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Parson: State will ‘probably’ help fund COVID overflow site

July 16, 2021 GMT
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Nurses and doctors in the CoxHealth Emergency Department in Springfield, Mo., don personal protective equipment to treat patients with COVID-19, Friday, July 16, 2021. Southwest Missouri is seeing a surge in Delta variant cases, with hospitals nearing capacity and requesting help from the state for staffing and an alternative care site. (Nathan Papes/The Springfield News-Leader via AP)
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Nurses and doctors in the CoxHealth Emergency Department in Springfield, Mo., don personal protective equipment to treat patients with COVID-19, Friday, July 16, 2021. Southwest Missouri is seeing a surge in Delta variant cases, with hospitals nearing capacity and requesting help from the state for staffing and an alternative care site. (Nathan Papes/The Springfield News-Leader via AP)

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said the state will “probably” provide funding for a site to help handle the overflow of COVID-19 patients in Springfield, where hospitals are struggling to keep up with a surge driven by the delta variant and vaccination hesitation.

The Republican governor suggested that federal stimulus money also could help pay for the alternative care site health leaders in the southwestern Missouri city requested. Parson, who was in Springfield on Thursday for an unrelated bill signing, told the Springfield News-Leader that the state will “for the most part probably” fulfill the request.

“We’re in the process of kind of going through that right now to see what we can deliver and what we can’t,” he said. “Those are things we’ve done before, so I think we’ll be able to do (the funding).”

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The fast-spreading delta variant has led to a surge in hospitalizations throughout southwestern Missouri. Springfield’s hospitals are already seeing patient counts topping the previous peak in mid-winter. As of Friday, 228 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized there. Three weeks ago, the daily average patient count was fewer than 120.

CoxHealth, which operates six hospitals in southwestern Missouri, was treating 170 patients at the winter peak of the virus, CEO Steve Edwards said in an interview. It has surpassed that now, and Edwards expects at least 240 daily COVID-19 patients within two weeks — if there’s room.

There’s a difference this time around compared to January.

“Younger, sicker, quicker is the way I characterize it,” Edwards said. “We have many, many younger patients. Pediatric patients hospitalized. Many in their 20s. A good number of pregnant women that we’ve had to do emergency C-sections to save the baby and to save mom.”

Katie Towns, the interim director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, said the alternative care site would provide transitional care for patients stabilized enough to be released from hospitals. She told The Associated Press that options include places such as dorms and hotels. Such makeshift treatment areas were common in Missouri and throughout the country during the winter.

Parson told the News-Leader that some of the cost of setting up the site could be covered by federal stimulus money provided to Springfield and Greene County for pandemic relief.

“There’s a lot of federal funding on the local level, so there may be ways we can partner with the counties and the cities and the hospitals, and they’ll be able to do their part, you know, to come in and help with that,” Parson said.

The governor also told the newspaper that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention halted the state’s plan to implement an incentive program to encourage vaccinations. Only 45.8% of Missourians have initiated vaccination, which is 10 percentage points below the national average.

“The CDC didn’t accept our plan, which is just totally ridiculous that they would turn us down with Missouri in the situation we’re in right now. So, I think it’s just another obvious problem with the CDC,” Parson said.

Parson’s spokeswoman, Kelli Jones, said Friday that the CDC wanted to limit funding incentives to $25 per vaccinated person, “and we do not feel this figure will be enough to significantly increase vaccine uptake in Missouri.” Jones said the governor was weighing “a variety of other potential options.”

The agency reviewed the plan and returned it to the state because it didn’t meet CDC’s guidelines for use of the specific federal funds the state wanted to draw from for this project, a CDC official said.

COVID-19 cases are rising sharply across Missouri. The state health department on Friday reported 1,834 newly confirmed cases and seven additional deaths. Hospitalizations continued to rise, reaching 1,357, including 425 people who were in intensive care units. Nearly half of ICU patients — 203 — were in southwestern Missouri.

A day after the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force leader encouraged masks in crowded settings, health leaders in the Kansas City area issued an advisory on Friday that stopped short of recommending mask use but urged even the vaccinated to be cautious in public places such as restaurants, bars and fitness centers.

“Currently, only 40% of Missourians are fully vaccinated,” the advisory stated. “Please assume that 1 in 2 people in any crowd or gathering may be unvaccinated. If you do not know the vaccination status of those around you, resume social distancing of at least 6 feet.”