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COVID-19 hitting South Lake Tahoe area hard; county make take ‘regional approach’

Dylan Svoboda / Mountain Democrat

Coronavirus spread is accelerating in El Dorado County, but one area is largely driving the surge.

The Lake Tahoe region, led by the city of South Lake Tahoe with about 22,000 permanent residents and sparsely populated areas like Meyers and Tahoma, account for nearly half the 198 COVID-19 cases across the county.

With approximately 192,000 residents countywide, the Lake Tahoe area, partially driven by its worldwide tourist appeal, outpaces its share of coronavirus infections.

During an El Dorado County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, county Public Health Officer Dr. Nancy Williams said, “The South Lake Tahoe area is the most worrisome to us on the county basis right now.”

The Tahoe area’s plight has county officials considering a “regional approach” to mitigating coronavirus spread.

To date local health officials have relied on a countywide approach to closing and reopening the economy. Placerville and South Lake Tahoe’s bars and restaurants shut their doors and opened them back up on the same day. El Dorado Hills and Diamond Springs barbershops and hair salons have followed the same calendar.

That could soon change as areas within the county undergo diverging coronavirus experiences.

In California counties are flagged for dangerous coronavirus conditions if more than 100 residents per 100,000 test positive for COVID-19 over a two-week period. Despite the increases, as of last week, the South Lake Tahoe area had not exceeded the thresholds that would’ve placed it on the state watch list — but it’s getting close, according to Williams.

“We’re looking at how many tests come back positive on a population basis,” said Williams.

“The threshold that the states are using is anything greater than 100 per 100,000 (residents), and South Lake Tahoe has been running around 75, and the rest of the county is running way, way below that.”

So far the governor has placed 19 counties across California, including Sacramento and Los Angeles counties, on a watch list. Those counties on Wednesday were told to shut down bars, dine-in restaurants, wineries, movie theaters, zoos and museums.

El Dorado Hills, with roughly double the population of the South Lake Tahoe area, has had 42 cases of coronavirus since health officials found the first case in March. The Tahoe region has had 98 confirmed cases. If those conditions worsen, county officials may break from their countywide, same-rules-for-all approach.

“We may want to talk about if there’s any action we may want to take for that particular region should we get to that point,” Williams said during the meeting.

The Lake Tahoe region’s alarming COVID-19 numbers likely have to do with its geography and tourist attractions, county officials claim. District 5 Supervisor Sue Novasel, who represents the region, said tourism in the area has been growing despite recent upticks in local coronavirus cases.

“Regionally, we get up to 24 million visitors a year from all over the world,” she said. “And we’re booming again. We’re seeing a huge increase, and that’s why I think we’re seeing an increase in positive tests.”

Novasel said she was open to exploring a regional approach with other local governments, including Placer County, the city of South Lake Tahoe and Washoe and Douglas Counties in Nevada, in solving the area’s coronavirus problem.

Williams said the Tahoe areas of Placer and Nevada Counties saw recent increases in coronavirus cases as well.

In the state of Nevada, Washoe County saw a 40% increase in cases from June 15 to 29. Incline Village has had 32 residents test positive for the virus since March. Sixty-five residents in Douglas County have tested positive for the virus, including five in Stateline and two in Zephyr Cove.

As of Wednesday, there have been 198 known coronavirus cases in El Dorado County since officials discovered the county’s first case March 20. Seventy-three of those cases are still active. No residents are known to have died from the coronavirus in the county.


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