For those with the stomach for it, here is the Benicia City Council’s Feb. 15 discussion and 4-1 vote to lift the citywide indoor mask mandate. Fair warning: public comments were full of misinformation and self-centered right-wing talking points about individual freedom. Vice Mayor Campbell was the only Council member with enough backbone and regard for scientific fact to oppose this action. Thank you, Tom Campbell! Republican Councilmember Largaespada led the anti-mask charge, and should pay the price when we go to the polls in November. (See guide to the video time slots below.)
February 16, 2022
By Benicia’s Dr. Richard Fleming (Nextdoor post, reprinted here with permission)
On February 15, our city council voted to lift the indoor mask mandate by a vote of 4-1.
While their vote was not surprising, it was disappointing.
With 8 of the 9 Bay Area counties lifting county-wide masking orders, it would have been a stretch for Benicia’s city leaders to continue the local mandate.
In written and public comments, the main point I tried to make is that if one looks objectively at Benicia’s and Solano County’s numbers, we are far behind the rest of the Bay Area. Our cases are much higher. Our hospitalization rate is mid-range, but has increased since the city council last discussed the mandate in mid-January.
And, most concerning, our vaccination rate is significantly lower than the rest of the Bay Area. Excellent data shows that 3 shots are needed (or 2 shots, if the first is J&J) for optimal protection. Currently 43.2% of Benicia residents are optimally vaccinated. The other Bay Area counties have much higher vaccination rates.
The public comment period during the meeting was spirited, and many people called for the mandate to end. While I understand people’s frustration, the reasons people calling in gave for ending the mandate did not address our current situation with the pandemic. The reasons callers brought up included: masks don’t work, they are dangerous to your health, they are divisive, they are political, they have turned Benicia into a hateful angry town, they are a product of irrational fear, few people in the rest of the country wear masks and they are all doing just fine, and masks are hard on children.
Callers said mandates are unconstitutional and people should have the individual right to do what they want.
Since none of these comments addressed where the pandemic currently stands, they would have been equally applicable a year ago.
Leaving aside the question of children, there are rational opposing views to each of these statements, based on both scientific study and U.S. judicial history, but I will not revisit those here.
Specifically on the issue of children, I think a valid case can be made that children should no longer be required to wear masks. At the same time, there is little doubt that mask-wearing by children has helped save many teachers and grandparents from getting sick. But at this point, with numbers improving, it is probably time to for children to take their masks off.
Vice Mayor Tom Campbell was the lone vote to continue the mandate. He pointed to the hundreds of medical studies which confirm the effectiveness of masking. He also referred to the fact that our numbers do not yet support lifting this safety measure, though hopefully our numbers will be better soon.
Bottom line, I think the council lifted the mask mandate a bit prematurely. I think our numbers would improve more quickly had it been left in place, but hopefully they will continue to improve anyway. We in Benicia are substantially protected by what the rest of the Bay Area is doing, since we are not a walled-off island. And the fact the rest of the Bay Area has vaccinated such a high proportion of its population and succeeded in quashing the virus more effectively than we have will help things here in Benicia.
Ultimately, the two best things we can each do are get vaccinated and boosted, and to understand that actions we each take can have an impact on others. We live in a community, and we each have freedoms, but freedoms come with responsibilities towards others.
Your comments and support for reinstating an indoors mask mandate for Benicia is desperately needed as we protect ourselves and others from the surging and highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19.
Our County health department is failing to protect public health and safety, so we have to take action locally. Thank goodness Mayor Young and Vice-Mayor Campbell have taken this initiative. The measure MUST pass tonight!
Here’s the agenda item, followed by instructions for attending the virtual meeting.
AGENDA ITEM 16.A – RESOLUTION REQUIRING THE WEARING OF FACE COVERINGS IN BENICIA (City Attorney)
At the August 17, 2021 City Council meeting, the City Council directed City staff to prepare a resolution requiring face coverings be worn in certain circumstances indoors given the rise of COVID-19 cases relating to the Delta variant. If adopted, the resolution would be effective immediately and require face coverings in certain locations as detailed in the resolution.
Discuss and consider adopting a resolution requiring the mandatory use of face coverings in certain circumstances. Staff has attached two draft resolutions for consideration. The first resolution (Attachment 1) is based on Resolution No. 20-78, adopted by the Council on June 16, 2020. The second resolution is based on the health orders issued by the seven neighboring Bay Area health officers (Attachment 2). A majority vote is required to adopt any resolution.
3. Two-Step Request – Mayor Young & Vice Mayor Campbell
HOW TO PARTICIPATE IN BENICIA COUNCIL MEETING:
Members of the public may provide public comments to the City Clerk by email at email@example.com. Any comment submitted to the City Clerk should indicate to which item of the agenda the comment relates. Specific information follows:
– Comments received by 2:00 pm on the day of the meeting will be electronically forwarded to the City Council and posted on the City’s website.
– Comments received after 2:00 pm, but before the start time of the meeting will be electronically forwarded to the City Council, but will not be posted on the City’s website, and will not be read into the record.
– Comments received after the start time of the meeting, but prior to the close of the public comment period for an item will be read into the record, with a maximum allowance of 5 minutes per individual comment, subject to the Mayor’s discretion.
• If prompted for a password, enter 405755.
• Use participant option to “raise hand” during the public comment period for the item you wish to speak on. Please note, your electronic device must have microphone capability. Once unmuted, you will have up to 5 minutes to speak.
OR: Dial in with phone:
Before the start of the item you wish to comment on, call any of the numbers below. If one is busy, try the next one.
1 669 900 9128
1 346 248 7799
1 253 215 8782
1 646 558 8656
1 301 715 8592
1 312 626 6799
• Enter the meeting ID number: 839 3585 1585 *please note this is an updated ID number*.
• Enter password: 405755
• When prompted for a Participant ID, press #.
• Press *9 on your phone to “raise your hand” when the Mayor calls for public comment during the item you wish to speak on. Once unmuted, you will have up to 5 minutes to speak.
Let Benicia City Council know you support masks in indoors public spaces!
At next Tuesday’s Council meeting, members will hear a request to implement a face covering mandate for the City of Benicia.
The request, submitted by Mayor Steve Young and Vice Mayor Tom Campbell, would establish a “mask mandate for inside commercial businesses.”
City Council rules require a “two-step process” just to agendize discussion of a new item. The August 17 request is the first of the two steps, requesting the item be agendized for consideration at the August 24 meeting. It’s an important first step – Young and Campbell will need three votes just to bring the item to Council on August 24 for discussion and a vote.