Consequences: Following COVID-19 rules has economic impact, hospitality workers say
The hospitality industry has suffered, despite traffic lining the streets of North Lake Tahoe.
For almost five weeks, the Greater Sacramento area — which includes Nevada and Placer counties — fell under a stay-at-home order. On Tuesday, the state lifted that order, returning the area to the purple tier.
Restaurants can again serve people outdoors, and other restrictions are loosened. But business remains tough for many.
Patty Baird, owner of the Cedar House Sport Hotel on Brockway Road, closed altogether on Dec. 24.
Baird called her business shutdown a “staycation” and anticipated reopening Jan. 2, pending the stamp of approval from the state’s public health officials.
As the state assessed data collected from county hospitals Friday, Jan. 1, Baird canceled 2021’s first weekend of reservations.
“We already lost December, which is the month that sets us up,” Baird said. “Then it looked like we were going to lose most of January.”
The state’s Department of Public Health did not confirm they would extend the order past its original end date — New Year’s Day — until after the weekend was over.
Following the order’s elongation on Jan. 4, Baird canceled all reservations for the remainder of month.
Baird’s decision proved premature as the state lifted the order for 13 counties in the Greater Sacramento area on Tuesday, Jan. 12. Now, Baird, who has owned the Cedar House Sport Hotel for 15 years, is grateful to return to her job — welcoming visitors.
Baird said navigating the hospitality industry in Tahoe during COVID-19 is challenging already, but exacerbated as resort operations appear largely uninterrupted by the pandemic.
“There’s an incentive to game the system because the ski resorts are open,” Baird said. “In Truckee, you’ll find that there is good compliance, but there are always those that slip through.”
Baird said she chose to close in part to avoid subjecting her staff to aggressive behavior from visitors clearly violating the state’s mandate.
“People who know they are doing something wrong become defensive and act up,” Baird said. “It’s hard to believe an ’essential worker’ coming through with two dogs and a ski rack.”
Martha Bryan, of the Cedar Glen Lodge in Tahoe Vista, closed two weeks before everyone else in March and again in December.
Bryan reopened Jan. 1 as she anticipated, and began accepting reservations with a three-night minimum to offset additional cleaning costs incurred by COVID compliance.
“My housekeepers can turn six to seven rooms for me a day,” Bryan explained. “Under the current protocol, they can only turn three rooms a day.”
Bryan said turning rooms is even more costly because she has the housekeepers clean a full day after checkout to mitigate chance of exposure.
Bryan said the business feels the financial strain, alongside that caused by refunding hundreds of thousands of dollars in the spring due to canceled reservations.
“As far as the economic impact,” Bryan added, “we have to absorb that.”
Bryan said conservative fiscal management helped the business weather 2020, and that the process of reopening in 2021 would be pursued with caution.
“We (had) a few reservations here and there,“ Bryan said, referring to the lodge’s capacity under the order after the new year. ”The guidelines are pretty unclear. We were given the order to shut down and reopen on the first, and were never advised otherwise.“
Bryan shared Baird’s concern for the difference in expectations between the lodging and resort industry.
“What’s amazing to me is the complaint that we’re running out of ICU beds and that the town is crowded,” Bryan said. “If you leave the ski resorts open, that’s an invitation.”
Ski resorts ended their 2020 spring season in March, a month earlier than usual because of the virus. Last month, officials determined resorts could remain open during the surge, but required them to suspend indoor dining.
Bryan said she saw full parking lots attached to relatively large hotels in the area during the shelter-in-place order. Bryan said it is frustrating to see some business owners profit from the losses of those in the same industry that are COVID compliant.
“When we were closed, it benefited those who fought the order and stayed open,” Bryan said
Baird said she thinks at least some of North Lake Tahoe’s infamous traffic this season is from the ever growing number of second homeowners who have transplanted to the region permanently.
Baird said the hospitality industry stands the most to gain from the marginally lifted restrictions because Nevada and Placer counties remain in California’s purple tier with a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. Even so, the difference between limiting restaurants to takeout and legally permitting outdoor dining is significant, Baird explained.
Baird did not discount the price of her now-available rooms at the Sport Hotel, she explained, because the demand is there.
Alvina Patterson, who has owned Holiday House for the last 33 years, said she wished local government would consider other facets of public health, besides those specific to epidemiology.
“I feel especially weird when it’s all so hopeless,” Patterson said, adding that she especially feels for young people and children at this time. “I mean, not going to school and interact with other friends? Suicides went up with time, that just shows the consequences.”
Patterson said her concern for people’s mental health comes from the comparisons she has drawn between life in quarantine and life during World War II.
The award-winning wind surfer was born in 1937. Her German father would eventually become a prisoner of war.
Patterson said she wishes the United States had medical resources as accessible and organized as Germany.
“You’re on your own here,“ Patterson said. ”There are ways the government could be handling it better and they aren’t.“
Patterson said the ever changing rules related to the virus make her feel hopeless.
“You always feel guilty when you make a mistake,” Patterson said of business operations during this unprecedented time.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with the Sierra Sun and The Union. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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