ST. LOUIS — While much of life in St. Louis seems back to normal, health officials are warning what's happening in southwest Missouri is headed our way.
Doctors say that right now the more contagious more severe Delta variant is doing more harm in southwest Missouri than COVID did in the last wave of the pandemic. And Delta is already in St. Louis.
In Springfield, Missouri the region's two major hospital systems are once again worried COVID could overwhelm their capacity.
Coronavirus hospitalizations there are up more than 225% percent since the beginning of June — the most cases since January.
"It appears to be related to the Delta variant," said Steve Edwards the CEO of Cox Health. "We began to get news of it about five weeks ago."
The Delta variant is the same strain of COVID blamed for the catastrophic surge of cases and deaths in India. Now it is spreading in the U.S.
Health officials in Springfield say Delta makes up 93% of COVID cases there and in surrounding Greene County.
And almost all of those hospitalized with COVID share something else in common.
"In the hospital, it's nearly 100% of the people hospitalized with COVID pneumonia are unvaccinated," said Dr. Robin Trotman an infectious disease expert with Cox Health.
"In St. Louis we really need to pay attention and learn from what's going on in southwest Missouri," said Dr. Aamina Akhtar the Chief Medical Officer at Mercy Hospital South in St. Louis County. Akhtar says, so far, the Delta variant is not hitting St. Louis like it is the Springfield area. But testing of St. Louis sewers confirms the virus is here. And, cases are rising once again.
Dr. Akhtar said Infections are spreading to younger people.
"We have more kids who are who are getting infected than we had before."
Doctors say the COVID vaccines protect against the delta variant, but only when people are fully vaccinated.
And that takes four to six weeks to complete.
"So, if we start vaccinating today we're still three to four weeks behind so getting it done...it's really it's a time constraint before that delta green becomes more prominent here," said Akhtar.
Vaccination rates are higher in the St. Louis area than in southwest Missouri. But, they're not where doctors here would like them to be to defend against Delta.
About 30% of people in the city of St. Louis and Jefferson County are fully vaccinated and about 40% of people in St. Louis and St. Charles counties.