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story.lead_photo.caption Nurses and doctors in the CoxHealth Emergency Department in Springfield, Missouri, don personal protective equipment Friday to treat patients with COVID-19. Southwest Missouri is seeing a surge in Delta variant cases, with hospitals nearing capacity and requesting help from the state for staffing and an alternative care site. Photo by Associated Press / Fulton Sun.

SPRINGFIELD (AP) — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said the state will "probably" provide funding for a site to help handle the overflow of COVID-19 patients in Springfield, where hospitals are struggling to keep up with a surge driven by the delta variant and vaccination hesitation.

The Republican governor suggested that federal stimulus money also could help pay for the alternative care site health leaders in the southwestern Missouri city requested. Parson, who was in Springfield on Thursday for an unrelated bill signing, told the Springfield News-Leader that the state will "for the most part probably" fulfill the request.

"We're in the process of kind of going through that right now to see what we can deliver and what we can't," he said. "Those are things we've done before, so I think we'll be able to do (the funding)."

The fast-spreading delta variant has led to a surge in hospitalizations throughout southwestern Missouri. Springfield's hospitals are already seeing patient counts topping the previous peak in mid-winter. As of Friday, 228 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized there. Three weeks ago, the daily average patient count was fewer than 120.

CoxHealth, which operates six hospitals in southwestern Missouri, was treating 170 patients at the winter peak of the virus, CEO Steve Edwards said in an interview. It has surpassed that now, and Edwards expects at least 240 daily COVID-19 patients within two weeks — if there's room.

There's a difference this time around compared to January.

"Younger, sicker, quicker is the way I characterize it," Edwards said. "We have many, many younger patients. Pediatric patients hospitalized. Many in their 20s. A good number of pregnant women that we've had to do emergency C-sections to save the baby and to save mom."

Katie Towns, the interim director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, said the alternative care site would provide transitional care for patients stabilized enough to be released from hospitals. She told the Associated Press options include places such as dorms and hotels. Such makeshift treatment areas were common in Missouri and throughout the country during the winter.

Parson told the News-Leader some of the cost of setting up the site could be covered by federal stimulus money provided to Springfield and Greene County for pandemic relief.

"There's a lot of federal funding on the local level, so there may be ways we can partner with the counties and the cities and the hospitals, and they'll be able to do their part, you know, to come in and help with that," Parson said.

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