The entire Bay Area has returned to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s orange “substantial” and red “high” categories of coronavirus transmission — a step backward for some counties, like Marin and San Francisco, where transmission was previously classified as yellow, or “moderate.”
This comes after Marin County lifted its indoor mask mandate on Monday after reaching key COVID-19 benchmarks agreed upon by eight Bay Area counties. However, the mandate is unlikely to be immediately reinstated; the county’s health officer Matt Willis said last week that an increase in cases alone will not determine whether masks come back; rather he will watch hospitalization numbers, which as of Friday were at a four-month low.
In recent months, coronavirus case rates have plummeted in much of the Bay Area. Most of the region’s counties are now in California’s “moderate” orange reopening tier, which allows for loosened restrictions, and San Francisco moved to the least restrictive yellow tier on Tuesday.
But Solano County, which has continued to struggle with higher case rates than the rest of the Bay Area, is still stuck in the red tier — the second-most-restrictive in the four-tier system.
According to the latest data from the state for the week ending April 24, Solano reported 8.8 new daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 people, and an adjusted case rate of 8.3, which takes into account a county’s testing efforts.
The metrics that the state considers for tier assignment, though, are fairly low, with a positive test rate of 2.7% and a health equity positive test rate of 2.1%. From April 28 to May 4, the average daily case rate for the county was 10 per 100,000, while the Bay Area’s overall average daily case rate was 5.
Dr. Bela Matyas, health officer for the county, said officials know the main reason for the persistently higher case rates.
“People who are not vaccinated are getting together with friends and family and not social distancing,” he said. “It’s been a problem since the very beginning.”
He said the stubborn case rates over the past couple of months can be attributed to younger individuals. The county’s COVID-19 dashboard shows 55% of cases in the 18 to 49 age group, 21% in residents 50 to 64, and 12% in individuals 65 and older. The 18 to 49 age group also has a lower vaccination rate, with 46% having received at least one dose compared to 68% in people 50 to 64 and 79% in residents 65 to 74.
“They are engaging in activities on the presumption that the pandemic is under control or behind us,” Matyas said.
Part of it could be frustration with the pandemic, and part of it could be the “sense they will not have a bad outcome” if they become infected, he said.
Matyas added that it’s hard to compare Solano County to much of the Bay Area when it comes to the pandemic. He called it a “bridge community between the two different cultures” of the Bay Area and the Central Valley.
Vaccination rates are lower than most other Bay Area counties, and vaccine hesitancy is also an issue.
“Very liberal counties have very high rates of vaccination, and traditionally conservative counties have low rates of vaccination,” he said. “We’re in the middle, a blend of the two.”
Matyas said vaccination rates tend to be higher in the southern part of the county that includes Vallejo (61.5% with at least one dose) and Benicia (72.3%), and becomes more moderate and conservative moving north to Fairfield (57.5%) and Vacaville (53.1%).
According to Solano County’s vaccine dashboard, 58% of residents 16 and older have received at least one vaccine dose, while 39% are fully vaccinated. Compare that to neighboring Napa County, where 66% of residents have received at least one vaccine dose, and 47% are fully vaccinated, or Marin County, which has the Bay Area’s highest vaccination rates with 83% having received at least one dose, and 64% fully vaccinated.
“Attendance at clinics is way down” in Solano, Matyas said. “To be honest, there are people in Solano County who don’t want it, who are choosing not to be vaccinated with full knowledge of their decision.”
So will Solano be able to make it to the orange tier? Matyas said the county has been trying, and has consistently provided outreach and education.
“We’ve never been in orange, and have been in the red and purple tiers the whole time,” Matyas said. “I would love to get to the orange because businesses, services and activities are clearly being limited in the red.”
Matyas said officials have achieved the goal of providing the vaccine to those who want it, and have mostly minimized the highest risk in the community, vaccinating nearly 80% of residents 65 and older so far.
At this point, Matyas said the primary goals for the county have shifted to ensuring access to vaccines for anyone who has had trouble receiving them, and helping those who are hesitant get past their hesitancy.
There’s good, bad an in-between news. On Tuesday, Solano County received some of the later.
Although COVID-19 guidelines were loosened and 80 percent of California’s population are in the orange tier after Tuesday’s reassignment, Solano County will be remaining in the red tier (substantial) for now, according to Solano County Public Health Administrator Jayleen Richards.
Solano has been in the red tier since March 10, but only a week ago, Richards said that there was a slight chance that the county actually could move backward into a more restrictive purple tier due to some alarming data.
“We are pleased to be trending in the right direction, but we’re going to stay in the red tier for now,” Richards said. “We’re glad we’re not moving backward to the purple tier.”
Officials have said they will loosen the criteria for advancing to the orange and yellow stages of the reopening plan once California distributes 4 million vaccine doses to residents of more than 400 ZIP codes considered most at-risk from the pandemic. Those ZIP codes scored in the bottom 25 percent of the Healthy Places Index, which ranks areas based on several socioeconomic factors, from education levels to transportation options.
As of Monday afternoon, California had administered 3.96 million doses to residents in the target ZIP codes, and nearly 20 million shots overall. The state is administering about 350,000 doses per day on average, putting it on pace to hit the 4 million-dose goal Tuesday.
Under the new criteria, counties with daily adjusted case rates of less than 6 new COVID cases per 100,000 residents could advance to the orange tier — up from the previous threshold of 4. The benchmark for the yellow tier, the least-restrictive in California’s reopening protocols, would rise from a daily adjusted case rate of 1 per 100,000 residents, to 2 per 100,000.
Solano has seen 31,401 COVID-19 cases, 297 of which are active. There has been 203 deaths and a 5.4 7-day positivity rate per 100,000, although the state site (which has differed from the county site) lists this number at 2.9. Under the new guidelines, the county would be able to move up to the orange tier, but Richards said that in order to go to the next tier, Solano must continue to pass the old guidelines for two consecutive weeks.
The 15 counties moving from red to orange on Tuesday were Napa, Contra Costa, Sonoma, Siskiyou, Humboldt, Mendocino, El Dorado, San Benito, Monterey, Tulare, Ventura, San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego and Imperial.
However, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Tuesday that he plans to reopen all of California on June 15, roughly nine weeks from now. This is based on two conditions — one, as long as vaccinations are widely available and two, the number of COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals remains low.
State Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said officials will discontinue the complex county-by-county system of capacity limits and other restrictions, known as the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” that has governed businesses since last summer.
Instead, California would allow restaurants, bars, stores, movie theaters, museums and practically all other businesses statewide to resume operations without capacity limits both indoors and outside, Ghaly told reporters in a news briefing Tuesday morning.
Some pandemic-era rules would remain in place, namely California’s requirement for people to wear face coverings. Ghaly said there is no time frame for when the state could drop the mask mandate.
“It really means that everyday activities will be allowed and businesses can reopen with common-sense risk reduction measures,” Ghaly said of the June 15 changes. “We can go to movies and the beach and to see families.”
Richards told the Times-Herald that she is confident the June 15 date would work for the reopening of the state.
“In mid April the 16 and older crowd will be able to be vacccinated so that means it will have been two months since the the entire eligible population could get vaccinated,” Richards said. “However, there is still a lot of work to do though, especially in the hard to reach populations and zip codes.”
Richards said that of the 400 high-risk zip codes mentioned by Newsom, at least four of them are in Solano County, although she wasn’t sure of the exact ones when speaking with the Times-Herald.
Richards said the weekly shipments of COVID-19 vaccination doses has not gone down in the last two weeks but it hasn’t increased either. This week she said there are only second doses planned for a Solano County Fairgrounds event.
“We have the capacity in Solano County to do so much more,” Richards said. “We can do thousands in a weekend and we’re hoping for more doses so we can do that.”
Bay Area News Group writer Nico Savidge contributed to this story.
The City of Benicia sent out an email announcement this morning stating that the Thursday’s vaccine clinic is for those age 50+. A previous announcement indicated the vaccine would initially be for those 60+, and if there are still reservation openings, the clinic would open further to those 50 and over.
Here’s the email announcement.
Benicia COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic
The City of Benicia is pleased to have the opportunity to host a Johnson & Johnson one-dose COVID-19 vaccine clinic for the more vulnerable members of our community (those age 50+).
WHO: Age 50+ WHAT: Johnson & Johnson vaccine – You will be fully vaccinated with a single dose. WHERE: Benicia Senior Center – 187 East L Street, Benicia, CA 94510 WHEN: Thursday, April 8th HOW: Registration is required. Register at https://tinyurl.com/aprilbeniciavaccine BRING: Completed assessment form, photo ID, email confirmation
Print and complete the attached assessment form. Bring the completed form with you to your appointment. Also be prepared to present the email confirmation of your vaccine appointment from Sign Up Genius – either printed or displayed on your cell phone.
Please plan to arrive at the Benicia Senior Center no more than 15 minutes early. Bring a valid photo ID, your completed assessment form, and your email confirmation from Sign Up Genius that you received after your registration. Due to limited space, only the person being vaccinated and (if needed) 1 support person will be allowed at the vaccine clinic.
Parking is limited. Please consider carpooling. There is also a drop off site in front of the Benicia Public Library. If you must drive yourself, parking is available at the Benicia Public Library parking lot at 150 East L Street, the City Hall parking lot at 245 East K Street, and the Community Center parking lot at 370 East L Street.
The appointment will take approximately 30-40 minutes. Face masks are required. Vaccine will be given in the upper arm; please wear a loose fitting shirt.
Need help scheduling or have questions? Call 707.746.4710 Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.