Hospitals are continuing to experience increased numbers of COVID-19 admissions, and health departments say that rising case numbers are the result of people resuming regular activities without taking precautions or obtaining vaccinations.

On Wednesday, there were 23 patients at Freeman Hospital and 21 at Mercy Hospital, up from June 2, when Mercy had 19 and Freeman reported 20 at two of its hospitals.

“A month ago we were kind of celebrating … because we would have a day when we had no COVID patients” or only one or two, said Donna Stokes, infection prevention specialist at Mercy. “We were pretty excited to see those numbers going down.”

At Freeman, the number of COVID-19 patients was in the single digits during late April and May.

Hospital representatives said last week there is a wide range in patient ages, unlike the early months of the pandemic when a large percentage of patients were in their upper 70s and 80s.

“It really is all over the place,” Stokes said. “We are not seeing the numbers of the elderly like we were the first part of the pandemic. Now we are seeing patients being admitted in their 30s, 40s and 50s,” with a few in their 70s. “But we are seeing an increase in that younger to middle age.”

Asked if children were having to be admitted, Stokes said there is an increase in patients who are children or adolescents, “but fortunately they have milder symptoms with shorter hospitalizations.”

Stokes said the common denominator in the cases seems to be the lack of vaccinations. She estimated that less than 10% of those hospitalized have had vaccinations.

That is likely why there are fewer patients in their 80s, health officials said. Many of those people are vaccinated because they live in residential care centers.

Stokes said there is a hesitancy expressed about getting vaccinations.

“People don’t fully understand the vaccine and its development and that it is safe to use, and all of the misinformation that is available sways people’s perception of the safety of the vaccinations,” Stokes said. “We see all of those types of reasons being given why they have chosen not to be vaccinated.”

But when they are admitted to critical care, they tell health care workers, “’I really need to encourage my family to get vaccinated.”

The Joplin City Council on Monday did not act on a staff recommendation to close out the city’s pandemic response plan because of the recent spike in cases.

Joplin’s vaccination rate, which includes people who have taken at least the first shot, was at 44.4% of the population, the council was told Monday. The statewide vaccination rate was at 42.3% Monday.

Stokes, asked what the percentage should be to control the spread of COVID-19, said: “Statistically, the information we’re hearing that we need to achieve a 90-plus percentage in the vaccination rate to control the virus and achieve herd immunity.”

With the patients coming in from the region, not solely from Joplin, Stokes said, that percentage of vaccination is needed across the region and the state.

Asked if people who who are vaccinated need to be concerned about the spike in cases, Stokes said, “What our recommendation is, is that you should not to let your guard down. We understand the vaccine is not 100% effective.

“We compare it to flu vaccinations. You can take the flu vaccine, but that does not give you 100% immunity. There’s always that small percentage of people that, even though they are vaccinated, can still get the flu. But those individuals who do get the COVID vaccine and still pick up the COVID, their symptoms are very mild. They are not these patients,” she said of those sick enough to be hospitalized.

Larry Bergner, the Newton County Health Department director, also recommends that people get vaccinated.

Cases in Newton County this week reached 66, an increase from the number seen in recent weeks.

“We are seeing a spike in numbers,” which Bergner said is the result of graduation and Memorial Day weekend gatherings combined with a large percentage of people who are not vaccinated.

“I think people are wanting to get back to normal, which is great if you’re vaccinated,” he said. “Our message is that if we want to get out of this pandemic, we have to get vaccinated. We have to reach that herd immunity.”

This is a good time to get vaccinations for the kids and teens who want to go to summer camps, Stokes said.

“Masking is still a recommendation we would encourage and support,” she said. “Hand hygiene is still important. Those things we talked about in 2020 we still recommend until we don’t have virus circulating in our community and our region.”

The hospitals have walk-in and drive-thru vaccinations available, and county health departments offer vaccines, as does the Joplin Health Department.

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