He began to gently cry as he explained the situation in his hospital and his inability to help his staff as they strived to care for the overwhelming number of patients: the young, normally healthy adults, children, pregnant women. He sees the fatigue in his staff’s eyes. He has ensured they have all the supplies they need. He has brought in agency staffing. Yet, all his efforts cannot take away the overwhelming strain on the staff members who are caring for these gravely ill patients. This is the reality that a hospital president in southwest Missouri currently faces.
Last week, I attended a Zoom briefing on the status of the pandemic in Missouri. Three hospital presidents in and around Greene County, Missouri, shared information on what their teams are currently facing. Their COVID census is now higher than ever (more than the winter surge that we experienced). One president shared that he had four employees under 30 years old that are currently hospitalized, and some are even vented. The overwhelming story is that the people being treated for severe outbreak are not vaccinated. One president shared that people who once spoke against vaccinations are experiencing severe illness for themselves or for their loved ones. One reported on the need to do early C-sections on pregnant women and then place the women on vents due to the severity of their illness. Another president shared that they had staff members being harassed by their significant others to not get the vaccine.
The scenario that is happening in southwest Missouri can very likely play out in St. Francois County. The need to follow all precautions remains. The need to protect ourselves and our loved ones is real. Of those across our region who are hospitalized with COVID, 90-99% have not been vaccinated according to Dr. Clay Dunagan, chief clinical officer for BJC HealthCare and head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force. We recognize that break through cases do happen for the vaccinated. What we are finding is that when this small percent does occur, the person does not become as severely ill. Yet, our number of cases in the hospital and in our ICUs is currently growing at a faster rate than last summer.
Missouri makes up 1.99% of the total United States population and yet currently represents 7.29% of the total COVID-19 cases in the United States. This is clearly off balance. According to the CDC vaccine data, these counties have some of the lowest vaccination rates with only 25-35% of their population vaccinated. In addition, the same states that have low vaccination rates are experiencing the current surge of COVID cases. The Delta variant now accounts for over 90% of the cases in Missouri. This variant is attaching itself to a younger population.
COVID-19 vaccination rates across the country and across Missouri are inconsistent. Currently 39.8% of Missouri residents have completed vaccination with 45.9% having at least one shot. While approximately 65% of our staff are vaccinated, only 37% of St. Francois County residents have completed the vaccination series.
This is a devastating — and preventable — turn for our community and for the health care heroes who have cared for us throughout the pandemic. The single most important thing we can do to protect ourselves and those we love from more devastation is to get vaccinated. This is in our control.