Headlines in search of stories… coronavirus in Benicia & Solano County

By Roger Straw, April 23, 2020

Those of you who are familiar with the Benicia Independent know what it is and what it isn’t.

I’m a one-person journalist.  For over 13 years here on the BenIndy, I have published news and opinion from a Benicia California perspective.

I am NOT an investigative reporter.  Mostly I repost interesting and important stories written by others.  I am an environmental advocate and an old time liberal on issues of race and gender, peace, justice, poverty and more.  I tend to focus on a single issue for weeks or months – or even years – at a time.  I’ve reported at length on hazardous oil trains, gun violence and the need for gun control legislation, local and national electoral politics, and so on.

Recently I’ve  taken on the COVID-19 pandemic here in Solano County.  And that’s where I want to take you today.

Every day now since the second week of March, I’ve posted Solano County’s numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths.  Most days I spend hours combing through local, regional and national news about the virus and posting it here on the BenIndy.

Your response has been amazing.  At the height of our successful effort to stop our local refinery from importing dirty and dangerous crude oil by rail, almost 1,800 of you paid a visit to my pages one day – a record for the BenIndy that lasted for about 5 years.  Since I started reporting on COVID-19, more than 3,000 of you have checked my pages on 9 occasions, and on April 1 you set a new all-time record of 8,105 views.  A huge and unexpected leap!

Thank you!

Now what does all that have to do with the title of this piece, “Headlines in search of stories… coronavirus in Benicia and Solano County”?

Here’s the deal: every morning I get up and flip back and forth through about 7 local and national news channels on the tv.  I spend about an hour like that while I drink too much coffee and lean my sore back on an electric heating pad.  And I take notes – ideas about important stories that I really SHOULD cover on the Benicia Independent.

Now if I were an editor in chief with staff, I’d assign reporters to make phone calls and conduct interviews and come back with stories, important stories that really should be written.

Alas, that’s not me, and that’s not the BenIndy…

So, with all that lengthy introduction, here is my list of headlines in search of stories.  Please.  Someone out there – please get on the phone or otherwise track down the information that the public needs to know, for instance…

  • There’s a NATIONAL crisis in nursing homes – how many are sick in Solano County’s congregant facilities?  Where ARE our nursing homes and retirement facilities?  (None here in Benicia – so where do Benicians go when we get old and in need of care?  And how are those facilities doing???)
  • Testing in Solano County long term care facilities – numbers, results?
  • Solano has recorded 3 coronavirus deaths, 2 among those aged over 65.  Did they die in a hospital?  And before that, were they living at home or in a long term care facility?
  • Solano County is testing fewer than 50 per day – why?!!!
  • Today’s news: Contra Costa, Napa, Sonoma and San Francisco are expanding testing – why not expanded drive-through testing in multiple cities in Solano?
  • Unemployment numbers in Solano and Benicia?  Local numbers on those unemployed? And local numbers of unemployed with no health insurance?
  • Bolinas and SF Mission District are testing EVERYONE – why not here in Benicia?  (Yes I know Bolinas is tiny and wealthy, but can’t we think big?  Who are a few philanthropists and billionaires with ties to Benicia who could fund such a project?)
  • Reopening moves are beginning to appear in Bay Area counties.  Who is planning the reopening of Solano County, and what are the plans?  And will they be open to public comment?
  • Coronavirus and guns – with schools closed, March was the first month with NO SCHOOL SHOOTINGS in the US since 2002.  Rather a bittersweet statistic – do we celebrate, or weep?  (This despite an uptick in gun purchases.  And what’s that all about?!)
  • Surely there is a dire fiscal impact of the coronavirus lockdown on Benicia and Solano governmental cash flow and operations.  Details needed, and possible solutions.

Etc., etc…  You get the idea.  But who can take it on?  The huge problem with all this is the horrific times our local news media, journalists and reporters were suffering even before the pandemic.  Too many cutbacks, too few local journalists, too few local newspapers, and now too many absences, too much loss of revenue during these historic pandemic times.  (So yes, there’s another headline in search of a story.)

Roger Straw
The Benicia Independent