Coronavirus California: Lake County defies COVID-19 odds with no positive cases so far

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ByWayne Freedman KGO logo
Saturday, April 4, 2020
Coronavirus: Lake County defies odds with no positive cases
Why has Lake County, with 67,000 people, fared so much better from the novel coronavirus pandemic than only a handful of other rural regions in California? One theory: Lake County is very remote.

LAKE COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- While the novel coronavirus pandemic has touched nearly every part of the U.S., there have been no cases so far in Lake County. We traveled there to try to learn why.

The largest natural lake in California and the oldest on this continent seems just a little too quiet these days. Recreation on Clear Lake has become an idyllic memory.

Locals describe it as a necessary evil in trying times.

Once again.

"This is a disaster you can't necessarily see," said Megan Handy, as she sat on the tailgate of her husband's pickup truck watching the empty lake.

RELATED: What does COVID-19 do to your body and why does it spread so easily?

Lake County knows natural disasters all too well. Five times in five years, residents have fled wildfires that destroyed thousands of homes and burned more than half their wild lands.

Now they're waiting for the world's most dreaded microbe. But COVID-19 has not arrived here, yet.

"There's no cases in the county and we hope it stays that way," said resident Larry Jansen.

So now the question: why has Lake County, with 67,000 people, fared so much better from COVID-19 than only a handful of other rural regions in California? One theory? Lake County is very remote.

"We don't have a major regional transit hub," said Sheriff Brian Martin. "No major airport comes in here. We're not a hub for travel."

RELATED: Coronavirus Social Distancing: How far away is 6 feet?

That isolation explains why many trends arrive in Lake County late. People are spread out here.

And yet, Martin acted early by closing the lake, essential businesses, hotels, and cutting off access to out-of-towners days before Gov. Gavin Newsom prescribed those same measures statewide.

"What we are experiencing today is the result of what we did two weeks ago," he said.

But like anywhere else in California, the measures have lead to some Twilight Zone scenes.

Empty sidewalks. Empty streets. How do they say closed in Lakeport?

Read the signs and count the many ways: "For the safety of staff and community" and "Until further notice..." are plastered around in the area.

Lynne Bundy and Doug Frediani have sheltered in their home for three weeks.

"We figure a month or more," said Bundy.

"We're being careful. Extremely careful," added Frediani.

"I haven't strangled him yet," joked Bundy.

Nobody describes the experience as easy.

"It's just not the same, it's very eerie," said John Arslanian, who owns the Corner Creamery ice cream store. No ice cream cones, even after a knock on the door.

"What is your biggest fear?," we asked.

"Not being open for summer," Frediani. "We're a tourist driven community. We need our tourists to visit lake County."

Aside from social distancing outside a few local restaurants, Lakeport is pretty dead.

So quiet that we found police Sgt. Mike Soberij going door-to-door, checking to make sure they're locked and undisturbed.

"We have written one citation to one person who didn't have any business being somewhere and wouldn't leave," he said.

When we asked what words were exchanged, Soberij said, "I don't think I can say that on camera."

Such are precautions in a county with fewer critical care beds. The county has ordered FEMA trailers to the county fairgrounds for any COVID-19 surge overflow.

And, where the absence of positive results may simply be a symptom of fewer test kits. The county has given 115 so far.

"If we tested everyone in the county, we would find someone who is positive here," said Sheriff Martin. "Not if, but when," he added.

Maybe in Lake County, luck has nothing to do with it.

Every bubble does burst. Especially with the danger all around.

Get the latest news, information and videos about the novel coronavirus pandemic here