Though local health officials aren’t quite calling it a surge, they have seen an uptick in COVID-19-related hospitalizations over the past two weeks.

The slight increase was somewhat expected due to the recent weather and temperature changes as summer turns to fall, forcing people indoors for longer periods of time.

“Right now, our (COVID-19) hospitalizations are a little up, but they are still within the parameter of where it really wouldn’t be seen as a huge surge or anything” of that nature, said Kevin Manning, chief nursing officer with Mercy Hospital Joplin.

“We’re going on 20 months of this now,” he said, “and I think we may be seeing some seasonality of COVID,” meaning the virus surges or ebbs according to the seasons. “I don’t think it’s going to disappear. We’re going to have to learn to live with COVID, like we have to do with the flu, influenza and colds.”

On Tuesday, Mercy officials reported 17 COVID-19 patients, with four in the ICU and three patients on ventilators. That’s down from 20 patients recorded Monday. Last Friday, 16 were reported. This week’s numbers are similar to what the hospital was seeing at the end of October, when there were 18 COVID-19 patients in-house. A week ago, there were 10 COVID-19 patients, and on Nov. 8, just eight.

At Freeman Health System, 12 active COVID-19 cases were reported Tuesday, with three patients in the Freeman West C-Zone ICU, another eight patients at the hospital’s medical COVID-19 unit, and the 12th patient located at the Neosho hospital. Only one patient was hooked up to a ventilator, Freeman officials said.

According to Jessica Liberty, Freeman’s infection prevention manager, the percentage of current COVID-19 patients who are unvaccinated is between 80% and 90%.

Steve Edwards, president and CEO of CoxHealth, wrote Monday on Twitter that the Springfield hospital had 36 COVID-19-related hospitalizations, an increase over last week, and that symptomatic positive tests were up to 11.97% Monday, an increase of 2 percentage points from last week.

“The early pattern is eerily similar to the first two (COVID-19) waves,” he wrote.

Three coronavirus-related deaths were announced Tuesday by Jasper County Health Department officials — three women in their 80s and 90s and a man in his 60s, all three unvaccinated. That underscores the dangers the virus still poses to the public at large, Manning said.

To help slow the spread, “it’s just following those commonsense things we’ve been talking about for the past 20 months — physical distancing, wearing masks in large crowds, hand-washing, and when you’re coughing, cover your mouth,” he said. “If you’re sick, stay home, and if you’re eligible for boosters, get them.”

That is key, Manning said, because local health officials are bracing for a potentially larger surge after Thanksgiving.

“I think that’s a possibility, certainly,” he said of a post-holiday surge in numbers, similar to what was seen last year. “We’re certainly going to be looking at what we’re doing a couple of weeks after … that’s really when you’re going to see the impact because it takes that long for people to display symptoms.”

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