For Natalie Lambert, welcoming diners back into her Yuba City restaurant was an exciting but somewhat conflicting experience.
“You don’t know if you’re an outlaw or a pioneer at this point,” the Lambert House Cafe owner said in a phone interview.
She, like other residents of Northern California’s Yuba and Sutter counties, woke up to a host of new possibilities Monday after the local health officer relaxed some regulations that were imposed in response to the coronavirus outbreak — allowing some businesses to reopen.
The move puts the region at odds with California’s 6-week-old stay-at-home order and further exemplifies a growing conflict between local officials who are clamoring to lift restrictions that have hammered their economies and Gov. Gavin Newsom, who continues to preach patience amid the unfolding pandemic.
Yuba-Sutter Health Officer Dr. Phuong Luu acknowledged the contention in announcing her revised order Friday, saying businesses that plan to reopen “need to consult their private legal counsel in regards [to] if there’s any differences between” the new local guidelines and the state’s, which take precedence.
For Lambert, 34, the relaxation of the guidelines was welcome news. With dine-in service off the table since the state handed down its stay-at-home order in March, she had to revise her hours, lay off staff and press her husband into service as a delivery driver. But the cafe has remained open, and she feels fortunate that clientele support has kept her ledgers largely in the black.
“We just kind of lived on hope and prayer every day with our fingers crossed that we were going to get enough business to power on the lights and the gas for the oven, and we did,” she said.
The revised Yuba-Sutter counties’ order allows restaurants, retailers, shopping malls, gyms, salons, spas and tattoo parlors to operate once more “as long as appropriate business modifications are made to adhere to social distancing and other tenets of combating COVID-19,” according to a statement.
Those include regularly washing your hands, staying home when you’re sick and wearing a facial covering when social distancing isn’t possible, according to Luu.
Many other businesses remain ordered shut even under the revised order, though, including bars and nightclubs that don’t serve food, museums, movie theaters, bowling alleys, arcades, live performance venues, places of worship and other mass gathering spaces, schools, community centers, beaches and piers, and summer camps and residence halls.
Marni Sanders, chief executive of the Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce, said the local business community “is thrilled that we are open.”
“I can tell you driving around there are lots of businesses open that weren’t open yesterday, so it’s a really good sign,” she said Monday.
Over the past few weeks, Sanders said there “was a lot of frustration and anxiety” but that the community “is very optimistic and has remained hopeful throughout this whole pandemic situation.”
“We want to encourage people to shop and to dine and to get out there into our businesses and get money pumping into our economy, but we also are reminding people to be safe,” she said. “And our businesses are being safe as well during this phased reopening.”
Among the establishments that took advantage of the revised health order was the Lumberjacks Restaurant in Yuba City, which announced it would welcome diners back with restrictions including “constant sanitation, significantly reduced capacity, limited contact with customers, and more,” according to a Facebook post.
“We understand some of you do not feel comfortable returning to dining rooms just yet,” the post continued, “which is why we will be continuing our takeout and delivery options the same as we have been for the last few weeks.”
A woman who answered the phone at the restaurant Monday declined to comment further.
Pete’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, also in Yuba City, planned to reopen its dining area and patio Monday morning.
“We can’t wait to have you join us,” the restaurant wrote on Facebook. “We have missed you.”
In recent weeks, some officials have grown increasingly vocal in lobbying Newsom to relax the stay-at-home order.
That’s particularly been the case in California’s more rural reaches, where coronavirus activity has been scant or nonexistent.
Modoc County, one of four California counties that have not reported a single case of coronavirus infection, allowed businesses, schools and churches to reopen starting Friday, so long as people stay six feet apart.
The remote Northern California county is home to fewer than 10,000 residents.
While comparatively crowded with their roughly 180,000 combined citizens, neither Yuba County nor Sutter County could be mistaken for the heavily urbanized areas where the coronavirus has hit hard.
In all, 50 coronavirus infections have been confirmed in the Yuba-Sutter region and three people have died. Statewide, there have been more than 54,000 cases and 2,200 deaths.
Newsom, for his part, has acknowledged the perspective of less-populous areas — “We hear you; we’re paying attention to you; we are engaging many, many of you very directly,” he said Friday — and has hinted that significant modifications to the stay-at-home order could be right around the corner.
Luu said the revised order was based on an “evidence-based, grounded-in-science approach.” She also issued another order Friday requiring the Yuba-Sutter counties’ residents to wear face coverings in public when they aren’t able to stay six feet away from people from other households.
“The evidence has shown us that nearly 20% of persons who are infectious with COVID-19 remain asymptomatic — meaning they don’t even know that they have the infection and they could unwittingly give it to another person,” she said. “So, my facial covering protects you, your facial covering protects me.”
She also said vulnerable residents, such as seniors or those with underlying medical conditions, “should continue to stay at home as much as possible.”
Times staff writers Rong-Gong Lin II, Anita Chabria, John Myers, Phil Willon and David Lauter contributed to this report.