Category Archives: Bay Area

How to navigate renewed COVID threat in the Bay Area

Roger Straw

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Roger Straw: Well, it finally ALMOST happened. My wife and I have been ultra careful, and so far are among the increasingly rare few who have not contracted the coronavirus. Mary Susan is immune compromised, so we still wear masks in the grocery and other crowded indoors places. But we were seriously exposed when close family members tested positive a day or two after celebrating a birthday in our own home. They got on Paxlovid right away, and are fine, but only after a really miserable 2 weeks. We isolated and tested negative every other day for 10 days – and whew, still have not got the bug. Thank goodness we celebrated with windows wide open and seated widely spaced at the long dinner table. Please know that COVID is back, it’s around you, and it is no fun when you get it! And… it can be really serious, even long-lasting. Read on….]

How to navigate renewed COVID threat in the Bay Area

San Francisco Chronicle, by Aidin Vaziri, Aug. 22, 2023

Fans wait for Ethel Cain at the Sutro stage during the first day of the Outside Lands Music Festival on Aug. 11. As the Bay Area’s summer COVID-19 swell gains ground, outdoor venues remain a relatively safe environment, even without masks. | Jessica Christian/The Chronicle

UPDATERising COVID cases prompt Bay Area hospital to reinstate mask mandate

A local theater troupe cancels a weekend of performances because cast members have COVID. A Sunday luncheon is postponed because the hostess has fallen ill. A colleague catches the coronavirus on a trip back from Italy. The nearby Walgreens is sold out of home test kits.

There’s no mistaking that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is staging an unwanted comeback in the Bay Area. The uptick in COVID cases evokes memories of summers since 2020. Official figures, though early, back up the anecdotes: The state’s test positivity rate has climbed to 11.8%, its highest level since the beginning of the year, and hospitalizations are up more than 63% in the last month, from a seven-day average of 163 admissions per day in mid-July to 266 per day last week.

Nationally, there were 12,613 new COVID-19 hospitalizations for the week ending Aug. 12, according to data released Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This figure reflects a 21.6% rise compared to the preceding week. Deaths due to COVID-19, a lagging indicator, are also starting to pick up nationwide, with an 8.3% increase over the same period.

While many cases result in mild symptoms, especially for those who’ve been vaccinated or previously battled the virus, COVID’s disruption to work and life is still undeniable. Plus, some evidence suggests that each subsequent bout of the virus may raise the risk of experiencing a persistent state of exhaustion, brain fog, or other symptoms known as long COVID.

Despite the resurgence, a sense of “pandemic fatigue” pervades the population, prompting many people to resume normal activities and overlook the threat, especially if their risk of severe illness is low. Restaurants, movie theaters, concert venues and airplanes are now packed with crowds of almost entirely unmasked people who roll the dice and hope for the best.

But what if you’re not among those willing to wager on chance, either due to underlying health conditions or general concern about adverse outcomes? As the summer swell gains momentum, here is a refresher on the latest expert advice to navigate uncertain times.

When to consider vaccinations and boosters

Throughout 2023, the dominant strains of the coronavirus nationwide and in the Bay Area have been descendants of the omicron family of SARS-CoV-2. The currently available vaccines and boosters were tailored to combat both the original 2020 coronavirus strain and a 2022 omicron derivative, so they offer somewhat diminished protection against the current variants. Yet they still afford greater protection than no vaccination at all. Updated vaccines geared toward more recent variants are set to roll out in late September or early October.

When to consider a booster:

  • Higher-risk individuals: People at higher risk of severe illness, including those with health conditions such as obesity or diabetes, individuals age 65 and above, or those with compromised immune systems due to underlying immunological problems or cancer treatments, should get a booster shot every six months. Some vulnerable people might consider a shot now if it’s been more than four months since their last.
  • General population: If you are in good health, under 65, and have received a vaccine or battled COVID within the past six months, the best option is likely to wait until the fall for the updated booster. Even if it has been more than six months, you might want to hold out for the new booster because it’s better tuned to fighting off current variants.

Masking calculus

Few topics have sparked more debate than masking, with arguments ranging from its efficacy to ideological objections to mandates. Yet the evidence remains clear: Consistent masking has been shown to be an accessible and effective means to reduce transmission, whether you’re at risk of unknowingly spreading the virus or of contracting it.

For those looking for more protection in the current environment, situations where a tight-fitting quality N95 or KN95 mask can be beneficial include:

  • Public transportation.
  • Airport waiting lounges and during aircraft boarding and taxiing.
  • Crowded indoor spaces where people are singing or shouting.
  • Bustling restaurants before and after meals.

Scenarios that may not warrant the same level of precaution include:

  • Walking or hiking outdoors.
  • Open-air concerts or sporting events.
  • Alfresco dining or social interactions.

Navigating social situations and testing

Although there are no definitive rules for safe or unsafe behavior in more intimate social settings, a combination of thoughtfulness and common courtesy can guide most interactions.

  • Home test kits, while still able to detect the latest coronavirus strains, are not as reliable as they were in the past. A positive home test remains a clear indication of COVID, and there’s no need to confirm the diagnosis with an official lab test unless it’s required for work absences or other reasons.
  • A greater concern is the potential for “false negatives” from home tests during the early stages of infection. If you suspect you may be ill and are worried about meeting other people, multiple tests over successive days should clear up any doubt.
  • If you need to have more certainty for some reason, many pharmacies and health providers still provide a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, laboratory test, which is considered the gold standard. Payment is dependent on insurance carriers, and out-of-pocket testing can cost upward of $100.
  • When visiting at-risk friends or family members, wearing a mask requires minimal effort and can safeguard your loved ones. If you have any reason to suspect you may be sick or have been exposed to the virus, taking a home COVID test before meeting affords a quick — if imperfect — screen.
  • For hospital or nursing home visits, an over-the-counter test ahead of time and masking can help protect vulnerable populations, as well as yourself.

What should you do if you are exposed or infected?

  • In case of exposure: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a practical risk calculator for determining post-exposure actions following contact with someone who has COVID-19. The first step: Put on a mask to protect others for 10 days, watch for symptoms such as fever, and test yourself on Day 6. If you’re negative, keep masking until Day 10, and then you can stop.
  • If you are infected: In the event of a positive test or development of symptoms, the CDC advises immediate isolation. Wear a high-quality mask if you must be around others. The most infectious period usually spans the first five days after testing positive.
  • When to seek emergency treatment: If you have trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, feel disoriented, unable to wake or stay awake, or experience a change in skin tone, call 911 or your local emergency department.
  • When to end isolation: Those who show no symptoms can end isolation after five days, the CDC says. But if you do have symptoms, you should continue to isolate until you are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication.If you had moderate (difficulty breathing) or severe (requiring hospitalization) symptoms, you should isolate through Day 10. Wear a mask until you have two sequential negative test results 48 hours apart.
  • Treatments and medications: For those experiencing mild illness, the CDC advises home recovery, with over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) to help manage symptoms.A Food and Drug Administration-approved antiviral drug, Paxlovid, can effectively treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in individuals who are at greater risk, but treatment must be started within days of symptom onset. Preliminary research also suggests Paxlovid can reduce the risk of developing long COVID.

More COVID on the Benicia Independent…


California public health juggling the numbers, easing restrictions too soon, doing away with color-coded tiers

Solano County Public Health overly optimistic

[Editor: Note five highlighted references to Solano County.  – R.S.]

California plans to retire color-coded tiers, as more Bay Area counties poised to enter orange

San Francisco Chronicle, by Aidin Vaziri, April 2, 2021
Sam Benson (left) serves water as co-partner Tanner Walle greets guests March 12 at Valley Bar & Bottle, a new wine shop, bar and restaurant in Sonoma.
Sam Benson (left) serves water as co-partner Tanner Walle greets guests March 12 at Valley Bar & Bottle, a new wine shop, bar and restaurant in Sonoma. Yalonda M. James / The Chronicle

California is preparing to retire its color-coded tiered reopening plan as vaccination rates improve and coronavirus cases continue to drop, state officials said Friday, as several Bay Area counties prepared to move into a less restrictive tier next week.

Details about a so-called green tier — which would presumably allow almost all activities to resume in counties with very low threat from the virus — will be “coming soon” as part of the state’s transition toward shutting down the tiered system entirely, said Dee Dee Myers, the state’s top economic adviser.

“We said we would reopen the economy as soon as it was safe to do so,” Myers said during a Friday briefing during which she and the state health officer introduced guidance bringing back indoor events and large private gatherings.

The optimistic update from the state came as cases continue to climb in other parts of the United States and public health officials nationally and locally advised extreme caution in reopening the economy.

Cases are still declining in California, though they’ve flattened in some counties, and the state plans to open vaccine access to everyone 16 and older in less than two weeks as supply improves. Only three counties — none in the Bay Area — remain in the most restrictive purple tier of California’s pandemic reopening plan.

The four Bay Area counties in the red tier, the second most restrictive, could all move to orange next week. Only Sonoma County is currently meeting the state’s orange tier metrics, but the other three — Contra Costa, Napa and  Solano  — could move too, based on an expected readjustment to the metrics tied to vaccine equity.

The new metrics could also allow San Francisco to move to the least-restrictive yellow tier a bit faster, though the earliest it would be eligible is April 13.

Sonoma County, which had been stuck in the purple tier for more than six months before moving to red three weeks ago, is poised to move into orange on Tuesday unless its numbers suddenly tank — as happened with Napa County last week, when it just missed moving to the orange tier.

“It’s hard to predict for sure, but at the moment, it looks likely that we’re on track to enter orange tier sometime next week,” said Kim Holden, a spokesperson for the county’s Public Health Department.

The move would mean wineries could open indoor tasting rooms and bars, and music and sports venues could open outdoors with limits. Sonoma County would join San Francisco, Marin, San Mateo, Alameda and Santa Clara counties in the orange tier. The state announces new tier assignments every Tuesday, and the relaxed restrictions take effect on Wednesday.

The three other Bay Area counties that remain in the red tier don’t currently meet metrics to move to orange. But they will once the state readjusts those metrics.

California announced a plan in early March tying the number of vaccinations in low-income communities to an accelerated reopening system. The tier assignments already were loosened once, when the state reached 2 million vaccinations in those communities. They will be further loosened when the state hits 4 million vaccinations.

As of Friday the state was at 3.7 million vaccinations in low-income communities. “It’s very possible that sometime next week we will be crossing that (4 million) threshold,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, the state health officer, on Friday.

Currently, counties need to report fewer than 3.9 cases per 100,000 residents, adjusted based on the amount of testing they do, to move to the orange tier. Contra Costa, Napa and  Solano  counties are all above that rate. But when the metrics are readjusted, the new maximum case rate for the orange tier will be 5.9 per 100,000. All three counties meet that metric.

“We are currently holding steady and well within the red tier at 5.5 cases per day per 100,000, and especially so when the state closes in on the 4 million doses,” said  Shai Davis, a spokesperson for Solano County’s health department . “We aim to see a downward trend in daily new cases and be able to progress to the orange tier when eligible.”

The tier adjustments also would lower the case rate for the yellow tier — from 1 case per 100,000 currently to under 2 cases per 100,000. San Francisco is meeting the second goal, but under state rules it must remain in the orange tier for at least one more week before moving to yellow.

Despite the encouraging signs, the  Solano County Department of Health and Social Services  on Thursday urged residents to continue to adhere to coronavirus mitigation measures through the upcoming religious and spring break holidays, noting an uptick of new cases.

“The rising number of COVID-19 cases is concerning, especially as we approach the holidays where the risk of spread can increase,” said  Dr. Bela Matyas, the county’s health officer , in a statement. “Being in the red tier does not mean we can let our guard down.”

Santa Clara County’s public health officials also cautioned vigilance as they are continuing to see increases in the number and proportion of confirmed cases of coronavirus variants.

“We’re already seeing surges in other parts of the country, likely driven by variants. Combined with the data we are seeing locally, these are important warning signs that we must continue to minimize the spread,” said Dr. Sara Cody, the Santa Clara County health officer.

As of last week, every variant of concern has been detected in Santa Clara County, including variants that are more infectious and may be partially resistant to vaccines. Officials said the county continues to face inadequate vaccine supply.

“If we can’t get more supply, and continued adherence to behavior like wearing masks, then we do anticipate another surge. I would hope it would be a swell, not a surge,” Cody said. She defined a swell as a less intense surge.

“We need people to hold on just a little bit longer,” she said. “Don’t indoor dine, don’t host an indoor gathering, don’t travel. Even if it’s allowed under the state rules, don’t do it. It’s not safe, not yet.”

Solano and other Bay Area Counties – detailed tracking of status on State COVID watchlist

[NOTE: Details on Solano County below.]

Coronavirus:  How close are Bay Area counties to coming off state monitoring list?

Santa Clara and San Mateo are nearing the threshold

Vallejo Times-Herald, by Evan Webeck and Harriet Rowan, 8/6/20

It’s been close to a month since Gov. Gavin Newsom announced additional restrictions for counties on the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list. In that time, the list has grown to encompass every county in the Bay Area and over 90% of the state’s population.

Is there anywhere in the Bay Area close to escaping the list? We’re tracking the metrics county-by-county below, using data compiled by this news organization. Currently, hospitalizations are trending in the right direction in most of the region, but there isn’t one county that meets the per-capita case threshold necessary to come off the list, according to our calculations.

San Mateo County, with a rate of 12.5 cases per 10,000 residents over the past two weeks, is closest to falling below the state threshold of 10, followed by Santa Clara County, with a per-capita rate of 13.9 per 10,000.

The California Department of Public Health uses six criterion to determine if there is elevated disease transmission, increasing hospitalizations or limited hospital capacity in a county.

  1. Testing rate: Below 1.5 per 1,000 population per day over past 7 days
  2. Case rate: Above 10 per 10,000 population over the past 14 days
  3. Positivity rate: 8% or higher over past 7 days if 14-day case rate is less than 10 but higher than 2.5 per 10,000
  4. Hospitalizations: Increase of 10% or more in 3-day average vs. previous 3 days
  5. ICU capacity: 20% or less beds available
  6. Ventilator capacity: 25% or less ventilators available

Falling out of line with any one of the six metrics for three days lands a county on the list. To come off, a county has to meet all six markers for three straight days.

Under the most recent health order, counties on the monitoring list for three days are also forced to close gyms, personal-care services, nonessential offices, places of worship and malls in addition to the statewide closures of bars, indoor dining and other indoor entertainment. To be eligible to open schools for in-person learning, a county must be off the list for 14 days.

Note: CDPH uses a 7-day lag when tracking its data, while this news organization compiles the most up-to-date data from county health departments. Recently discovered underreporting of tests and cases could skew the data. Because of the faulty data, CDPH has temporarily paused adding or subtracting counties from the monitoring list. There is no standardized number of ICUs and ventilators per county publicly available, so that data is not included below.


population: 1.67 million

Cases per 10,000 (past 14 days): 15.7 (+6.6% since previous 14-day period)

Positivity rate (past 7 days): 3.7%

Hospitalizations (past 3 days, average): 194.3 (-2.5% since previous 3-day period)

Contra Costa

population: 1.15 million

Cases per 10,000 (past 14 days): 15.3 (-14.5% since previous 14-day period)

Positivity rate (past 7 days): 12.32%

Hospitalizations (past 3 days, average): 98.3 (-5.7% since previous 3-day period)


population: 263,000

Cases per 10,000 (past 14 days): 31.0 (-43.7% since previous 14-day period)

Positivity rate (past 7 days): 15.86%

Hospitalizations (past 3 days, average): 23.3 (-10.4% since previous 3-day period)


population: 140,000

Cases per 10,000 (past 14 days): 21.5 (+22.9% since previous 14-day period)

Positivity rate (past 7 days): 11.24%

Hospitalizations (past 3 days, average): 8.3 (-28.8% since previous 3-day period)

San Francisco

population: 884,000

Cases per 10,000 (past 14 days): 19.7 (+22.9% since previous 14-day period)

Positivity rate (past 7 days): 2.96%

Hospitalizations (past 3 days, average): 93 (-9.4% since previous 3-day period)

San Mateo

population: 775,000

Cases per 10,000 (past 14 days): 12.5 (-11% since previous 14-day period)

Positivity rate (past 7 days): 7.16%

Hospitalizations (past 3 days, average): 55.7 (-0.1% since previous 3-day period)

Santa Clara

population: 1.95 million

Cases per 10,000 (past 14 days): 13.9 (-4.9% since previous 14-day period)

Positivity rate (past 7 days): 7.48%

Hospitalizations (past 3 days, average): 175.7 (-5.7% since previous 3-day period)


population: 441,000

Cases per 10,000 (past 14 days): 19.3 (-21.5% since previous 14-day period)

Positivity rate (past 7 days): 15.33%

Hospitalizations (past 3 days, average): 45.3 (+7.1% since previous 3-day period)


population: 501,000

Cases per 10,000 (past 14 days): 19.8 (+27.3 since previous 14-day period)

Positivity rate (past 7 days): 12.42%

Hospitalizations (past 3 days, average): 41.7 (-5.2% since previous 3-day period)

Here’s who is trying to evade COVID-19 shutdown rules

Individuals and industries with dubious justifications rush to claim entitlement to special ‘essential’ status

The Mercury News, by Daniel Borenstein, April 4, 2020
Operators of Golden Gate Fields racetrack prioritized people’s ability to play the ponies rather than the public health – until the Alameda County district attorney on Thursday ordered the operation shut down. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Essential means essential.

We are under orders to stay home. But there are exceptions. These are generally the functions that we need to keep people fed, healthy, housed and informed, and to maintain a minimal level of government and critical public services.

For Bay Area county health orders, and for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s separate statewide directive, the goal is to preserve “essential” services. Similarly, President Donald Trump’s nonbinding coronavirus guidelines make exceptions for critical infrastructure industries.

Now, we’re seeing individuals and industries rushing with dubious justifications to claim that special status. Come on, folks. This has got to stop. We are in the middle of a pandemic that could kill millions around the world, including an estimated 100,000 to 240,000 people in the United States.

Bay Area and state health officials have had to make tough choices. For our own health, and that of everyone else in the region, state, nation and world, we must respect those decisions.

We must use common sense.

Without widespread and effective testing that would allow identification of those infected, the only way to slow the spread of the coronavirus is self-isolation across the nation and the world. Just because you’re feeling fine doesn’t mean that you’re healthy – up to 25% of infected people don’t show symptoms.

Which is why it’s so appalling that, as of Thursday, 12 states still had no statewide orders to stay home. And some leaders show stunning ignorance of the threat.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp finally issued a stay-at-home order on Wednesday, but only after claiming that he just learned about asymptomatic carriers of the virus, something health officials had been warning about for two months.

Wisconsin plans to hold its primary election on Tuesday, but its Republican-controlled Legislature has refused the Democratic governor’s request that all voters be automatically mailed ballots so they can vote at home.

Meanwhile, in the Bay Area, which led the nation with its shelter orders, we’re smarter than that. But it’s critical that everyone follows the rules. And stop trying to wiggle out of them. We’re talking about:

• Firearms dealers who filed a federal lawsuit claiming they have a Second Amendment right to stay open. Apparently, they haven’t noticed that the First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble have also been jettisoned. During a global health crisis, there’s no essential need to purchase weapons, even if Trump seems to think there is.

• A Lodi church that refuses to end services, claiming First Amendment rights to exercise religion. Members of Cross Culture Christian Center should consider what happened at Bethany Slavic Missionary Church near Rancho Cordova, where, according to the Sacramento Bee, 71 members have contracted the virus, one parishioner has died and the bishop and other church officials have been hospitalized.

• Operators of Golden Gate Fields racetrack who prioritized people’s ability to play the ponies rather than the public health – until the Alameda County district attorney on Thursday ordered the operation shut down.

• Attorneys for Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, who asked a federal judge to deem them an essential service so they could serve subpoenas and interact with witnesses before her criminal fraud trial, scheduled to start this summer. The judge, in a teleconference hearing, wasn’t buying it.

• Labor leaders for the Bay Area construction trades, who want to keep working. The Bay Area health orders allow limited construction for critical public services, affordable housing and other essential reasons. But that’s not good enough for the members of the local and state Building and Construction Trades Council, who insist they’re better at sanitizing and social distancing than other occupations.

This is hard. People are making huge sacrifices, including often their jobs and income. But we must all put the common good ahead of our personal interests – as difficult as that might be in many cases. People’s lives depend on it.

The more exceptions to the health orders, the more the coronavirus will travel, the more our hospitals will be overwhelmed and the more people will die. It’s that simple.