hospitalizations

Dr. Matyas responds to my request for daily updates on TOTAL hospitalizations since the pandemic began

By Roger Straw, September 28, 2020
Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent

On September 24, I wrote to Dr. Bela Matyas, asking him to restore a TOTAL count of COVID hospitalizations since the pandemic began:

Please consider this request:  From the earliest days of the pandemic and through July 10, the County’s COVID dashboard showed Total Hospitalizations.

Beginning on July 13, the dashboard only shows Current Hospitalizations.  The daily change in Current Hospitalizations must be the difference between admissions and discharges, plus or minus, which is important to know.

However, the public needs to also know how many NEW admissions on a daily basis in order to accurately understand spread.  This can easily be seen in the daily update of Total Hospitalizations.

Please consider restoring Total Hospitalizations to the COVID dashboard.

Dr. Matyas sent the following reply on September 27:
Dr. Bela Matyas, Solano County Public Health Officer

“The daily change in total hospitalizations does not faithfully represent new hospitalizations; the majority of added hospitalizations day over day is from reconciliation of previously hospitalized cases that we learn about in arrears. It is likely to be a substantially under-reported number.

Hospitalization is not a reportable condition on an individual level; hospital capacity is the condition that we are monitoring, and total hospitalizations per day is the relevant metric. Reporting total hospitalizations to date on a daily basis would be a misleading indicator for tracking new hospitalizations both because of the timing of reports and the under-reporting of hospitalizations.”

My response today:

Dr. Matyas – Thank you for your response to my email. With respect, I think I disagree. Regardless whether a daily update of TOTAL hospitalizations since the outbreak began includes ONLY new hospitalizations TODAY or both new TODAY and “newly learned in arrears” hospitalizations, the metric of total hospitalizations (and a 7 or 14 day average graph showing the curve of that metric) would be of great significance in understanding the overall spread of the most serious cases.

This daily increase, whether learned in arrears or not, is important for the public’s awareness. MOST IMPORTANTLY, reporting on hospitalizations in this way might help in cautioning the public to take seriously the continuing need for masks, social distancing, hand washing, etc. As our public health officer, I’d hope you might stop and think about this again. Seems it wouldn’t hurt the cause at all to add this metric to the County’s COVID dashboard, and shouldn’t be too hard to calculate the data as I have been doing, working from the AGE GROUP data.

I will continue to add together the newly reported daily reported increase of hospitalizations in the AGE GROUP data in order to determine the daily increase in TOTAL hospitalizations. And I will continue to let the public know.

Roger Straw

Click the image for Solano County COVID-19 Updates and Resources

Solano’s 3 new COVID deaths not new – County is updating records

Solano reports 3 more Covid-related deaths, but from past months

Fairfield Daily Reporter, By Todd R. Hansen, September 24, 2020

FAIRFIELD — Solano County’s Covid-19 death total rose Wednesday to 60, but the three deaths actually occurred in May, June and July.

Dr. Bela Matyas, Solano County Public Health Officer

Dr. Bela Matyas, the county public health officer, said the Public Health Division is conducting an audit of its records in comparison to death certificates and that is when the discrepancy was found.

“We knew they were Covid-positive, but we didn’t know they died (because) they died at home and there was no autopsy,” Matyas said.

He noted, again, that all Covid-related deaths are recorded in those terms because the virus is present even if it is not the primary cause of the death, or in some cases, not even a contributing cause.

“So what we are trying to do is reconcile the number of deaths with the death certificates,” he said.

Matyas said he expects more to be uncovered as the survey continues.

More troubling to the county moving forward was the 38 new confirmed cases reported Wednesday.

The county needs to be closer to 18 new daily cases in order to move into the orange tier from the red tier, a step that will ease more restrictions on businesses that are open and allow even more businesses and community activities to restart.

Solano County was in the most-restrictive purple tier in the state’s color-coded monitoring system until Tuesday, meaning there was widespread transmission of the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19. The red tier represents substantial transmission of the virus, while the orange tier represents moderate spread of the virus and the yellow tier indicates minimal transmission.

The state puts the county’s daily case average at 28 because it uses a slightly different reporting structure than the county’s approach of using the day of testing.

Still, Matyas said it will be a challenge for the county to knock the average down by 10 cases per day, especially if there are any more care facility outbreaks.

The other critical piece is the seven-day positivity testing rate, which as of Wednesday was 3.3%, comfortably below the high end of the orange tier allowance of 4.9%.

The total number of cases in Solano County rose to 6,232.

The deaths are up to 60, with hospitalizations climbing from 20 Tuesday to 22 Wednesday and active cases increasing from 220 to 244, the county reported.

Fairfield, after a day with no new cases reported, added 13 to its total, now at 2,035. Vallejo added 10 to reach 2,060, while nine new cases in Vacaville took that city’s count to 1,043.

There were two cases added to Rio Vista’s tally, which is reported at 47, and one in Benicia, with a new total of 164 cases. There were no new cases reported in Dixon (453) or in the unincorporated area of the county, which has 22 cases.

The number of completed tests was reported at 85,685, up 335 over Tuesday’s update.  [continued]