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St. Louis health leaders plea for masks as cases spike along I-44 corridor

Travelling through Crawford County, where only 22% of residents are vaccinated, big rig driver Jerry Alston says he keeps his mask on to stop the spread

ST. LOUIS — As trucks pull out of a West Sullivan rest stop in Crawford County, some are headed east to St. Louis. But health experts say there's already something ahead of them: the delta variant. 

"The truth is that the viruses already spread all the way up the 44 corridor," St. Louis Metropolitan Task Force Chair Dr. Clay Dunagan said.

Dunagan said the variant's already spread and now they're seeing a predictable spike in cases and hospitalizations in counties along the I-44 corridor.

In Crawford County, where only 22-percent of residents are vaccinated, big rig driver Jerry Alston said he keeps his mask on to stop the spread.

"I have already had both of my COVID shots, but at the same time, I am considering my neighbor," Alston, a Jehovah's Witness said. "Out of love, I wear my mask not just for me but to protect others."

That's the message Dunagan wants to hear on the same day he, on behalf of the task force, made a plea to get St. Louis area residents to wear masks again as they work on vaccination rates.

"We might be rising a little bit less quickly than Southwest Missouri [did] and, if so, I think that's because we had a higher proportion of citizens vaccinated," Dunagan said, adding "but we haven't had enough people vaccinated to keep it from coming."

Dunagan said vaccines protect you long-term, but a mask helps everyone the moment it goes on. That could slow the run on hospital beds.

"We are really stretched from a healthcare resource perspective. That doesn't look like it's going to get better anytime soon, and we're going to be facing more and more COVID patients," Dunagan said.

As Alston pulls out of the West Sullivan truckstop, he said he'll keep spreading the good word as he goes.

"It boils down to having love for your own neighbor," he said.

Contact reporter Sara Machi on Facebook and Twitter.