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Will Springfield reach goals to drop COVID-19 restrictions by Memorial Day? Answer is TBD

Published: May. 11, 2021 at 7:14 PM CDT|Updated: May. 11, 2021 at 7:17 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The city of Springfield developed three levels in its “Road to Recovery” from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Red Phase was the most stringent with masks required and occupancy limits for businesses and venues.

The current Yellow Phase still requires indoor masking and limits to mass gatherings but removed most occupancy restrictions.

The ultimate goal, the Green Phase, is on the horizon as it would remove all the requirements and restore some sense of normalcy.

Officials had hoped to reach the Green Phase by the end of May but in order for that to happen, certain goals had to be reached in two-of-the-three thresholds established by the city in conjunction with the Springfield-Greene County Health Department.

At a city council luncheon on Tuesday (May 11) acting Springfield-Greene County Health Director Katie Towns reported that current numbers show that two of the three thresholds are NOT being met although there’s still time for that to change in the coming weeks.

The first threshold is being met. Springfield needs to be averaging under 20 new cases per day and the current number is 16.

Threshold number two states that under 20 individuals be hospitalized for COVID-19. Towns announced that there were 31 current patients in Springfield hospitals although only nine were Greene County residents and 10 were in critical care.

And threshold number three seems to be the least attainable by the end of May as the requirement is that 50 percent of the population (16 and older) be fully vaccinated. The current number is 35 percent. Towns told the council that before April 9 there was an average of about 930 residents getting vaccinated per day but since April 9 the average has dropped to about half that total.

“At this pace we will likely see 50 percent of our population fully vaccinated sometime this summer,” Towns said of the current projection.

The fall-off in vaccinations is not unexpected. Those who got the shots before April 9 included a lot of older and/or high-risk residents whose very lives depended on getting inoculated.

But now?

“We’re looking at more of the vast population, the younger patient population, maybe the generally healthy,” said Dr. Chan Reyes, a Family Medical Specialist.

It is a harder crowd to reach but Reyes said the need to get them vaccinated is just as important.

“There is a sense of urgency,” she said because of the goal to reach herd immunity. “So instead of just, ‘Ah, I’ll just wait and see in a year how it is’? No, you don’t want this to be here in a year.”

Towns said there is an effort underway to address the vaccine-hesitant population.

“The anecdote for that is meeting people where they are and being able to have conversations one-on-one,” she said.

That approach is being done by setting up vaccination stations at places like Springfield Cardinal games, fire stations, homeless shelters and churches. But most of those who really wanted to get a shot have already gotten it and the ones who don’t plan on getting a shot have a wide variety of reasons for deciding against it ranging from inconvenience to distrust to political views to just not wanting to.

With all those viewpoints working against it, the city has a challenge in getting the vaccine numbers to go up. And some would argue that since the current COVID-19 restrictions only apply to the city of Springfield, it’s not fair that all three thresholds are being determined by county-wide numbers. In fact as we pointed out earlier, many of the hospitalized patients were from outside the county.

So why aren’t the numbers just restricted to Springfield residents? Surely the chance to meet those restriction-dropping goals would improve if only city numbers were tabulated.

But Towns says everyone must realize that the city does not operate in a bubble.

“Springfield serves as a hub for healthcare but also for many other things,” she pointed out. “People come here to shop, dine, recreate and therefore we have to evaluate that in a big picture way and not just on unique situations to Springfield.”

So is there any way Springfield can still reach that elusive Green Phase by the end of May?

Towns wouldn’t say but instead pointed to the fact that the area’s health care industry is currently able to handle the load of COVID-19 patients and not disrupt its ability to offer care to the rest of its patients.

“And I think because of that and the overall big picture of things that we are headed in the right direction,” she concluded. “We’ll be working with city council later this week to discuss that further.”

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