Fourth of July raises worries as vaccination efforts gear up

Nevada requesting federal assistance as Covid cases rise
A man receives his coronavirus vaccination at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, NV.
Coronavirus vaccination Photo credit McCarran Airport/Twitter

BRANSON, Mo. (AP) — Health officials working to boost lagging COVID-19 vaccination rates in Missouri are growing anxious as the Fourth of July weekend approaches, creating ripe conditions for the fast-spreading delta variant to send hospital numbers climbing.

“We are just kind of keeping an eye to see what is going to happen,” said Lisa Marshall, the health director for Taney County, which includes the tourist town of Branson. “We’ve seen that these numbers can jump pretty quickly.”

Missouri is second only to Nevada for having the worst diagnosis rate over the past week. State officials have requested aid from newly formed federal “surge response teams.” Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services spokeswoman Lisa Cox didn’t immediately provide details, but the request shows the administration of Republican Gov. Mike Parson is trying to bolster the pandemic response.

The push comes as the state’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 576.14 new cases per day on June 15 to 891.71 new cases per day on Tuesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

State data shows that hospitalizations are up sharply, increasing by 38% from 637 on the last day of May to 882 on Wednesday. And the situation is even worse in southwest Missouri, where hospitalizations jumped from 134 to 317 over the same period.

“I think one of our team members put it best the other day when they said that they felt like they were holding their breath,” Marshall told The Kansas City Star. 

Only one in four Taney County residents has been fully vaccinated. In much larger Greene County, which includes Springfield, one in three residents is fully vaccinated. Vaccine rates across southwest Missouri are considerably lower than the roughly 40% for the state as a whole.