Springfield remains a national hotspot of COVID-19 infections, and a flurry of decisions on both the local and national levels this week aimed to slow the Delta variant’s spread.
As the week ended, Greene County was reporting 265 patients hospitalized for COVID-19, which is over 30 more patients than were admitted two weeks ago. Of that 265 number, 113 patients were in critical care.
But over the past week, an average of 181 new coronavirus cases were reported in Greene County each day. This is compared to a 218 daily average a week ago.
According to data collected by the New York Times, Springfield’s daily average of cases is three times the national average, while Branson is four times the national average.
Just over a week ago, these two cities were ten and eleven times the national average, respectively. However, most of that difference has been the rest of the country’s average catching up with Southwest Missouri while Springfield’s high number of cases has remained steady.
At the same time, the Springfield-Greene County Health Department is scaling back their COVID-19 contact tracing to focus on children who cannot be vaccinated.
“We only have limited resources to perform case investigations,” heath director Katie Towns said Tuesday. She said the department is choosing to “at least mitigate disease in the most vulnerable population of the unvaccinated, (those) without an opportunity to be vaccinated.”
According to state data collected through Friday, only 36.1 percent of Greene County residents are fully vaccinated (a health department tally counting only residents age 12 and older who are eligible for the vaccine puts the rate slightly higher, at 41.9 percent).
Springfield’s continued struggle with the Delta variant comes as the CDC has recommended that all wear masks indoors if in areas of “high transmission.”
All but two of Missouri’s counties fit that description.
In response, Kansas City mayor Quinton Lucas announced his city would return to a mask mandate — joining St. Louis, which made the same move a week earlier.
As of Wednesday, Springfield city leaders indicated that the Queen City would not follow suit.
Earlier this month, Springfield Mayor Ken McClure told the News-Leader that a new mask mandate would not help the city in its crisis.
“And to me mandated masking had its role and its place, and it was to buy us enough time to get vaccinations available to the population. We are there. The solution’s here. People need to step up and take it,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the city confirmed Wednesday that position “has not changed.”
But other institutions in the city are implementing mask requirements again.
On Thursday, Greene County’s courts announced that masks would be required in all their public spaces.
On Friday, Springfield Public Schools announced that all students and staff would need to be masked the entirety of the 2021-2022 school year.
“We learned many important lessons about COVID-19 last year. Masking is effective in limiting the spread of the virus at school and reducing the number of cases required to quarantine,” said SPS Superintendent Grenita Lathan.
Vaccinations and masking continue to be contentious issues in southwest Missouri, creating barriers to health officials attempting to fight the virus.
On Monday evening, Angela Romine, a Springfield city councilwoman, repeated some common misinformation about COVID-19 in a back-and-forth with Towns, the health director. Romine explained her statements as speaking for the majority of local residents, as roughly 60 percent of eligible county residents are not fully vaccinated.
Later in the week, a group of about 50 people protested in front of Mercy hospital, which recently required employees to be vaccinated. That group also spread COVID-19 misinformation, as well as QAnon conspiracies.