BY BECCA LOUX AND ALEX HOEFT | Moonshine Ink

With California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive “stay at home” order to stop the spread of COVID-19, superseding county and municipal-level recommendations and directives and replacing them with a uniform policy now implemented across the state, Tahoe/Truckee residents are asking, ‘Okay, but can I walk my dog?’ 

The order, issued last night, is for “all individuals living in the state of California to stay home or at their place of residence except as needed to maintain continuity of operations of the federal critical infrastructure sectors.” 

In a March 18 letter to President Donald Trump requesting resources, Newsom described the scope of the potential impacts the coronavirus outbreak could have on California. “We project that roughly 56% of our population — 25.5 million people — will be infected with the virus over an eight-week period,” he wrote. 

The order allows some wiggle room for future area-specific restrictions from the state level: “I may designate additional sectors as critical in order to protect the health and well-being of all Californians,” continues the governor’s order, which impacts every one of the state’s almost 40 million residents. There is no specified end date.

(Find the full text of the order at the governor’s website, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s resource for defining ‘critical’. Nevada County also has a working FAQ further defining what critical means locally.) 

The Town of Truckee can handle Newsom’s order — at least the information that’s been given so far, said town manager Jeff Loux. “The governor’s order didn’t expressly say what those things are, stay open, not stay open … more information and guidance is coming out on that,” Loux said. “But we have a pretty good idea on what’s essential/nonessential.”

The governor’s office provided guidelines for what is essential and currently remains open, listing: “gas stations, pharmacies, food: grocery stores, farmers markets, food banks, convenience stores, take-out and delivery restaurants, banks, [and] laundromats/laundry services.” The guide says nonessential businesses that are shut down until further notice include “dine-in restaurants, bars and nightclubs, entertainment venues, gyms and fitness studios, public events and gatherings, [and] convention centers.”

Thankfully, said Loux, most people are already complying with the direction to stay home except for necessary needs. 

“Those who need … encouragement, we’re going to primarily do that through education,” he said when asked about enforcing the mandate. “[That] might come in the form of a uniformed officer, letting people know this is real, this is serious … We’re expecting that to work pretty well.”

Truckee police will be “reminding people, not arresting people,” Loux continued, explaining Truckee isn’t in some lockdown situation, no one is trying to impede people’s movements; rather, authorities will work to discourage group gathering and encourage staying at home whenever possible.

Truckee’s Chief of Police Robert Leftwich said his team is beginning to lean a little harder on the restaurant-bar combinations, noting his concern that local bars might be enticed to “blow off caution” as self-isolation extends.

“We have to be proactive and communicate with our bars and restaurant and bar owners , Leftwich said. “That would be the situation where we’d deal with them on a case-by-case basis … Using common sense and not creating an environment where … [public mingling is] occurring.”

FREE PARKING: Nonessential businesses to be closed include dine-in restaurants, bars and nightclubs, entertainment venues, gyms and fitness studios, public events and gatherings, and convention centers. Photo by Wade Snider/Moonshine Ink

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has not yet issued a statewide order to shelter in place, but directed Friday afternoon that all nonessential businesses close. The Washoe County Health District has not mandated any closures or stay-at-home directives.

Angela Mussallam, public information officer for the Placer County sheriff’s department, stated clearly that county law enforcement “will not be making any arrests for any reason” under the executive order.

“The point is not to take anyone to jail over this if they’re not listening to the directive or to the order,” Mussallam told Moonshine. “The point is, we want people to know we’re all in this together. This is a time for us to come together and unify as one and we’re strongly urging the community to please heed these recommendations and the governor’s order. We want to work together quickly to get through this.”

Like Truckee police, Mussallam explained that Placer County law enforcement would use discretion about whether to approach citizens engaging in nonessential activities, but “there won’t be any type of legal action taken against that citizen … It’s been made clear by the sheriff: We are not interested in arresting citizens.”

Mussallam also noted that the sheriff department has received “so many calls from residents asking what they can and cannot do … The majority of our residents are actually more concerned with not breaking the law … I don’t think we’ve run into anybody who has purposely wanted to go out, as far as I can recall over the last 24 hours.” 

One of those “can and cannot” questions on many minds is whether we should still be getting outdoors, and whether maintenance of recreational activities counts as essential. 

Truckee PD’s Leftwich answered by emphasizing the spirit of the law versus the letter of the law with Newsom’s executive order.

What we’re trying to accomplish is people using really good judgment to create social distancing,” he said. “They stay at home whenever possible and they avoid large gathering places and bars and restaurants and areas where the virus can be transmitted easily … That’s the spirit of the law if I were to apply it.”

Walking your dog or snowshoeing or going for a run is perfectly fine, as long as social distancing is applied.“The order doesn’t give us any indication that that’s not allowed,” he said.

In that spirit, the Town of Truckee is still grooming the Legacy Trail. 

Placer County also considers outdoor recreation an essential activity, specifically: “Engaging in outdoor activit[ies] such as walking, hiking, or running, provided six feet of spacing is maintained between people who are not members of the same household,” per information from Stephanie Herrera with the county’s public affairs office.

That being said, other recreational locations are shut down. For example, Grass Valley is closing its city parks to discourage people congregating. Locally, Tahoe Donner closed its Trout Creek Recreation Center and cross-country ski area. 

Tahoe Donner’s announcement referenced that the governor’s order ceased all but “critical infrastructure sectors,” stating: “Unfortunately, groomers and ski patrollers do not fit into this exception and the XC operation must come to a complete close.” 

For some Tahoe Donner residents, groomed cross-country skiing options just might be considered “critical.” Two days before grooming stopped, one Nextdoor user in Tahoe Donner wrote: “Just want to let you know how much we appreciate being able to ski and snowshoe during these interesting times. Everyone respected the social distancing guidelines today and looked like they were having a delightful time.”

Regarding the amount of visitors to the Tahoe/Truckee area, there are no official metrics that verify numbers, but anecdotally, Loux believes most new faces in town are part-time residents rather than short-term rental inhabitants.

“We recognize and sympathize with all our residents, full time and part time, that having more people in town than typical makes it more like a snowy weekend than a shelter-in-place moment,” he said. “ … If someone owns property in Truckee, you can’t stop them from coming up.”

As far as long-term planning, the Placer County sheriff’s department is among those agencies “taking it day-by-day just like every entity across the state and the nation,” said department PIO Mussallam. “This is a rapidly evolving situation; it’s also an unprecedented situation, and we are working every single day to figure out what the right move is.” 

The department has been working over the last month with Placer County’s Health and Human Services, fire department, and Office of Emergency Services to develop a long-term plan for new protocols under COVID-19 health concerns if they need it. Together, that coalition has worked with the department to set up an emergency operation command.

Amidst the swirling changes, Truckee’s Loux listed three top-of-mind subjects circulating among town staff: communication and coordination, both internally and externally with other agencies; keeping town operations intact (police department, road maintenance, essential administrative functions, and limited animal services); and third, understanding the best way to apply the governor’s orders on a local level.

At the end of the day we really have one message universally: … shelter in place, stay at home, social distancing, let’s flatten the curve,” Loux said.


Main Image Caption: GONE ISOLATIN’: Local nonessential businesses shutter after California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide mandate to shelter in place. Photo by Wade Snider/Moonshine Ink