JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Parts of Missouri are seeing a major increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. As summer travel ramps up, health providers are pleading for Missourians to get vaccinated.
Last week, Linn and Livingston counties in northern Missouri led the U.S. in the most new cases per capita in seven days. Now, other parts of the state are seeing an increase in COVID cases and hospitalizations, and those numbers are expected to rise if more people don’t get vaccinated.
“This is troubling,” Missouri Hospital Association spokesman Dave Dillon said. “You look at the places we’re seeing spikes, they’re also places that have low rates of vaccination.”
As of Friday, 45% of Missourians 18 years and older are fully vaccinated, but Dillon said that’s not enough.
“We’re beginning to see more kids affected, adolescents to teens to those more middle-aged to younger population,” Dillon said.
Dillon said compared to earlier this year when senior citizens were ones being hospitalized for COVID, now the average age is 40 years and younger.
“Those individuals that need hospitalization may not get it locally,” Dillon said. “They are most likely at this point, since our healthcare system is not in jeopardy of being overwhelmed, going to be sent to a larger hospital that has additional medical capacity and expertise in taking care of patients with COVID.”
At Cox Health in Springfield, the number of COVID patients hospitalized has tripled in a few weeks.
Cox Health CEO Steve Edwards tweeted earlier this week that the healthcare provider went from 16 COVID patients to 52.
“Eventually most everyone will either become infected or acquire immunity by vaccine,” he said. “A vaccine proven very safe and effective. It seems like an easy choice.”
Chief Hospital Officer for Cox Health Karen Kramer said Cox doesn’t have equipment or PPE issues; instead, they need frontline workers.
“We’re having to ask people who’ve had time off scheduled to come in and help with influx that we really were hoping we didn’t see,” Kramer said.
“We have 56 COVID-positive patients across the system today. About 12 of those people are critically ill and in our COVID ICU areas. Unfortunately, we had to reopen our West Tower again, and so we do have very critical ill patients in our West Tower again.”
Kramer said for many weeks, 1 out of every 25 people were testing positive for the virus. Now it’s 1 in 5, and she expects that number to increase.
“Not enough people are getting the vaccine,” Kramer said. “In southwest Missouri, unfortunately the minority of people have gotten the vaccine. A majority still have not in this area, and the vaccine is the most effective way to keep people out of the hospital and keep people out of our critical care areas.”
According to the CDC’s Community Profile report “Area of Concern” map, as of Wednesday, Taney, Polk, Linn and Livingston counties are sustained hotspots, meaning they are communities with high sustained case burden and might experience healthcare limitation resources.
Newton, Greene, Lincoln and Putnam counties are hotspots, which means those communities have reached a threshold of disease activity.
Both Dillon and Kramer said a big reason for an increase in cases in northern and southwest Missouri are the COVID variants from India and the U.K.
“What we found that was predominate in northern Missouri has been referred to as the India Variant, which is also highly contagious and will take root here, so we could see an increase in hospitalizations and increased infections as a result,” Dillon said.
Kramer said that in southwest Missouri, the number of COVID-related deaths are also on the rise.
“We were averaging one or two a week. Now it’s looking closer to five a week,” Kramer said.
Kramer and Dillon said the best way to stop this trend is to get vaccinated.
“For those people who want to have their kids back in school without all the precautions we saw this last year, we can’t guarantee that will happen unless we get to a much higher rate of vaccination,” Dillon said.
“If I can encourage people to do one thing, it’s if you haven’t been vaccinated, please get vaccinated,” Kramer said.
As of Friday, Missouri reported more than 2,000 cases of COVID within the last seven days. With southwest Missouri being a high-tourist area, Kramer said Cox Health will be prepared if cases continue to rise.