Solano County is once again on the brink of moving back into the state’s most restrictive coronavirus pandemic reopening tier due to a rate of new cases that is nearly double what is needed to remain in a lower tier, the county’s public health officer said this week.
The county needs to report fewer than seven new cases per 100,000 residents per day to stay out of the most-restrictive tier, which works out to about 31 cases per day, according to Solano County Public Health Officer Dr. Bela Matyas.
Solano County averaged more than 50 new cases per day over the last week, Matyas told the county’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, including a stretch of four to five days with more than 80 cases per day.
“We are starting to see the impact of Halloween outbreaks, large numbers of outbreaks in family gatherings, and our current case rate as of the last several days is almost as high as it was in the peak of our disease in the first wave in the summer,” Matyas said. “At that point, we got as high as 100 cases per day.”
Matyas also warned the board in late October that the county was approaching a move to the most-restrictive “purple tier” due to a high rate of new cases, but Solano County has remained in a less-restrictive tier since Sept. 22.
Remaining out of the purple tier would allow the county to continue allowing businesses like restaurants, gyms and movie theaters to operate indoors at reduced capacities.
It would also allow schools in the county to continue in-person classes, which are not allowed while in the purple tier.
Multiple supervisors argued those businesses were hanging by a thread and would be innocent casualties of a move to the purple tier necessitated by private gatherings that have spurred recent outbreaks.
“Closing down our businesses because people are misbehaving on their own accord and not in restaurants doesn’t make sense at all,” Supervisor Erin Hannigan said. “It only hurts the businesses and it only hurts our communities who rely on those businesses.”
Matyas agreed that reopening businesses is not what is causing the county’s recent spike in cases and suggested that people make themselves vulnerable to infection by letting their guard down around friends, family and other people they know and trust.
“We see no evidence of tying this to businesses operating,” he said. “Businesses operating or not operating is not resulting in these surges, it’s peoples’ personal behavior in their own environments.”
Hannigan suggested the county should enhance its public outreach efforts to continue encouraging the use of face coverings and physical distancing while discouraging large gatherings, particularly during the holiday season.
While county public health officials have released statements imploring residents to follow local and state health guidance, Hannigan said the county should consider producing television advertisements and using its electronic and static billboards to encourage the use of masks and practicing physical distancing.
Solano County has engaged in similar public health information campaigns before, Hannigan said, pointing to the county’s efforts to curb the spread of sexually transmitted illnesses like chlamydia.
“It’s our duty to tell people in a variety of different ways how to protect themselves from the virus,” she said. “It can be fun and cheeky, it doesn’t have to be serious and hard, but we need to do something that is a lot more than what is happening now to get the word out.”
Supervisor John Spering argued that county residents are well aware of the guidance on wearing a mask or other face covering, but choose to take on the risk of contracting the virus.
“It’s just that this thing is really wearing on people and, at some point, people have to accept their personal responsibility,” Spering said.
Spering also called it “unconscionable” that businesses should be adversely affected by private social gatherings that result in more cases.
Solano County’s number of new cases per day per 100,000 residents sat at 11.3 on Tuesday, when adjusted for how many tests the county conducts.
To date, the county has confirmed 8,430 cases of the coronavirus, resulting in 79 deaths.