‘We are screwed’: Missouri braces for the worst as anti-vaxxers pack into tourist traps

The coronavirus is surging in Missouri, where fewer than 39 percent of residents have been fully vaccinated, and even those who are inoculated are fearing the worst as the delta variant gains ground.

Angela Crawford is among the fully vaccinated, but her parents aren't, and the 35-year-old Springfield accountant told The Daily Beast she dreads a summer of anti-vaxxers packing into the nearby Lake of the Ozarks tourist attraction this summer.

"I've started wearing my masks again, but it's gotten to the point here that no matter what, we are screwed," Crawford said.

Springfield's fire chief, David Pennington, has called the unfolding situation a "mass casualty event happening in slow motion," and the area's hospitals are filling up with unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.

"I am fully anticipating burying one or both of my parents this year because they refuse to vaccinate," Crawford said. "This is the sad reality I have to come to terms with."

The delta variant is potentially more deadly and 50 percent more contagious than other forms of the coronavirus, and previous infection appears to offer little protection from that mutation, and nearly all recent hospitalizations and deaths have been unvaccinated patients.

"To be completely blunt: We need you to get vaccinated now," said a spokesperson for Lake Regional Health. "If you haven't already, please roll up your sleeve. Do it to protect yourself, your family, and this community."

CoxHealth in Springfield has been forced to transfer COVID-19 patients to nearby hospitals after being overwhelmed in the past month, and health officials in the area expect those numbers to balloon as the party bars fill up around Lake of the Ozarks -- scene of an infamous gathering at the start of last year's pandemic summer.

"Right now at Lake regional, we over the last several weeks have seen a very steady and increasing number of admissions to the hospital that our patients suffering, you know, from the COVID virus," said Dane Henry, CEO of Lake Regional Health Systems. "About two months ago, we had between one to two, maybe three or four patients per day, and over the last six or seven weeks that have steadily climbed to the point now where on Sundays we've hovered in the high 20s and low 30s."

The state's Department of Health and Human Services have declared three counties near the tourist destination coronavirus hot spots, and public health experts say further outbreaks are entirely preventable -- if more vaccine hesitant people would be willing to take both shots.

"This is all completely preventable," Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "I don't think it could ever get as bad as it was last year, but things are bound to get worse with the Delta variant before it gets better. We will see a higher uptick in places that have lower vaccination rates, like Missouri. The higher the vaccination rate, the lower the numbers."

But many residents and visitors to the area simply don't care, and some health experts suspect some Donald Trump supporters are refusing to get vaccinated to undermine President Joe Biden's goals.

"If COVID didn't get me the first time, I doubt I'll get it now," said one Ozarks resident, who asked for anonymity for fear of professional retaliation. "We believe in freedom in the Ozarks."