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Lake Tahoe, one of California’s premier winter getaway destinations, is closing to tourists for the holiday season as tougher COVID-19 restrictions are enacted throughout the state.
More than a dozen additional California counties are being placed under stay-at-home orders as the number of coronavirus cases in the state explodes.
South Lake Tahoe Communications Manager Chris Fiore declined to speak to the Reno Gazette Journal, which is part of the USA TODAY Network, for this story. But a statement on the city’s website says: “People are asked to stay home as much as possible unless completing essential activities. Essential activities include picking up food, grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments, etc. We are also encouraging visitors who are considering vacationing in Tahoe to put those plans on hold for the foreseeable future.”
The newest stay-at-home order takes effect Friday and runs through at least Jan. 1. The restrictions are the toughest placed on the state since spring and include reducing retail capacity to 20%, prohibiting the sale of food or beverages for in-store consumption, closing campgrounds, and prohibiting lodging facilities from housing out-of-state guests.
The 13 counties under the order encapsulate the greater Sacramento area: Alpine, Amador, Butte, Colusa, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, Sierra, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties.
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All but two of Lake Tahoe’s ski resorts – Diamond Peak Ski Resort and Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe – are in California. Heavenly Ski Resort straddles the California/Nevada border.
“The stay-at-home order specifically encourages going outdoors. Everyone has COVID fatigue. Everyone is struggling with this,” said Michael Reitzell, Ski California president. “If you can get in your car and go to a ski area and go through all the protocols in place and get back in your car and go back to your home, we think that’s a good thing and that does fit squarely within the guidelines the state has provided.”
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Skiers emerge from a fog and smog layer at the 9,700-foot level of Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe in this file photo. (Photo: RGJ Photos)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom explicitly named skiing and snowboarding as activities people are encouraged to participate in during the coronavirus pandemic, and the original Dec. 3 order explicitly stated that “to promote and protect the physical and mental well-being of people in California, outdoor recreation facilities may continue to operate.”
While suggesting Californians stay in their home county, the order also recommends not driving “more than two to three hours.”
“People can still drive to the mountains. The state has still encouraged outdoor recreation,” Reitzell said. “It’s the idea of mixing with other people – when you come to our resorts you can really keep to yourselves. … You get out of your car, you put on your skis, go up the hill and ski down – we think that’s a pretty safe way to spend your day when it comes to COVID.”
But not having people spend the night presents more challenges for local lodges.
“It’s devastating,” said Wendy Smith, owner of River Street Inn in old town Truckee, about an hour north of South Lake Tahoe. “It’s really putting hardship on the whole town.”
Under the new restrictions, Smith is only allowed to lodge first responders and those facing hardship due to coronavirus. Existing reservations for the coming three weeks had to be canceled. She also had to close the restaurant portion of her business, which features outside dining.
Smith said the past nine months have been a roller coaster.
She closed in March for three weeks, then reopened the restaurant for to-go and delivery before fully opening again. The closures have put her more than $100,000 behind in revenue from 2019, and that doesn’t include the hit she will take over the holiday season.
She employs about a dozen people, and so far, she has only had to cut hours rather than lay anyone off.
“It’s hard to stay in business,” she said. “Maybe we’ll be open for the new year? It will probably be a party if we are.”
Amy Alonzo covers the outdoors, recreation and environment for Nevada and Lake Tahoe. Reach her at email@example.com or (775) 741-8588.
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