Photograph: Kate Abraham/AP
California’s Lake Tahoe is temporarily shutting down to outside tourists, the latest economic blow as a deadly surge in coronavirus cases is forcing millions in America’s most populous state back under lockdown restrictions.
The news comes as California saw its deadliest day of the pandemic so far, according to a count by the Los Angeles Times, with more than 219 deaths from the virus recorded on Tuesday.
Large swathes of California went back under the strict lockdown rules over the weekend, with restaurants forced to halt outdoor dining, personal care businesses ordered to close and stores operating at reduced capacity. Residents are asked to stay home except for essential activities, and hotels are barred from accepting most out-of-state guests.
On Tuesday, the greater Sacramento region, which comprises the Lake Tahoe area, joined the group of counties under lockdown because capacity in hospital intensive care units has fallen below 15%.
Officials in the famed lake ski and resort area are urging people to stay away.
Chris Fiore, the communications manager for the city of South Lake Tahoe, said that while ski resorts are permitted to stay open under the order, which exempts outdoor recreation, lodging will be closed except for essential workers and Covid-19 containment measures, such as treatment or housing for homeless people.
“If you are in an area that’s under a stay-at-home order, stay at home,” Fiore said. “We want everyone back to Tahoe as soon as it’s safe but everyone realizes we are stronger together, and safer apart right now.”
“The bottom line is, personal responsibility matters,” he added. “We all need to do our part, stay home and stay safe over the next three weeks and see if we can get Tahoe back to looking the way it is supposed to in the winter time.”
The move is likely to have a sizeable impact on the snow sports industry, which had been readying for a steady stream of visitors after reopening in November.
California’s new stay-at-home orders are being applied regionally, with the state divided into five regions, and are tied to ICU capacity. When available ICU beds dip below 15%, the rules take effect.
The huge southern California and San Joaquin Valley regions are already in the strictest category, and several counties in the San Francisco Bay Area chose to implement their own voluntary orders independent of the state.
The 13-county region encompassing the state capital of Sacramento and Lake Tahoe has an ICU capacity of 11.6% and the order will take effect at 11.59pm Thursday, according to the state department of public health website.
Hospitals across the state are nearing a breaking point. California has seen a roughly 70% increase in ICU admissions in just two weeks, leaving just 1,700 of its 7,800 ICU beds available.
The situation has prompted California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, to bring in hospital staff from outside the state, and to restart emergency hospitals that were created but hardly used when the coronavirus surged last spring.
Despite the pandemic, Lake Tahoe has struggled to contain a surge of tourism as more Californians seek refuge in the outdoors. The summer saw a wave of protests as local residents bristled against outsiders, who flocked to the area for camping and other outdoor activities, bringing with them heavy traffic, garbage and unruly behavior.
Joseph Flannery, a public affairs officer with Tahoe national forest, told the Guardian in September that some campgrounds in the area had experienced a more than 400% increase in occupancy compared to the previous year.