March 30, 2020 Moonshine Minutes
Welcome to today’s Moonshine Minutes. I’m Alex Hoeft, news reporter with Moonshine Ink.
News is coming out hourly on the novel coronavirus. To keep you informed, Moonshine’s Tahoe/Truckee Coronavirus Live Updates online piece is a continuous list of news in our coverage area, which includes Placer, Nevada, and Washoe counties. We post about new confirmed COVID-19 cases, governmental announcements, and more.
Last Wednesday, the Town of Truckee council adopted an urgency ordinance that grants a temporary moratorium on residential evictions for non-payment of rent. That means that through July 1 of this year, landlords cannot evict tenants for not paying rent if it’s coronavirus-related. We will be following up with this ordinance, and reporting on what it means for residents who are struggling to pay rent. This ordinance does not apply to commercial establishments.
On Friday, the Tahoe National Forest announced the closure of several recreational facilities to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including all restroom facilities, trash removal services at trailheads, picnic sites, and staging areas, and the Donner Summit Snow Park through April 30.
Washoe County reported its first COVID-19 related death yesterday, March 29. Additionally, Placer County reported its second death related to the virus, an elderly adult with several underlying health conditions. This adult was a resident of south Placer County. Nevada County is reporting zero deaths.
As other states and regions in the country experience much more significant ramp ups in confirmed cases, our region waits with bated breath — will it come? Are we ready? The frontline of this international crisis are our hospitals. Their capacity, or lack thereof, is at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
We reached out to Harry Weis, CEO of Tahoe Forest Health System, to find out just how prepared Tahoe/Truckee is for the novel coronavirus.
Becca Loux, reporter and editor for Moonshine, has the story.
As of Thursday, March 26, the U.S. officially topped the world in total cases of COVID-19, with the Centers for Disease Control reporting that nationwide there were 85,356 confirmed cases, including 1,246 deaths. This surpassed “China’s tally of more than 81,700 and Italy’s count of more than 80,500,” according to the LA Times.
Tahoe Forest Hospital is working to ready itself for a potential uptick in cases, said Mr. Weis. He explained that the hospital is licensed for 25 acute inpatient hospital beds, but has expanded its capacity to house 36 beds, including ICU-equipped beds. He said that if the hospital’s capacity is reached, they are “working very cooperatively with four other area hospitals in our region” to come to a solution.
Weis told us: “We have plans in place to go slightly higher if needed. Presently, our census have been below average due to avoiding elective procedures on patients.”
TFHS has no patients in the hospital currently with a proven case of COVID-19, “but Weis cautioned, “that could change at any time in the future.”
We questioned Weis about the status of testing in the area: How many tests have been performed? How many testing kits do we have? Turns out, the hospital has restrictions on some of that information, but Weis did share that TFHS has “performed many tests and we don’t disclose how many tests we’ve performed. We do have 14 positive COVID-19 lab test results [at] this moment, and those patients come from several counties.”
Have you ever wondered what the testing process is like? At TFHS, Weis explained, “We use a special swab to swab a nostril and then this swab is carefully packaged and it’s sent off to an approved testing lab. We have several testing labs we send specimens to.” Weis said results usually arrive four to seven days later.
For anyone who thinks they might be feeling any symptoms of COVID-19, Weis asked that you contact the hospital’s hotline, operating seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at (530) 582-3450. “After hours,” he furthered, “if they are feeling ill with fever, cough and/or shortness of breath, or other health concerns, they should visit our emergency department.”
So is the hospital ready? We hope so. “We are preparing for a surge,” Weis told us.
[Back to speaker #1]
Thank you, Becca.
Many questions still remain about our region’s readiness — we want to find out how many tests have been performed, and how many are headed our way. We want to know what chance our area has to become a hotspot of the virus. To answer these questions and more, we are talking with other experts on the disease and the region’s response, so as always, stay tuned.
Right now, one of our main focuses has been working on finding out where confirmed cases have been. The way South Korea and China battled the disease was through transparency on where the disease traveled.
If you have ideas or someone you think we should reach out to as a source for information, the editorial squad is working around the clock. Email tips to email@example.com.
But this isn’t simply a healthcare issue, it’s tipped off economic hardship for millions of people, triggering a recession that many estimate will take a long time to recover from. Last Friday, we swapped our reporter hats for convener hats, hosting an intimate video conference call with local business owners to hear stories on how businesses are being affected by the shelter-in-place orders, strategies they’re using to stay afloat, and the development of proactive solutions.
The stories are probably familiar to everyone, but no less heartbreaking: Employees are being laid off and filing for unemployment. Businesses are actively applying for loans, and meanwhile looking for ways to support their employees. Paying rents for a space they can no longer use is an issue for many. One business owner said, “Unless we get help, we’re done.”
The challenge is dire and the obstacles are great. But businesses are working to find new models. Chris Gallagher, Granlibakken Tahoe’s director of marketing, said the resort has laid off 95% of its staff and has seen hundreds of thousands of dollars going out the door from the cancellation of conferences and group restrictions.
Gallagher said, “It’s bleak to see how our resort would be 100% full … and right now it’s about 5% occupancy.”
One of our favorite moments from the business video conference call was when Kristin York with the Sierra Business Council shared this old saying, “When fishermen can’t go to sea, they mend their nets.”
After this successful and touching trial run, we want to keep going with these community conference calls, which we’re calling Tahoe Talks. A future topic we’re entertaining is how visitors to Tahoe are mixed up in all this mess and the challenge of keeping it from being a matter of us. Vs. them. It’s a complex subject and we believe the community can have a productive conversation about it. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in participating in that discussion.
That’s it for today’s Moonshine Minutes. In these uncertain times, we hope you’re all taking time to mend your nets.