South Lake Tahoe community struggles after holiday spike in COVID-19 numbers

California Connection

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (KTXL) — South Lake Tahoe already endured a summer spike in COVID-19 infections after key holidays like the Fourth of July and Labor Day.

But after the Thanksgiving weekend, infections went past five times the Fourth of July numbers and were equaled by the Christmas holiday period.

The area has more COVID-19 infections than any other region of El Dorado County, with 1,777 cases as of last week. 

The city’s Barton Memorial Hospital lists just eight intensive care unit beds and the Christmas holiday spike has already affected capacity.

“We expected this. The question was how bad was it going to be, how were the numbers going to look,” city spokesman Chris Fiore said.

The city of South Lake Tahoe took the state’s stay-at-home order to heart by closing hotels, bed and breakfast establishments and vacation rentals, along with banning indoor dining for the holidays and issuing mandatory mask orders and fines for violations.

But enforcement for a small community has been tough.

“We’re doing the best we can trying to enforce these things but people have got to have responsibility for themselves as well,” Fiore said.

The effects of the New Year’s holiday are still not known, given the 10- to 14-day incubation period for the virus.

Still, fewer people meant it wasn’t necessary to close Highway 50 in Stateline, as it has been in years past as a drunk driving prevention measure.

“We thought that was a very positive sign that we didn’t have as many people at Stateline as we were expecting. So, maybe people were getting the message,” Fiore said.

The city has had to deal with more lax rules in Nevada right on the city limits. Its hotels remain open and indoor dining is allowed on a limited basis.

“Of course, you just cross over into Nevada at Stateline down there close to Heavenly Village and the rules are totally different in Nevada,” Fiore said.

The city council approved a $700,000 grant program to aid local businesses, which can begin applying this week. Hospital workers are also now getting vaccinated.

City leaders said they are hoping a collective effort will enable them to welcome tourists once again.

“Hopefully, people can see the Tahoe they know and love and are used to because right now, it’s not that,” Fiore said.

The state’s stay-at-home order is still in effect, asking people not to travel beyond 120 miles of their home.

While South Lake Tahoe is also discouraging tourist travel, officials said daytime outdoor activities where social distancing can be used, such as skiing, are still allowed.

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