A two-yr-old boy with a face shield participates in traditional procession and mass in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe in San Gabriel, California.
A two-yr-old boy with a face shield participates in traditional procession and mass in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe in San Gabriel, California.

Brenda Luntey is openly violating California's order to close her restaurant to indoor dining. But she wants her customers and critics to know she isn't typically a rule-breaker. It's a matter of survival.

"This is my first episode of civil disobedience in my entire life. My whole family is in law enforcement. I'm a follow-the-rules kind of person," said Luntey, owner of San Francisco Deli, a popular sandwich shop in Redding, more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of the restaurant's namesake city.

It's in northern Shasta County, one of several rural California counties that appeared to dodge the virus in the spring but are now seeing some of the most alarming spikes in COVID-19 infections statewide.

In an effort to avoid overwhelming hospitals, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a strict new shutdown order that has taken effect in many other parts of California and will likely soon affect Shasta County.

But outside California's big cities, especially in conservative areas, the backlash against tough new restrictions is growing, and some sheriffs say they won't enforce health orders.

Luntey is not a virus skeptic. She washes her hands so much they're raw.

But she shrugs off the idea of a stay-at-home order.

She watched other restaurants collapse, and she and her husband, both in their 70s, cannot afford that.

"I want people to understand we are not thumbing our nose at the government," Luntey said.

"I'm trying to keep my business alive." California has had some of the most aggressive coronavirus measures in the country.

It was the first state to impose a stay-at-home order in March that shut businesses and schools for months, and now most of the state is under a nighttime curfew and a majority of restaurants were ordered to close indoor dining.

In the nation's most populated state, confirmed infections have surged past 1.3 million, with an average of nearly 15,000 new cases a day.

But many are still reluctant "to accept that this is a real and dangerous virus," said Chuck Smith, spokesman for the COVID-19 response center in Sutter and Yuba counties.

The strict new shutdown order in California took effect starting Sunday in Southern California, much of the San Francisco Bay Area and a vast swath of the Central Valley. The new measures, which include a stay-at-home order and widespread business closures, are triggered in any region that crosses an ICU capacity threshold of 85 per cent.

The rest of the state is on the brink of the same restrictions. "If we don't act now, we will continue to see our death rate climb," Newsom said.

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