Joplin hospital reopens shuttered COVID-19 ward as Missouri cases jump in under-vaccinated areas

·2 min read

COVID-19 infections and deaths continue to drop in the U.S., hitting a seven-day average of 273 deaths a day and 10,350 new cases, from a peak of about 3,300 deaths and 250,000 cases a day in January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

But earlier this month, COVID-19 caseloads in highly vaccinated parts of the U.S. and areas with low vaccination rates started diverging, The Washington Post found, and now "COVID-19 transmission is accelerating in several poorly vaccinated states, primarily in the South plus Missouri and Utah, and more young people are turning up at hospitals," Bloomberg reports. The rapid spread of the delta variant, first identified in India, is poised to split the U.S. more sharply, the Post reported Wednesday, "with highly vaccinated areas continuing toward post-pandemic freedom and poorly vaccinated regions threatened by greater caseloads and hospitalizations."

"In Missouri, Arkansas, and, Utah, the seven-day average of hospital admissions with confirmed COVID-19 has increased more than 30 percent in the past two weeks," Bloomberg reports, citing federal data. "The jump in hospitalization is particularly jarring among 18- to 29-year-olds in the outlier states." That age cohort is the least-immunized, at 38.3 percent, and most likely to decline vaccinations, the CDC said Monday. But in southwest Missouri's Newton County, in the epicenter of the state's explosion of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, only 17 percent of residents are vaccinated, Politico reports.

Freeman Health System in Joplin, on the northern border of Newton County, announced Wednesday that it's reopening its COVID ward, shut down in March. "We were kind of hopeful that we were coming out of it," Newton County Health Department administrator Larry Bergner told Politico. His county, with 58,000 residents, now has 68 active COVID-19 cases, from eight in May.

The Newton County Health Department will vaccinate residents at their houses, so "the problem isn't supply, and it isn't access," Politico reports. "The problem is demand," and Bergner said there's not much he can do to fight vaccine hesitancy but wait.

"Nationally, counties that voted for [Donald] Trump have the lowest vaccination rates," Politico reports, but Bergner, a self-described conservative Republican, said he doesn't think vaccine hesitancy is rooted in politics. "Over time, whenever we get more data as far as safety of vaccine, I think we will see people come around," he said. "My only fear is that it will be too late."

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