In June, Louie Michael and his wife, Patti, were admitted as Covid-19 patients at Springfield’s Mercy Hospital, one of two major hospitals in southwest Missouri.
Pattie was hospitalized first. She has asthma and is immunocompromised. Michael followed the next day, arriving by ambulance.
He chronicled his bout with Covid-19 on Facebook, sharing his health updates daily. “The breathing is labored, it’s tough. This stuff is real,” said Michael.
Speaking to the Springfield News-Leader, Michael said the couple never entirely ruled out the vaccine, but they did put off the decision, waiting to see the results between the available vaccines.
Something they now regret.
“I hope people do think about getting the vaccination. It’s your prerogative, but I wish I had done it just to just avoid this,” Michael said. “This new Delta variant, which they do think that I might have had, is just dive bombing everybody who didn’t get the other before.”
Missouri is seeing a concerning uptick in hospitalizations due to Covid-19’s Delta variant, which originated in India. In Springfield alone, there has been a 225% increase in hospital admissions since June 1, according to the Springfield-Greene County Health Department
The Delta variant – which has been found to be more transmissible than others – now accounts for about 29% of cases in Missouri, more than any other state, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And vaccination rates in Missouri remain below average, CDC data shows. About 38% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, compared to nearly 46% of the US population overall.
With Springfield having less than 38% of people fully vaccinated, health officials are resorting to creative approaches to gain the trust of the community.
Health clinics along with the Springfield-Greene County Health Department have hosted vaccination clinics at fire stations, LGBTQ+ community centers and a local Juneteenth celebration. Local breweries have also hosted recurring events in which attendees can get a shot and a beer for free, motivation for some.
“I don’t really have any other answer other than I was scared of a new thing,” said Will Branch.
An arborist by trade, Branch, 37, said his family had been careful about quarantining throughout the pandemic. Branch and his wife, Gina, in part, wanted to keep safe since one of their two young children is a heart patient.
“I barely had time to come get a vaccination. I’m definitely not going to have time to be laid up in a hospital,” said Branch.
Those hospitalized now are younger in age than those affected during the winter surge.
“People in their late teens and even early 20s are being hospitalized and needing the use of ventilators,” said Katie Towns, acting director of Springfield-Greene County Health Department.
The inversion in the spread of the variants is clearly reflected in the data, according to county health officials, as explained earlier in the week during a news conference.
“If you go back to mid-May, what we were seeing was 70% Delta variant, and about 24% Alpha variant. In June, the last three weeks, that has shifted greatly to 93% Delta variant and only 7% Alpha variant. That shift has likely been the cause of surge within our hospital systems,” said Kendra Findley, administrator of community health and epidemiology at Springfield-Greene County Health Department.
More than half of those admitted to the two major hospitals in the Springfield area are from surrounding counties with limited health clinics. Those counties each have fully vaccinated rates below 20%. The national average is more than twice that figure, at 46%.
Dr. Robin Trotman, an infectious diseases expert at CoxHealth, is witnessing that hospital surge firsthand.
“It’s nearly 100% of the people hospitalized with Covid pneumonia are unvaccinated. Now we do have vaccinated people who test positive, but they don’t get severely ill,” Trotman said.
For nurses, doctors and respiratory therapists on the front lines of the pandemic, it’s an unnerving picture.
“When the staff’s putting themselves at risk in these situations, and they feel like other people aren’t willing to take the vaccine, despite their risk, that’s, that’s a hard one for some people to swallow,” said Trotman.
CNN’s Deidre McPhillips contributed to this report.