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So Far The Feds Have Sent Only One Person To Help Missouri Fight The Raging Delta Variant

LPN Brice Headrick injects Anita Haney, 74, who showed up at Linwood YMCA for her first COVID-19 vaccination on Feb. 3.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
LPN Brice Headrick injects Anita Haney, 74, who showed up at Linwood YMCA for her first COVID-19 vaccination on Feb. 3.

Despite weeks of pleas from health experts for Missouri residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19, new cases, primarily outside of the state's urban areas, have climbed to levels not seen since winter.

But even as the numbers mount, help promised by the White House so far has been minimal, and the data suggest few unvaccinated Missourians are seeking the shots.

Missouri has the highest rate of COVID hospitalizations in the country, with more than 1,000 coronavirus patients in hospitals. And this week, the average number of new cases also climbed to 1,000 per day, the second highest rate in the U.S.

Meanwhile, just 39.4% of Missouri residents have been fully vaccinated, though new data show the number of people getting shots may be picking up slightly in the hardest-hit areas.

This week, Missouri began working with a federally supported COVID-19 “surge team,” which Gov. Mike Parson requested last week.

The White House announced that Missouri would be among the states receiving a dedicated response to help with testing, contact tracing and providing medicine for COVID patients.

As of Wednesday, one individual had arrived in Missouri to help with epidemiology efforts in Springfield, according to state health department spokeswoman Lisa Cox.

“More team members will be added in the coming weeks, both remotely and in person, to assist with data and research, vaccine uptake strategies and outreach,” Cox said in an email.

The health department also said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would start forming teams this week.

Parson, however, said he would oppose President Biden's door-to-door vaccination push. Biden this week said that he supported offering vaccines door-to-door, but he has rejected the idea of requiring states, employers and others to require vaccinations.

“I have directed our health department to let the federal government know that sending government employees or agents door-to-door to compel vaccination would NOT be an effective OR a welcome strategy in Missouri!” Parson tweeted on Wednesday.

Nearly 1,600 new positive cases were reported in Missouri on Wednesday, the highest number since early February.

The Delta variant, which is more transmissible than earlier versions of the coronavirus, comprised 73% of COVID-19 cases in Missouri as of the end of June, according to surveillance. That was far higher than in any other state for which CDC data was available.

Vaccination rates in Missouri have slowed to 7,007 per day, the lowest since the first week of January, although the numbers of people seeking vaccines in primarily rural regions started to tick upward in mid-June. But the vaccination rate in many mostly rural counties remains below 25%.

Missouri has been confronting the latest COVID-19 surge without a permanent health department director.

Dr. Randall Williams, who led the health department through the pandemic, resigned in April, and Robert Knodell, Parson’s deputy chief of staff, has served as acting director since then.

Kelli Jones, a spokeswoman for the governor's office, told reporters Wednesday that the state was close to hiring a new director.

Copyright 2021 KCUR 89.3

Alex Smith began working in radio as an intern at the National Association of Farm Broadcasters. A few years and a couple of radio jobs later, he became the assistant producer of KCUR's magazine show, KC Currents. In January 2014 he became KCUR's health reporter.