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‘The surge is coming,’ Springfield mayor warns other Missouri cities

With hospitals swamped and hundreds of cases daily from a Delta variant surge of infection, Springfield is a warning of what is ahead for the rest of the state if vaccination rates do not increase dramatically, Mayor Ken McClure said Sunday morning on a national news program.

And McClure defended door-to-door efforts to boost vaccinations, calling the controversy “overblown.”

Speaking on Face the Nation on CBS, McClure said he thought the Delta variant that is causing the massive spike in cases probably came to the city because of its central location for business in southwestern Missouri.

It took hold because of low vaccination rates, he said, blaming social media for spreading misinformation.

“People are talking about fears that they have, health related fears, what it might do to them later in their lives and what is contained in the vaccination and that information is just incorrect,” McClure said. “We, as a society and certainly in our community, are being hurt by it.”

During May, Greene County reported an average of 25 COVID-19 infections per day, according to data from the state Department of Health and Senior Services. During the last seven days of the month, the rate was 35 per day.

For June, the rate was 84 per day and 123 per day in the last seven days of the month. So far in July, the county has reported 183 cases per day, with the rate rising to 206 per day in the seven days through Sunday.

“My message is that the surge is coming,” McClure said. “The Delta variant will be there. It is going to spread, it is already spreading throughout Missouri. Take advantage of this time and get your vaccination rate as high as you can.”

The state health department reported 1,394 additional COVID-19 cases Sunday as the seven-day average of reported daily cases hit 1,956 per day, up 121 percent since June 30 and the highest since Jan. 30. There were 1,440 people being treated as inpatients in Missouri hospitals as of Thursday, the highest since Feb. 10 and up 129 percent from the low this year on May 23.

The Delta variant, which by early June was rapidly spreading in a southwestern Missouri corridor from Branson, through Springfield, to the Lake of the Ozarks, remains most active in the southwest but is surging in a far broader region.

Weekly monitoring of dozens of wastewater systems across the state shows the Delta variant as the dominant strain for 32 sewage systems sampled during the week beginning June 28.

A map of Missouri showing the locations where wastewater analysis has identified the Delta variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Each wastewater system identified is marked with a purple box.
The weekly report on wastewater analysis shows 36 systems with high levels of the Delta variant in samples collected the week of June 28. (Screenshot from Department of Health and Human Services dashboard)

“We haven’t crested yet,” said Marc Johnson, professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the University of Missouri in Columbia. 

In late June, Johnson said his data pointed to cases doubling or tripling in July.

The wastewater sampling is showing that it can predict local surges and whether cases will level off or continue to increase. Johnson’s program, run in conjunction with the state health department and the Department of Natural Resources, can provide results in three days.

A report on genetic sequencing of a sample collected from a COVID-19 patient can take up to three weeks.

“I have been waiting for Delta plus; it is not a variant of concern, but it is a strain of Delta that has an additional mutation,” Johnson said.

There are 42 contiguous reporting jurisdictions, starting in McDonald County in the far southwest, among the 50 in the state with the highest infection rates so far this month. Due north, it reaches Vernon and St. Clair counties. Moving northeast, it includes Boone, Callaway and Cole counties. Due east, it reaches Butler County.

The region includes the major cities of Springfield and Columbia, tourist attractions of Branson and the Ozark Scenic Riverways, and hundreds of small communities with limited health care facilities.

Each of those counties has rates of reported infection for the month so far ranging from 460 to 1,475 cases per 100,000 residents. Ten counties have rates for the month above 1,000 cases per 100,000 residents, compared to nine for all of June.

Statewide, the rate of reported infections so far for July is 450.5 cases per 100,000 residents, up from 312.8 per 100,000 in June.

“You can assume that if there is an infection in the state of Missouri, it is Delta variant,” Johnson said.

Vaccination rates have started to move up, and on July 15, the latest day reported by the state health department, it was up 8.2 percent from July 1, to 9,144 per day. The state’s overall vaccination rates are 40 percent of the population as fully vaccinated, including 49.7 percent of people 18 years of age and older.

Nationally, 48.5 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, including 59.4 percent of people over 18.

On Face the Nation, McClure defended efforts to boost vaccination rates in his city, including personal visits to homes.

“I think the whole discussion of going door-to-door has been overblown,” McClure said.

Top Missouri Republicans have accused President Joe Biden’s administration of seeking to force vaccines on people. Gov. Mike Parson was the first to make the charge, that of sending “agents  to compel vaccination.”

And on Saturday evening, U.S. Rep. Jason Smith of the 8th Congressional District, who is considering a bid for U.S. Senate, tweeted that the administration “wants to knock down your door KGB-style to force people to get vaccinated.”

Going door-to-door to provide health information is a trusted method that enlists volunteers and is not a mandatory vaccination campaign, McClure said.

“Our Springfield-Greene County Public Health Department has been using it for a long time,” he said. “The key is that these are trusted community people. We call them community advocates.”

This article by Rudi Keller is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.

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