Sep. 29—COVID-19 cases continue a slow but steady decline in the Joplin region as the delta variant surge ripples out to other parts of the country.
Mercy Hospital Joplin officials on Wednesday reported 31 COVID-19 patients, eight of whom are currently in intensive care and another 13 who are on ventilators. That's a drop of seven cases, from 38, since Monday; it's also the same number they recorded two weeks ago, on Sept. 15.
At Freeman Health System, officials on Wednesday reported 19 active COVID patients at both the Joplin and Neosho hospitals, with two people on ventilators and no one housed inside the step-down unit, one of three COVID-19 units currently in operation.
Paula Baker, Freeman's president and CEO, said the continued falling numbers is good news.
"It's down ... quite a lot — considerably," she said Wednesday during the hospital's weekly briefing for media.
In early August, both Joplin-based hospitals were consistently reporting COVID-positive hospitalization numbers between the high 50s and low 60s, a time that Freeman cardiologist Dr. Tim Stauffer called "a nightmare." The month before that, in July, Joplin and Jasper County ranked first and second statewide for the amount of COVID-19 cases per capita, respectively.
"It is heartening to see those numbers start to go down," Baker said. "We really hope that continues."
She urged area residents who are still unvaccinated to seek out the vaccine, which is the most effective weapon against the ongoing pandemic, she said. She also warned everyone that the pandemic is still a real danger.
"It is still a matter of grave concern; we are certainly not through this yet," Baker said. "I want to emphasize that."
Local vaccination numbers
On the vaccination front, the city of Joplin boasts a 55.4% completed vaccination rate, with a total of 28,277 residents now fully vaccinated, according to the state's vaccine dashboard. Joplin leads all Missouri reporting entities in completed vaccinations, followed by St. Louis (52.3%) and Boone (51.1%) counties.
In Jasper County, 29.2% of the population is fully vaccinated, or 22,668 residents. Newton County is sitting at 26.5% fully vaccinated, or 13,521 residents — a jump of more than 2% in the past two weeks.
Statewide, 47.6% of Missouri residents — or 2.92 million residents — are fully vaccinated, with 53.6% having initiated the vaccination process. In total, more than 6 million doses have been administered.
In light of Pfizer on Tuesday submitting phase 2 and 3 trial data for its COVID-19 vaccine geared toward children ages 5 to 11 to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which possibly could trigger an emergency use order between Halloween and Thanksgiving, Freeman pediatrician Dr. Beth Garrett called it a "very good thing."
"They've been able to decrease the dose of the vaccine to a third of the dose for adults," from 30 micrograms to 10 micrograms, Garrett said, "and they still get a robust immune response."
More than 2,000 children were tested in those trials before the data could be brought before the FDA, "so you know this vaccine has been well tested before it reaches your child," she said.
The vaccine is already authorized for 12- to 15-year-olds and fully approved for ages 16 and older. The side effects from the shots in children are similar to those experienced by adults: sore arms, fever, aches.
A decision to vaccinate younger children is eagerly awaited by millions of Americans as coronavirus infections have soared in children. Since July, pediatric COVID cases are up 240% nationwide, Garrett said, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Locally, she said she's had to transport kids from Freeman to Children's Mercy in Kansas City due to respiratory failure from COVID.
This, Garrett said, "is just another reason why we need to vaccinate. Children are in schools, they're in day cares, they're up in their parents' faces. You know, if you have kids or you've taken care of them, it's really hard not to spread germs to one another.
"We see some severe diseases in children when it comes to COVID. It's not as common as in adults, but unfortunately we see it in our office walking through the door and we get calls about it, so we want to get those kids vaccinated who can get vaccinated."
Kevin McClintock is features editor for The Joplin Globe.