Sparsely populated Modoc County in California’s northeast corner plans to allow hair salons, churches, restaurants and the county’s only movie theater to reopen Friday, becoming the first county in the state to ease out of stay-at-home orders and flout the governor’s mandate.
Ned Coe, a cattle rancher and county supervisor, said Thursday that the county bordering Oregon has no confirmed COVID-19 cases and after consulting with health officials, the Board of Supervisors voted to reopen.
“Just as our physical health is vital for our citizens, so is the mental health and the economic health of our citizens,” Coe said.
The plan asks business owners in the county of about 9,000 that spans 4,200 square miles (11,000 square kilometres) to ensure customers remain 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart and asks restaurants to cut their capacity by half. Those 65 or older or with underlying health conditions are still required to stay home.
Coe said county officials wrote to Gov. Gavin Newsom about a week ago outlining their plan, which he said meets the guidelines outlined by the governor for stay-home orders to be eased out in phases, but they haven’t received a response. He said he was not worried the state might take legal action against the county for violating Newsom’s order.
“The governor himself has indicated that it is time to start opening in a staged and safe manner, and that will be different for different areas of the state,” he said.
Newsom’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter. But when asked about Modoc County’s plans at his daily coronavirus briefing, Newsom did not say whether he would move to stop the reopening.
“Nothing would please me more than pleasing those local officials … but we’re not out of the woods,” he said. “No part of the state, no part of this country, few parts of the globe have been immune to this virus. ”
He also reinforced that while local governments are free to adopt more stringent guidelines, they cannot adopt looser ones.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and lead to death. Nursing homes have been hit hard.
In the Modoc County seat of Alturas, population 3,000, where restaurants serving Mexican, Italian, Chinese and other cuisines cater to travelers using Highway 395, restaurant managers were removing tables or spacing them out to keep the required distance between customers.
At the Brass Rail, a large Basque restaurant, owner Jodie Larranaga said employees were getting the bar area ready to open Friday. She said she’ll have signs posted to remind people about physical distancing. But she has no plans to police her patrons.
“My bar tables are already far apart. But if people pull their stools together, I’m not going to stop them,” Larranaga said. “As far as I’m concerned, right or wrong, that’s their choice. They are adults.”
Most parts of the county are so sparsely populated that people already keep their distance from each other, Coe said. He said the hairstylist he frequents has only one chair at her salon and works alone. The plan will be revisited in two weeks, and the stricter measures could return if at least two people test positive for the virus.
“Everyone knows each other very well in this town, and we can’t wait to see each other,” said Larranaga. “Most people here are pretty fed up and done and over it.”
This story has been corrected to remove a reference to schools reopening. Schools are not part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order and are not included in the Modoc County order.
Rodriguez reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento contributed to this report.
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