Springfield among first stops for federal COVID-19 surge response teams; Gov. Parson warns feds about door-to-door vaccine soliciting

Published: Jul. 8, 2021 at 7:17 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The Ozarks surge in new COVID-19 cases and low vaccination rates continue to draw national attention.

On Thursday public information officers at Cox, Mercy and the Springfield-Greene Co. Health Department confirmed that they are being inundated with media requests from both national and state outlets and a study by Georgetown University led to this headline all across the country:

“Five Undervaccinated Clusters Put the Entire United States at Risk”

The story shows five circles that cover parts of eight states, all in the southern part of the U.S., including southwest Missouri and northern Arkansas. The research by Georgetown found that because of their low vaccination rates, around 30 counties in these areas are vulnerable to outbreaks that could end up as breeding grounds for another nationwide surge.

“These clusters of unvaccinated people are what is standing in the way of us putting this virus down permanently,” said Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, in an interview with CNN.

At a national news conference on Thursday the White House COVID-19 Response Team announced that the more transmissible Delta variant is now the most prevalent strain in the country, especially in the Midwest where CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Wolensky said, “The Delta variant accounts for approximately 80 percent of cases. This rapid rise is troubling. We know that the Delta variant has increased transmissibility and is currently surging in pockets of the country with low vaccination rates.”

That would be Springfield and Greene County, where the rate is below 40 percent and the federal government is sending one of its first COVID-19 surge response teams in Missouri.

The surge response teams were announced by President Biden as a way to provide federal help to states with high rates of new cases and low vaccination rates.

Missouri not only leads the nation in new cases, averaging 1,000 cases per day, but it’s numbers are equal to a large section of the northeast combined including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

The Springfield-Greene Co. Health Dept. confirmed that one member of the surge response team has arrived in Springfield and is still poring over data and formulating a plan.

While she was unavailable for an interview Jeff Zients, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator talked about the goals of the surge teams during the national news conference.

“We are working with local health officials and getting more treatments for people with COVID,” he explained. “And helping states increase vaccine confidence, answer questions and expand access to vaccinations and testing.”

Speaking in Kansas City, Missouri Governor Mike Parson said, “Right now there’s only one federal employee in the state doing the same thing they were doing before when we had the outbreak in southwest Missouri.”

But in a Facebook post on Wednesday night Parson sent out word that he does not want the surge team’s strategy to include going door-to-door asking people to get vaccinated.

“I have directed our health department to tell the federal government that sending employees or agents door-to-door to compel vaccination would NOT be an effective OR welcome strategy in Missouri.”

Speaking in Kansas City, Parson expanded on his remarks.

“I object to the federal government coming in and going door-to-door to anyone’s houses in Missouri,” he said. “But I want to be clear too. Regardless of whether it’s President Trump’s administration or President Biden’s, we’ve had federal authorities on the ground and we want them here to assist. But it depends on what that role is. I don’t think we need to be out there trying to scare people into taking a vaccine.”

During the national news conference Zients was asked about Parson’s comments and pointed out that if that option was used it would involve local leaders, not feds.

“As part of our efforts trusted messengers may go door-to-door,” he said. “Doctors, faith leaders and community leaders that people look to for this type of advice. And we’ve seen movement by going person-by-person. This is important work that is leading to more vaccinations. So for those that are feeding misinformation and trying to mischaracterize this type of trusted messenger work, I believe you are doing a disservice to the country.”

Meanwhile Springfield Mayor Ken McClure’s admits he’s frustrated about the area’s low vaccination rate and surge in new cases but is not considering a return to a mask mandate. McClure explained that while requiring people to wear a mask indoors was the best line of defense a year ago, getting a shot is the best defense now.

“The answer now is not to return to strict masking requirements because everything that we did throughout the past 16 months has been trying to point to the time when a vaccination is available,” he said. “And we’re there.”

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