ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Missouri’s health department is reporting the highest daily count of new COVID-19 cases since the dead of winter, and the association representing the state’s hospital has warned that the health care system is potentially on the brink of a crisis.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services cited 2,302 newly confirmed cases of the virus on Thursday, the largest one-day count since mid-January, as the delta variant continues to spread in a state with one of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates.

The Missouri Hospital Association, in its weekly COVID-19 update, calls the situation in southwestern Missouri “dire” and says signals for the rest of Missouri are “foreboding.” Low vaccination rates are leading to the spread of the virus near the Lake of the Ozarks.

According to the post-vaccination rates in Greene (34.2%), Jasper (30%), McDonald (14.7%), Newton (18.4%), and Barry (28.7%) counties are below the state rate of nearly 40%. Experts say at least 70% of people need immunity to minimize spread within a community. According to the Springfield-Greene County Health Department dashboard, 40% of Greene County residents have been vaccinated.

“The numbers are too high. You want to see them low and declining. That is why it is vital we get folks all of the information we can about the vaccines; where they’re available,” said Senator Josh Hawley. “I always tell people that I am vaccinated and that I encourage folks to go get vaccinated. Ultimately, I trust Missourians to make their own medical decisions. My view is that you just have to get them the facts. For those who want to get vaccinated, let them know where they can do it.”

With the COVID-19 vaccination rate plateauing across the country, the White House is returning fire at those they see as spreading harmful misinformation or fear about the shots. When South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster tried to block door-to-door efforts to drive up the vaccination rate in his state, White House press secretary Jen Psaki did not mince words. She said the failure to provide accurate information about the vaccine is “literally killing people.”

“I think going door-to-door, as the president has said the federal government is going to do. That is a huge mistake. I think that implying that the federal government is somehow going to force people to make a particular medical decision is crazy. I think it is wrong and it will backfire. You will find Missourians saying, ‘Don’t tell me what medical decisions I need to make for myself and my family. ‘

That is the wrong approach. What you do is get people the information and you trust them to make good choices. For those who want the vaccine, you make it available. As it is, for free, and widely available all over the state,” said Sen Hawley.

While 67% of American adults have gotten at least one dose, officials are increasingly worried about vast geographic disparity in vaccination rates, and the emergence of what some experts warn could be two dramatically different realities for the country in the coming months: High vaccine uptake and lower caseloads in more Democratic-leaning parts of the country, and fresh hot spots and the development of dangerous variants in more GOP-leaning areas.