A rural county in California is defying Gov. Gavin Newsom's stay-at-home orders and allowing churches, schools, and non-essential businesses to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic.
Modoc County, located in the far northeast corner of California, is open for business. The sparsely populated county of 9,686 residents has allowed bars, restaurants, hair salons, movie theaters, schools, churches, and other non-essential businesses to reopen.
As of Friday, non-essential businesses could reopen as long as employees wash hands and follow proper social distancing guidelines of six feet. Restaurants and bars would have to slash their maximum capacity in half. Large gatherings where social distancing cannot be maintained are not permitted. The Modoc County Sheriff's Office and the county's public health department requires residents who are 65 or older or have underlying health conditions to continue to stay at home.
"Social distancing was the norm here before it became the popular thing in the state," Ned Coe, a cattle rancher and county supervisor, told Sacramento's NBC affiliate KCRA-TV.
"This is simply what we are proposing that is eligible to open if preventative measures are possible," the Modoc County Sheriff's Office said in a Facebook post. "We want the option to be given to business owners so that when they feel the time is right, they can make that decision. Business owners know their staff, they know their customers and they will know when they both feel safe enough to resume services."
Modoc County Board of Supervisors voted to reopen after consulting with health officials. The county has no confirmed COVID-19 cases.
"Just as our physical health is vital for our citizens, so is the mental health and the economic health of our citizens," Coe said.
Coe understands that his county is violating Newsom's lockdown orders, and informed the governor of his plans to reopen Modoc County. Coe said that Newsom had yet to respond.
Newsom was asked about Modoc County reopening, and the Democratic governor responded: "Nothing would please me more than pleasing those local officials … but we're not out of the woods. No part of the state, no part of this country, few parts of the globe have been immune to this virus."
Newsom did not say if he would take actions against Modoc County, which has a total area of 4,203 square miles.
Coe isn't worried about the California governor taking action, and said: "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."
"We're not in this at all to defy anything. We align with the plans. We're just at a different phase in this because of where we are and how we live," Heather Hadwick, deputy director of the county's Office of Emergency Services, told Politico.
The plan to reopen the county will be revisited after two weeks, and stricter measures could be reinstated if at least two people test positive for COVID-19.
The Brass Rail, a large Basque restaurant in Modoc County, opened up on Friday, and they do not intend on policing patrons.
"My bar tables are already far apart. But if people pull their stools together, I'm not going to stop them," owner Jodie Larranaga said. "As far as I'm concerned, right or wrong, that's their choice. They are adults."
The reopening of Modoc County comes on the same day that there were lockdown protests all across California, including demonstrations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Huntington Beach, and Sacramento, where 32 people were arrested.
Modoc County is a Republican stronghold in the liberal state of California. In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump won 71 percent of the votes. The last Democratic presidential candidate to win a majority in the Modoc County was Lyndon Johnson in 1964.