Rural Northern California counties seek to reopen economy

California Connection
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Officials from six rural Northern California counties and 14 small cities have urged Gov. Gavin Newsom to let them reopen their economies, marking the most significant push-back yet from local leaders of a mandatory stay-at-home order in its second month that has left 3 million people out of work.

Of the 500,000 people who live in Sutter, Yuba, Butte, Colusa, Tehama and Glenn counties, only 69 have confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

The counties have added at least 475 additional hospital beds, but so far have only one coronavirus patient in an intensive care unit, according to a letter that the county and city leaders sent to Newsom dated last Friday.

The letter points to economies in already depressed areas that are based on small family businesses without deep pockets.

“It’s not a matter of when they are going to be able can get back to work again, they may not survive much longer. They are going to be lost, forever, and they won’t come back,” Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Tehama, told FOX40.

The lawmakers representing the six counties say that science and facts should absolutely be taken into consideration in making a decision, but they also say the numbers are slowly beginning to tilt in their favor.

“At this point, given the COVID-19 numbers locally — and our enhanced healthcare capacity — we ask you to allow our counties to exercise local authority to implement a careful and phased reopening of our local economies,” said the letter also signed by Nielsen and Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City.

“How do we move forward from here? Especially in places where we’ve just not seen high cases and allowing a regional reopening process,” Gallagher told FOX40.

Small counties now have to deal with the other health risks associated with a lockdown when county health services are in jeopardy of being underfunded.

“We’re seeing increases in child abuse, in mental health issues and that social safety net is getting drained every day because county and local governments are losing revenue,” explained Gallagher.

The lawmakers say the balancing act that pits public health against economic health is beginning to shift.

“It’s time now to begin some opening up and most assuredly I think these rural areas critically could use it and critically will need it,” said Nielsen.

The lawmakers have been in talks with Newson, who they say is sympathetic to their plight, but he hasn’t given a clue on when he will act to ease restrictions.

Newsom last week relaxed the stay-at-home order to allow hospitals to resume elective surgeries. But he resisted calls to allow other nonessential businesses to reopen.

Newsom said public health orders from local governments cannot be less restrictive than the state’s orders.

“What happens if we get ahead of ourselves and start to see a surge of new cases,” Newsom said.

In asking for a lifting of virus restrictions, rural leaders fully expect that many safety precautions will remain in place and that local rules will be put in place under the guidance of county health officers.

California has had more than 43,700 coronavirus cases and 1,720 deaths, more than half of them in the Los Angeles area, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

However, the number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested. Studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

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