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First California county reopens despite state’s stay-home order; diners rejoice in the ‘new normal’

Deer cross Main Street in Alturas, Calif., on Dec. 4, 2019.
Deer cross Main Street in Alturas, Calif., on Dec. 4, 2019.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

In the far northeast corner of California, “the new normal” began to take shape.

Tiny Modoc County on Friday began to reopen, with restaurants again serving food and other retailers swinging their doors open for customers.

Modoc County — which has recorded no coronavirus cases — was the first California county to reopen even as Gov. Gavin Newsom said his stay-at-home order remains in effect. He said Friday to expect changes within days but stressed that social distancing is still necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The Modoc County reopening came with health rules. Restaurants and bars were allowed to host diners, but only at half the businesses’ capacity. People 65 and older and residents with underlying health conditions were still required to stay home except to conduct essential business, and large gatherings where people cannot stay six feet apart will still be banned.

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After being closed for weeks, Gates Gallery and Trading Post in Alturas made its first sale on Friday. Owner Gerry Gates told Action News Now it felt good.

“We are all trying to stay safe as possible,” Gates told the TV station. “All the businesses that are open have on their front have a COVID-19 precaution statement and we are all trying to stay safe.”

From the high desert to the beach enclaves of Orange County, a growing number of California businesses deemed nonessential are choosing to reopen in defiance of orders from local and state authorities.

At the Wagon Wheel restaurant, regulars rejoiced about enjoying a meal there again.

“Every Sunday we’re here. This is our Sunday breakfast since it’s opened,” Sharon Crabtree told KRCR-TV. “It’s wonderful, it’s great to be able to get out and visit with my sister here, and it’s actually nice to sit down and have a meal together.”

Referring to the customers, Wagon Wheel manager Rick Malcolm told the station, “I call them my brothers. We’re just all kind of a family.”

Just because the county has started to reopen doesn’t mean it’s back to business as usual, though.

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“We encourage you all to continue to practice social distancing, good hand hygiene and to comply with the other recommendations of our public health department and with the reopening letter that Modoc County has issued, as well,” Modoc Medical Center Chief Executive Kevin Kramer said in a video statement Friday. “If you are elderly or immuno-compromised, please stay at home as much as possible.”

Not every institution that could reopen plans to do so, though. Schools remained closed, for one thing.

“It’s an unsure thing,” said Ken Entwistle, senior pastor of GracePoint Church of the Nazarene in Alturas. “We, of course, want to open things back up but, at the same point, it’s that unknown.”

Entwistle said the stance of the Nazarene denomination is to follow the state’s order — which means he’ll continue streaming services and devotionals via Facebook Live.

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“We need to pay attention to the prompting of the spirit and we need to look toward our authorities for some answers or some OKs,” he said. “For us, Jesus Christ is the absolute authority.”


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