Missouri becomes newest COVID-19 hot spot as variant spreads

Missouri has become the latest COVID-19 hot spot in the U.S., recording the country’s highest rate in new infections, a surge health officials have largely attributed to the highly transmissible delta variant and vaccine hesitancy. 

In Missouri, which reported more than 800 new cases on Wednesday, just about 44 percent of residents have received one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, with 38 percent fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

However, USA Today noted Wednesday that most southern and northern counties in the state have not even reached close to 40 percent of citizens with at least one shot. 

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In one Missouri county, just 13 percent have received at least one dose. 

Mercy and Cox South hospitals in the southwestern Missouri city of Springfield had a combined 153 patients hospitalized on Tuesday, an increase from just 31 a few months ago, according to USA Today. 

Those hospitalized are also much younger than those who previously required medical treatment due to COVID-19 in the state, with about 60 to 65 percent of those in intensive care units over the weekend at Mercy under the age of 40. 

Mercy’s chief administrative officer, Erik Frederick, told USA Today that he hopes Missouri’s current conditions amid the pandemic will serve as a cautionary tale for others throughout the country. 

"If people elsewhere in the country are looking to us and saying, 'No thanks' and they are getting vaccinated, that is good," he said. "We will be the canary."

In Missouri counties with relatively low vaccination rates, the delta variant first identified in India has been able to spread rapidly, with the state’s Sewershed Surveillance Project detecting the delta variant in the wastewater of at least 10 Missouri counties. 

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This comes as health experts have warned against the rapid spread of the delta variant even as vaccination rates have reached higher levels across much of the U.S.

On Tuesday, White House chief medical adviser Anthony FauciAnthony FauciHillicon Valley: Facebook tightens teen protections | FBI cautions against banning ransomware payments | Republicans probe White House-social media collaboration CDC: Vaccinated people should now wear masks in high transmission areas Want to improve vaccine rates? Ask for this endorsement MORE identified the delta variant as “the greatest threat in the U.S. in our attempt to eliminate COVID-19.” 

Fauci said at the time that the variant now accounts for more than 20 percent of all new COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

However, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert pointed out that vaccines approved for emergency use in the U.S. have shown to be effective against the highly transmissible strain.