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Tahoe shutdown: Can Bay Area residents travel there?

Here’s what to know about traveling to the area around Lake Tahoe, where ski resorts remain open

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A rise in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in California’s Greater Sacramento region triggered a state-issued stay-at-home order that took effect on Dec. 11 for an area that encompasses Lake Tahoe, carrying the message that vacation travel there is off-limits until at least Jan. 1.

Though local officials and tourism bureaus are issuing clear guidance to prospective travelers to steer clear of the region, there remains a lot of confusion around what is allowed and what is not for Bay Area travelers, many of whom had booked hotel rooms and Airbnbs before the shutdown period or who are looking forward to skiing at resorts in the Tahoe region, which remain open even during stay-at-home.

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Tahoe residents report that people are still traveling to the area, presumably to ski and seek respite in the mountains from a housebound pandemic lifestyle that has persisted for more than 9 months.

If conditions at intensive-care units in the Greater Sacramento region improve dramatically in the next few weeks, the area might be able to reopen to tourists just in time for New Year’s. In the meantime, here’s what you need to know about Tahoe’s shutdown.

When did the stay-at-home order in Tahoe start?

11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 10. It’s expected to last at least three weeks.

Who does it affect?

The greater Lake Tahoe area spans five counties, two of which are in Nevada. The order pertains to the three California counties and will impact residents in those counties and non-residents traveling to that region, which includes Truckee and South Lake Tahoe. Under California’s order, long-distance travel is being discouraged.

What is shut down in Lake Tahoe?

Under stay-at-home, outdoor dining is prohibited. Retail establishments can only operate at 20% capacity. Hair salons and barbershops, indoor gyms, museums, zoos, aquariums, personal care services, wineries, bars, breweries, cardrooms, live audience sports, and family entertainment centers will be closed.

Non-essential travel in and out of the Tahoe area is prohibited, except in instances in which travelers book for more than 14 days and self-quarantine during that period, according to the state’s travel advisory. “To prevent further spread of COVID-19, Californians should not travel significant distances and should stay close to home as much as possible,” according to the state’s regional stay-at-home guidelines.

How exactly is the travel order being enforced?

So far, that is unclear.

The state’s guidelines recommend that people in affected areas refrain from driving more than two or three hours from their homes.

Breaking the order may be punishable as a misdemeanor crime and fine or “court-imposed penalties,” according to the state’s guidelines.

Enforcing a ban on visitors to Lake Tahoe during shelter-in-place in March was virtually impossible, authorities say. The city of South Lake Tahoe issued a small number of $1,000 fines to individual visitors breaking lockdown in the spring. Officials have also said that fines up to $500 for businesses and up to $100 for people failing to wear a mask in public could be issued under the statewide mask mandate.

What’s happening on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe?

Half of Lake Tahoe is in Nevada, which has less restrictive pandemic rules in place. South Lake Tahoe, which is bifurcated by the state line, is especially tricky for travelers to navigate right now.

Under an order that runs through mid-January, Nevada is allowing casinos, arcades, theme parks, museums and other establishments to operate at 25% capacity. Indoor and outdoor dining and public gatherings is also permitted — with some restrictions.

How is the order affecting hotels?

Lodging operators are only allowed to serve essential travelers — people traveling for work, medical needs and critical infrastructure support. Communities around the lake, including Truckee and South Lake Tahoe, are asking hoteliers and property managers of short-term rentals to cancel all existing reservations through Jan. 1.

Hotels and property managers have already begun canceling reservations and calling guests. December and the Christmas holiday is a highly popular time for tourism in Tahoe and many lodging operators told the Chronicle that the impact to their bottom lines for 2020 would be devastating.

The impact of the mass cancellations will be felt communitywide because municipalities depend on hotel taxes to fund local budgets. In South Lake Tahoe, for example, hotel taxes account for about 40% of the city’s income, according to Chris Fiore, the city’s communications manager.

How does the order affect Airbnb bookings?

Airbnb and VRBO are not blocking bookings in the Tahoe region. As of press time, there were dozens of listings in the Tahoe region available on those websites.

City and county officials in the Tahoe area say they don’t have authority to regulate third-party booking marketplaces or the resources to closely monitor the thousands of short-term rentals across the region.

“We don’t have the capacity to go door to door to every single (vacation home rental),” Fiore said.


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