Joplin Hospitals Note Decline In COVID 19 Cases


In a reversal of the surges recorded in June, July and August, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in September continue to decline at both Joplin hospitals, officials said Wednesday.

Freeman Health System officials reported 33 inpatients this week, with seven on ventilators. Mercy Hospital Joplin reported 38 inpatients, with 13 on ventilators.

“We kind of bragged on that (38 number) because that is the first time we’ve been under 40 since the end of June,” said Donna Stokes, Mercy’s infection prevention specialist, “so that … feels good.”

The continued decline “gives us a little bit of that light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

Dr. Robert Stauffer said he experienced something over the past few weeks he hasn’t felt in months — optimism.

“The pressure is coming down significantly over what it was like a month ago,” the Freeman cardiologist said Wednesday. “A month ago it was a nightmare; we had physicians calling me from Colorado, from all over, trying to get a bed. The process has clearly slowed down significantly.”

On Aug. 7, Freeman Health System reported 50 new COVID-19 patients. On Aug. 14 and again on Aug. 21, those numbers peaked each week at 58. Since then, the numbers dropped — from 54 on Aug. 28 to 40 on Sept. 8 to this week’s 33 patients.

Mercy had 64 new patients Aug. 7, and the number dipped from 52 to 45 the following two weeks before the hospital saw a bump to 59 patients Aug. 28. Last week, Mercy was back down to 47 patients before recording another significant drop this week.

There are several reasons for the decline, officials said. For one, COVID-19 cases spurred by the deadly delta variant hit Southwest Missouri early. In early July, Joplin and Jasper County ranked first and second statewide in the amount of COVID-19 cases per capita. But the COVID-19 wave peaked late last month.

Other parts of the country “are seeing what we were seeing here in June, July and August,” Stokes said.

There is also an uptick in regional vaccinations, in part because of the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine late last month, and Labor Day was mostly an outdoor holiday, so it didn’t cause a sudden uptick in COVID-19 cases that some health officials had feared.

“I also think people are isolating a little bit more again because people got scared of the delta” variant, Stauffer said. “I’m also encouraged by the fact that you’ve now got concerts going on down in Rogers (Arkansas), baseball (and football) games going on, schools back in session, and we’re not seeing this thing go” in a bad direction. As long as that continues, “that is a good sign that the vaccine is working. It’s good news for us.”

vaccination numbers

On the vaccination front, the city of Joplin boasts a 54.1% complete vaccination rate, a jump of nearly 3 percentage points in seven days; 27,539 residents are now fully vaccinated, according to the state’s vaccine dashboard.

In Jasper County, 28.2% of the population, or 21,911 residents, is fully vaccinated. Newton County is sitting at 24.1%, or 12,320 residents, fully vaccinated. McDonald County has just 20.8%, or 4,742 people, fully vaccinated.

Statewide, 46.5% of Missouri residents — or 2.8 million — are fully vaccinated, with 52.8% of the state’s population having initiated the vaccination process.

Despite the optimism brought on by the declining numbers, this isn’t the time for folks to take their foot off the accelerator, Stokes said. A vast majority of COVID-19 patients are still on ventilators, and more than 100 people in the Joplin region have died, mostly due to the delta variant, since June 1.

“We have to realize there are still a pretty significant number of individuals that have chosen not to be vaccinated, so the vast majority of the hospitalizations that we’re seeing are not vaccinated. We’re headed into fall now, into holidays again, and these are going to be indoors.”

As long as COVID-19 continues to circulate among the populace, and as long as a certain percentage of people remain unvaccinated, there’s always a chance that new mutations will emerge, like the delta variant did, she said.

“For that reason alone we need to stay vigilant and continue what we’re doing — washing hands, masking, socially distancing from others, and, above all else, getting vaccinated,” Stokes said.

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