Solano County supervisors voted Tuesday against requiring county employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, with a majority of the board arguing in favor of letting residents make their own health decisions.
The board voted 3-2 against the vaccination requirement while also voting 4-1 in favor of requiring people to wear a face covering indoors, regardless of vaccination status, in county buildings that sit within cities like Vallejo that have issued their own blanket mask orders.
Supervisor Erin Hannigan, who proposed both requirements, argued that it behooved the county to issue a vaccination requirement to prevent potential outbreaks among county employees.
“I don’t bring this up because I want to take your rights away or your freedom or ‘your body, your choice’,” Hannigan said. “I would like to see a vaccine mandate for all employees of the county because it’s in their best interest to be vaccinated.”
She added that state and federal officials have recently begun tightening the screws on unvaccinated people – most notably, with President Joe Biden requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to make them get vaccinated or test regularly – and that the county would be better served issuing the requirement now rather than later.
“If we don’t do this now, it’s going to be done for us by the federal government,” she said. “We might as well have these conversations now and get through this process.”
All five supervisors acknowledged the efficacy and safety of the available COVID-19 vaccines, but the three who voted against the requirement argued the board should focus instead on encouraging and educating unvaccinated residents about why they should get a shot.
Supervisor James Spering suggested that some residents are likely so unwilling to get vaccinated and follow a mask requirement that it is a fait accompli that they will contract the virus regardless of what local officials say.
“You’ve got a whole segment of our citizens that they are not going to get vaccinated and I don’t care what you do,” Spering said. “And by forcing masks on me and everybody else, you’re not going to change their minds, so maybe it’s just going to have to go through the process of somebody who’s going to get it and somebody who’s not.”
Spering added that, were it not for working at county facilities in person with the other supervisors, he likely would not have gotten vaccinated and “would just avoid people where I might be exposed.”
County Health Officer Dr. Bela Matyas has frequently extoled the benefits of getting vaccinated against COVID-19, saying Tuesday that it is the only way to be protected from serious illness and death.
However, Matyas suggested an indoor mask mandate may not be significantly effective in muting transmission of the virus in Solano County, which he noted has seen its cases decrease over the last three weeks and appears to be emerging from a summer surge in cases.
The vast majority of the county’s new cases are also likely tied to large private gatherings, Matyas said, so issuing an indoor mask mandate for places like grocery stores and restaurants would likely do little to affect the county’s overall case data.
Matyas said Solano County’s pattern of reduction in viral transmission most closely resembles that of San Francisco, which issued an indoor mask mandate regardless of vaccination status on Aug. 2.
Neighboring counties that have implemented indoor mask mandates have also not shown a decrease in COVID-19 cases as acute as Solano County’s, according to Matyas.
“There are obviously other factors at play that affect the disease rates,” he said.
For now, the mask requirement within county property in cities with existing mask mandates will only apply in Vallejo, according to county officials, because the county does not have a staffed building in Benicia, which adopted a six-week indoor mask mandate last month.
The requirement will apply in both county library branches in the city of Vallejo.
“If we’re going to be a good neighbor, if we’re going to be a good steward of our fellow cities, we should honor the mandates that they have,” Hannigan said.
Across the county, unvaccinated residents are still required by the state to wear a face covering at any time they are indoors.