(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) Since St. Joseph lifted its mask mandate, fewer people are wearing masks at area stores but a local public health expert says it is too soon to be so lax.
“Our vaccination rate is too low to leave your mask at home,” said St. Joseph Health Department Director Debra Bradley. “Nationally, one in three people have been vaccinated. While that’s encouraging and very exciting, our numbers here are much lower and it’s not safe. I don’t encourage people to go without a mask.”
In Buchanan County, hospitalizations, new COVID-19 cases, and the positivity rate all remain low. But they are inching up. On Monday, Mosaic reported nine people hospitalized with the virus. The St. Joseph Health Department reported the positivity rate slid up to 4.85 percent and an additional 23 cases were reported since Friday.
“It shows that what we are doing is having a negative impact,” Bradley said. “It's not helping us.”
At the same time, less than 20 percent of county residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The average vaccination rate in Missouri is more than 49 percent.
“There are many contributing factors as to why the numbers are low. Part of it is vaccine hesitancy or some believe they don’t need to get the vaccine because they have immunity from COVID-19,” Bradley said. “The immunity for the vaccine so far has lasted longer [than natural immunity] so they do encourage people, who have had COVID, to still get the vaccine.”
Then there’s residents like Judith Butner. She said vaccine side effects are the reason she has not registered to get vaccinated.
“I’ve heard about the blood clots and the people getting sick from it,” Butner said. “I had a grandfather die from a blood clot and blood clots scare me.”
While U.S. regulators did pause to investigate the link between six cases of blood clots and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, they ultimately concluded the shot’s known and potential benefits outweigh its known potential risks. But did warn women young than 50 years old to be aware of the rare but potential increased risk.
Bradley said not everyone can get vaccinated. But those who can, should.
“If you are one of those people that can’t take a vaccine we don’t want you to take it but the rest of us need to take it so we can protect you.”
While the local vaccination rate is low, some residents are following health experts' recommendations. Mary Rauth and Betty Stone spent Monday afternoon at the East Hills Mall, walking. They have both been vaccinated.
“We’ve both got our shots,” Stone said. “I think it’s a good thing but a lot of people are afraid of it.”
“We didn’t really have any symptoms, just a sore arm, and most of my family has been vaccinated, some of them are in healthcare,” said Rauth.
The same is true for Gail Kenagy. She said she and her husband received the Moderna vaccine and couldn’t be happier about it.
“We had no trouble and I think it’s a positive thing. I think people need to get vaccinated,” Kenagy said as she shopped at the mall Monday. She said it has given her the freedom to get out of her house and get back to normal.
However, Kenagy is still exercising caution, particularly in crowded spaces.
“My husband and I both were seniors, were both 70 and over and we do wear our masks whenever we got anywhere else and I think it's been good. It’s not a problem to me.”
Rauth and Stone said getting vaccinated has helped provide them with the freedom to decide when and where they should wear a mask.
“If I got into a store, like Walmart, and a lot of people are wearing it then I will put it on,” Rauth said.
Stone followed by adding that some grocery stores require masks, and they will wear a mask in those settings too. Butner is only wearing a mask if it is required.
“Like I have to on the bus because I take the bus everywhere,” she said. “But I don’t if I don’t have to because I have breathing problems and I feel like I’m suffocating.”
Bradley said she hopes more people get vaccinated so that we can help people like Butner who are struggling to wear masks. But that requires more people to get vaccinated. To that end, the health department is hosting five first dose clinics once a week for the next five weeks at Civic Arena.
“This is kind of a last-ditch effort on our part to try to get people in and get them vaccinated in the most convenient way possible,” Bradley said. “We don’t know how much longer the vaccines will be on hand and readily available. No one wants to waste vaccines and right now there are just too few registrations.”
To sign up for one of the five Tuesday first dose clinics at Civic Arena, click here. Or call the St. Joseph Health Department at 816-271-4636.