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2 California counties, once defiant, see virus cases rise

YUBA CITY, Calif. (AP) — At a bus stop in Yuba City, Ron Starkey sat on a concrete wall watching videos on his phone, a white face mask tightly folded in his right hand.

He wears the mask at work because his employers make him, and he wears it on the bus because his girlfriend asks him to. But he's not happy about it.

“I think this is all a hoax,” Starkey, 57, said Thursday. “They are trying to distract everybody. They are trying to panic everybody. They are trying to control everybody. That's how I feel.”

Sutter County, where Starkey lives, was one of the first places in California to more broadly reopen its economy. It and neighboring Yuba County defied Gov. Gavin Newsom's stay-at-home order to let restaurants, hair salons, gyms and a shopping mall reopen in early May.

County leaders had passionately argued the two mostly rural counties shouldn't be under the same rules as Los Angeles and other major population centers. Their counties are filled with farmland ready-made for social distancing and at that point both counties had only a relative handful of cases and barely any hospitalizations.

But two months later, the counties that together have a population of about 175,000 are averaging a combined 30 new cases per day — up from five at the beginning of June — with what the counties' shared public health director calls a “scary elevation of hospitalized cases” from seven to 21 in just one week.

The rising numbers prompted state officials on Thursday to place Sutter and Yuba on a monitoring list of counties with rapidly increasing caseloads. If they stay there for three days all bars will close and restaurants and other businesses must halt indoor operations.

“People are not taking it seriously,” Dr. Ngoc-Phuong Luu, Yuba-Sutter public health director, said Tuesday in an interview with KETQ radio. “People felt that we beat it and it went away. It never went away."

California in March was the first state to impose a mandatory stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the virus. Public health officials praised the state's quick action, marveling at how the nation's most populous state kept its cases and hospitalizations low while states like New York and New Jersey struggled to contain the highly contagious disease.

By late April Newsom was under increasing pressure to begin reopening the economy. Sutter and Yuba were among a few Northern California counties that didn't wait for him to act, pressing ahead with their own plans.

Newsom criticized and threatened them but ultimately they stayed open. Newsom began slowly and then more quickly allowing businesses and activities to resume, citing the state's increased hospital capacity to handle a new surge of cases. Cases began rising in early June and have exploded since, increasing 48% in the past two weeks while hospitalizations have increased 40%.

Now, 29 counties have been added to the state's watch list, requiring bars to close and indoor operations to cease at restaurants, wineries and tasting rooms, movie theaters, zoos, museums, cardrooms and family entertainment centers, which include bowling alleys, miniature golf and arcades.

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States reopen, relax guidelines to prevent coronavirus spread

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 06: An employee wearing a mask cleans the inside of the restaurant, Blue Stripes Cacao Shop as it prepares to reopen for takeaway and delivery orders after being closed for over a month amid the coronavirus pandemic on May 6, 2020 in New York City. Governor Andrew Cuomo made the announcement that all bars and restaurants must close by on March 16th unless it was takeout or delivery. COVID-19 has spread to most countries around the world, claiming over 263,000 lives with over 3.8 million cases. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 06: An employee wearing a mask cleans the inside of the restaurant, Blue Stripes Cacao Shop as it prepares to reopen for takeaway and delivery orders after being closed for over a month amid the coronavirus pandemic on May 6, 2020 in New York City. Governor Andrew Cuomo made the announcement that all bars and restaurants must close by on March 16th unless it was takeout or delivery. COVID-19 has spread to most countries around the world, claiming over 263,000 lives with over 3.8 million cases. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

THOUSAND OAKS, CA - MAY 06: A Cadillac Dealership displays a sign stating its reopened during the Coronavirus Pandemic on May 06, 2020 in Thousand Oaks, California. The coronavirus pandemic worldwide has claimed over 263,000 lives and infected over 3.7 million people. (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

HOUSTON, May 5, 2020 -- Customers shop at a shopping mall in Frisco, on the outskirts of Dallas, Texas, the United States, May 5, 2020. After closed for several weeks due to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, the shopping mall reopened with shortened business hours on Tuesday. (Photo by Dan Tian/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/ via Getty Images)

HOUSTON, May 5, 2020 -- Cars are parked in front of a shopping mall in Frisco, on the outskirts of Dallas, Texas, the United States, May 5, 2020. After closed for several weeks due to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, the shopping mall reopened with shortened business hours on Tuesday. (Photo by Dan Tian/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/ via Getty Images)

Dawson Padilla (L), owner of a protein shakes store, works behind the bar on May 5, 2020 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. - In the face of intimidation against employees and the threat of an armed attack by local residents wielding their individual liberties, the mayor of Stillwater had to give in: he gave up imposing the wearing of masks on customers in shops. This demand was included in a 21-page document that was supposed to accompany the gradual reopening of restaurants and shops from 1 May, as authorized by the state of Oklahoma. "About three and a half hours after the law came into effect" of the text, "we started receiving calls from stores claiming that employees were being threatened and insulted, and threatened with physical violence," said Norman McNickle, the city's director of services. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP) (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

A worker of the Aspen Cafe wears a mask as she makes coffee on May 5, 2020 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. - In the face of intimidation against employees and the threat of an armed attack by local residents wielding their individual liberties, the mayor of Stillwater had to give in: he gave up imposing the wearing of masks on customers in shops. This demand was included in a 21-page document that was supposed to accompany the gradual reopening of restaurants and shops from 1 May, as authorized by the state of Oklahoma. "About three and a half hours after the law came into effect" of the text, "we started receiving calls from stores claiming that employees were being threatened and insulted, and threatened with physical violence," said Norman McNickle, the city's director of services. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP) (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

Kelly Lyda, owner of the Aspen Cafe, stands in his Cafe on May 5, 2020 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. - In the face of intimidation against employees and the threat of an armed attack by local residents wielding their individual liberties, the mayor of Stillwater had to give in: he gave up imposing the wearing of masks on customers in shops. This demand was included in a 21-page document that was supposed to accompany the gradual reopening of restaurants and shops from 1 May, as authorized by the state of Oklahoma. "About three and a half hours after the law came into effect" of the text, "we started receiving calls from stores claiming that employees were being threatened and insulted, and threatened with physical violence," said Norman McNickle, the city's director of services. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP) (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

Computer specialist Toby Angel drinks his coffee on May 5, 2020 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. - In the face of intimidation against employees and the threat of an armed attack by local residents wielding their individual liberties, the mayor of Stillwater had to give in: he gave up imposing the wearing of masks on customers in shops. This demand was included in a 21-page document that was supposed to accompany the gradual reopening of restaurants and shops from 1 May, as authorized by the state of Oklahoma. "About three and a half hours after the law came into effect" of the text, "we started receiving calls from stores claiming that employees were being threatened and insulted, and threatened with physical violence," said Norman McNickle, the city's director of services. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP) (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

WESTPORT, CONNECTICUT - MAY 05: A cafe along a shopping street in the affluent community remains mostly empty of pedestrians and open stores on May 05, 2020 in Westport, Connecticut. A growing number of states have begun reopening parts of the economy amid demonstrations like the one yesterday that targeted the Connecticut state capital and the governor's mansion in Hartford. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

WESTPORT, CONNECTICUT - MAY 05: A cafe along a shopping street in the affluent community remains mostly empty of pedestrians and open stores on May 05, 2020 in Westport, Connecticut. A growing number of states have begun reopening parts of the economy amid demonstrations like the one yesterday that targeted the Connecticut state capital and the governor's mansion in Hartford. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

LAGUNA HILLS, CA - MAY 05: Customers maintain safety protocols at The BarberHood in Laguna Hills, CA, on Tuesday, May 5, 2020. The shop is one of the first to re-open and defy the state"u2019s stay-at-home order during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) lockdown. (Photo by Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

SAN CLEMENTE, CA - MAY 05: Visitors walk on the beach south of the pier in San Clemente, CA on Tuesday, May 5, 2020. The city opened its beaches for daily active use after coordinating with Gov. Gavin Newsom"u2019s office to maintain social distancing during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) lockdown. (Photo by Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

SAN CLEMENTE, CA - MAY 05: Surfers were back on the waves at T Street in San Clemente, CA on Tuesday, May 5, 2020. The city opened its beaches for daily active use after coordinating with Gov. Gavin Newsom"u2019s office to maintain social distancing during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) lockdown. (Photo by Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

KENMORE, WA - MAY 05: Lynette Fisher-Charles and her dog Gracie, a two-year-old springer spaniel, go for a hike in Saint Edward State Park on May 5, 2020 in Kenmore, Washington. The first phase to reopen the state begins today easing some restrictions including opening some parks, that were put in place during Governor Jay Inslees Stay Home, Stay Healthy order last March to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Kenmore, WA is located northeast of Seattle. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

KENMORE, WA - MAY 05: Daryl Kline, a park ranger at Saint Edward State Park removes a sign saying the park is closed on May 5, 2020 in Kenmore, Washington. The first phase to reopen the state begins today easing some restrictions that were put in place during Governor Jay Inslees Stay Home, Stay Healthy order last March to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Kenmore, WA is located northeast of Seattle. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

LAGUNA BEACH, CA - MAY 05: Lifeguards keep a lookout at Laguna Beach, CA after officials reopened access to the sand on Tuesday, May 5, 2020. The beach has been closed since March 23, 2020 due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak. City parks along the beach are still closed and people cannot sit or linger on the sand. (Photo by Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

NEW YORK, May 4, 2020 -- Photo taken on May 4, 2020 shows Times Square in New York, the United States. Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, New York Governnor Andrew Cuomo on Monday outlined additional guidelines regarding when regions can reopen. According to the Governor's Press Office, the state will monitor four core factors to determine if a region can reopen: number of new infections, health care capacity, diagnostic testing capacity and contact tracing capacity. (Photo by Wang Ying/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Wang Ying via Getty Images)

NEW YORK, May 4, 2020 -- A worker cleans a cafe's signboard at Times Square in New York, the United States, May 4, 2020. Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, New York Governnor Andrew Cuomo on Monday outlined additional guidelines regarding when regions can reopen. According to the Governor's Press Office, the state will monitor four core factors to determine if a region can reopen: number of new infections, health care capacity, diagnostic testing capacity and contact tracing capacity. (Photo by Wang Ying/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Wang Ying via Getty Images)

ASBURY PARK, NJ - MAY 4: People walk near the closed boardwalk due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in the state on May 4, 2020 in the Jersey Shore in New Jersey. Some towns at Jersey Shore expect the reopening of beaches soon. (Photo by Eduardo MunozAlvarez/VIEWpress/Corbis via Getty Images)

NORTH ANDOVER, MA - MAY 4: Although all golf courses in Massachusetts are still ordered to stay closed by governor Charlie Baker, workers at the North Andover Country Club in North Andover, MA work on the grass on May 4, 2020, getting the course ready for when they eventually are allowed to re-open. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 04: Gov. Gavin Newsom announced select retail businesses will be allowed to reopen starting Friday in California during the coronavirus pandemic on Monday, May 4, 2020 in Los Angeles, CA. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

SANFORD, UNITED STATES - MAY 04, 2020: Customers enjoy a meal at Racks Billiards Sports Bar and Grill on the first day that retail stores and restaurants in all Florida counties except Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami Dade were permitted to reopen as COVID-19 restrictions are eased. Under phase one of the plan to reopen the state, stores and restaurants are limited to 25 percent of their indoor capacity.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Paul Hennessy / Echoes Wire/ Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Paul Hennessy / Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

SANFORD, UNITED STATES - MAY 04, 2020: A customer leaves a Books-A-Million store on the first day that retail stores and restaurants in all Florida counties except Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami Dade were permitted to reopen as COVID-19 restrictions are eased. Under phase one of the plan to reopen the state, stores and restaurants are limited to 25 percent of their indoor capacity.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Paul Hennessy / Echoes Wire/ Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Paul Hennessy / Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

BOZEMAN, MT - MAY 04: Sales staff wear masks at the reopened Schnee's Boots, Shoes and Outdoors on Main Street on May 4, 2020 in Bozeman, Montana. Wyoming health officials today reported that the state's confirmed coronavirus cases grew by nine to a total of 444. (Photo by William Campbell/Getty Images)

BOZEMAN, MT - MAY 04: Signs for restaurants and stores announce their reopenings on Main Street on May 4, 2020 in Bozeman, Montana. Wyoming health officials today reported that the state's confirmed coronavirus cases grew by nine to a total of 444. (Photo by William Campbell/Getty Images)

JENSEN BEACH, FLORIDA - MAY 04: Cole Hunter carries Harper Hunter, 1, as Holly Hunter,4, follows along as they arrive at the beach on May 04, 2020 in Jensen Beach, Florida. Restaurants, retailers, as well as beaches and some state parks reopened today with caveats, as the state continues to ease restrictions put in place to contain COVID-19. The counties of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami Dade continue to maintain restrictions. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, FLORIDA - MAY 04: People are seen dining outside at Cruisers Grill as the state of Florida enters phase one of the plan to reopen the state on May 04, 2020 in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. Restaurants, retailers, beaches and some state parks reopen today with caveats, as the state continues to ease restrictions put in place to contain the coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, FLORIDA - MAY 04: People are seen at a department store as the state of Florida enters phase one of the plan to reopen the state on May 04, 2020 in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. Restaurants, retailers, beaches and some state parks reopen today with caveats, as the state continues to ease restrictions put in place to contain the coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

SAINT AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA - MAY 04: A mask is seen on the statue of Henry M. Flagler as the state of Florida enters phase one of the plan to reopen the state on May 04, 2020 in Saint Augustine, Florida. Restaurants, retailers, beaches and some state parks reopen today with caveats, as the state continues to ease restrictions put in place to contain the coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

A man works on power lines in Los Angeles, California on May 4, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic. - California governor Gavin Newsom earlier today announced the gradual reopening of the state later this week as dismal US employment figures are expected with the release of figures Friday May 8 for April's US jobs report, as 30 million Americans filed for unemployment in the last six weeks. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

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However, leaders in Yuba and Sutter counties are still asking for special treatment. A letter to Newsom signed by the chair of the Sutter County Board of Supervisors says their data shows most outbreaks trace back not to bars and restaurants, but to indoor gatherings of families and friends, most likely for things like graduation parties and Fourth of July get-togethers.

“It seems unjust to close certain businesses at this economically perilous moment without evidence they are a significant factor in the spike in cases," the letter says.

The California Department of Public Health's website says 40% of the cases in the counties are unknown because of “cases not able or unwilling to provide source of exposure.”

The governor has not responded to the request, but he likely won't make an exception for the two counties about 30 miles (48.2 kilometers) north of the state Capitol in Sacramento that, like most Northern California rural counties, lean Republican. This time, county leaders can't afford to cross Newsom. The state budget lawmakers approved last month gives the governor authority to withhold $2.5 billion in federal aid from local governments that don't comply with state public health orders.

Sutter County is facing a roughly $5 million deficit and desperately needs the federal money, County Supervisor Mike Ziegenmeyer said.

“I think the governor lost control, now he's trying to gain the control back,” Ziegenmeyer said.

Businesses are bracing for another round of closures. Lori Pack, manager at Linda's Soda Bar and Grill on Plumas Street, said they did takeout-only for three weeks earlier this year and “it's just not sustainable.” They could do more outside dining, she said, but sidewalk space is small and the summer heat will keep people away.

Residents are frustrated, including 50-year-old Billie Gamez, who was strolling the Yuba Sutter Mall on Thursday with her husband while wearing a face mask, which are required under an order Newsom imposed mid-June. She works at a WalMart and said she routinely sees people not wearing masks or social distancing.

“It's such a simple thing to keep your mask on, so why has it become such a huge thing?" she said. “They want everything open, but you don't want to wear a mask. How stupid is that?”

Shirley Gabhart said she wears a mask in public and turns down party invitations, including one this weekend to celebrate her grand nephew's birthday. But the 74-year-old said she doesn't see the virus as a threat, saying she believes Newsom, a Democrat, just wants to slow the economy to prevent President Donald Trump from being reelected in November.

She sat at the the counter of Linda's Soda Bar and Grille, where she has been a regular customer for years. Gabhart said it would be “a horrible thing” for the state to force the restaurant to close its indoor dining, saying she wasn't worried about contracting the virus by eating in public.

“God knows when I'm going to die,” she said. “These politicians don't know.”

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