Update on COVID-19 and Delta variant (Opinion)

Rhonda Sneeringer, MD
Guest column

Lake Tahoe, like communities across the country, is seeing a rise in COVID-19 infections; though infection-related illness and hospitalizations remain overwhelmingly harder on one group of people: those who have yet to be vaccinated.

Dr. Rhonda Sneeringer

The much more infectious Delta variant is spreading rapidly within our community. Public health experts estimate that this strain is two-to-six times more contagious than the strain of COVID-19 that hit the U.S. in 2020. With the Delta variant, there is significantly more of the virus in each droplet expelled into the air from an infected person’s respiratory tract, and more virus in a droplet means a better chance of infecting someone else. Wearing a mask significantly reduces the chance these droplets reach another person.

As a result of the increased contagiousness, there is also an increase in “breakthrough” cases among vaccinated people. Even with breakthrough cases, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to show vaccinated people are less likely to get as sick as the unvaccinated, and when they do, most experience mild-moderate symptoms. Additionally, with more breakthrough cases, the virus is spreading from both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

And while vaccinated people may still experience COVID infections, virtually all hospitalizations and deaths continue to be among those who cannot, have not or will not get the vaccine. While COVID-19 once seemed to target older people, community members and visitors of all ages are now being infected, including children too young to receive the vaccine.

Over the past two weeks, El Dorado and Douglas counties have seen a 139% and 350% increase in COVID infections, respectively. This trend is also affecting the workforce both here at Barton as well as at other local businesses. With county vaccination rates at approximately 50% and South Lake Tahoe even lower, we are likely to continue to see spread until more people receive the vaccine.

It’s not too late to get a COVID-19 vaccine — they are readily available at local pharmacies as well as at Barton primary care offices, and continue to be the best protection against severe illness and hospitalization.

It’s challenging to go through wave after wave of infections, but until we reach herd immunity and the virus cannot continue to mutate, this will be the new normal. COVID-19 will keep evolving, likely growing stronger and infecting those who are most vulnerable.

It’s critically important for us all to once again, do what we know works: get vaccinated, and regardless of whether you are or not, wear a mask. This will help protect others, slow the spread and minimize additional restrictions for our schools, businesses and daily lives.

Dr. Rhonda Sneeringer is the medical director of outpatient COVID-19 care and the director of pediatrics at Barton Memorial Hospital. To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine, visit

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