Category Archives: Solano County Health Officer Bela Matyas

SF Chronicle: Eyes on Solano County’s COVID rates

The Chronicle has published two excellent reviews this week contrasting Solano County with our Bay Area neighbors.  The first  below profiles Solano with stats and detailed interviews with  Solano leaders and residents.

In Solano County, the Bay Area’s COVID outlier, masks are anything but universal

SF Chronicle, by Kellie Hwang, Danielle Echeverria, Sep. 19, 2021
A man walks along Main Street in Vacaville. Solano County, has had the Bay Area's poorest record on coronavirus cases and vaccinations
A man walks along Main Street in Vacaville. Solano County, has had the Bay Area’s poorest record on coronavirus cases and vaccinations [Photos by Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle]
Paulie Spacco believes anyone infected with the coronavirus should just “let the body do its thing” and build antibodies, even though an 18-month pandemic and the deaths of 1 in 500 Americans point to the dangers of following such a strategy.

Spacco, a Vacaville resident and small-business owner in his 60s, and his friend Gregorio Serrao, in his 70s, both say they have no intention of getting vaccinated and oppose restricting people’s activities to try to control the spread of COVID-19. Over sandwiches recently at La Borgata Italian Deli on Vacaville’s Main Street, the two dismissed evidence proving that masks work to help block transmission of virus-laden droplets.

“At this point, if you get sick, that’s on you,” Serrao said. And it’s just inevitable, they agreed, that “you’re going to lose some people.”

Their views, which are at odds with national health advice about the coronavirus, are not hard to find in Solano County, a Bay Area outlier when it comes to the pandemic almost from the start.

Paulie Spacco (left) and Gregorio Serrao stop in La Borgata Deli in Vacaville. Both are opposed to vaccines and preventive measures such as masks to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Paulie Spacco (left) and Gregorio Serrao stop in La Borgata Deli in Vacaville. Both are opposed to vaccines and preventive measures such as masks to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.  Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

The inland expanse dotted with suburbs and medium-size cities is the least vaccinated of the Bay Area’s nine counties. Just 54% of its 450,000 residents are fully vaccinated, compared with 67% in Napa and Sonoma, the counties with the next-lowest rate. It has a high daily infection rate — currently 18.6 cases per 100,000 people, the highest of any Bay Area county except Napa according to state data — and a hospitalization rate two to three times higher than that of other local counties.

And while the county’s case numbers, like those throughout the Bay Area, have shown improvement lately, the approach of local leaders — who have been less willing to restrict residents’ activities and impose mandates — has consistently set Solano apart.

It is the only Bay Area county that doesn’t require universal masking in indoor public settings, although two of its cities — Vallejo and Benicia — have imposed mandates. Solano lagged behind several other Bay Area counties in imposing stay-home orders last year, waiting until the state required it. Tuesday, Solano supervisors voted down a proposal requiring that county employees be vaccinated, saying it should be a personal choice.

Currently only unvaccinated people are required to wear masks in indoor public settings in Solano County, in line with state policies.

Many residents and officials say they want the county to act more aggressively. Supervisor Monica Brown, for instance, whose district covers Benicia and part of Vallejo, supports a broader mask mandate.

“Our health care workers are still being inundated with COVID-19 cases,” she said at a contentious board of supervisors meeting on Tuesday, noting that it’s impossible to know whether a maskless person is vaccinated.

A woman walks by outdoor seating in a plaza along Main Street in Vacaville, Calif., on Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Solano County, has had the Bay Area's poorest record on coronavirus cases and vaccinations
A woman walks by outdoor seating in a plaza along Main Street in Vacaville, Calif., on Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Solano County, has had the Bay Area’s poorest record on coronavirus cases and vaccinationsCarlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

Supervisor Mitch Mashburn said that with young children and immunocompromised people in his house, he wears a mask to be safe. Still, he doesn’t think it’s the role of the board to force people to be vaccinated or mask up.

Bela gives details on six new COVID deaths – questions remain

By Roger Straw, September 21, 2021
Dr. Bela Matyas, Solano County Health Officer

Fairfield Daily Republic reporter Todd Hansen receives regular updates directly from Dr. Bela Matyas, Solano County Health Officer.  The information shared goes well beyond what is reported on the County’s COVID dashboard.

In yesterday’s Daily Republic report, Matyas offered some details on the 6 newest COVID deaths and indicated that his count of the death toll from our recent surge is 31.

There were three women, all 70 or older, and three men, two 65 or older and one between 50 and 65. All lived at home and all had significant underlying health issues, Matyas said.

Two were vaccinated, taking that number during the surge to eight, Matyas reported.

Four of the six individuals were infected by family members; two apparently contracted the virus at parties, Matyas said.

So add 2 new deaths of vaccinated persons to a previous Matyas report of 6 who were vaccinated and died during this surge.  It strikes me as somewhat alarming that over a quarter (8) of the 31 recent surge deaths were vaccinated individuals.

Today’s 2 new vaccinated deaths reportedly had “significant underlying health issues.”  We are left to wonder about the previous 6 vaccinated deaths, as no further information was offered to indicate whether they had underlying health issues.

We are also left to wonder what were these underlying health issues, and how severe were they?  How sick do you have to be for COVID to overcome your vaccine protection and kill you?

Finally, in his comments, I hear Dr. Matyas continuing to justify his theory that community transmission is not public transmission.  He says the 4 of the deaths were caused via infections “by family members.”  Interesting that Dr. Matyas doesn’t go on to describe where and how the family members caught the virus before bringing it home to these poor folks.  They had to get it somewhere.  Was there contact tracing?  Does Matyas know how the infectors were infected?

And Matyas adds, “two apparently contracted the virus at parties.”  Well, same question: where did the party-goers catch the virus before bringing it to the party?  Surely not in any indoors commercial spaces, right?  Surely not at work, where our county doesn’t require masks or vaccinations, right?  Commerce first, public health and safety not so much.

Sorry for the snippy rhetorical questions.  We know Bela’s oft-repeated unscientific answers.  Aaargh…

Solano Board of Supervisors backs Bela on masks and vaccinations, but gives nod to Benicia and Vallejo mandates

[BenIndy Editor: Note that the Board never even addressed Supervisor Brown’s request for a countywide indoors mask mandate like we established here in Benicia and Vallejo.  Benicia and Vallejo are clearly on our own here in Solano County.  Concerned up-county residents should consider shopping and doing business down here in Benicia/Vallejo.  And Solano employees might want to start looking for a new job!  – R.S.]

Divided board won’t mandate vaccines for Solano employees

Solano County Supervisor Erin Hannigan speaks while debating mandated vaccines and masks for Solano County employees during a Board of Supervisors meeting at the Government Center in Fairfield, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (Aaron Rosenblatt/Daily Republic)
County workers must adhere to mask policies in communities where they work

Fairfield Daily Republic, By Todd R. Hansen, September 15, 2021

FAIRFIELD — Solano County employees will not be required to get Covid-19 vaccinations, but will have to honor mask requirements in city jurisdictions that have them.

Benicia and Vallejo temporarily require everyone – vaccinated or not – to wear a mask in indoor public places. The state has the same mandate for individuals who are not vaccinated.

Masks are required in all medical facilities, and in schools.

Benicia Mayor Steve Young

Benicia Mayor Steve Young was one of 17 individuals who called into the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday. The county also received more than 100 written correspondences, two-thirds of which opposed the policies. The callers were slightly weighted in the other direction.

Young urged the board to enact its own mask mandate, though that issue was never formally up for consideration.

A county mask mandate for public indoor places was expected to be one of two issues considered by the board, but Supervisor Erin Hannigan, who had raised the mask requirement and the county vaccination mandate, backed off the full mask mandate in favor of requiring that county employees adhere to the rules of other jurisdictions.

The new mandate mostly affects county employees who work at county buildings in Vallejo. The board supported the policy on a 4-1 vote with board Chairman John Vasquez dissenting without comment.

The supervisors voted 2-3, with Vasquez, Supervisor Jim Spering and Supervisor Mitch Mashburn in the majority, to defeat Hannigan’s motion to mandate vaccinations for county employees and contractors. Supervisor Monica Brown supported the action.

“The only way we are going to get out of this pandemic is everyone get vaccinated,” Hannigan said.

Those who argued against the vaccines for county employees, also largely argued against the mask requirement, framing the issues as ones of personal freedoms and choice.

Some took great exception to anyone telling them what they must inject into their bodies. Others were less forceful, and even noted they, too, had been vaccinated, but were in no position to tell others what to do, and strongly believe government should stay out of personal medical decisions.

Corianne Tunstall comments as the Solano County Board of Supervisors debate mandated vaccines and masks for Solano County employees during a Board of Supervisors meeting at the Government Center in Fairfield, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (Aaron Rosenblatt/Daily Republic)

But Corianne Tunstall, a local hairdresser, said those “personal decisions” do not only affect those individuals, as she is frequently exposed to clients who have not been vaccinated, and who refuse to wear masks even though state law requires them to do so.

She told the board she could not afford to get sick and miss work, and felt it was wrong that others could choose to expose her and she could, in turn, expose her family.

Dr. Seth Kaufman is the chief medical officer for NorthBay Healthcare. (Courtesy photo)

Others who supported the policies included Dr. Seth Kaufman, chief medical officer at NorthBay Healthcare. He called the vaccines and masks critical pieces in the fight against Covid-19.

“We are off the charts on the number of patients we are seeing,” Kaufman said. “Our hospitals are full; our clinics are overflowing with Covid patients.”

The public discussion followed a Covid-19 status update by Dr. Bela Matyas, the county public health officer.

Dr. Bela Matyas, Solano County public health officer

He told the board that the county is emerging from the latest Covid surge that started shortly after July 4, and that includes lower number of individuals being hospitalized.

Matyas reiterated his position that a mask policy will be ineffective because the data show transmission is not taking place in public settings, but rather at private social gatherings and at home. He noted that the vast majority of counties that have mask mandates are not seeing their disease rates fall like they should if the policy worked.

However, he also reiterated his position that the best way to defeat Covid-19 is to get vaccinated.

About 64% of the residents 12 or older have been fully vaccinated, while 76% have received at least one shot. That leaves about 135,000 residents who are eligible for vaccines who have not been innoculated, Matyas said.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data Friday that indicate people who are unvaccinated who contract Covid-19 are 11 times more likely to die than are those who are vaccinated.

[continued…]

Don’t go to Vallejo libraries! Bela’s rules favor COVID transmission there

…and maybe you should think about staying away from all of Solano “up-county” – Fairfield and Vacaville, Suisun City, Dixon and Rio Vista!  – R.S.

[UPDATE: County reverses itself – click here…]

Vallejo libraries immune from mask mandates

Face coverings not required for the vaccinated

Staff and visitors aren't required to 'mask up' at Springstowne Library at 1003 Oakwood Ave., since the facility is county-operated. (Rich Freedman/Times-Herald)
Staff and visitors aren’t required to ‘mask up’ at Springstowne Library at 1003 Oakwood Ave., since the facility is county-operated. (Rich Freedman/Times-Herald)

Vallejo Times Herald, by Richard Freedman, September 13, 2021

Seems vaccinated staff and visitors are granted asylum from masking at the John F. Kennedy and Springstowne libraries in Vallejo.

Both facilities are exempt from the Vallejo City Council’s Sept. 7 “mask mandate” for all public buildings, vaccinated or not, because they are “subject to the county and library policies, procedures, rules and regulations that govern all library branches,” according to Suzanne Olawski, director of Library Services in Fairfield.

In Solano County, only Vallejo and Benicia have mask mandates in place.

Vallejo Councilmember Katy Miessner and Solano County Supervisor Erin Hannigan said they received complaints from citizens visiting the local libraries after noticing some staff members going maskless.

An employee at the John F Kennedy library wears a mask as he reshelves books on Friday in Vallejo. Because the library is a county building, employees have the option to not wear a mask indoors if they have proof of vaccination on record. (Chris Riley/Times-Herald)

Hannigan said that she “received an email from a resident citing librarians were not wearing masks, some were. When asked why they weren’t masked a librarian stated that the county doesn’t have a mask mandate and since they were in a county facility they believe they are exempt from the Vallejo mask mandate.”

Hannigan said she forwarded the email to Olawski.

“The City (Vallejo) owns the buildings and contracts with the County for library services,” Olawski said late Friday. “Per the operating agreement, the libraries operate as branches of the Solano County Library.”

A sign posted at the JFK Library entry effective June 15 states that “by entering this facility without a face covering you are self-attesting that you are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.” For individuals who are unvaccinated, there is a list of reasons they could still be exempt from masking.

Information counter staffers at both Vallejo libraries sit behind framed Plexiglas shields. At JFK, most staffers still wore masks. Most of the staffers at Springstowne didn’t.

“If an employee is fully vaccinated, it is optional for them to wear a mask at work,” Olawski said. “However, any staff member not vaccinated is required to wear a mask at work. Face coverings are available to any employee that requests one, regardless of their vaccination status.”

Olawski added that “the county’s practice at this time is masks are not required for people over the age of 12 if they are vaccinated.”

Anyone over the age of 12 not wearing a mask in the library “is self-attesting to being vaccinated,” Olawski continued. “however, there are individuals who may be exempt from wearing a face covering because of medical or physical impairment issues.”

Not good enough, Miessner said, already “deeply disappointed that Solano County Public Health decided the County didn’t need an indoor mask mandate, given the delta variant causing increases to Vallejo’s infection rates and hospitalizations. So I was furious when I heard the county decided they can disregard Vallejo’s mask mandate in Vallejo libraries.”

The library, continued Miessner, “is a place where children tend to gather and children under 12 who cannot be vaccinated depend on adults who are, and who wear masks. Obviously, Vallejo children can’t depend on Solano County Public Health. But I was grateful that Vallejo had the authority to act on our own.”

If the policy was up to Hannigan, “all county employees working inside buildings in any city with a mask mandate should be masked,” adding that President Joe Biden’s vaccination mandate for public agencies and vaccine recommendation for private employers “is the right direction.”

“Implementing vaccine mandates for employees and contractors is the only way we will get closer to ending this pandemic and reduce the opportunity for new variants,” Hannigan said.

Vallejo Councilmember Rozzana Verder-Aliga said she “agrees that public and private buildings, offices and businesses should follow the mask mandate passed by the Vallejo City Council last week. This mask mandate is for the health and safety of our residents and everyone.”

Verder-Aliga said masks are mandated where she works at the Solano County Behavior Health Clinics in Vallejo and Fairfield and also mandated at the county courthouse in Fairfield where she served on jury duty.

The Vallejo City Council said it will re-visit the mask mandate in mid-October.

Because Benicia’s public library is not part of the county library system, masks are required for everyone, Steve Young said Friday. Any changes, the mayor added, will be based on COVID case count.

The county currently “does not mandate masks for vaccinated people in indoor public spaces, except for those venues where the state specifically requires, such as public transportation. schools, and healthcare facilities,” Solano Public Health Director Bela Matyas said Friday.

Solano County Supervisor Monica Brown sent a letter dated Aug. 27 to Vallejo Mayor Robert McConnell and the Vallejo City Council encouraging the city re-instate a mask mandate — which it did — and noting that she doesn’t have enough votes on the board of supervisors to implement a (county-wide) mandate.

“I am in full support of a mask mandate in Solano County,” wrote Brown, emphasizing that “the science supports requiring face coverings” and that “the unvaccinated are filling our hospitals at alarming rates. Vaccinations are crucial to beating the virus, but so are mask mandates.”