Health officials say Tahoe tourism led to spike in virus cases in El Dorado County

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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (KTXL) — Public health officials in El Dorado County suspect tourism is a major factor behind an alarming increase in COVID-19 cases in the Lake Tahoe area.

Waves of tourism keep South Lake Tahoe afloat.

“We decided just to get out of the house, get moving around for the first time since everything started,” visitor Julie Ussery said.

Ussery’s family was on their first vacation from Marysville since the pandemic began, trying to stay safe.

“Exercise the social distancing even at our hotel, wearing the masks inside,” she said. “We’ve been very cautious.”

But public health officials say that hasn’t been the case for all visitors. 

“They have cabin fever and they’re coming to visit and they may not even know they are carriers of COVID-19. They are leaving their virus with the residents of Tahoe,” county spokeswoman Carla Hass said.

COVID-19 cases in El Dorado County have more than doubled over the last three weeks, reaching 264 confirmed cases. Half of those are in South Lake Tahoe, even though the community only represents 17% of the county’s population. 

“If Tahoe was its own county, then yes, it would have surpassed the threshold that the state requires when it decides to put a county on the watch list,” Hass told FOX40.

The recent spike also doesn’t take the Fourth of July crowds into account. Infections from the holiday weekend likely won’t be shown in the data for another week because of a lag in testing, according to the county.

So, the county is considering upping restrictions without an order from the state.

The board of supervisors will have an emergency meeting Thursday to look at potentially reinstating a travel ban to the basin or banning indoor dining and some activities.

“All the tools in our toolkit are being considered,” Hass said.

But tourists hope others will follow mask and distancing requirements so they can come back and enjoy Tahoe’s crystal clear waters.

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