Susanna Smith

This spring, COVID-19 cases were down in Southwest Missouri. Despite the reality that younger children can’t be vaccinated until late in 2021, we decided it would be safe to mask up and take our 7-year-old grandson to Silver Dollar City. We chose a Sunday afternoon in mid-May before the tourist season ramped up.

On the morning of May 13, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks, most mask-wearing ceased. So we weren’t surprised when we saw few masks at Silver Dollar City. That included a park full of children who obviously are unvaccinated and thus unprotected from COVID-19.

A few weeks later, we celebrated Father’s Day with an overnight in Springfield and a tour of the Smallin Civil War Cave. We felt confident that we kept our grandson safe by masking up and maintaining social distancing.

The day we returned from our outing to Springfield, we discovered that Southwest Missouri was making national news due to an outbreak of the delta variant. Springfield hospitals were again filling with COVID-19 patients.

Within days, the delta variant had spread to Jasper and Newton counties, with daily headlines appearing in local newspapers. On June 23, The Joplin Globe led with, “Health providers: COVID-19 precautions needed; Vaccination rate too low to fight off virus, doctor says.” On June 24, the headline read, “Like déjà vu; Local hospitals seeing COVID-19 numbers trending towards winter peak levels.”

By the end of June, the Neosho Daily News was reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak with the headline, “MU professor: Delta variant of COVID-19 increasing in Missouri.” According to the article, the variant was first detected in Branson wastewater, just days before our Silver Dollar City outing. It quickly spread to Springfield, causing the spike in hospitalizations that made national news around Father’s Day.

Just 21.5% of Jasper County residents have taken advantage of the readily available vaccine. The majority seeking vaccination are senior citizens who spent 2020 living in fear of hospitalization or death from the disease.

Now younger, unvaccinated people are filling the COVID-19 wards and intensive care units. The delta variant is making these patients sicker. Jeanee Kennedy, chief nursing officer with Freeman Health System says, “We have seen more patients requiring ventilator support than during the initial COVID surge.”

According to Robert McNab, director of COVID-19 services for Freeman, some patients are also requiring tracheostomies or feeding tubes, and others are being transferred to St. Louis hospitals to be put on heart bypass.

Residents who choose to remain unvaccinated are betting their lives and their health that they will remain unaffected as the delta variant continues to spread throughout Southwest Missouri. They are also risking the lives of their families. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services says the delta variant has a “64% increased risk of household transmission, 40% more transmissible outdoors and carries approximately double the risk of hospitalization” as original COVID-19.

As the delta variant is spreading through families, children are also susceptible, with some needing ventilators. On the Fourth of July weekend, CoxHealth in Springfield was treating four pediatric patients, ranging in age from a few weeks to 18 years.

In mid-July, Joplin area hospitalizations passed 100 patients and Mercy Hospital Springfield opened its sixth COVID-19 ward. Southwest Missouri megachurches are responding to the surge by encouraging people to get vaccinated. James River Church and Central Assembly of God held vaccination clinics at their church campuses in Joplin and Springfield.

Those who still resist getting vaccinated would be wise to follow the advice of Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, “Vaccination continues to be the best method of COVID-19 prevention, and we encourage anyone age 12 and up to be vaccinated to protect themselves and those around them.”

Susanna Smith lives in Neosho.

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