City of Springfield considers masking ordinance after recent jump in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations

Published: Jul. 7, 2020 at 3:31 PM CDT
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The Springfield City Council is considering an ordinance with a provision requiring the wearing of face coverings in public places as part of a proposed Phase 4 of the Road to Recovery Order.

The current phase is in place until July 15.

The Springfield-Greene County Health Department reported 35 new cases of COVID-19 in Greene County Monday. Staff are continuing to investigate the circumstances around the new 35 cases to determine the full picture, but what they know now is that activities of confirmed cases can be separated into two groups: those traveling to high-risk areas and community-spread cases.

Health leaders report hospitalizations are also increasing. The county reports 28 patients are currently hospitalized in Springfield. This time last month, there were eight hospitalizations. In recent weeks, hospitals have averaged about three COVID-19 patients in their Intensive Care Units per day, although that number fluctuates. The hospitals currently have six COVID-19 patients in their ICUs.

At CoxHealth, President/CEO Steve Edwards reports experiencing a 43% growth in total positive lab results last week. The health system has also seen the percentage of positive rates increase from about 0.5% a month or so ago to 11.85% as of today.

“Combined with high prevalence in our surrounding catchment area, rapidly growing prevalence in Greene County, and strained regional hospitals, we believe we are at our triggering point,” Edwards said. “Most of our indicators have increased by nearly 50% in the past two weeks. We have gone from four inpatients to 17 in the past week.”

Similar to Cox, Mercy monitors several key metrics on a daily basis to ensure continuous readiness as a health system. They also monitor hospitals across the Mercy ministry as each community has been impacted differently based on a number of different factors.

“We feel strongly that the proactive steps that the City and County leaders have taken to protect our community have been a key driver in the lower COVID case rates that we have experienced,” said Brent Hubbard, President & COO, Mercy Hospital Springfield Communities. “However, we are in the throws of a steep increase in our 14-day case rate per 100,000, which was 0.5 14 days ago and as of yesterday we are at 3.5.”

Moving quickly on the masking ordinance is critical, Hubbard continued.

“To give you an idea of how quickly the disease can spread, our Northwest Arkansas hospital experienced a 14 day case rate per 100,000 jump from 0 to 42. Although prepared, the influx of inpatients to all three health systems in that area created a significant strain. If we have the opportunity to prevent the same situation here then we should act immediately. If we don’t, we may be forced to reinstate more drastic measures, such as the restrictions we had in place April and May.”

After reviewing the science, health officials say there is increasingly growing evidence that suggests that transmission of this illness can be significantly decreased by masking.

“As a department, we see the value of masking in keeping those around us safe. We have literally seen, as a result of The Great Clips exposure, the prevention power of masking,” said Katie Towns, the Assistant Director of the Springfield-Greene Co. Health Department. “It’s not comfortable. It’s a new habit to form. It’s not our only prevention tool. It’s not perfect. But we are of the opinion that we should be using every tool we have to combat this virus to prevent us from going backwards like other cities across the country are."

Springfield had flattened its curve of COVID-19 cases in May but that curve has gone steadily up in July.

At Monday's Springfield City Council luncheon Greene Co. Health Department officials also pointed out some other disturbing trends.

Almost 30 percent of the 395 patients in quarantine have come since this weekend. And 85 percent of all the new cases have come in the last two weeks when Missouri and Arkansas hit daily all-time highs in new cases due in large part to hot spots in northwest Arkansas and southwest Missouri less than two hours from Springfield.

"It is extremely concerning to us," Towns said. "We are reaching the end of our capability to slow the spread through the measures we are currently using."

Springfield Mayor Ken McClure said he feels positive about the mask requirement in public ordinance passing, pointing out it's either that or going back to a lock down.

"We don't want to have to close things down again," McClure said. "That's not good for anybody. Masking is now the next step and I think you'll see a very unified council on Monday evening."

"We're all tired of this," Towns added. "We're tired of having to do things differently. We want to resume our normal lives. But unfortunately we just aren't there."

Springfield is not alone in this move.

Monday night Joplin's City Council voted to purchase over $60,000 worth of masks for the public and will discuss a mask ordinance on Wednesday night.

Starting on Wednesday Branson will require anyone entering a city facility to wear a face-covering including city hall, municipal court, the police department and the park and recreation RecPlex.

Monday night Columbia, Missouri's City Council voted to require masks in public including offices and hallways of apartment buildings. It's a $15 fine for individuals and $100 for businesses if they violate the ordinance.

McClure says Springfield's ordinance, which is still being drawn up, will include fines but admits, "Enforcement is very difficult. Nobody wants to go and write a ticket. But we do want to make it clear to the public that this is serious."

Another factor is that masks have gone from being a health issue to a politicized battle.

"It is not a political issue," McClure said. "It has become one but it shouldn't be. It's not partisan either way. Whether I wear a mask or do not wear a mask does not indicate my political preference. I believe in some respects this is as critical, if not more so, than when we started back in March."

To voice your opinion on the draft Phase 4 of the Road to Recovery Order that may include a mandatory masking component, call the Springfield City Clerk’s Office at 417-874-2460; submit written comments electronically to be reflected in the City Council meeting minutes; or sign up to speak at the City Council meeting on Monday, July 13 (deadline is 5 p.m. Friday, July 10).

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