Vacation communities are anxious amidst pandemic

Although+Lake+Tahoe+has+been+a+popular+tourist+attraction%2C+people+are+now+flocking+to+the+vacation+communities+to+escape+the+dense+urban+population%2C+causing+anxiety+among+permanent+residents.+

Jessica Conley

Although Lake Tahoe has been a popular tourist attraction, people are now flocking to the vacation communities to escape the dense urban population, causing anxiety among permanent residents.

A short ferry ride away from Rhode Island lies an island home to 1,051 residents, with an average age of 50 years old. Its isolation has lead to limited resources for residents in times of crisis. On April 3, Block Island announced their first COVID-19 case.

“[the COVID-19 patient] was flown off the island immediately. He was admitted to hospital and has been released after a short stay,” said Block Island resident Nancy Pike.

Block Island is not the only community worried about the pandemic. Many vacation towns across the nation are enduring an increase in seasonal residents, economic harm to their tourism-based businesses, and struggle to find proper medical care. Tucked into the snow-covered mountains of the northern Sierra Nevadas, Lake Tahoe communities are also facing the challenges of this new era.

“Many people who live here in Tahoe are anxious about the possible implications of a large scale outbreak in our small towns, as we have limited resources, and many city governments responded slowly to this threat,” said Parker McCombs, a Tahoe resident.

The sudden climb of seasonal residents in vacation towns has already made an impact on communities. Since many people are working from home, some have ventured to their second homes for a change of scenery. However, this has caused mixed feelings among year-round homeowners. 

“We have one small hospital meant to serve the small Tahoe community in terms of crisis… it’s selfish. They are hoarding our groceries and putting us at risk,” said Madeline Hopwood, a North Tahoe resident.

Many residents are also concerned about seasonal visitors continuing to rent out their houses.

Vacation Communities Infographic by Calista Shohet and Jess Conley

“I’ve heard stories from others around the lake about Airbnb being a revolving door or new people every weekend for the last few weeks. This can be a terrifying situation, especially because Tahoe has a large at-risk population,” McCombs said.

Local businesses are feeling the impact of the outbreak. Tahoe’s Lakeside Inn and Casino closed its doors due to recent financial troubles. Along with hotels and restaurants, other businesses dependent on tourism are under pressure.

“The ski areas are closed, which was one of the biggest income sources,” said North Tahoe resident Logan Phillips.

Some seasonal residents have been doing their best to chip in to the local economy. 

“We are paying taxes, and we have been giving business to local restaurants and grocery stores,” said Jenna Stanovak, a Bay Area resident.

These economic contributions have not gone unnoticed by local residents. 

“I’ve seen second homeowners supporting small businesses that might have otherwise suffered,” Phillips said.

Residents living in vacation communities are concerned about their access to healthcare. When a resident in Block Island contracted the virus, he was immediately flown off the island to receive immediate medical care. Many vacation towns remain isolated, so access to hospitals and ventilators can be hard to come by.

“Medical care here is just the medical center with one doctor, one nurse. South County Hospital in Wakefield, RI, and Westerly Hospital will take patients from here,” Pike said, discussing Block Island’s medical access.

As well as being spread out, some local hospitals aren’t equipped for a surge in the number of patients. Truckee’s Tahoe Forest Hospital has only 25 acute-care beds.

“We have even more limited medical access because we only have one small hospital, and it has low capacity,” Phillips said.

While all residents have been coping with the virus, some have been able to give back to those around them. Residents in the Tahoe area have been working to accommodate the needs of healthcare workers and others on the front lines. 

Goggles for Docs is a program most prominent in ski communities, dedicated to making sure healthcare workers have proper PPE. Similarly to Tahoe, Block Island has been doing its best to give back.

“The food bank is very active and many who know how to sew who are churning out masks which are handed out at the church,” Pike said.

With COVID-19 becoming such a pressing issue in day-to-day life, small towns are learning how to adjust to the situation. Populations in debate, troubled economies, and health in question are some of the new and unexpected circumstances vacation communities are having to conquer. In turn, residents are finding their voices to speak out and finding ways to make the best out of any situation.

“These are tough times, but the more we can help each other, the easier this will be for all of us,” Hopwood said.

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