BENICIA – The Benicia City Council will be asked Tuesday to decide the future of the city’s mask mandate as nearly a dozen counties, including Solano, announced they would be lifting their own mask mandates for indoor public spaces.
Benicia first adopted a mask mandate in August 2021 that required all persons, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status, to wear face coverings in all indoor public settings within Benicia. After an initial six-week period, the mandate came back before the council for reapproval every 30 days.
Now the council will decide whether to add additional metrics that must be met before the mandate can be lifted, keep the mandate as is, or move to rescind it.
A statewide mask mandate is slated to end on Feb. 16. Eleven counties in the region, including Solano County, announced this week that they would follow the state’s lead and drop their respective indoor mask mandates next week. Others include Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, San Benito, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Sonoma, and the city of Berkeley.
The mandate would stay in place for unvaccinated residents older than 2 and would let businesses decide if they want patrons and staff to continue to wear face coverings, regardless of vaccination status.
“We are encouraged by the progress we’ve seen within Solano County recently and will continue to monitor the case and hospitalization rates as we emerge from this surge,” Dr. Bela Matyas, Solano County public health officer, said in the announcement.
“The best way to move forward is for every resident to protect themselves, their loved ones, and the community by getting vaccinated and boosted. We encourage all residents to wear a mask, stay home when you’re sick, and get boosted when eligible,” Matyas added.
Not every Bay Area county joined in on the new requirement as Santa Clara County won’t be lifting its indoor mask mandate next week. Dr. Sara Cody, the county's health director, said this week that the transmission rate in the county was still too high to stop requiring face coverings.
Santa Clara is monitoring three metrics to determine when the mandate can be lifted. They include having the county’s COVID-19 hospitalizations remain low, per the discretion of the county’s health officer, and have a 7-day average of new COVID cases below 550 per week. A third metric has already been reached requiring at least 80% of county residents be fully vaccinated.
Health officials said Solano County has reached a 71% vaccination rate for residents 5 and older. Solano’s cases surged to 1,409 by Jan. 12 and has since dropped to 192 new cases per day as of Feb. 6, health officials said.
If Benicia continues its mask mandate as is, it’ll join Santa Clara County and the city of Vallejo.
Just this week, the Vallejo City Council voted to return to in-person meetings despite 70 city employees testing positive for COVID-19 so far this year. Some of the council members argued that they couldn’t govern effectively through teleconference meetings.
Vallejo is expected to keep its mask mandate as it requires people 4 years old and older, whether vaccinated or not, to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth while inside any buildings open to the public.
Last October, the Vallejo council approved moving council and other city meetings back to an in-person format starting in November so long as the city’s mask mandate stayed in place.
The Benicia City Council will also be asked to provide staff direction on whether the council will return to in-person meetings. Staff noted in a report that the council chambers won’t be available until April as the chambers are currently being remodeled to replace old communications equipment.
The Benicia City Council is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday via teleconference.
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John Glidden worked as a journalist covering the city of Vallejo for more than 10 years. He left journalism in 2023 and currently works in the office of Solano County Supervisor Monica Brown.
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