An outbreak of a more contagious coronavirus variant in Missouri shows how low vaccination rates and lax mitigation can give fuel to reigniting the pandemic.

But the people of Missouri and their civic leaders have only themselves to blame. The state never had a mask mandate, had minimal mitigation efforts and people who wrongly believed the vaccine wasn’t necessary. Its Republican governor and Legislature recently passed legislation to limit how much local public health agencies can do for virus mitigation.

Now, they have the highest rate of new coronavirus cases in the country. Two hospitals in Springfield have 153 cases, up from just 30 a month ago. The new delta variant, first revealed in India, is attacking young people severely, with 65 percent of the patients at Mercy Hospital ICU under 40.

The mostly conservative northern and southwestern Missouri counties facing the outbreak have vaccination rates around 40 percent, well below the national average of 53 percent. One county in the region has just a 13 percent vaccination rate.

The new variant accounts for 20 percent of all new U.S. COVID cases, doubling in the last two weeks. And it accounts for half of the new cases in a swath across the Midwest including Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Minnesota’s vaccination rate is nearing 70 percent, with regional rates in the Mankato area around 60 percent. But that means 40 percent still haven’t been vaccinated.

The new outbreak should give those who have not been vaccinated reason to do so and sooner than later. Interstate travel in the Midwest is frequent. And Branson, Missouri and the Ozarks, now in the heart of the outbreak area, are frequented by people in Minnesota. Iowa is adjacent to Minnesota on the North and Missouri on the south. It’s a formula for virus spread.

Missourians quoted in the Associated Press article on the outbreak were either uninformed about the veracity of the vaccine or had a belief in a higher power that would save them.

We’re not done with this virus. Now is not the time to let down our guard.

Minnesota civic leaders should continue to push to promote easily accessible vaccinations. If you’re not vaccinated, now is the time to do it.

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