(The Center Square) – As Springfield plans to spend millions in an effort to reduce COVID-19 infections, protestors are objecting to employer vaccination requirements and mask mandates.
Springfield’s health department will receive $8 million in federal COVID-19 funds – an increase of 87% to its annual expenditures – if approved by the city council on Aug. 23. Southwest Missouri hospitals were treating 560 patients with COVID-19 on Monday. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reported 80% of beds in southwest Missouri were full along with 85% of the intensive care unit beds.
Outside of one Springfield hospital on Saturday, hundreds of protestors gathered to voice opposition to employer vaccination requirements and questioning the safety of the vaccine, according to a report in the Springfield News-Leader.
“I joined hundreds of Patriots last night in front of Mercy Hospital as we took a stand against mask and vaccine mandates,” Rep. Brian Seitz, R-Branson, posted on social media. “Our healthcare workers, and employees in all other industries, should not be forced to choose between their job and a jab.
“Getting the vaccine and wearing a mask are personal decisions that each individual should be able to make for themselves in consultation with their families and their doctors. No one should be forced or coerced into making these medical decisions.”
Springfield, the county seat of Greene County, has had one of the highest rates of infections in the nation during the past two months. The Springfield health department budget is $9.16 million in 2021-2022, a decrease of 11% from its budget of $10.35 million the previous year.
“We have withstood a tremendous amount of expenses in the past year in responding to COVID,” Katie Towns, who was named director of the health department on July 18, said during a city council meeting last week. “Our projections, if we continue at the current pace, will be spending nearly $10 million. This (funding) will be a relief to the expenses that are being incurred by our department in terms of contract tracing for COVID investigations, ongoing testing, and staffing and logistics for vaccine clinics being held throughout our community.”
American Rescue Plan Act documents show Greene County is eligible to receive $57 million and Springfield is eligible to receive $40 million in federal funds.
The health department reported 10,681 cases of COVID-19 infections between June 1 and Aug. 16 in a metropolitan area of approximately 436,712. There were 67 deaths reported in July and 15 through Aug. 16.
“We don’t know quite what to expect right now,” Springfield City Manager Jason Gage told the city council when asked about the health department’s projected COVID spending. “We don’t know if there will be another variant that will affect us in a serious way like this variant has done. There are a lot of unknowns. The purpose is to go ahead and get this allocation of ARPA money out for the core need – to fight COVID.”
The counties surrounding Springfield – Christian, Dallas, Polk and Webster – had low vaccination rates in June as the current wave of infections began to accelerate. Springfield’s rate of those fully vaccinated increased from 32.9% on May 3 to 44.7% on Aug. 17. Unlike earlier COVID-19 increases, the highest number of positive cases in Springfield were between the ages of 19 to 29. Springfield’s percentage of those fully vaccinated between ages 21 to 30 is 25%.