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.