Gov. Gavin Newsom | AP Photo
OAKLAND, Calif. — Modoc County — one of California’s most desolate jurisdictions with no known coronavirus cases — says it will allow bars, restaurants and churches to reopen Friday despite Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide lockdown.
“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 on Thursday.
Modoc officials submitted a plan last week to Newsom outlining their proposal to lift the statewide lockdown order, but the governor has given no indication he intends to free individual counties from his statewide restrictions. The county issued a strategic reopening plan this week that would allow bars, restaurants, churches and non-essential businesses to reopen indoor operations with proper social distancing — all banned under Newsom’s current restrictions.
The plan still recommends that all at-risk residents — those 65 and older or who have underlying health conditions — remain at home. Restaurants and bars would have to cut their maximum capacity in half.
The rural outpost, like many counties far from the coast, diverges from the California known nationally. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats more than 2-1, while 71 percent of voters chose Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
Maintaining physical distance is easier in the county of 9,600 residents, located in a 4,200-square-mile corner of northeast California that borders Oregon and Nevada.
“It’s empty, and that’s on a normal day. If there’s one or two people in line at the grocery store, that’s odd.” she said.
Newsom on Thursday acknowledged he’s received requests from Modoc and several other communities requesting to ease the restrictions, but set “the next few weeks” as the timeline. He said counties may be “more prescriptive and restrictive” than the state guidelines, but looser measures will conflict with the state order.
“Nothing would please me more than pleasing those local elected officials and to help them help all of us move through this pandemic,” he said. “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.”
Hadwick admitted the county will be reopening against state orders, but said the governor “didn’t say he was challenging it” in his remarks. If the state cracks down on Modoc County, “we would work with him to try to figure something out that would work with our county.”
Last week, lawmakers and local leaders representing six rural Northern California counties — Yuba, Colusa, Tehama, Butte, Sutter and Glenn — sent a letter to the governor requesting permission for “a careful and phased reopening of our local economies.”
Other counties, including Lassen County this week, have submitted plans for reopening. Their argument is that the less densely populated areas have had very different experiences with the pandemic than other parts of the state, including the Bay Area counties that this week announced plans to continue their shelter-in-place restrictions through the end of May.
Lassen, Modoc, Trinity and Sierra are the four California counties without a single confirmed coronavirus case.
“Somebody has to step up for rural California and we just happened to be the first,” Hadwick said.
While the majority of businesses in the county are already deemed essential, Hadwick said it would be different for others — be it the one-chair barber or the few small restaurants — to recover financially if the restrictions continue.
“Covid-19 looks very different in Modoc,” she said. “And it’s not here.”