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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri continues to be the hotspot in the country for new COVID-19 infections. Health experts say it’s due to the Delta variant and low vaccination numbers in the state.

Hospitals in the southern part of the state, particularly the Springfield area, are bursting at the seams because of a new surge of COVID patients. Kansas City hospitals are helping with the overflow.

“St. Luke’s has taken the most of our transfers so far,” said Ashley Kimberling Casad, vice president of clinical services at CoxHealth in Springfield.

CoxHealth has also sent patients to St. Louis and Arkansas — anywhere it can find beds. Currently, the hospital system has 95 COVID patients, which is using up so many resources, CoxHealth is transferring 31% of its patients. 

“I think what’s different about this peak is a month ago we had 35 patients and we had 105 last week, so in less than a month we had triple,” Casad said. “In the winter, that took longer. It took two-and-a-half weeks for us to build up like that, so the spike has happened much quicker this time around.”

The University of Kansas Health System has also welcomed patients from southern Missouri. In contrast to the 95 COVID patients at CoxHealth, KU has just 22 COVID patients.

“That is not a new thing. We do and have been taking transfer calls for different disease states for quite some time,” said Dr. Dana Hawkinson, head of infectious disease at KU Health System. “Obviously if you are in one of those rural areas and you do have capacity issues because you had so many COVID patients, you are going to need room and places for your other sick patients to get treated as well.”

That doesn’t mean KU Hospital can take everyone. KU recently declined a patient from Joplin because they needed an ECMO machine, which is a step up from a ventilator. KU didn’t have one available.

“We use ECMO machines not just for COVID but other things as well related to the heart and lungs,” Hawkinson said. “So it could be various reasons why we didn’t accept that person.”

Hospitals in southern Missouri weren’t prepared for this wave of infection and are desperate for respiratory therapists, nurses and many other positions. Those who are there are stretched thin, and it shows.

“In January, the vaccinations were not available so staff are willing and happy to help keep the community safe,” Casad said. “I think it’s a little harder now that the vaccine is widely available. So I think that’s making morale lower than what it was this winter.”

If you or anyone you know wants to help in southern Missouri, call CoxHealth at 417-269-5627.