Wastewater samples first detected the highly contagious Delta variant in Branson — best known for it country-western music shows — on May 10. Since then, the variant has spread like wildfire across the state.
"I don't know that the Branson is what seeded the entire outbreak in Missouri," said Dr. Marc Johnson of the University of Missouri School of Medicine, who monitors the wastewater samples. "But I always suspected."
Branson currently has a COVID infection rate of 19.3 percent, and the number of daily new cases there is 10 times the national average. The local hospital's ICU unit is at 99 percent capacity, and experts say the current outbreak has not reached its peak.
But Mayor Larry Milton, who was elected in April, has continued to rail against masks and vaccines, and hosted a gathering of 27,000 for the Fourth of July.
"First, let me state clearly and for the record: I will not support another government mask mandate, nor will I support a vaccine mandate," Milton said later in a statement. "I didn't talk about freedom and liberty during my campaign for Mayor simply as a way to get elected. I championed those values then, as I do now, because I believe that each individual should have the right to decide for themselves how to best handle their own medical decisions.
"I DO NOT believe it's my place, or the place of any politician, to endorse, promote or compel any person to get any vaccine. That's a decision that should be made by each individual in consultation with their doctor and their family," Milton added.
Thanks to Milton, Branson's tourist attractions don't require masks — despite the recent death of one prominent performer from COVID-19 — resulting in an untold number of visitors being infected.
"Business keeps booming and superspreading continues and the virus threat looms at enterprises such as the Titanic Museum Attraction," the Daily Beast reports. "Visitors there can dispense with masks, and the unvaccinated can place themselves at serious risk while imagining those who perished long ago for want of a lifeboat."