COVID-19 dominated news in 2020 and rightly so. Most of the top read stories of the year revolved around the deadly virus, from government officials asking tourists to stay away from Lake Tahoe, to what’s open during the pandemic, to a smoking hot real estate market, to the forest service closing all of its land in California.
If the coronavirus wasn’t enough, South Lake Tahoe even recorded the first plague case in the state in the last five years.
This past year has been crazy with the virus dictating our lives. Most of us have been hunkered down and trying to survive physically and emotionally.
It has made for a memorable year, for better or worse, and we’re all looking forward to moving into 2021.
Here are some of the Tribune’s most read stories of 2020.
About ten days after the coronavirus threat led the governors of California and Nevada to shut down businesses in March, Lake Tahoe officials asked tourists to stay away after seeing a surge of visitation right after the lockdowns.
VHRs and hotels were full which led South Lake Tahoe leadership to enact $1,000 fines for people violating state issued guidelines.
Residents were furious with the surge of visitors and even the president and CEO of the Lake Tahoe Vistor’s Authority asked tourists to stay away.
The governors called for people to get outside and take care of their physical health, and that apparently meant for people to visit Tahoe.
“The governor’s order says for people to exercise near their homes so unless all those people suddenly moved near the trailhead (in Tahoe), I don’t think they’re following the order,” said one community leader.
Lake Tahoe real estate market off the charts during pandemic
The Lake Tahoe real estate market has gone through the roof in the past nine months. The market has been strong for years, but this summer agents talked about how they’d never seen it so busy. House prices were going up by the day as multiple offers and bidding wars became normal.
We followed up that story in December and one of those same agents told us the market looked “grim.”
With only so much housing available at Tahoe, and new builds at a minimum, inventory has plummeted and there’s not a whole heck of a lot to sell.
“It’s a grim outlook for the local community and real estate agents. It’s pretty cutthroat, only 15% [of agents] have control of the market,” said one agent.
Another said, “We only have so many homes in the Tahoe area and not many new builds. I think the low inventory will continue, and thus the demand will continue and over asking offers.
During the third month of closures and sheltering in place, in May, people were getting pretty anxious to do something, anything, especially get outside.
The weather was warm and California was getting ready to enter Phase 2 of its reopening, which meant state parks were officially open, even though the trails were never closed. Nevada was also allowing 50% capacity at its state parks. South Lake Tahoe opened its city beaches and facilities and forest land was open, although the forests would all be closed a few months later …
In an unprecedented move, the U.S. Forest Service shut down all of its land in the state, all 18 forest regions, due to a combination of increased visitation from the pandemic and extreme fire conditions. No hiking, no camping, no campfires or burning of any kind and any trespassers were subject to $5,000 fines or up to $10,000 for organizations who bucked the rules.
The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit public affairs specialist said she had never seen the forest service shut down all its land in the 15 years she’s been there.
The closures that went into effect in early September at Tahoe, lasted all through November.
In the middle of July during Lake Tahoe’s busy season, it was still busy, but the California governor again shut down businesses during a virus spike, not too long after they had reopened.
The city called for compliance among business shutdowns where dine-in restaurants, wineries, theaters, bars, breweries and many more were forced to close.
South Tahoe police were out enforcing the state-issued rules by educating visitors and sometimes fining them if the behavior was egregious.
“We will be educating local businesses and taking action when needed to make sure the governor’s order is being enforced,” said South Lake Tahoe Police Lt. Dave Stevenson, who later in the year was promoted to police chief. “The health and safety of our residents and visitors is our top priority and though we are a smaller police department, we are taking this seriously.”
A car enthusiast group held a multi-day event in August and it turned ugly resulting in outrage, chaos and officers in two states responding to hundreds of calls for service.
The event was jam-packed with hundreds of cars and photographs of the event showed little compliance with mask wearing and social distancing. A casino security guard was assaulted and South Tahoe police scheduled extra help and asked the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office and California Highway Patrol for support to deal with the event on the weekend.
“We understand Tahoe is a place people want to escape during this time, but they have to be respectful of the place we call home,” said a police statement.
Lake Tahoe was buried under layers of smoke this summer from the record-setting wildfires in California. Every day we would wake up to orange skies from the sun trying to carve through the smoke and an air quality index of bad to dangerous.
The National Weather Service on a daily basis would issue smoke advisories.
Officials had wanted residents to get outside and stay healthy after being cooped up with virus lockdowns, but with bad air quality for two straight months, doing anything strenuous outside, or at times even going outside, was not recommended, especially with the respiratory issues it can cause amid the coronavirus.
A feel good story in the midst of chaos at the end of July. A 13-year-old, James Savage, became the youngest person ever to swim the 12-mile width of Lake Tahoe, the “Godfather Swim.”
Savage was in the water at 4:30 a.m. after eating pancakes a couple hours earlier and it took him nearly seven hours to complete the swim.
After finishing, he loaded up on calories at Bert’s Cafe, took an hour or so nap and then rode his bike until about 10 p.m. that night.
Savage is trying to become the youngest to complete the Tahoe Triple Crown so we may be hearing from him sometime next summer.
One storm does not make a “Miracle March” but a multi-day event gave the Sierra snowpack a large boost.
With Lake Tahoe just a day away from being locked down due to COVID-19, a winter storm over a few days brought the snowpack up to respectable levels during a dry season.
The storms added about 15% to the snowpack, a pretty significant number towards the end of the season. Early in the season snowpack percentages swing wildly from storm to storm and one official explained how hard it was to impact the snowpack late in the season.
But all that fresh powder mostly went untouched as ski resorts closed the day after the story due to the coronavirus impacting the region.
Shortly after getting shut down by the virus in mid-March, many were forced to find things to do while following the shelter in place guideline. This story was a gift that kept giving to the readers and after a few months, this became one of the most read stories of the year.
Ideas ranged from quarantine and relax, to being productive with your time, to embracing creativity to doing stuff for others. It was no small list.