California county defies governor’s virus shutdown order

Chris Carlson/Associated Press
A protestor held a hand painted sign on a surfboard during a May Day demonstration at the pier on Friday in Huntington Beach, California.

SACRAMENTO — A rural California county allowed nonessential businesses to reopen and diners to eat in restaurants on Friday, becoming the first to defy Governor Gavin Newsom’s statewide shutdown orders during the coronavirus pandemic.

Modoc County is “moving forward with our reopening plan,” said Heather Hadwick, the county’s deputy director of emergency services. She said the county of about 9,000 people in the state’s far northeast corner had no COVID-19 cases.

Hadwick said the county had not heard from the governor about its reopening plan, but she asserted it aligns with Newsom’s indicators for reopening. Schools were not opening Friday, but it was an option for districts that can accommodate preventative measures, she said


“We are utilizing his guidance of those plans and we have zero cases,” she wrote. “Our residents were moving forward with or without us. We really needed to create guidelines for them so that they could do this in the safest way possible.”

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At Country Hearth Restaurant and Bakery in the small town of Cedarville, three customers came in for breakfast, said Janet Irene. She said her regular customers had been very cooperative with orders that had allowed her to only serve takeout since late March.

“I was kind of torn between what was right and what was wrong, but the law is what the law is and you just don’t do any different,” she said. ‘‘I’m just hoping that they’re able to get together.”

Elsewhere Friday, demonstrators demanded a reopening. Hundreds gathered in Sacramento even though the California Highway Patrol barred protests there because of a lack of social distancing by participants in a previous rally.

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 Senator 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.