Placer, Nevada counties fall into purple tier
Truckee-Tahoe area businesses are again being hit with increased restrictions as Nevada and Placer counties joined 39 others now in the state’s most restrictive, purple tier of its four-tier reopening matrix.
The most significant changes to local businesses and other organizations include restaurants moving to outdoor only dining, bars and breweries being closed unless they serve food, retail spaces being limited to 25% capacity, along with gyms and places of worship being forced outdoors.
Changes went into effect on Tuesday for California following an announcement from Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“We are sounding the alarm,” said Newsom in Monday’s release. “California is experiencing the fastest increase in cases we have seen yet — faster than what we experienced at the outset of the pandemic or even this summer. The spread of COVID-19, if left unchecked, could quickly overwhelm our health care system and lead to catastrophic outcomes. That is why we are pulling an emergency brake in the Blueprint for a Safer Economy. Now is the time to do all we can — government at all levels and Californians across the state — to flatten the curve again as we have done before.”
The rate of growth in confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to the state, is faster than it was in July, which led to a significant peak in cases. The amount of daily positive test results has climbed from hovering in the 3,000s in mid-October up to 9,811 on Nov. 17. The amount of testing done has also increased in the past month. On Oct. 16, 134,755 new COVID-19 tests were reported, compared to a month later when 190,182 new COVID-19 tests were administered. The state has also reported 4.8% of tests during the past two weeks were positive, marking a 1.5% increase in the positivity rate.
“The data we are seeing is very concerning. We are in the midst of a surge, and time is of the essence. Every day matters and every decision matters,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. “Personal decisions are critical, and I am I imploring every Californian to stay home if they can, wear a mask whenever they leave their homes, limit mixing, practice physical distancing and wash their hands.”
Restrictions, closures hit local businesses
From the area’s breweries and restaurants to church gatherings and cinemas, moving into the purple tier will effect a wide swath of local businesses and organizations.
Among those that have been affected most are the area’s restaurants, which were given little notice and will now be restricted to outdoor dining.
“It was one-day notice,” said Kathie Kearley-Green, owner of Cottonwood Restaurant & Bar. “We had continued to order supplies to put more Plexi inside, and put more air filters inside, and all of a sudden we find out we have to shut down besides takeout, which is not even sustainable.”
Kearley-Green said the late notice affected plans for Thanksgiving and that the holiday season is a key time of year for restaurants going into the winter months.
The restrictions put in place this week mark the second time since the outbreak of COVID-19 that local restaurants have had to close their indoor dining spaces. Heading into winter, Kearley-Green added that the region’s weather makes outdoor dining extremely difficult, and that a move back into the red tier, which would allow 25% capacity indoors, would enable the restaurant to get through the winter season.
“At least for us, if we could get back to 25%, we could work with that,” said Kearley-Green.
In the meantime, Cottonwood plans to offer an outdoor Sunday brunch as long as weather permits.
Local cinemas are also being hit hard by the new restrictions, and are only permitted to have showings outdoors.
“Like so many small businesses, we are devastated that we have to shut down again due to rising COVID cases,” said Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema in a Facebook post following Monday’s announcement.
In March, the pandemic forced the Tahoe City theater to close for six months. It reopened in September. During the summer months, the theater also opened a drive-in, but that was closed earlier in the month.
With little to no blockbuster films being released, restrictions being put in place, and forced closures, the Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema is asking the community for help in staying afloat, launching a GoFundMe campaign. As of Thursday morning more than 300 donors have contributed $36,573 to the theater. Tahoe Art Haus set a goal of raising $50,000, which will go toward costs of rent, utilities, employees, and investing toward new equipment to sanitize air and surfaces in the theater and lobby.
“We are grateful for the funds raised,” said Melissa Siig, co-owner of Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema, in an interview with Tahoe Daily Tribune. “We feel the love and support — we have an awesome community.”
The area’s other theater, the Village Cinemas at Northstar, also was forced to close due to the pandemic.
Other segments being hit with restriction again include gyms, which are now only allowed to operate outdoors — a difficult proposition for those that are in the Truckee-Tahoe area.
“We are sad to announce that Placer County has moved back into the purple tier, which means we will have to close our doors again,” posted Tahoe Mountain Fitness to its Facebook page. “We’ll continue our Zoom classes, so please sign up to receive the link.”
Places of worship like Tahoe Forest Church have also been affected by the new restrictions. The church was set to launch an indoor Wednesday service, but plans were axed following the state’s announcement. Tahoe Forest Church has invested in hardware and software enhancements to offer better live streaming, which can be found at http://www.tahoeforestchurch.org.
“We have people watching online every week, nationally and internationally, so our ability to share the hope of Jesus through high-quality digital means was a top priority for us,” said Executive Pastor Tony Miller in a news release.
Restaurant, retailer town hall
On Thursday, the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association hosted a town hall to address concerns from members of the restaurant and retail industry.
“I’m hearing from so many businesses over the last few weeks that they’re just not set up to survive this second round,” said Jeffrey Hentz, North Lake Tahoe Resort Association CEO.
Hentz said he’s been in contact with the California Restaurant Association on possible actions that could be taken at the state level, including preparing a package of enhanced health and safety protocols that would allow individual restaurants to reopen at one level above their current county tier. For restaurants in Truckee and North Tahoe, the plan would mean the difference between having and not having indoor dining available.
“We know that people will be laid off in this situation, and the feds have not exactly come to the table with any solution to help,” said Sierra Business Council Vice President Kristin York. “We are in the survival of the fittest mode right now.”
Tom Turner owns four restaurants that operate in the Truckee-Tahoe area, including Bar of America in Truckee and Gar Woods in Carnelian Bay. He said tentative plans are to shut down all four restaurants for the foreseeable future following Thanksgiving.
“We’ve typically done it anyhow right after Thanksgiving, because it’s so quiet up here,” said Turner. “We have a big obligation for our community and our employees to keep people employed. On the other hand, you just can’t lose money and say that it works.”
Turner added that the restaurants may reopen for Christmas time depending on the weather and restrictions in place. He then challenged the countywide restrictions in places like eastern Placer County, which has had 315 of the county’s 5,543 confirmed cases.
“There’s other states that do it by zip code,” said Turner. “Why we’re not progressive enough, as we are in so many other ways, to adopt what some other states are doing and give it a try, I’m shocked.”
Other restaurants in North Tahoe like Soule Domain plan to offer nightly takeout options. The restrictions in placed have forced management to move staff back to “skeleton crew” levels.
Others like River Ranch Lodge & Restaurant plan to keep patio dining open, weather permitting.
In order to help customers find offerings from local restaurants, the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association launched the North Tahoe EATS Facebook group, allowing restaurant owners a platform to include whether they are offering takeout, delivery, specials, and other information.
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-550-2643.
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