Defiance came with biscuits and gravy as a remote California county became the first to buck Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order.
Modoc County moved Friday to reopen hair salons, churches, restaurants and the county’s only movie theater. There haven’t been any confirmed cases of COVID-19 among 9,000 residents, but the reopening came with strict social distancing limits. Businesses could only have half the patrons, and customers must stay 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart.
The county is an outlier in every sense of the word. It is tucked into the far northeast near the Oregon border, hundreds of miles from the capitol of Sacramento and even further politically from the Democrat-controlled state; it’s a place where seven in 10 voted for Donald Trump in 2016.
At the Brass Rail in Alturas, two neon signs beamed “OPEN” and about a dozen customers were at the bar – the only portion of the Basque restaurant open so far. After a six-week shutdown, people were eager to be back among friends and neighbors.
“It’s been a long haul. We’re a small community,” owner Jodie Larranga said. “It’s not that we’ve been given permission, we’ve just had a belly full. People are fed up.”
Demonstrators decried Governor Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order as a violation of their rights. Some believed the coronavirus was not the threat it is made out to be by health officials.
“I have a different opinion on that. I believe if it was really a huge argument, they would have done this when Ebola came out because I think that’s a much more horrible, horrible disease,” Jeannie Favela, who came to the protest from Butte County, told FOX40.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “eleven people were treated for Ebola in the United States during the 2014-2016 epidemic.”
A “hard close” order took effect on Friday from wealthy Newport Beach to artsy Laguna Beach and down Doheny way. Compliance was another matter, however.
It was a typical morning in Huntington Beach as surfers toted boards across the city’s beach and bobbed in waves offshore. Other people strolled, walked dogs, biked and jogged; most were not wearing masks.
Beach parking lots were closed and authorities were expected to patrol the beach. They planned to educate and seek voluntary compliance, but if necessary issue citations.
At Huntington State Beach, park officers told passers-by about the closure. Yellow tape blocked off a parking lot.
The Orange County beach closures came after tens of thousands of people hit the sands last weekend. Newsom scolded people for defying the spirit of his statewide stay-at-home order, designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus that has killed some 2,000 people in the state.
“People that are congregating there, that weren’t practicing physical distancing … may not even know that they contracted the disease and now they put other people at risk,” Newsom said.
Newsom, a Democrat, has engendered strong bipartisan support for most of his actions during the outbreak. His beach order was condemned as punitive, political overreach by some Republican lawmakers, especially those in Orange County, where the GOP hopes to regain ground lost to Democrats in what was once a Republican stronghold.
“At a time when California is granting early release to high-risk sex offenders and other dangerous inmates due to COVID-19 concerns, the implicit threat to punish beachgoers and surfers who violate the order is absurd,” said Republican state Sen. Patricia Bates.
Orange County is home to more than 3 million people. The county’s Health Care Agency on Thursday reported an additional 145 cases, bringing the total to around 2,400 with 45 deaths.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said he would focus on cautioning and educating people that they must practice social distancing rather than citing them for violating the state order.
“I have no desire to enforce any aspect of that through arrest,” he said.