Optimistic: Officials hoping for the best as Truckee-Tahoe business heads into fall
Through the final week of August and into September, Nevada County saw a surge of 488 confirmed COVID-19 cases, marking the highest number since early in the pandemic.
While most of the cases affected the eastern side of the county, officials in the area and local governments are still preparing for the potential of more positive COVID-19 tests, the Delta variant, and what colder weather and more time indoors could mean.
On Tuesday, Tahoe Forest Health System President and CEO Harry Weis and Nevada County Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Kellerman joined the virtual Good Morning Truckee session to discuss fallout from the recent spike in cases.
“Nobody knows where this virus is going … certainly being indoors is more problematic than being outdoors,” said Kellerman on fall and winter months.
“We’ve got higher numbers than we had in the fall and winter. We’re really being hammered by this virus right now,” he added, stating that the western side of the county has seen the majority of the cases. “Truckee is a very integrated community. The community works very well together and I think … people appreciate the community hospital.”
Kellerman blamed a lack of immunization by those living in western Nevada County for the recent surge.
“There is a contingent in western county that is problematic,” he said. “They’re very vocal and they subscribe to some medical theories that border on snake oil, and they’re the ones getting infected. It’s mainly a disease of the unimmunized.”
Locally, Weis said he was “pleased our numbers are really small compared to other geographies.”
Since Tuesday, the hospital has reported five new confirmed cases of COVID-19. Additionally, Wise noted that Safeway and other pharmacies are offering a third vaccine dose for those with specific immune or health issues.
While COVID-19 has widely impacted the region’s tourism, local government and business sectors, recent fires have also hurt the area’s economy.
The Truckee Tahoe Airport District reported a 58% decrease in operations from August 2020, and a 69% decrease from August 2019. Smoke heavily impacted operations at the airport, according to Director of Aviation and Community Services Hardy Bullock. Most arrivals to the airport originated from the Bay Area.
With the containment of fires in the region increasing, the Tahoe National Forest reopened its areas Wednesday night, likely bringing visitors to the area as fall weather begins to settle in. Colleen Dalton, Visit Truckee-Tahoe CEO, said visitation for Truckee due to the reopening of national forests in the area is difficult to quantify, but that the town has already missed out on a number of early September events.
““We lost the first two weeks of September and Labor Day. It was just brutal. There were a lot of cancelations over the holiday weekend. These last two weeks we should have had Art and Soul, and Trails and Vistas, but they were canceled,” Dalton said. “These are some of the key compelling reasons to come to Truckee in September — the start of our shoulder season.”
With the potential of a dusting in higher elevations this weekend, Dalton said she expects to see an increase in winter bookings.
“It always makes the phones ring for winter bookings,” she said. “A little bit of a dusting and, sure enough, traffic to booking pages and ski area pages just jumps. We’re hoping to squeeze out sustainably reasonable fall bookings with improved weather, no imminent, active wildfire in the area, blue skies — we’re hoping that stabilizes bookings. On the other hand, there’s now growing hesitation due to breakthrough infections and the Delta variant. We’re definitely feeling some concerns about that.”
Heading into the fall and winter months, Dalton said the plan for Visit Truckee-Tahoe is to have messaging in place in case of fires or other restrictions in order to direct visitors and the community to the area’s indoor offerings.
“We’re protecting ourselves and mitigating a potential smoke situation again,” said Dalton. “It’s our new world order. We’re preparing content that will be evergreen that we’ll probably dust off next summer and fall and update it. It’s just going to be the norm.”
Officials in North Tahoe said they are optimistic businesses in the area will be able to use experiences from the past year to continue operations through 2021-22.
“We anticipate businesses in North Lake Tahoe will be able to remain open this fall and winter,” said Bonnie Bavetta, interim CEO of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association. “They have demonstrated their ability to quickly adapt when necessary over the past year and a half and continue to implement protocols that adhere to local, regional and state health and safety guidance in support of our tourism-based economy.
“We encourage anyone planning travel to Tahoe to review our Know Before You Go resources, safe travel tips and ways to support local businesses at gotahoenorth.com/know-before-you-go,“ she added. ”We also ask that guests practice kindness and patience – many of our local businesses continue to be understaffed and are doing their best to provide exceptional service during these times. We recommend visitors continue to confirm their travel plans directly and make reservations when available.”
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at email@example.com or 530-550-2643
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