In fact, the 35-year-old accountant told The Daily Beast, she has been reverting to some basic best practices from a year of pandemic lockdown. Even if she’s skeptical it will make a difference.
“I’ve started wearing my masks again, but it’s gotten to the point here that no matter what, we are screwed,” Crawford, who lives in Springfield, Missouri, near the Lake of the Ozarks, told The Daily Beast.
Her fear stems from the prevalence in her area of the Delta variant—a mutation of the novel coronavirus deemed potentially more deadly and at least 50 percent more contagious that health officials say is surging in Missouri.
Delta is a national and even international concern. But in an especially low-vaxx region of a relatively unvaccinated state, Crawford said, the problem is a personal one.
“I am fully anticipating burying one or both of my parents this year because they refuse to vaccinate,” the mother of two told The Daily Beast. “This is the sad reality I have to come to terms with.”
Crawford is among just 39 percent of Missouri residents who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 despite surging cases that have put a strain on the local health system. The immunization numbers are even lower in Camden and Miller counties, which include the popular tourist destination Lake of the Ozarks, a notorious gathering spot that, after a raucous July 4 weekend, could be in the midst of an even nastier surge.
The Missouri Department of Health on Wednesday issued a COVID-19 hotspot advisory for several counties in the state, including Camden and Miller, which had about 115 Delta variant cases. Officials, however, believe that number will be at least three times higher in the coming weeks since just 32.3 percent of Camden County residents have been fully vaccinated—and only 21.1 percent of people in Miller County have.
“We are already stretched to our limit,” a spokesperson for Lake Regional Health told The Daily Beast, stating its hospital was nearing capacity amid fears from officials the numbers will only skyrocket further.
In Springfield, CoxHealth hospital is being forced to transfer COVID-19 patients to nearby facilities after seeing an overwhelming influx of patients in the last month. Hospital officials are also reporting that COVID-19 patients are younger than in previous pandemic waves, the Lake Regional Health spokesperson added.
“To be completely blunt: We need you to get vaccinated now. If you haven’t already, please roll up your sleeve. Do it to protect yourself, your family, and this community,” the spokesperson said.
The variant, first detected in India, currently comprises at least 50 percent of all new COVID-19 cases in the United States. As the dominant strain, the highly transmissible variant can cause more severe illness, and may even carry double the risk of hospitalization compared to the Alpha, or U.K., variant.
It is also suspected to cause several alarming symptoms, including gastric distress and even loss of hearing.
“This is all completely preventable,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and a specialist in infectious diseases, told The Daily Beast. “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.”
In the Lake of the Ozarks, however, the low vaccination rate is not surprising given its political profile in a deep-red state and local history of flouting national COVID-19 guidelines.
Last summer, the tourist destination known for its waterparks and slew of lake resorts caused national uproar for serving as a vacation hub during the pandemic. The St. Louis County Department of Health even issued a travel advisory for those who went to the Lake of the Ozarks over the Memorial Day weekend last year, slamming visitors who “showed no efforts to follow social distancing practices.”
Among the large events that drew attention was the “Zero Ducks Given” pool party at the Backwater Jack’s Bar and Grill. Videos of the event showed hundreds of maskless revelers crowded together at the popular bar’s pool.
“Embarrassing for my state. Hope none of them have parents fighting cancer, grandparents with diabetes, aunts, and uncles with serious heart conditions. Because clearly they could care less,” former Missouri U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill tweeted in response to a video of the event.
That gathering did have COVID-19 safety precautions in place, limiting the number of attendees and making efforts at enforcing social distancing—even hiring medical staff to check everyone’s temperature. Gary Prewitt, the bar’s owner, said in a May 2020 statement that Backwater Jack’s took all the necessary steps dictated by the state’s guidelines and that they even provided party-goers with personal bottles of hand sanitizer to encourage safety protocols.
“We understand that there are many emotions and feelings involved on every side of the pandemic situation,” Prewitt said. “We stand by our decision to move forward with Memorial Day Weekend plans. We love our customers and will continue to do our best to provide delicious food, drink, and entertainment at Backwater Jack’s.”
At least one case was connected to the venue by health officials at the time, though the party was not tied to a wider outbreak, according to the AP.
Despite that backlash, Blackwater Jack held the infamous pool party again this past Saturday to kickstart the holiday weekend—even with the threat of the Delta variant looming. Videos and photos of the event show a scene similar to last year’s, with hundreds of swimsuit-clad party-goers crowding in the pool. Prewitt did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and a spokesperson for the bar declined to comment for this story.
“The event was outside, which could have mitigated some of the spread of COVID-19, but the low vaccination rate in Missouri is a cause for concern,” Adalja said. “The more people that were vaccinated at an event like that—or any crowded event that does not require mask use—the less likely any variants of COVID will spread.”
Indeed, a lack of concern over the deadly virus has been something of a theme in the popular Missouri tourist destination, with a five-day motorcycle festival last September garnering hundreds of thousands of attendees.
One Ozarks resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of professional retaliation, said the decision not to get vaccinated was about having personal freedom and lack of knowledge about the long-term effects, echoing boilerplate conservative talking points.
“If COVID didn’t get me the first time, I doubt I’ll get it now,” the skeptic said, adding that she believes residents “can’t live in fear” of the virus and that the decision to get vaccinated is a personal choice.
“We believe in freedom in the Ozarks,” the resident added.
For Crawford, however, the local insistence on so-called personal freedom means that she has distanced herself from unvaccinated friends and family to ensure she does not accidentally infect them herself, even if the evidence is strong that vaccinated people are not vectors.
“My dad is immune-compromised, and both my mom is over 60 years old. But they do not have any concerns at all about not getting vaccinated,” Crawford said, recalling at least one family gathering that she excused herself from to protect her family against the virus. “I am going to follow the guidelines, and since they are not going to protect themselves, I am going to do it for them.”
Attempts to reach Crawford’s parents for comment for this story were unsuccessful.
Although some of her family members are still insistent against the vaccine, Crawford said, she is holding out hope that the Delta variant might be “scaring straight at least a few folks.” She said that since the variant had been discovered in the United States, some previously vaccine-skeptical relatives and friends had made appointments for shots.
“I’ve seen more people around me get the shot in the last couple of weeks than in the last couple of months,” she said. “It just took more cases than ever—and deaths in the family from COVID-19—for them to start to get the jab.”