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ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- The Missouri Hospital Association wants the state's hospitals to prepare for more COVID-19 patients as the Delta variant is driving a second surge, with hospitalizations expected to reach levels higher than before during the pandemic. 

The warning comes as Missouri's infection rate continues to climb at a faster pace than it did last summer, driven by the Delta variant. 

"Be prepared because Delta moves quickly through communities and through infected patients, with the progression to severe illness requiring ventilation or resulting in death occurring much more rapidly than with previous variants of the virus, and among younger patients," the association said in a press release. 

According to data from Missouri's health department, it took less than two months for hospitalizations to increase from 86 to more than 500 in the southwest region of the state, a 509% increase. It took nine months last year after the first confirmed case for the southwest region to see 500 COVID-19 patients. 

The hospital association says the Delta variant and increased transmission for the virus is moving beyond the southwest region. The central region has added 276 cases per 100,000 residents last week, the association says that's exactly where the southwest region was just two weeks prior. 

Hospitals struggled with personal protective equipment and bed shortages last year but these aren't as much of a concern right now. The big obstacle is staffing and the association said traveling respiratory therapists are "virtually impossible to find."

As of Wednesday, 57.1% of Missouri's adults have had at least one vaccine dose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges at least a 70% vaccine rate in order to control and prevent high transmission. The CDC reports 68.4% of American adults have had one dose and 59.6% are fully vaccinated. 

Copyright 2021 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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