By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
With the COVID-19 Delta variant surging in northwest Missouri, and with vaccination rates remaining low in certain areas, public health departments in Region H issued a Public Health Advisory due to the rising number of cases and hospitalizations locally.
The group most at risk is those who are unvaccinated and have resumed normal activities without practicing any type of social distancing measures, especially those who are immunocompromised.
Stephanie Malita, a health educator at the St. Joseph Health Department, hopes the issuance of the public health advisory encourages more people to protect themselves by getting immunized.
"We want to show a uniform message," Malita said. "That everyone in the region is concerned, and we are all hopeful that citizens in our counties will seek the vaccine at a higher rate."
Only 25 percent of all residents in Missouri's Region H are fully vaccinated. Buchanan County has the lowest rate, with only 19.7 percent of its population fully vaccinated. In DeKalb County, that rate is 20.3 percent.
Malita says there are many people in the region who will likely never get vaccinated. But if that's the case, she hopes those who are unvaccinated will practice social distancing measures in order to protect themselves and their communities.
"There are people in our communities that just do not want to get the vaccine," Malita said. "And while we wish they would, the other option to protect themselves and their community is wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing."
Teresa McDonald, the Tri-County Health Department Administrator, says the younger adult population is especially resistant to COVID vaccines.
"Overall, a general consensus amongst our 20-40 population is that they're going to be just fine if they get the vaccine or not," McDonald said. "They don't see the risk."
New cases have increased throughout Region H, particularly in Buchanan County, where there's been 323 cases reported within the last week. The county has been averaging 54.5 new cases per day over the last two weeks.
Malita says these numbers are higher than they were at this time last year, and the daily case rate is similar to what it was during the height of the pandemic last November and December.
"Upside is we have a vaccine now," she said. "It's just important we get more people vaccinated."
The highest rates of new COVID cases have been seen in southwest Missouri, where 265 patients are hospitalized in Greene County, which is higher than any other point in the pandemic.
Forty percent of residents in Greene County are fully vaccinated. With less than 20 percent of people fully vaccinated in Buchanan County, and with 53 patients hospitalized in the Mosaic Life Care system, Malita says the situation in the southwest is especially alarming for health officials in the northwest region.
"Four out of five people in our community are unvaccinated," she said, "so that is cause for concern absolutely."
While imposing new restrictions and mask mandates doesn't seem to be on the horizon for Buchanan County at the moment, Malita and others across Region H continue to urge their residents to get vaccinated.
While there have been a handful of new cases in fully vaccinated residents, symptoms are far less severe and the chances of hospitalization and death are far lower.
"What the vaccine does is reduce the risk of hospitalization or death," Malita said. "If you're someone with an immunocompromised system ad you're around people who are unvaccinated and you get COVID-19, that's a scary proposition.
"We have higher (cases and hospitalizations) now than we had at this time last year, and last year, we didn't have a vaccine available. So...we're moving in the wrong direction."
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