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Missouri health workers battle misinformation among the unvaccinated

▶ Watch Video: COVID cases surge in hot-spot states with low vaccination rates

America’s COVID recovery is slipping away because of the Delta variant and those who still refuse to get vaccinated. On Friday, the U.S. recorded more than 194,000 new cases in a single day — the most since late January.

Missouri is among the hardest-hit states, especially in areas with low vaccination rates. Hospitalizations in the state have jumped 168% in the last two months, and behind those numbers are many people regretting their vaccine decisions.

Lake of the Ozarks, in the central part of the state, is a popular tourist destination welcoming more than five million people a year. It’s also become a COVID hotspot as vaccines have become politicized.

Health workers there say that the biggest challenge they are facing is a lot of misinformation.

Billie Baker and her son, Brody, have spent 17 days outside a Missouri ICU where Brody’s father, Daryl, is battling COVID and is unable to have visitors. The 31-year-old was originally given a 20% chance of survival. Ten of his relatives also tested positive for the virus.

“I was strongly against getting the vaccine, just because we’re a strong, conservative family,” Daryl said. “But that little boy out there is a reason to have the vaccine.”

Six-year-old Brody Barker waves to his father, Daryl, from outside his hospital room July 26, 2021, in Osage Beach, Missouri, where Daryl has been hospitalized for nearly three weeks for COVID. Daryl told reporters he had resisted getting vaccinated.

Sarah Blake Morgan/AP

Just over 40% of Missourians are fully vaccinated. The state’s daily death rate more than tripled in the past two weeks.

At Lake Regional Health System, in Osage Beach, Missouri, chief medical officer Dr. Harbaksh Sangha said they’re fighting their fourth surge. “The ICU is busier than it ever has been,” Sangha told correspondent Mireya Villarreal. “Forty percent of our inpatient census is COVID.”

“What does that do to your staff?” Villarreal asked.

“We’re struggling. It’s demoralizing, basically, to see that level of sickness and those many deaths.”

Last week, they tied their highest number of COVID patients since November 2020. Roughly half of July’s patients were under age 59, nearly all unvaccinated.

Around town, crowded venues are welcoming guests in droves. The area attracted scrutiny during the early surges of the pandemic for drawing large crowds of visitors with few masks in sight, and now, a year later, many still resist getting vaccinated.

Outside the hospital, Natalie, who didn’t want to share her last name, camps under a tent for more than eight hours a day. On one side of the window are messages of love and support; on the other side is her 71-year-old mother on a ventilator.

Messages for Natalie’s mother, written on the window of her hospital room.  

CBS News

“I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” she said. “You just feel guilt.”

Over what? “That you didn’t do more, didn’t know more,” Natalie replied. “I respect people’s wishes about the vaccine and about wearing masks. I just ask you to give grace to people who disagree with you.”

Villarreal said when she asked Natalie if she had gotten the vaccine, the woman “shut down” and wouldn’t say whether her mother was vaccinated, either. That is how polarizing the question is.

Meanwhile, one of the biggest hospital systems in St. Louis is reporting record numbers of COVID cases and COVID deaths.

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