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As new COVID-19 cases rise, Springfield firefighters doing their part to get public vaccinated

Published: Jun. 29, 2021 at 6:34 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 29, 2021 at 8:45 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control shows the Delta variant of COVID-19 now accounts for 1-in-4 new infections in the U-S. And with more than half the population not fully vaccinated, there are worries that low vaccinated areas like the Ozarks could experience surges into the fall and winter.

At a news conference on Tuesday Jon Mooney, the Assistant Director of Health of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, reported that there were 156 new cases the previous week in the county. That left the seven-day average at 116, a 22 percent increase.

There was some good news, however.

“Last week more than 3,300 people were vaccinated in Greene County,” Mooney said. “We are making progress. It’s just not at the pace that we would like to see.”

But with most of the new cases due to the Delta variant there was also this warning.

“I’ll be frank,” Mooney said. “Individuals who continue to not get vaccinated are at an extremely high risk for contracting the Delta variant sometime soon.”

The area has been receiving a lot of attention in the past week as one of the country’s hot spots for new COVID-19 cases, particularly the Delta variant. Eric Latimer, a Division Chief with the Springfield Fire Department, believes the negative media attention played a part in the uptick of vaccinations last week.

“When people are getting their vaccine we questioned what brought them in,” he said. “Most recently (their answer) has been that Greene County has been in the national news.”

Latimer and his fellow firefighters have been visiting with people getting vaccinated because the Springfield Fire Department is involved in many of the clinics.

“The fire department, in our effort to vaccinate the community, is extremely important because it’s allowed us to offer vaccine in more places,” explained Aaron Schekorra, the health department’s Public Information Administrator.

“Springfield firefighters have vaccinated almost 600 people in 13 events and are scheduled for at least four more in the next month,” Mooney added.

“We install smoke alarms, we do building inspections,” said Chad Davis, a firefighter and Union President of the IAFF Local 152. “This was just another way our members felt we could protect the community.”

From farmers markets to kid-friendly events at their own stations, the firefighters help educate, encourage, and yes, even give the vaccinations, which is not normally part of their job description. But 15 members of the fire department went through extra CDC training so that they could give shots.

“People when they come in and see a firefighter they feel a sense of relief and comfort,” Latimer said. “We explain to them why it’s important. That by receiving the vaccine it’s not only protecting themselves but protecting their family and their neighbor. So we’re getting a lot of support out there.”

But of course there is still a large portion of the public that hasn’t been vaccinated and doesn’t plan on doing so, some of them for political reasons that aren’t likely to change.

“The COVID pandemic we’re in is not a political event,” Latimer said. “People getting the vaccine is a community safety need. It’s one big team. It takes health care workers, it takes first responders and it’s going to take the community to get through this pandemic. And we’re going to win.”

Springfield’s Fire Station 5 at 2750 West Kearney Street will be hosting a vaccination clinic on Wednesday, June 30 from 3 p.m.-5 p.m. While parents are getting their vaccine, children can interact with firefighters, see a fire truck up close, color in Springfield Fire Department coloring books, decorate the fire station’s sidewalks with chalk and work on a home fire escape plan.

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