‘This could be prevented’: Springfield hospitals report 27 COVID deaths over the weekend

Another hospital, in Osage Beach, reports 22 COVID deaths in the past 23 days as the Delta variant continues to surge

By: - July 26, 2021 2:03 pm

COVID-19 vaccine is stored at -80 degrees celsius in the pharmacy at Roseland Community Hospital on Dec. 18, 2020, in Chicago, Illinois (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images).

Two Springfield hospitals reported 27 COVID-19 related deaths over the weekend — and 132 so far this month — as the surge of infections caused by the highly contagious Delta variant continues to burn across the region. 

Steve Edwards, CEO of CoxHealth in Springfield, tweeted Monday morning that “we have lost 15 more lives to COVID from Friday-Sunday at CoxHealth. We have lost 72 so far in July. All unvaccinated.”

At nearby Mercy Springfield, there were 12 COVID-19 deaths, according to Erik Frederick, the hospital’s chief administrative officer. That brings the total number of COVID deaths at Mercy Springfield to 60 since July 2, he tweeted. 

“This is very hard for our team,” Frederick tweeted. “I said the same last year. The difference now is that most of this could be prevented. That adds an extra layer of anguish.”

Meanwhile on Sunday, Lake Expo published a letter to the community from administrators at Lake Regional Hospital in Osage Beach detailing the toll of the virus in recent weeks and pleading for people to get vaccinated. 

We have experienced 22 COVID-related deaths in the past 23 days,” the letter said. “That’s 22 grieving families who have looked to our team for answers and support, a heartbreaking burden for our caregivers who have dedicated their lives to healing.”

While the two Springfield hospital systems were dealing with the more than two dozen deaths, the state Department of Health and Senior Services COVID-19 dashboard recorded only a single death, in Butler County, since it was updated Friday morning.

And while the Springfield and Lake of the Ozarks hospitals together have recorded 154 deaths this month, the health department dashboard has recorded 164 total for the month. The Independent found in March that the state report showed more than 1,100 fewer deaths than local health department reports

That gap is still evident in the New York Times tally from local health departments, showing that more than 10,000 Missourians have died of COVID-19 since March 2020. The state health department official count of deaths from COVID-19 was 9,558 as of Monday morning.

The Delta variant surge is also showing no signs of abating. On Monday morning, the state health department reported 1,115 new COVID-19 cases. The seven-day average of reported cases is 2,406, up 16 percent from a week ago and 210% from a month ago.

Forty-seven percent of Missourians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 41 percent are fully vaccinated, according to state data. Nationally, 57 percent have received at least one dose, and 49 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hospitalizations statewide stood at 1,682 as of Friday, rising on average 35 per day. Those are the same levels they were in October when hospital administrators begged Gov. Mike Parson for a statewide mask mandate

Parson ultimately refused to issue a mandate last year. And on Monday, he took aim at the renewed local mask mandate in the St. Louis area. 

With all indicators pointing towards the Delta surge moving toward the state’s urban centers, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced the area would become one of the first in the country to reinstate a mask mandate. 

“For those who are vaccinated this may feel like punishment, punishment for doing the right thing,” St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, a Democrat, said at a news conference Monday. “I’ve heard that and I feel that frustration. While the vaccination can protect against serious illness, it can’t protect you from being infected with COVID-19 and passing it onto someone else, someone who may be more vulnerable.”

Parson joined a chorus of criticism of the move, saying on Twitter that enacting mask mandates “when we have the vaccine is ignoring the real solution and eroding public trust.”

“These policies that don’t consider vaccination status reduce the incentive of getting the vaccine and undermine its integrity,” Parson tweeted. “The vaccine is how we rid ourselves of COVID-19, not mask mandates that ignore common sense.”

The governor’s critics were quick to note that he signed legislation last month that banned any effort to require proof of a COVID-19 vaccination to access public services, more commonly referred to as vaccine passports. 

Parson has also stopped short of a full-throated call for vaccinations, couching his public statements with criticism of government overreach and mentions of individual responsibility.

Joining the governor in opposing the St. Louis area mask mandate is Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who vowed during several media appearances over the weekend to file a lawsuit to stop the mandate from being implemented. 

“Our freedoms are on the line,” Schmitt, who is running for U.S. Senate, tweeted

Meanwhile in Kansas City, which reports only 38.8 percent of its population as vaccinated, Mayor Quinton Lucas said during an interview with CBS’ Face the Nation that every major city is wondering if it’s time to return to mask mandates. 

“We have thought at this point thus far that it is not necessary for Kansas City,” he said.

Instead, Lucas said, the goal must be to get more people vaccinated — noting that most COVID-19 hospitalizations are made up of the unvaccinated. 

“So breaking through to that population, and I think when you think about that population, maybe about half of our unvaccinated folks are those that want to fight and think that this is all just fake,” he said. “But there's another half of folks that just haven't done it yet for whatever reason. So we are trying to make sure that we push that message.”

Kansas City is considering requiring all 5,000 city employees to be vaccinated, Lucas said, adding that he would “encourage more American businesses, more American local and state governments to consider that as an important step for how we can show how important it is to our jurisdictions.”

The Independent's Rudi Keller contributed to this story.

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Jason Hancock
Jason Hancock

Jason Hancock has been writing about Missouri since 2011, most recently as lead political reporter for The Kansas City Star. He has spent nearly two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, and has a track record of exposing government wrongdoing and holding elected officials accountable.