As public protests of stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns continue to break out around the country, some elected local leaders are flouting restrictions mandated by their governors.
Three California counties announced this week that they are reopening portions of their economies in defiance of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) statewide restrictions on nonessential business.
On Thursday, Modoc County, a jurisdiction of fewer than 10,000 residents in the northeast corner of the state, allowed restaurants and bars to open, though with some rules. The county has not reported any cases of the novel coronavirus.
“It’s not that we’ve been given permission, we’ve just had a bellyful,” business owner Jodie Larranga told ABC News. “People are fed up.”
On Friday, Sutter and Yuba counties — which are adjacent jurisdictions north of Sacramento — said they would begin lifting restrictions Monday on restaurants and several other types of businesses. Schools and churches will remain closed.
“COVID-19 is dangerous and scary but it is not the only health issue,” Phuong Luu, the health officer for the two counties, said in a written statement. “We cannot wait for a vaccine without seeing extreme economic damage done to our community. The consequences of waiting will be additional health concerns brought on by stress and the very real dilemma for those with limited resources.”
The combined population of the counties is about 170,000.
The acts of defiance illustrate the national struggle between local and state governments, between mayors and governors and between urban centers and less-populated counties. And in some cases, municipalities are resisting the opportunity to begin returning to normal.
Last week, after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) took the most drastic action nationally in loosening restrictions, several mayors protested, fearing the spread of the virus would accelerate. In Iowa, while rural and suburban areas are reopening, cities are maintaining restrictions.
But in states where orders stand, some local decisions violate state law. In Colorado last week, Weld County said it would not get in the way of local businesses wanting to reopen, despite Democratic Gov. Jared Polis’s orders to remain closed.
“The governor’s been pretty clear all along that his orders are unenforceable,” Mike Freeman, chairman of the county’s board of commissioners, told KFKA-1310.
Businesses that reopen would have to adhere to social distancing rules and several other restrictions set by the county. Weld is the location of a JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley, the site of a recent coronavirus outbreak.
In North Carolina this week, Gaston County officials said they would allow businesses to reopen, defying Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s orders. Hours later, however, the county backed down and said residents must comply with state guidelines.
In New Mexico, Martin “Modey” Hicks, the Democratic mayor of 9,000-strong Grants, ordered city employees back to work and encouraged businesses to reopen. On Thursday, he was ordered by the state Supreme Court to comply with health guidelines, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
“The governor treats us like we’re stupid,” Hicks told the newspaper. “We’re not stupid. We have common sense. We have responsibility. If Walmart, Walgreens and Smith’s can be [legally] open with social distancing, then so can everybody else.”