More than 375,000 Missourians have entered the state’s COVID-19 vaccine lottery program, but vaccinations continue to lag, especially in rural areas of the state.
State officials said the first of five drawings will be Friday. All told, 800 adults will win $10,000 cash prizes, and 100 people ages 12-17 will win education savings accounts worth $10,000. Entries for the first drawing are due Wednesday. Only those who have initiated vaccination are eligible.
Republican Gov. Mike Parson announced the incentive program on July 21. About 120,000 people registered within 24 hours of the announcement, and vaccinations have risen nearly 50% in the past month, said Robert Knodell, acting director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
But Missouri continues to trail most states in vaccinations. The state’s COVID-19 dashboard shows that 49.4% of Missourians have had at least one shot, nearly 10 percentage points below the national average. Fourteen Missouri counties have seen fewer than 25% of residents initiate vaccination.
Meanwhile, the delta variant of the virus continues to create new and serious illnesses. The state on Tuesday reported 1,754 new confirmed cases and a seven-day average of 1,880 new cases, bringing the pandemic total to 589,733.
The state also reported 142 new deaths, including one from June and 105 from July that were previously not reported. All told, 9,970 Missourians have now died from COVID-19.
Hospitals across the state are filling up with patients, in places big and small. Intensive care unit capacity statewide is at 17%.
In Cape Girardeau, Southeast Hospital is seeing many patients from other states such as Arkansas and Kansas because hospitals in those states are so full. At St. Francis Medical Center, the situation was similar.
“We are receiving (COVID) patients from our entire service region, which covers a five-state area,” said Jimmy Wilferth, marketing and foundation vice president at St. Francis, said.
In Hannibal, a town of 17,000 residents in northeast Missouri, hospital CEO Todd Ahrens said in a letter to the public that the staff is exhausted trying to keep up. Forty of the hospital’s 100 patients have COVID-19.
“So, I encourage you all: get vaccinated, social distance, wear a mask when you can’t social distance, and wash your hands! If everyone will do this, within weeks we should see a decline in cases,” Ahrens wrote.
School officials and government leaders continue to grapple with the question of reinstating mask mandates in response to increasing COVID-19 cases.
After a rowdy meeting Monday night, the Columbia City Council failed to pass an emergency mask ordinance. Mask opponents protested outside City Hall and moved inside when the meeting started. When the crowd shouted comments as the meeting began, Mayor Brian Treece suspended all public comment.
In Cape Girardeau, the school district decided not to require masks when classes begin Aug. 25, but Superintendent Neil Glass told the school board in a special meeting Monday that if attendance drops below 90%, masks would be required. He said the county health department suggested absenteeism was the best guide for making decisions on masks.
In Springfield, Missouri State University announced Tuesday that it will require students, staff and faculty to wears masks, even if they are vaccinated. University President Clif Smart said in his blog that the mask policy would be evaluated every 30 days.