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Butte County, among earliest in California to reopen, reports 1st coronavirus-related death

The coronavirus is seen under an electron microscope.
This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, also known as 2019-nCoV, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
(National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories)

Butte County — one of the first in California that was allowed to more quickly relax coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses — has reported its first death from the disease.

Health officials for the county, home to almost 220,000 people north of Sacramento, said Monday that the person died while hospitalized, was older than 65 and had multiple underlying health conditions.

It appears this was a community-acquired case of COVID-19, officials added, though no specific event or place has been identified as the source.

“This news hits us hard,” Butte County Public Health Director Danette York said in a statement. “This COVID-19 pandemic is a historic public health challenge. Our top priority continues to be protecting the health of our community.”

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Coronavirus cases are slowly creeping into vast, rural Northern California. Only a handful of counties had no cases.

As of Monday, the county had reported 51 coronavirus cases — with nearly half of those confirmed in the last 14 days, according to The Times’ coronavirus tracker.

When adjusted for population, the county continues to have one of the lowest confirmed caseloads in the state.

Counties that meet certain data thresholds can more quickly and fully relax portions of California’s stay-at-home order, the centerpiece of the state’s coronavirus response.

Butte County was one of the first to receive state approval to do so after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the guidelines last month.

However, there have been some problems along the way. Local public health officials issued a strongly worded warning to residents not to speed too quickly through the reopening process in mid-May after someone who attended an in-person religious service, which was not allowed at the time, tested positive for the coronavirus — potentially exposing more than 180 others.

Initially, the state’s stringent criteria for swifter reopening effectively limited the option to less-populated or remote reaches of the state that have largely escaped the kind of devastation the coronavirus has wrought on more-populated areas.

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After facing some criticism that the initial hurdles were overly onerous, or impossible, for urban counties to clear, Newsom announced a new set of criteria May 18 that made more extensive reopening a possibility for a wider swath of the state. As of Tuesday morning, 51 of California’s 58 counties had received state approval to more fully reopen their economies.

To contain the spread of COVID-19, parks, restaurants and stores are slowly reopening.


Still, state and health officials have emphasized that the coronavirus hasn’t gone away and that Californians must take precautions to help stem its spread.

Butte County officials stressed that residents should continue washing their hands regularly, maintain physical distance, avoid touching their faces, wear a face covering when they’re outside and come into contact with people they don’t live with, limit nonessential travel, avoid gatherings and stay home when they’re sick.

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