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Atwater Declared A 'Sanctuary' From Stay-At-Home Order

ATWATER, Calif. (AP) – More parks and hiking trails welcomed visitors again Saturday and Atwater 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.

"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 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.

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.

In other news related to the outbreak in California:

1. The University of California, Berkeley held a first-ever virtual graduation ceremony on the Minecraft video game. University leaders gave speeches in a replica of the campus stadium built by a group of students and alumni after it closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Chancellor Carol Christ acknowledged this year's graduation was anything but typical, telling graduates they probably couldn't have imagined three months ago that they would be celebrating their academic achievements from home "while watching my avatar explode across a screen."

2. The governor and his wife, Jennifer Siebel-Newsom, congratulated graduates Saturday for overcoming obstacles created by the pandemic to reach the finish line. "We know that this isn't what you imaged this day would look like and feel like. But you're here, you did it and we're proud of you," Siebel-Newsom said in a video posted on Twitter. The governor encouraged graduates to "see the world from a different set of eyes" and show more compassion during the pandemic.

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