By Joanne S. Marchetta

Our Lake Tahoe community, the country, and the entire world are being tested in ways that few of us have ever experienced. The COVID-19 crisis has swept across the globe with an exponential infection rate that is threatening to overwhelm health care systems and is temporarily swamping the world economy. While the situation is dire, those of us fortunate to live at Lake Tahoe are grateful to quarantine in such a beautiful place where outdoor open spaces allow us to breathe in fresh air under fresh snow-laden pine trees.

We’re doing our part to prevent the virus’ community spread at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency by having employees work remotely during this stressful time. We have moved our operations online, and we will continue the work of protecting Lake Tahoe while advancing project applications as promptly as possible. To bring a small degree of certainty in this uncertain time, TRPA will maintain our core services and operations, but in-person interactions will be transformed virtually by phone, video conference, or email. Like most governing bodies, our public meetings are now being held in an online environment. Transparency and stakeholder input continue to be strongly held values for TRPA, so we are putting online conferencing technology through its paces to ensure all can participate.

In the past, you have seen me write about epic collaboration. Collaboration is this agency’s north star when it comes to working with our partners and the community to protect and preserve Lake Tahoe. With strong public and private partnerships, we have made Lake Tahoe more resilient to the threats facing our environment. The threat of catastrophic wildfire, the scourge of aquatic invasive species, and the potentially devastating threats of climate change are being tackled through the collaborative process.

But this crisis now is different because it calls us to go beyond even collaboration to compassion for the human condition. This time, it will take our entire society to battle an unseen enemy with a sense of determination and selfless resiliency. It’s no longer enough to be concerned only of local or regional daily events. Just as TRPA and our partners have been building regional resiliency, American society and the larger world around us is starting to take stock and asking how we all need to cooperate to survive.

We’re discovering what’s truly important in our lives and giving serious thought to what really matters. We are realizing the need to support not exploit the earth, the need to care for the environment not just merely its economic potential, and the need to connect with the people around us as well as those beyond our immediate sphere.  We are awakening to the need to care deeply about what we have for so long taken for granted under normal circumstances.

In this time of social distancing, we are reading more. A recent discovery of mine is Go Together by author Shola Richards who also spoke at TEDx Lake Tahoe last year. The ideas and messages in its pages ring like a clarion call right now. The book dives into the concept of UBUNTU. Ubuntu is an African Zulu concept. The idea being that I Am Because We Are. Ubuntu represents humankind’s connectedness and the kindness and compassion that we can extend to one another. I Am staying at home because We Are safer as a society if we distance ourselves for the time being.

The novel Coronavirus is an invisible enemy that has spread around our planet without discrimination nor heed of borders or oceans. We are — like it or not — a more tightly knit global community than at any time in our history. We must all pull together in this time of need to take care of one another. And when this is all over, we cannot help but come out changed. We will come out on the other side more resilient, seeing that we have so much more in common than the things that we allow to divide us. Ubuntu.

Joanne S. Marchetta is the executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency