Category Archives: Omicron variant

ALERT – On December 7, the Benicia City Council will make a potentially life-or-death decision

With Winter coming and the Omicron variant looming, the City Council’s Dec. 7 mask mandate vote is crucial

Stephen Golub, Benicia – A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

On Dec. 7, the City Council will make a potentially life-or-death decision: whether to extend Benicia’s indoor mask mandate. If it fails to do so, the mandate will end that evening.

Such a failure will be a de facto vote for Covid and against public health. Here are a few of the many reasons why:

  1. The omicron variant is here. More specifically, the first case of this new, potentially dangerous Covid variant has been detected in San Francisco, in a vaccinated individual.  The World Health Organization warns that it “poses a ‘very high’ global risk because of the possibility that it spreads more easily and might resist vaccines and immunity in people who were infected with previous strains.”  I don’t want to sound too alarmist, since we will not know until later this month (at the earliest) whether omicron is a false alarm or a five-alarm fire. But that’s all the more reason to be cautious and maintain the mandate.
  2. Winter is coming. It brings the likelihood of a surge in Covid cases and resulting deaths due to more people being indoors and at holiday gatherings. We’ve seen last winter’s Covid wave and other waves caused or exacerbated by relaxing precautions prematurely, even after vaccines were made available. The Council must learn from experience and not make that mistake. And again, it’s best to err on the side of caution.
  3. The overwhelming consensus among scientific studies and experts is that face masks help protect against Covid, even for the vaccinated. Further information and links to the research can be found at The Benicia Independent blog, including its reposting of the excellent letter Dr. Richard Fleming of Benicia sent to the Council last month ( and my own letter at that time ( The pro-mask/mandate consensus has been further represented by almost all Bay Area counties’ health officials, the State health department, the CDC, the Napa-Solano Medical Society, thousands of medical and public health authorities and the numerous Benicia-based medical and public health experts who have called in to Council meetings in support of the mandate. The one partial exception to this overwhelming consensus is the Solano Country health officer. But as Dr. Fleming’s letter points out, he has not provided any data in support of his position.

Those wishing to let the Council members know of your opinion on the masks mandate may contact them at:

You can also contact City Clerk Lisa Wolfe,, who forwards emails on such matters to the Council and staff.

If interested in participating in the December 7 meeting via Zoom or call-in, the Office of City Manager Eric Upson will have the relevant information, at 707-746-4200 or

Stephen Golub

Solano issues 5-day COVID update, showing 1 new death and 179 new infections

NOTE: The information below is not the latest.  CLICK HERE for today’s latest information.

By Roger Straw, Monday, November 29, 2021
[See also New York Times, Coronavirus: What we know about Omicron.]

Monday, November 29: Solano County reports
1 new death and 179 new infections. Solano remains in SUBSTANTIAL rate of transmission.  Benicia also remains in SUBSTANTIAL transmission.

Solano County COVID dashboard SUMMARY:
[Sources: see below.]

DEATHS: Solano reported 1 new death today.  The County reported 27 COVID deaths in September, 18 in October, and 11 so far in November.  A total of 326 Solano residents have died of COVID or COVID-related causes over the course of the pandemic.

CASES: The County reported 179 new COVID cases over the past 5 days.  CASES BY AGE GROUP: 35 of these 179 cases (20%) were youth and children under 18.  93 were age 18-49, 35 were age 50-64, and 16 were 65+.  Below: color-coded analysis of cases reported by age group, expressed as a percentage of total cases.  Increases are in red and decreases are in green as reported by Solano County since April of 2020.  Note  the steady increase among children and youth of Solano County.  The population of those age 0-17 in Solano County is roughly 22%.COMPARE: U.S. cases among age 0-17 as percentage of total cases is at 15.5% as of today. (From the CDC covid-data-tracker.)

COMMUNITY TRANSMISSION RATE: Over the last 7 days, Solano has seen SUBSTANTIAL community transmission, with 267 new cases (up from 251 on last Friday).  CDC FORMULA: Based on Solano County’s population, 450 cases in 7 days would move Solano up into the CDC’s population-based definition of a HIGH transmission rate, and we will need to drop below 225 cases in 7 days to rate as having only MODERATE community transmission.

ACTIVE CASES: Solano’s 304 ACTIVE cases is down from last Friday’s 339, but still far above our summer rates.

CASES BY CITY on Monday, November 29:

  • Benicia added 12 new cases today, a total of 1,593 cases since the outbreak began, and 20 cases over the last 7 days.  This keeps Benicia in the SUBSTANTIAL transmission rate. a second Solano report showing Benicia’s over the MODERATE transmission see chart belowMODERATE is defined as less than 14 cases, based on Benicia population.  Benicia will need to maintain fewer than 14 new cases-per-7-days for 30 consecutive days before relaxing its mask mandateNote above that Solano County is also currently experiencing SUBSTANTIAL transmission.

  • Dixon added 5 new cases today, total of 2,585 cases.
  • Fairfield added 46 new cases today, total of 12,551 cases.
  • Rio Vista reported 3 new cases today, total of 633 cases.
  • Suisun City added 12 new cases today, total of 3,318 cases.
  • Vacaville added 43 new cases today, a total of 12,367 cases.
  • Vallejo added 58 new cases today, a total of 13,687 cases.
  • Unincorporated added 0 new cases today, a total of 145 cases.

POSITIVE TEST RATE:  Solano’s 7-day percent positivity rate was 6.5% today, up from last Friday’s 4.4%.  COMPARE: Today’s California rate is 1.4%.  [Source: Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Tracking Center]  Today’s U.S. rate is 7.67%. [Source: CDC COVID Data Tracker.] 


CURRENT hospitalizations were down today from 24 to 18 persons, but still above the range we saw during last summer.

TOTAL hospitalizations: Solano County’s TOTAL hospitalized over the course of the pandemic must be independently discovered in the County’s occasional update of hospitalizations by Age Group and by Race/Ethnicity.  Solano Public Health updated its age and race hospitalizations charts today.  The age chart shows 24 previously unreported hospitalizations, one youth age 0-17,  7 age 18-49, 7 age 50-64, and 9 age 65+.  Solano hospitals reported a new total of 3,041 COVID patients since the beginning of the outbreak.  (Data on age is more reliable than that on race/ethnicity.)

ICU Bed Availability is 33% today, down from 37% on last Friday, in the County’s GREEN zone, but we remain in the worrisome range we saw during last winter’s surge.

Ventilator Availability today rose today from 73% to 82%.

Benicia’s mask mandate will remain in effect, at least through December 7.  See
Vallejo also passed an indoors mask mandate on August 31.  In the Bay Area, Solano County REMAINS the only holdout against a mask mandate for public indoors spaces.

SOLANO COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS failed to consider an agendized proposal for a countywide MASK MANDATE on Tuesday, September 14.  Bay Area news put Solano in a sad light: all other county health officers issued a joint statement offering details on when they would be able to lift mask mandates (not likely soon).  TV news anchors had to point out that Solano would not be considering such a move since our health officer had not been able to “justify” a mask mandate in the first place.  The Solano Board of Supervisors has joined with Dr. Bela Matyas in officially showing poor leadership on the COVID-19 pandemic.

HOW DOES TODAY’S REPORT COMPARE?  See recent reports and others going back to April 20, 2020 on my ARCHIVE of daily Solano COVID updates (an excel spreadsheet).

>>The data on this page is from the Solano County COVID-19 Dashboard.  The Dashboard is full of much more information and updated Monday, Wednesday and Friday around 4 or 5pm.  On the County’s dashboard, you can hover a mouse or click on an item for more information.  Note the tabs at top for “Summary, Demographics” and “Vaccines.”  Click here to go to today’s Solano County Dashboard.


You, me and Omicron, oh my!

By Roger Straw, November 28, 2021

You think YOU’RE tired of this…  I’ve about had it!

Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent

I’m a news junkie.  Every morning since I don’t know when, I’ve gotten up in the morning and sat in front of the newspaper and tv news over 3 cups of coffee.

With cream – well, it can’t be all work and no play.

But waking this morning, I almost couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I didn’t want to see the daily news shows.  I’d heard the early reports yesterday about the outbreak of the new COVID variant – Omicron – in Southern Africa and its early spread to Europe.  And I actually dreaded learning more.

But, no!  I’m the one PUSHING COVID news here in Benicia / Solano County, right?  Almost daily, since April, 2020, I’ve monitored the local and regional COVID news and let you know.  I’ve spent over a year and a half immersed in the daily toll: numbers with faces behind each one, totals that belie pain and loss and grief, words and spreadsheets and blog postings that failed, really, at every turn, to tell the heart-rending stories of friends and families.

I was actually tired of it long ago.  And now this.

You know that I’m not among those saying we are almost out of the danger zone.  I’ve never let up on the alarm bells.  But when Omicron surfaced, it seemed too much even for me.  Please, not again, not more, not more….

How many of you out there have long ago turned off the tv reports on COVID, or at least diverted your attention?  We keep on with the masking and social distancing, but increasingly, we need to plug our ears.  I know my readership is down on the BenIndy.  People are really, really tired of hearing about COVID.

Brian Stelter, of CNN’s Reliable Sources outlines the difficulty we all are facing – early warnings about Omicron with no certainty as to what is coming.  I’ll leave it to him to sum up what we know and don’t know, and to help clarify our anxiety-ridden responses to Omicron.  This is really good, and well-written – read on…


Covid news “purgatory”

Friday’s satirical headline by The Onion said it best: “Nation Nearly Strings Together 3 Good Days In Row.”

The blessing of Thanksgiving on Thursday was followed by a curse on Friday: Urgent news about the new Covid variant named Omicron. “We know almost nothing about the Omicron variant,” as this headline on The Atlantic‘s website helpfully states. But the abrupt reactions to the news — stock selloffs, travel restrictions, endless Twitter threads — made Omicron the top story of the weekend across all sorts of news websites and networks.

Now the world is in a sort of information holding pattern, as reflected by this banner on CNN Sunday afternoon: “QUESTIONS & CONCERNS BUT STILL SPARSE DATA ON NEW COVID VARIANT.” Zeynep Tufekci put it this way: “South Africa has gifted us an early warning with Omicron. But earlier the warning, the less we know.”

Author and podcaster Derek Thompson, one of the smartest voices out there about the media and society, said Sunday that “the gap between information and meaning at this moment in the Omicron story is immense. It’s deeply impressive but also discombobulating to have access to so much genetic and virological data with the big-picture takeaway being ‘we don’t really know what any of this means yet.'” He added“there’s something uncanny about these sort of news purgatories where information is abundant but meaning is scarce, and the only reasonable thing is to *not* draw conclusions from an abundance of factoids.”

True — but that’s hard to do when the information sounds alarming and is repeated ad nauseam all across the media…

A two-week wait

“Wait two weeks” seems to be the consensus. Dr. Paul Burton, the chief medical officer for Moderna, told CNN’s Paula Reid on Sunday, “We have to go through a couple of weeks here of uncertainty.” The White House’s readout of President Biden’s meeting with Dr. Anthony Fauci and members of his Covid Response Team made the same point: “Dr. Fauci informed the President that while it will take approximately two more weeks to have more definitive information on the transmissibility, severity, and other characteristics of the variant, he continues to believe that existing vaccines are likely to provide a degree of protection against severe cases of Covid.” So in the meantime, get boosted if you haven’t already. “There’s no reason to panic, but it’s a great reason to get boosted,” NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins told Dana Bash on “State of the Union…”

Biden admin is in “a messaging bind”

WaPo’s Dan Diamond observed that “in interviews, officials keep admitting that Omicron (and the current lack of data) presents a messaging bind. No one wants to sound alarm unnecessarily — but failing to warn about potential risks is a bigger sin in public health, especially if actions now could protect people.”

Politico’s Alex Thompson said on CNN’s “Inside Politics” that he spoke with a WH official late Saturday “and the phrase they kept using over and over is ‘We’re not going to get caught flat-footed.’” That’s why Fauci and Collins blanketed the Sunday AM shows, Thompson said. But what’s left unsaid, he added, is that “they did get caught flat-footed by Delta” last summer. But the risk now, Thompson added on Twitter, is “that they are overcorrecting…”

Let’s inform, not speculate

Oliver Darcy writes: “When there are information vacuums — coupled with the need to fill cable news air time, get eyeballs reading news stories, and satisfy the SEO gods — it can be tempting to delve into the arena of speculation. That’s been quite clear over the past few days. Actual data has been more scarce than speculation on what the variant might mean for the world moving forward. But journalists, particularly newsroom leaders who set the tone of coverage, should resist the temptation to hype conjecture. We still have very little knowledge on what the new variant could mean for the world. Unnerving the public by playing out the worst-case scenarios in stories and amplifying the worst fears of the scientific community in chyrons and headlines isn’t the way to go. Audiences deserve better.”

>> Dr. Jonathan Reiner‘s reaction when I asked him if Omicron should be the lead story right now: No, “because it’s a story that is based entirely on speculation. We will have data from really hard-working scientists over the next few weeks that will help inform how we can put this new variant into context…”


 — Biden will deliver an update on the new variant sometime Monday…

— Over the weekend I noticed a corollary to the “choose your own news” phenomenon: “Choose your own Twitter thread.” Some threads have ominous warnings about Omicron while others are much more optimistic…

— Johns Hopkins epidemiologist David Dowdy criticizing his colleagues: “In this situation – where data are early & societal implications are large – scientists have a duty not to oversell. And we are doing exactly that. Shame on us…” (Twitter)

— Dr. Peter Hotez, a regular doc across cable news, said “my biggest concern” is not Omicron, it’s that “we’re about to undergo another big winter Delta wave…” (MSNBC)

— “I have come to the conclusion that people love to panic,” science journalist Erin Biba remarked. She called it “completely and utterly exhausting that doomsday headlines and uninformed reporters create mass hysteria before we even have any details or information. Always wait! Before you panic, wait! Wait until you have more info…” (Twitter)

— Juliette Kayyem wrote this on Wednesday, pre-Omicron, and reaffirmed it on Sunday: “Even though the threat still exists,” the US “needs to be nudged into the recovery phase — and only elected leaders can provide that nudge…” (The Atlantic)

“Two years into this horror show…”

NYT reporter Stephanie Nolen left South Africa on Thursday after spending time with scientists there – and wound up reporting live from an airplane quarantined on the tarmac in Amsterdam. She wrote that “Europe apparently panicked” about the variant news “while I was somewhere over the Sahara; by the time we landed, we were told we would not be permitted off the plane.” She eventually tested negative and was allowed to continue onward to Canada.

On Sunday afternoon, Nolen finished her multi-day Twitter thread by saying she is “opting to self-quarantine, in an AirBnB, and keep testing, after the airport exposure I had courtesy of the Dutch authorities.” She expressed frustration with Dutch and British officials, plus the people on her flight who failed to wear masks, “even when I pleaded and we KNEW people were already testing positive.” She wrote, “Two years into this horror show, we’ve just got to be smarter and better at managing. I don’t know how you make people care about each other.”


“Covid is everything”

On Sunday’s “Reliable,” I talked with Chris Arnade, the banker turned photographer who now walks the streets of American towns and writes about what he hears and learns. He remarked about Covid being the primary drag on voters’ perceptions of Biden: “Covid is everything.” Those three words apply to more than Biden’s approval rating, obviously. Covid continues to be the throughline of every story, every struggle.

And folks who feel forgotten, who feel exploited by “elites,” feel like Covid-era policies benefited the Zoom class and punished them, Arnade said. There’s a huge cynicism towards institutions,” he added, “and Covid has made that cynicism worse.” We’re already seeing some incredibly cynical reactions to the news about Omicron…