Tag Archives: Solano County

Whistleblower alleges Solano domestic violence victims were refused shelter to make room for a nonprofit executive

Solano nonprofit executive lived in domestic violence safe house rented from city of Fairfield

A SafeQuest advocate said she encountered a lawyer for the organization outside a shuttered safe house in 2021. | Illustration by Tyler Lyn Sorrow.

SafeQuest Solano, the main provider of domestic violence services in Solano County, allowed an executive to live in a shelter rented from the city of Fairfield for $1 a year.

Vallejo Sun, by Scott Morris, June 28, 2023

Cassandra Chanhsy, an advocate who worked for the nonprofit SafeQuest Solano, was doing yardwork outside a Fairfield safe house for victims of domestic violence and rape in early 2021, when she was surprised to see a man walk out. Not only was it unusual to see a man at the safe house, she thought it was empty, as it had been shut down for months. Chanhsy recognized the man as Richard Bruce Paschal Jr., SafeQuest’s business officer, who typically went by his middle name.

“And I’m like, ‘What are you doing here?’” Chanhsy recalled.

“I live here,” he told her.

SafeQuest — which has provided services for victims of domestic violence in Solano County for nearly 40 years — rents the house from the city of Fairfield for $1 per year, according to the city’s contract with the organization. But Chanhsy said she hadn’t worked in the shelter since late 2019, when the organization closed it. Her manager told her and the residents that the shelter was closing because of a plumbing issue, Chanhsy recalled in an interview.

When the Fairfield house closed, Chanhsy and the roughly 10 people who were staying there went to a different safe house in Vallejo. But she occasionally returned to Fairfield as a volunteer when the grass was overgrown or leaves needed raking.

It’s unclear how long Paschal lived at the Fairfield safe house, but three other former SafeQuest employees said they were aware that Paschal lived there. One former employee who requested to remain anonymous said that SafeQuest executive director Mary Anne Branch told her that Paschal was living in the house as part of his compensation. In a brief phone interview, Paschal declined to say whether he ever lived in the house.

An anonymous complaint that was emailed to the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services in May 2022 that the Sun obtained states that he lived there from sometime in the summer of 2020 until March 2021. “No victims were taken in instead,” it states.

Meanwhile, Chanhsy and another victim advocate said the Vallejo shelter was largely empty. One advocate who worked there for a month before she resigned provided documentation that SafeQuest turned away 10 women in that time, saying there was no room when plenty of beds were available.

When operational, the Fairfield house had a capacity of 12 people per night, according to records submitted to the city of Fairfield. An advocate who worked in the Vallejo house said that its capacity was similar. But employees like Chanhsy said those beds sat empty while they worked alone in Vallejo with nothing to do. The organization received hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal and state grant funding, yet a log of late payments obtained by the Sun shows that many employees weren’t paid on time. The records show that the organization at times owed thousands of dollars in back pay and penalties.

The lack of services draws into question a bedrock service for Solano County that governments throughout the county rely on to protect victims of violent crime. SafeQuest has operational agreements to provide advocacy for victims of sexual assault and other services with nearly every police agency in Solano County, the Solano County District Attorney’s Office and Solano County Superior Court.

Millions in funding, few services

Former employees, including Chanhsy, said that the shelters in Fairfield and Vallejo were mostly empty for two years starting in late 2019. Records the organization submitted to the city of Fairfield showed that the safe house there was used very little in 2020 and 2021, even as the city had effectively donated it to the organization for that purpose.

But SafeQuest’s services were particularly necessary in those years as the COVID-19 pandemic drove an increase in domestic violence incidents around the world. A 2021 United Nations report found there was a global “shadow pandemic” of violence against women following stay-at-home-orders. A study by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine reported a spike in domestic violence-related calls to police immediately following lockdown measures in the United States.

According to SafeQuest, there was a 9% increase in instances of domestic violence in Solano County during the first two months of the pandemic. “Meanwhile, shelters, childcare centers, and rape crisis centers are overwhelmed and understaffed,” a 2020 grant application by SafeQuest stated.

The kinds of services SafeQuest is supposed to offer — in particular, emergency housing for people escaping domestic violence and transition services — can also help to prevent homelessness as the region struggles with a crippling shortage of affordable housing.

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Entire Bay Area is back in CDC’s orange and red tiers for COVID spread, Solano & Sonoma only counties in red

Entire Bay Area is back in CDC’s orange and red tiers for COVID spread

San Francisco Chronicle, by Kellie Hwang, Nov. 2, 2021
Piper Lind wears a mask and decorated costume while welcoming masked customers to Cliff’s Variety on Castro Street in San Francisco on Wednesday, Oct. 6. Jessica Christian/The Chronicle

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.

San Francisco had reached the “moderate” level last week, but reverted to “substantial” on Tuesday.

The entire Bay Area has returned to the CDC's orange 'substantial' and red 'high' categories of transmission.
The entire Bay Area has returned to the CDC’s orange ‘substantial’ and red ‘high’ categories of transmission. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Under a framework agreed to by eight Bay Area counties, a county may lift its indoor mask mandate for fully vaccinated people when: 1) its vaccination rate reaches at least 80% or enough time has passed that children 5-11 years old can be fully vaccinated; 2) the county has been in the CDC’s yellow “moderate” level of community transmission for at least three weeks — with tiers defined by case rates and positive test rates; and 3) hospitalization rates remain low.

Four counties — Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco and Sonoma — have already eased some rules, allowing fully vaccinated people to go without masks in certain indoor settings including gyms, offices and college classrooms. But masks remain mandatory in shops, restaurants and bars in those counties.

Masks remain optional for vaccinated people in Solano County, the only part of the Bay Area not to reinstate a mask mandate.

In recent weeks, the rate of new coronavirus cases per day has been under 10 per 100,000 people in most Bay Area counties — a rate not seen since mid- to late July, after the delta variant became the dominant strain in California and drove a new surge in cases.

Santa Clara and Marin counties were the first to consistently drop below 10 cases per 100,000, on Sept. 24, and Solano County was the latest, on Oct. 16. Only Sonoma’s case rate is over 10, having trended upward since the beginning of last week. The overall Bay Area case rate is 8.2 cases per 100,000, compared to the statewide case rate that is nearly double that, at 14.34.

At the same time, case rates have largely plateaued in the Bay Area’s counties, much as they have across California, which raises questions about what might happen as we approach the busy holiday season that will increase travel and send people indoors.

Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert with UCSF, said he doesn’t suspect Halloween will result in a significant uptick in cases because it is “generally a local event, and with high vaccination rates not just in adults, but in adolescents in the Bay Area,” which creates a wall of immunity around younger children.

He said there could be a small uptick in cases during the holidays due to travel to areas with higher transmission rates; waning vaccine immunity; and a more substantial flu season that could increase people’s susceptibility to COVID-19.

“I don’t think this plateau will lead to a surge remotely close to what we saw last winter,” Chin-Hong wrote in an email. “With the approval of vaccines in children 5-11, this will further boost community immunity to keep cases down.”

Here is where each Bay Area county stands on COVID metrics and the mask mandate criteria as of Nov. 2.

Note: The 7-day average case rates are from Nov. 1 and come from state data. The weekly new cases per 100,000 over the past seven days and positive test rates are from the CDC.

SF Chronicle: Just one Bay Area county is still stuck in the red tier. Here’s what’s holding it back

Solano County case rates and vaccination rates lagging behind other Bay Area counties

Solano County is the only Bay Area county still left in the red tier, while the rest of the Bay Area is in the less restrictive orange and yellow tiers. California Department of Public Health
San Francisco Chronicle, May 6, 2021, by Kellie Hwang

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.

Solano County: good, bad and in-between news on COVID-19

Solano County to stay in red COVID-19 tier for now.  Area heading into the right direction, according to public health administrator

A stadium worker holds up a sign for people to wear face masks before a baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and the Houston Astros in Oakland. Several counties in Northern California could be moving into the orange tier this week. (Jeff Chiu-Associated Press)
A stadium worker holds up a sign for people to wear face masks before a baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and the Houston Astros in Oakland. Several counties in Northern California could be moving into the orange tier this week. (Jeff Chiu-Associated Press)
Vallejo Times-Herald, by Thomas Gase, April 6, 2021

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.