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The latest COVID-19 wave — being fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant — is sweeping through the Joplin area.

Some school districts announced this week that they would return temporarily to remote learning, something they haven’t done for months, primarily as a result of absenteeism from illness. Other districts, such as Joplin, are staying open at this time but have acknowledged that the rapidly evolving situation around student and staff absenteeism means that anything could be possible.

Demand for COVID-19 testing is at an all-time high, reaching levels not seen since the early days of the pandemic in 2020. Pharmacies and testing sites are accommodating the demand as best they can with the supply they have available.

Mask mandates have returned in a few spots around the Four-State Area. Pittsburg State University in Southeast Kansas reinstated its mandate this week, citing the rising number of cases in Crawford County, and Missouri Southern State University also will expect masking in classrooms when classes resume next week.

But the worst of the COVID-19 surge is being felt by hospitals, health care providers and front-line workers. Once again, the rapid increase in cases and hospitalizations is taking its toll on those who are trying to care for and treat patients, those who are working long hours under difficult circumstances while facing illness and staffing shortages themselves.

Freeman and Mercy hospitals had combined 74 COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday, with officials expecting those numbers to rise.

Freeman officials clarified on Wednesday that all but two of their current patients were unvaccinated, and they pleaded with the public to get their COVID-19 vaccine or booster shots to help keep individuals from getting severely ill if infected.

“This has been a hard couple of years, I think, for health care providers, just the extra strain,” Dr. Rob McNab, director of COVID-19 services at Freeman Health System, said Wednesday.

At Mercy Hospital Springfield, only six of the 127 patients hospitalized Wednesday with COVID-19 had been vaccinated and boosted. The hospital’s president, Craig McCoy, put it more bluntly during an online media briefing: “Please do not say that you support the health care workers in our community and walk around unvaccinated. Those statements don’t go together. The one thing that you can do to protect yourself and protect our community is get vaccinated, and please do so.”

Harsh words, perhaps, but necessary words. Please do right by our health care workers and get vaccinated today.

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