Springfield-Greene County Health Dept. recommends end date for masking mandate; council vote on Monday

Updated: May. 13, 2021 at 12:04 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The Springfield-Greene County Health Department recommended changes in the city’s COVID-19 Road to Recovery plan, including ending the mask mandate.

Mayor Ken McClure scheduled a Monday vote on repealing the masking ordinance.

Interim director Katie Towns proposed ending the masking mandate on May 27 at 11:59 p.m., which happens to be the last day of school for Springfield Public Schools. She also asked city leaders to consider removing any outdoor masking policies immediately. She claims the risk is low.

Towns acknowledged the risks associated with COVID-19 are very real in Greene County. Public and other health officials still recommend that people get vaccinated, and that those who are not vaccinated continue to wear masks and physically distance while in public.

“COVID-19 has become and will continue to be an ever-present threat for unvaccinated individuals for the foreseeable future,” Towns said. “Our department will continue to work closely with partners to slow the spread of disease and continue to vaccinate people in order to most effectively reduce the spread of disease and save lives.”

Nearly 30,000 Greene Countians have tested positive for COVID-19, and 430 people have died from it since the virus was first confirmed in Greene County in March 2020.

As of May 13, on the SGCHD COVID-19 dashboard, the 7-day average of daily cases was 17, and the number of COVID-19 patients in Greene County hospitals was 36. These numbers have decreased significantly since the peak of disease in early January 2021 when the 7-day average case count peaked at 252.

“The (Springfield-Greene) Health Department will continue to monitor the number of new cases and hospitalizations. We anticipate small but short-lived increases in these rates, likely due to variants spreading in our community,” Towns said during the workshop. “These ripples will likely continue occur as COVID-19 becomes a regular part of our lives, until we can improve vaccination rates. The vaccines are safe, very effective and will continue to be our best defense against the virus and its variants.”

COVID-19 is becoming an endemic disease for communities across the world – it is and will be a regular part of the community and will continue to affect individuals, particularly those who are unvaccinated. In these scenarios, both the health care and public health systems have ongoing capacity to respond in these situations.

Since April 9, all Missourians ages 16 and older have been eligible to receive the vaccine. By the end of May, ALL individuals 16 and older will have had seven weeks to get at least their first dose of vaccine. As of Thursday, children ages 12-15 are eligible. There have been – and continue to be – many opportunities for individuals to seek vaccine. If someone wants vaccinated today, they can get vaccinated today. There is plenty of supply to go around, Towns said. Based on current projections, Towns does not expect to reach the next vaccine milestone of 50% of eligible individuals being fully vaccinated until later this summer. As of May 11, the SGCHD COVID-19 dashboard indicates the percent of eligible individuals who are fully vaccinated is 34%.

“At the height of cases and hospitalizations, public policy was necessary to protect the health of all individuals in our community. Masking, physical distancing and other restrictions were instituted to prevent spread and reduce the devastating impact of the disease. The ordinance has served its two primary purposes – to protect our health care system from being overwhelmed and protect our community’s most vulnerable,” Towns said.

By the end of the month, Towns said, the health department would support the repeal of the current ordinance while continuing to recommend mitigation efforts for individuals who are not yet vaccinated. “We are at a point now where we are able to do this and encourage our community to weigh the risks at the individual level,” she explained during the workshop.

Mayor McClure asked City Manager Jason Gage for staff to draft a bill repealing the current ordinance – a measure that City Council would consider at the regularly scheduled City Council meeting Monday, May 17.

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