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As the COVID-19 delta variant continues to sweep through Missouri and Kansas, Truman Medical Center said Monday its workers will be required to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus — becoming one of the first in the region to take that step.
The move comes as health officials are begging residents to take the vaccine amid lagging numbers of vaccination rates paired with rising numbers of hospitalization and death. Over the weekend, 27 people died of COVID-19 in hospitals around southwest Missouri. And area health officials warn the virus has already become a threat again to Kansas City.
On Monday, Truman Medical Center president and CEO Charlie Shields said the center “wants to ensure we are doing everything possible to keep our patients.”
The announcement came on the same day more than nearly 60 professional medical groups and associations issued a joint statement calling for mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for all health care and long-term care workers, according to a release from the American Public Health Association.
The New York Times lists three counties — Douglas, Taney and Wright — in southwest and south-central Missouri in its top 10 list of jurisdictions with the highest rate of new cases in the past seven days.
With a 76% increase in cases over the past 14 days, Missouri ranks fourth in the nation for the highest rate of cases, The Times reported.
An increase in cases prompted St. Louis to reinstate its mask mandate. Effective Monday, masks are required in indoor public places and on public transportation, regardless of vaccination status. Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said Sunday that a mask mandate was not necessary right now, but urged people to get vaccinated.
Mandatory vaccines for health care workers
Nearly 60 professional medical groups and associations issued a joint statement Monday calling for mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for all health care and long-term care workers, according to a release from the American Public Health Association.
Because of the recent surge in COVID-19 and the availability of safe and effective vaccines, the organizations and societies urged that all health care and long-term care employers require their workers to be vaccinated.
“This is the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all health care workers to put patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities first and take all steps necessary to ensure their health and well-being.”
Rising death count
Two southwestern Missouri health systems reported 27 additional COVID-19 related deaths over the weekend as the region continues to trudge through a heightened number of cases and hospitalizations.
Fifteen of the patients were being treated in hospitals run by CoxHealth that fan across southwest Missouri in Springfield, Branson, Monett and Barton County. The other 12 were from Mercy Springfield.
In a statement on social media, Mercy Springfield chief administrative officer Erik Frederick said:
“This is very hard for our team,”
“I said the same last year,” Frederick posted on social media. “The difference now is that most of this could be prevented. That adds an extra layer of anguish.”
Southwest Missouri has been overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases, driven by the more transmissible delta variant and low vaccination rates. The state has 40.8% of its population fully vaccinated, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
Last week, the state sent ambulances, staff and other resources to Springfield and Greene County as hospitalizations continued to overwhelm the health care system.
Summer camp closed
An outbreak of COVID-19 at a Johnson County summer camp prompted its early end this week after eight positive cases were reported.
The camp is hosted by the Johnson County Park and Recreation District at Clear Creek Elementary School in Shawnee. Masks were recommended by camp-goers but not required and many children went without face-coverings, according to the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.
Meantime, the health department is working with the camp to isolate or quarantine those who are affected, said Sanmi Areola, Johnson County’s top public health official.
Earlier this month, Johnson County health department officials issued a recommendation that children who have not been fully vaccinated wear masks when the fall semester starts. Only the Kansas City, Kansas school district has said students will face such a mandatory requirement among Kansas City’s suburbs on the Kansas side of State Line Road.
Johnson County has added more than 1,580 new cases this month, more than May and June combined, according to data from the health department.
Nearly all of the new patients being treated for COVID-19 have not been fully vaccinated, according to health officials.
But while rare, so-called breakthrough infections may occur for people who have already been vaccinated. One recent example is Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self, who reported becoming infected and experiencing minor symptoms despite having been fully vaccinated.
In studies, the two-dose COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna were around 95% effective at preventing illness, while the one-shot Johnson & Johnson shot was 72% effective, though direct comparisons are difficult.
Experts say the vaccines are very good at protecting people from contracting the virus, though it is still possible to become infected with mild or no symptoms or even to fall ill. And health experts say those who have become vaccinated face less severe illness than those who do not.
Variants like the delta could be factors in breakthrough cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though evidence so far suggests the vaccines used across the U.S. have been effective against them as well.
Health officials are also watching for signs that breakthrough cases are rising, which could signal that protection from the vaccines is fading and boosters are needed.