Newsom calls reopening Yuba and Sutter counties a 'big mistake' amid coronavirus crisis

Phil Willon, Taryn Luna
Anthony Frank, center, and his wife, Melia Campbell, of Plumas Lake, enjoy their first night out in weeks at Silver Dollar Saloon in Marysville. Silver Dollar Saloon, in Yuba County.  (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday criticized two rural Northern California counties that are allowing businesses and restaurants to reopen, saying their decision to defy his statewide stay-at-home order has put their communities at increased risk for a new coronavirus outbreak.

Sutter and Yuba counties, both north of Sacramento, allowed businesses to reopen on Monday after a similar decision was made in Modoc County in California’s northeastern corner. Officials in the three counties argued that they were less affected by the COVID-19 pandemic than hot spots such as Los Angeles and the Bay Area and said the shutdown was hurting their local economies.

"They're making a big mistake. They're putting their public at risk. They're putting our progress at risk," Newsom said during a COVID-19 briefing in Sacramento on Tuesday. "These are real exceptions. The overwhelming majority of Californians are playing by the rules doing the right thing."

But Newsom did not say if the state would take any action to enforce the stay-at-home order and other statewide restrictions in those counties.

Instead, the Democratic governor encouraged officials there to abide by his more measured plan for reopening, which was announced Monday and will allow some retail stores across the state to reopen as early as Friday if certain safeguards are put in place.

From left, Jeremiah Pino, Lydia Perez, sit with server Aimee Roux, right, as they enjoy their first night out in weeks at Silver Dollar Saloon in Marysville. "This is nice, enjoying the evening out with friends," said Perez.  (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Under the new statewide COVID-19 guidelines, the governor said bookstores, music stores, toy stores, florists, sporting goods retailers and others can reopen for pickup, and manufacturing and logistics can resume in the retail supply chain. Newsom said more detailed guidelines on the businesses that can resume limited operations would be released later this week.

Shopping malls, gyms, bars, barbershops, salons and similar establishments must remain closed under Newsom's order, and in-restaurant dining remains prohibited.

Newsom said some of the restrictions would be eased if county health officials, in concurrence with their county board of supervisors, can verify that they have adequate healthcare facilities and personal protective equipment to care for COVID-19 patients, and the capability to test, isolate and track those who have the virus. Newsom said that if a county has a low number of COVID-19 cases, that will be considered when the state issues variances.

In spite of those requirements, however, Dr. Ngoc-Phuong Luu, health officer for Yuba and Sutter counties, issued new orders on Friday that allow restaurants, retailers, shopping malls, gyms, fitness studios, salons, spas and tattoo parlors to operate.

"They put those businesses at risk, not only the health of their communities at risk. I would encourage them just to do the right thing and know that we are committed to working with them as we have been," Newsom said. "We have a process and protocol to do that. And so we believe in ready-aim-fire — not, ready-fire-aim"

The governor's comments came during a visit Tuesday to Display California, a small business in Sacramento, to highlight his plan to ease restrictions.

Newsom also faced defiance in Southern California after he ordered the closure of all Orange County beaches last week. The governor took that action after thousands of beachgoers flocked to the the coast during the recent heatwave, ignoring Newsom's pleas to stay at home and maintain a safe distance from others.

On Tuesday, the state announced that three Orange County beach cities — Huntington Beach, Seal Beach and Dana Point — will be permitted to reopen their stretches of coastline this week with certain limitations, including taking steps to avoid overcrowding and allow safe physical distancing.

The move came a day after similar plans for Laguna Beach and San Clemente were approved by the state, and several days after the Huntington Beach City Council voted to take legal action to block Newsom's beach closure.