North Tahoe businesses, resort association weigh in on reopening
With Placer County meeting requirements set out by Gov. Gavin Newsom, North Tahoe was able to move further into Stage 2 of reopening, allowing for salons, barbers, and places of worship to open.
Last Thursday, the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association hosted a town hall meeting to discuss reopening strategies and progress made thus far in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
“I want to thank the business community … you all took the lead very early on in this crisis,” said Placer County District 5 Supervisor Cindy Gustafson during the town hall meeting. “The ski resorts, both Alterra and Vail, closed before anyone told them to. Lodging properties and property managers canceled reservations and refunded all of the deposits. Retail shops and restaurants followed our guidance and closed immediately. We did not, at Placer County, have to use any sort of enforcement on any of our business community.”
Eastern Placer County has 18 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The county has been conducting testing for coronavirus at the North Tahoe Event Center in Kings Beach. As of Thursday, May 21, the site has been conducting roughly 20 tests a day, according to Placer County Public Health Director Dr. Aimee Sisson. The site can test more than 130 people per day.
“I would encourage anybody who has concerns, whether they have symptoms or don’t have symptoms but think may have been exposed, anybody can get tested there,” said Sisson. “It’s free of charge.”
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Insurance will be billed for tests, but if individuals don’t have insurance, the state will cover the cost. Testing at the site is done via nasal swab. An antibodies test is currently unavailable at the location.
Along with testing, Sisson recommended everyone wear face masks.
“I, as the Placer County Health Officer, strongly encourage everybody to wear a face covering when they go out in public and when they can’t stay 6 feet away from others,” she said.
Placer County and California have several protocols in place as areas move further into Stage 2 of reopening, including guidance toward who is required to wear face masks and how many people can occupy a given business or meeting space. Information can be found at placer.ca.gov/reopen/checklists.
“If we don’t take these steps outlined in the guidance for reopening we will see an increase in cases,” said Sisson. “It’s so important — the face coverings, maintaining physical distance, cleaning surfaces, doing everything you can to minimize physical contact and touching of shared surfaces, and if that has to happen, maximizing the cleaning and disinfecting. Those are critical to keep our numbers low so that we don’t undo all of the hard work that we’ve been doing — that you’ve been doing by staying at home the last two months.”
If cases surge, according to Sisson, the county could again tighten restrictions on businesses.
Businesses weigh in
Part of Thursday’s town hall meeting included information from a trio of business owners from different local sectors.
With restrictions on dining slowly being relaxed, owners, like Douglas Dale, of Wolfdale’s Cuisine Unique, are having to balance cost of goods with labor, while making adjustments to regulations set by the state.
“We almost feel like we’ve worked on opening a new restaurant here,” said Dale. “But at the same time, now that we’re into it a bit, I think these guidelines are not only reasonable but doable.”
Dale said he’s had to split staff training into smaller groups, change the employee tip structure, and change the layout of the restaurant including installing plexiglass for hosts and putting in sanitizing stations. Dale said the restaurant is also screening guests upon entry.
The limit on the restaurant capacity is also a concern for many in the industry, according to Dale, as the difference between a good night and a bad night for many of the businesses operating on a thin margin can be just a handful of extra patrons.
Moving forward he cited the potential for an influx of visitors as his biggest concern.
“For me in the restaurant business and knowing that Tahoe is going to be very attractive, is just to maintain some control,” said Dale. “We’ve just got to stay on our toes. We’ve just got to stay on it. The customers I want, appreciate it, and so far we’ve seen nothing but appreciation out of people. We are encouraged to go forward.”
Kevin Hickey is the owner of Tahoe Adventure Company, and said the company is renting equipment with plans in place for guided tours later in the season. Hickey added that corporate and large group outings have been canceled through August.
Hickey said his biggest concern moving forward was regarding employee safety.
“People are coming. People want to come. It sort of feels to me a lot like the Great Recession days when our drive market just seemed to explode,” said Hickey.
“I worry and care about my employees the most. At this point, we’re just going to get through the summer … and hold on for next year.”
Owner of Tahoe City’s Trunk Show, Jaclyn Woznicki has had her employees, which she said are in the high-risk group, at top of mind since reopening.
She’s implemented a virtual window shopping experience where customers meet at the storefront window, and are then taken on a FaceTime tour of the items in the store. If customers are interested, the items are brought to the window for a closer look. Woznicki said the Trunk Show is also offering free delivery in the area. When the store allows customers inside, Woznicki said employees will be limiting the amount of people in the store to four, along with taking temperatures and requiring masks.
She said her biggest concern going forward is of customers not understanding the reasoning for the rules in place at her store.
“The thing that I fear is people’s reaction to us being so strict,” she said. “I’ve experienced this quite a few times at the store already. I don’t want our visitors to feel like we don’t want them here.”
Moving into Stage 3
Earlier in the week the Placer County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution to request permission from the state to move into Stage 3 of reopening.
“We hear both sides of this issue and people are very passionate about it,” said Board Chair and District 1 Supervisor Bonnie Gore. “We are concerned about protecting the most vulnerable. That’s what we’ve been doing now for the past two and a half months. However, there is also a balance between protecting human life and protecting the other parts of life that are important – the economic and mental health of our residents. As we open up, we anticipate a spike will happen. The good news is that we’re well prepared to address those surges. As we move forward, we all have to continue being kind to one another and taking precautions to keep one another safe.”
The resolution asks for the state to allow reopening of Stage 3 businesses in Placer County such as nail salons, gyms, lodging for tourism and entertainment venues – with adaptations and limits on size of gatherings. It also requests that youth sports and programs be allowed to resume.
Acknowledging the significance of the summer season for Placer’s tourism-based economy in eastern Placer County, the resolution asks for specific flexibility to reopen for tourism no later than June 1 and for the state to provide reopening guidance for the industry.
“Businesses have taken dramatic cuts. They’re just trying to keep employees to help pay their bills and put food on the table for their families,” said Gustafson. “I’m not supporting this because of economic gains or county revenues. This is about community members who are dramatically suffering. Some of our small business people are losing everything they’ve worked their whole lives for.”
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-550-2643.
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