ST LOUIS — As COVID-19 hospitalizations climb, St. Louis is offering incentives for some city employees to get immunized, while thousands are registering for a statewide vaccine lottery.
St. Louis said in a news release Tuesday that nearly 6,000 of its workers will be eligible to receive $100 in gift cards and can use paid time off to get vaccinated. The announcement comes one day after a mask mandate took effect in the city and St. Louis County.
Missouri has the nation's fourth-worst COVID-19 diagnosis rate over the past week, with one in every 360 people diagnosed with COVID-19.
"Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 remains the best way for St. Louisans to protect their families and greatly reduce their chance of ending up in the ICU, and we are using many different tools in our toolbox to encourage vaccination," said St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones in the release.
Statewide, COVID-19 hospitalization jumped by 168% from a low point of 628 of May 23 to 1,684 on Aug. 24, state data shows. But the jump was much sharper in sparsely vaccinated southwest Missouri, where the number of hospitalizations leapt by 443% and reached pandemic highs.
To help, the state rolled out a vaccine incentive program last week that includes $10,000 prizes for 900 lottery winners. About 250,000 people have registered so far, said health department spokeswoman Lisa Cox.
Only 47.4% of Missourians have received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared with 56.8% nationally, state and federal data shows. The rate is far lower for younger residents, with just 26.5% of 12- to 14-year-olds and 36.5% of 15- to 24-year-olds getting at least one dose.
Hospital officials in Springfield have been begging on social media for people to get vaccinated.
Erik Frederick, chief administrative officer of Mercy Springfield, retweeted a message Monday night from a COVID-19 nurse who wrote that the situation was "getting worse" and that there was "no end in sight."
Rising cases also are putting a strain on contact tracers in St. Joseph in northwest Missouri, said Connie Werner, health department clinic coordinator. The vaccination rate in surrounding Buchanan County is just 22.3%.
"It's not that the vaccine isn't available, and it's not that there's not multiple opportunities and multiple times for people to get it, it's just that they're not going to get it," Werner told the St. Joseph News-Press. "It does take the community to have accountability as well, instead of us walking up to you and begging you to take it."