El Dorado County on July 18 announced the first death from COVID-19—a man from the Lake Tahoe area who was older than 65. No details about whether he had other health conditions or how he may have contacted the virus were released.

It is also not known if he was one of the three COVID patients being treated at Barton Memorial Hospital on July 17.

Barton Health’s CEO Clint Purvance and El Dorado County Public Health Officer Nancy Williams were part of a webinar July 17 hosted by the Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce. Both doctors are worried about the rising number of coronavirus cases in the Lake Tahoe region. They both advocated for wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands and taking this virus seriously.

Per the county’s stats released on July 17, there have been 394 cases in El Dorado County, with 174 active cases. With the death, that would be 173 cases. Of the total cases, 198 are from the Tahoe area. If the South Shore of California were its own county, it would surpass the state’s tolerance threshold for number of positive cases per capita by more than 2½ times, according to Purvance.

“There is significant growth of COVID in the community,” Purvance said. The cases have not adversely affected the hospital at this time. Barton’s caseload has been steady, with three COVID hospitalizations the norm on any given day, though there have been five at one time.

Williams said, “I feel fairly certain we will hit the monitoring level.” This would mean more than 100 positive tests per 100,000 people. The state has a number of protocols in place based on various criteria.

Testing continues to be available at Lake Tahoe Community College, at Barton Memorial Hospital and a couple locations on the West Slope. Barton tests those with symptoms and people coming in for procedures. The college site is full nearly every day, with results taking a week at times. LTCC does 132 tests a day. Barton officials met in the last week to discuss increasing testing, but right now the outside lab can only handle so many tests.

“The time it takes to get results back varies and it plays into the work force challenge,” Purvance said. “It affects Barton and the community.” He added the health system has had a ton of absenteeism because managers are being conservative with keeping people out who have any symptom of illness, even if it’s not COVID related.

Steve Teshara with the chamber related how many businesses are working with minimal staffs, so someone out on a COVID quarantine can be a significant staffing loss.

Williams stressed the importance of employees being told in advance about the consequences of getting infected, to follow guidelines at work and home. She said it’s a fallacy to feel safe with family members and friends without a mask or distancing, especially indoors.

The county and Barton are doing contact tracing on the people who have tested positive, meaning finding out who they have been in contact with. Asked if the county would release businesses with positive cases, Williams said no. She did say when the county receives complaints about employees not wearing masks that business is investigated. Sometimes businesses have been closed, other times cleaning in off hours has been sufficient when an employee has tested positive.

Social media sites for restaurants are a good place to monitor to see if a place is crowded and what their adherence to rules is. Several on Instagram have been posting photos of employees without masks, then backpedaling to say they only took the masks off for the photo. Plenty of crowded Tahoe beach scenes have shown up in the media and on the internet.

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