Editor's Note: The following story appears as it ran in the Aug. 14-15 issue of The Missourian. Following the paper's Friday morning deadline, the number of patients hospitalized statewide reached 689, the highest recorded at any time during the pandemic, according to state records.
Amid increasing concerns about the delta variant of COVID-19, Franklin County’s vaccination rates are starting to tick up more quickly after months of stagnation.
Kathy Schrader, a registered nurse who has been with Mercy Hospital Washington for 21 years and heads the COVID-19 vaccine clinic, said the clinic is now seeing about 160 people per day come in for vaccines, compared with the 100 per day it was seeing for several weeks. The clinic offers free walk-in appointments on Thursdays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. “We’re starting to see a lot of people coming in who say their doctor recommended it,” she said, adding the majority are school-aged children who were encouraged at their annual physical to get their vaccine before school starts.
Marty Hinterlong, who has been administering vaccines at The Medicine Shoppe St. Clair since February, said he also has about 24 appointments scheduled for next week compared with his previous standard of 10 to 15.
“Some people are misinformed, but some people are hesitant because they just want more data. I get that,” said Hinterlong, who has given over 5,000 vaccine doses to date. “But especially if you’re in a target group — you’re immunocompromised or heavier set or older — and you get this virus, you are going to get sick, and you are going to end up in the hospital. That means the hospital staff is exposed. Then you are putting other people at risk, even if (those people) are vaccinated.”
The Franklin County Health Department reported Friday that 25 county residents are hospitalized with COVID-19, the most since Jan. 13. This week, Mercy reinstated its surge planning to manage the influx of patients it is seeing, about 20 to 25 on any given day, according to Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ann-Elizabeth Mohart.
“Every hospital is in the same position right now in the St. Louis region, so the option to transfer patients when you are extremely busy no longer exists,” she said. “We have to find ways to care for them here. We are doing everything we can from a staffing standpoint to assure that happens.”
She added many of the patients coming to the hospital are critically ill, and some have recently died. She did not release the number. The health department did not report any additional deaths Friday, though it can be up to one month before deaths are verified and reported by the state.
Statewide, the number of patients in intensive care units with COVID-19 is at 680, five patients fewer than the highest number recorded during the pandemic. According to Mohart, of the patients currently hospitalized at Mercy, the vast majority are unvaccinated.
Presiding Franklin County Commissioner Tim Brinker, who acts as the county’s public information officer for COVID-19, said the county has counted 93 breakthrough cases — meaning someone became sick with COVID-19 after being vaccinated — to date. Those 93 people make up 0.2 percent of the roughly 43,000 county residents who have been vaccinated.
Schrader said the people who do get the virus after getting vaccinated have fewer and less severe symptoms.
“There’s just such a big difference in how severe their illness is,” she said. “Most people who have had their vaccine (and get COVID-19) go on their quarantine and then feel great, but for those that didn’t, it may be months before they are feeling completely normal.”
As of Thursday, 42.5 percent of Franklin County residents were vaccinated, with an additional 5.3 percent having begun the vaccination process. Across the river in Warren County, 32.1 percent of people are completely vaccinated, far below the national vaccination rate of 50.9 percent.
Warren County Health Department shared on its Facebook page Aug. 10 that it saw 94 new cases in June and 231 in July — 99 percent of them in unvaccinated individuals. An additional 144 cases were reported from Aug. 1 through Aug. 9.
And to the south, in Crawford County, the number of cases per capita reported in the past week is the highest across Franklin and the surrounding seven counties — 222 cases. Crawford County also has the lowest vaccination rate of the surrounding counties, with 23.7 percent of residents being fully vaccinated. The county with the most deaths per capita in the surrounding counties is Gasconade County, which has recorded 313 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began.
According to state data, of the 2,700 ICU beds available in Missouri, 689 beds, or roughly one in four, are in use by a COVID-19 patient. Fewer than one in five ICU beds statewide were available as of Thursday.
Especially with school starting soon, Mercy Media Relations Manager Bethany Pope said Mercy is encouraging any who haven’t gotten vaccinated yet to do so.
“Those who are under 12 aren’t able to get vaccinated, so those who are eligible should really do it for the little ones who can’t,” she said.
Friday’s report from the Franklin County Health Department also showed 214 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the countywide total since the pandemic began to 10,513 cases. An additional 2,577 probable cases were reported, up from 2,438 two weeks ago. Fifty of the new cases are in Washington, and 43 are in Union.
The testing positivity rate reported Friday is 14.5 percent, the highest reported since Jan. 29, which means more new people have the potential to be infected than at any point since Jan. 29.