BENICIA, Calif. - Benicia has decided to become the only city in Solano County with a mask mandate.
The unanimous vote came Tuesday evening, after four hours of council discussion and public comment.
"It represents community consensus on this issue," Benicia Mayor Steve Young told KTVU after the meeting. "In the end we all agreed that this was a necessary thing to do."
He estimates more than 100 people wrote and called in, the overwhelming majority supporting the idea.
The city of 28,000 has an 81 percent vaccination rate but is taking the action due to rising concern about COVID caseloads and the delta variant.
"We have a lot of people who come here from other parts of the county where vaccination is closer to 50 percent," explained Young. "We're a beautiful waterfront town to visit so we have to protect our business owners, we can't assume we're in a bubble."
Benicia now aligns with eight other Bay Area counties that require facial coverings in public places, regardless of vaccination status.
The mandate takes effect immediately, and applies to everyone age 4 and older.
The city will review the mandate, along with evolving COVID data, every six weeks.
Benicia's views did not sway Solano County's top health official, who participated in the meeting and continues to reject a county-wide order.
"Benicia may feel an association with the Bay Area, but I can assure you Dixon does not, and neither does Vacaville," declared Public Health Officer Dr. Bela Matyas.
Matyas characterized mask orders as confrontational in neighboring communities.
"Places where there is a much stronger political dislike of mask-wearing and altercations are far more common."
As for the benefits, Matyas insists casual contact in places like stores and restaurants aren't fueling the spread.
He blames close social contact, primarily among families.
"The next biggest risk is among people who go to a party and share drinks or play beer bong," said Matyas, "and close friends who transmit because they hug and kiss, so it's a spectrum".
On the streets of Benicia, most people say they would rather err on the side of caution than slide backward.
"We're a small town and we do have a lot of visitors so it's okay for us to be independent and make that decision," said resident Bobbie White.
Some merchants already require masks on their own.
"My customers know the deal before they come in," said Natasha Curtis, owner of Zeppelin Comics.
Curtis wants to protect children who come in to shop, many too young to be vaccinated.
"Being able to mirror more of the Bay Area in our city policies is a benefit to us," she added.
Several physicians also voiced support during the public comment portion of the meeting.
"Why aren't we doing everything we can to mitigate the effect of this virus?" demanded Dr. Bonnie Hamilton.
"It's an easy thing to do, and a lot easier than a ventilator."
A doctor from a Fairfield hospital also called in.
"It's under siege, about 33 percent of our patients have COVID, and these are really, really, really sick people, with almost no beds to put them in," said Dr. James Bronk of the North Bay Medical Center.
Benicia's mayor said the city felt it had to mandate masks, realizing Solano County was not going to.
"I don't anticipate problems, I think people are accepting," said Young, "and even if you go east, look at Yolo County and Sacramento County, they both have mask mandates too."