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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.]
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated July 27, 2020
Should I refinance my mortgage?
What is school going to look like in September?
- It is unlikely that many schools will return to a normal schedule this fall, requiring the grind of online learning, makeshift child care and stunted workdays to continue. California’s two largest public school districts — Los Angeles and San Diego — said on July 13, that instruction will be remote-only in the fall, citing concerns that surging coronavirus infections in their areas pose too dire a risk for students and teachers. Together, the two districts enroll some 825,000 students. They are the largest in the country so far to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August. For other districts, the solution won’t be an all-or-nothing approach. Many systems, including the nation’s largest, New York City, are devising hybrid plans that involve spending some days in classrooms and other days online. There’s no national policy on this yet, so check with your municipal school system regularly to see what is happening in your community.
Is the coronavirus airborne?
- The coronavirus can stay aloft for hours in tiny droplets in stagnant air, infecting people as they inhale, mounting scientific evidence suggests. This risk is highest in crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation, and may help explain super-spreading events reported in meatpacking plants, churches and restaurants. It’s unclear how often the virus is spread via these tiny droplets, or aerosols, compared with larger droplets that are expelled when a sick person coughs or sneezes, or transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces, said Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech. Aerosols are released even when a person without symptoms exhales, talks or sings, according to Dr. Marr and more than 200 other experts, who have outlined the evidence in an open letter to the World Health Organization.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
Here’s what else you may have missed
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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]