O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) — Political leaders in St. Louis and St. Louis County have stepped up their efforts to get people vaccinated amid growing concern that the delta variant of COVID-19 ravaging some rural areas of Missouri is making its way to the state’s most populated region.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page on Wednesday announced the “Sleeves Up STL” initiative, which seeks to enlist beauty salons and barbershops in the northern part of the county to provide vaccine information to customers and encourage them to get inoculated.
Meanwhile, St. Louis’ Board of Aldermen on Tuesday endorsed a plan to offer gift cards as an enticement to get vaccinated.
The fast spread of the delta variant has led to a spike in new cases and hospitalizations in parts of northern and southwestern Missouri. Page said St. Louis County officials have “grave concerns about the impact it could have here.”
He said salons and barbershops are popular gathering places and that he’s hopeful the outreach in northern St. Louis County, where many Black residents live, will lead to more vaccinations. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that Black residents are far less likely to get vaccinated than white residents.
In the city of St. Louis, where nearly half of the approximate 300,000 residents are Black, only 40.5% of residents have received at least one vaccine dose. Statewide, 45.5% of residents have received at least an initial shot, which significantly trails the national rate of 55.6%.
St. Louis aldermen backed a plan that would offer prepaid debit cards worth up to $100 to people who get shots. The funding will come from nearly $500 million in federal funding the city will get for pandemic relief.
The plan also would provide one-time $500 payments to 10,000 residents who have been affected by the pandemic. The funding proposal now goes to the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, which is the city’s fiscal body.
Democratic Mayor Tishaura Jones has not said if she will support the aldermanic version of the funding measure.
State health department data shows that 1,284 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Monday. That’s still well below the nearly 3,000 who were hospitalized during the state’s peak period in December, but it’s double the number from mid-May. The 390 people in intensive care units is three times more than in early April.
The state on Wednesday reported 1,460 newly confirmed cases of of COVID-19 and 15 more deaths from the disease, pushing its pandemic totals to 537,887 confirmed cases and 9,455 deaths.