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Coronavirus in California: Confirmed Cases in Modoc County

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Credit...Scott Sonner/Associated Press

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My colleague Thomas Fuller traveled to Alturas to report on a county that had been mercifully isolated from the coronavirus — until last week.

Here’s his dispatch:

Evergreen forests surrounded by lumpy mountains and vast valleys filled with thousands of cattle. Residents of Modoc County, population 8,800, like to point out that social distancing was a way of life well before the coronavirus arrived in California. Alturas, the Modoc County seat, has a single red flashing traffic signal at the intersection of what maps show as interstate highways but are really just winding two-lane country roads.

For five months, officials in Modoc had hoped that the county’s isolation in the northeastern corner of the state would spare it from the virus. And until last week, when a couple in Alturas tested positive, Modoc had been the last county in California without any confirmed cases.

Now the message seems clear: If the virus made it to Modoc County, where the closest big town is a two-hour drive, it’s everywhere in California.

[Track coronavirus cases by county in California.]

Modoc may be isolated, but it is not an island. The Modoc County Health Services Department did not identify the two people who contracted the virus, but Jodie Larranaga, an owner of the Brass Rail, a bar and Basque restaurant, said a waitress who worked at the bar was one of the people who tested positive. The waitress and her husband had recently returned from a family vacation to Fresno, Ms. Larranaga said.

When it announced the infections on Tuesday, the Health Department asked any residents who visited a bar in the past two weeks to call a hotline. But Ms. Larranaga said that was not casting the net wide enough.

“This couple has been all over the place,” she said. “They were all around town.”

Alturas had gone ahead with a July 4 parade and had hosted motocross races. Most residents still go maskless at supermarkets in Alturas, despite a statewide order to wear them in public places. Tex Dowdy, the Modoc County sheriff, refuses to implement the mask order.

Juan Ledezma, the owner of a thrift store in Alturas, said most of the two dozen daily customers came in without a face covering.

“I would say 20 percent wear masks,” he said. “I don’t ask them to do it because they might get offended.”

Rick Holloway, the publisher and editor of The Modoc County Record, the county’s weekly newspaper, says mask wearing often breaks along partisan lines.

“To most of the people here, it’s more of a political statement than a health statement,” he said.

“I would like to think that we’re going to do a better job of trying to prevent more people from getting Covid,” he said, “but I wouldn’t bet on it.”

[Read the full story here.]

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Credit...Brian L. Frank for The New York Times

Read more about why the Central Valley has become the state’s latest coronavirus hot spot. [The New York Times]

Learn more from this map showing where students are most at risk of encountering a classmate who arrived to school with the coronavirus. [The New York Times]

And read about California’s plan, which would keep most schools remote-only to start the year. [The New York Times]

Credit...Josh Edelson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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