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California City Declared 'Sanctuary' From Stay-At-Home Order

Associated Press
A pedestrian wearing a mask walks in front of a billboard displaying California flags in San Francisco, Thursday, April 30, 2020, during the coronavirus outbreak.

More parks and hiking trails welcomed visitors again Saturday and one city declared itself a “sanctuary” from California's stay-at-home order as the state's diverse regions carve their own path toward reopening.

Officials in Atwater, a city of 30,000 in central California, unanimously agreed Friday not to enforce the nearly 2-month-old order intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus, meaning local authorities won't interfere with any business or church that decides to reopen ahead of state restrictions.

The declaration was a symbolic gesture of defiance against Gov. Gavin Newsom's order. The city's mayor cautioned that businesses were taking their own risks by reopening.

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"If you do have a state (business) license, that’s between you and the state of California,” Mayor Paul Creighton told the Merced Sun-Star.

California is moving through the second phase of relaxing the order. Businesses deemed lower risk have been gradually allowed to reopen, with retailers offering curbside pickup. Beaches in Los Angeles County, which has emerged as California's epicenter for the coronavirus outbreak, reopened for limited use on Wednesday, and more trails in the Angeles National Forest reopened Saturday.

Meanwhile, state public health officials confirmed nearly 100 deaths Saturday for a total of 3,200 fatalities. California, the nation’s most populous state, has fared better than many other other states, most notably New York, which has nine times more deaths. Los Angeles County reported 40 new deaths, bringing the death toll to nearly 1,800.

In some less-populated areas mainly in the northern half of the state, the virus barely registered. There have been few or no deaths, and even hospitalizations now are rare in those areas.

As a result, California has seen counties move at different paces in reopening their economies.

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Butte County, north of Sacramento, announced Friday that a person who attended a religious service on Mother's Day tested positive for the coronavirus, possibly exposing it to more than 180 members of a congregation.

The church that held the service, which was not identified, chose to open its doors despite rules banning gatherings of any size, county public health officials said in a statement.

“Moving too quickly through the reopening process cancause a major setback and could require us to revert back to more restrictive measures,” the statement said.

Most people with the virus experience fever and cough for up to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems can face severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority recover.