JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Seventeen more people in southwest Missouri died from COVID-19 in a two-week period ending Sunday as the coronavirus continues to surge in the region, officials said.
The deaths were recorded in the two-week reporting period from June 21 to July 4 and were disclosed Tuesday by the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, the Kansas City Star reported. The dead ranged in age from 40s to 90s, and none of those who died were fully vaccinated, health officials said.
The latest surge is being driven by the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, first identified in India, said Katie Towns, acting director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department.
"It's our responsibility to protect ourselves and our loved ones from this deadly virus by getting vaccinated," Towns said.
Republican Gov. Mike Parson on Wednesday told reporters gathered in his Capitol office that his administration has done "everything possible" to fend off outbreaks.
News of the elevated deaths in Greene County came after Mercy Springfield hospital experienced a shortage of ventilators over the July Fourth weekend.
Missouri has reported nearly 530,000 cases of the virus and 9,375 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. The state has administered more than 5 million vaccine doses, with 44.9% of the population initiating vaccination.
Parson said he's focused on encouraging people to get vaccinated and making the shot available to them. He said he's still wary of incentivizing vaccinations with prizes.
"Right now, the vaccine's out there," Parson said. "I mean, people walk past it every day, whether they're in a pharmacy, whether they're in a Walmart, whether they're in a health center."
Parson also on Wednesday signed a bill into law to limit lawsuits against companies for wrongdoing related to the pandemic.
The legislation, which takes effect Aug. 28, prohibits COVID-19 liability lawsuits against businesses and health care providers unless plaintiffs can prove they were exposed and sickened by the coronavirus and that the entity engaged in "reckless or willful misconduct."
Religious organizations will be shielded from COVID-19 exposure lawsuits unless "intentional misconduct" can be proven.
Manufacturers who changed their normal business operations to make masks or other COVID-19 products also will not be subject to liability lawsuits unless plaintiffs can prove by "clear and convincing evidence" that their "reckless or willful misconduct" caused harm or injury.
The legislation was a top priority for Parson and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. During a bill signing in his Capitol office, Parson lauded businesses for shifting the focus to masks, hand sanitizer and other tools needed during the pandemic.
"This is to protect those businesses," Parson said. "The last thing we need to do is punish anybody for trying to help in the middle of a crisis."
Some Democratic lawmakers have cautioned that the measure goes too far and could make it difficult to file lawsuits against faulty mask manufacturers or other bad actors.