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City Beat: Council adjusts face mask ordinance for outdoor events

Health Department officials express concern about rising case counts

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Moving forward on the Road to Recovery, Springfield City Council on May 3 unanimously approved an amendment to the city’s COVID-19 ordinance, allowing face coverings to be removed in certain outdoor settings.

The amended ordinance still requires face masks or coverings to be worn in public places with some new exceptions. Face masks are no longer required when standing in outdoor lines to enter a business or sitting outdoors at a restaurant.

For outdoor events, face masks are no longer required unless attendees are part of a gathering of 500 people or more who are within 6 feet of each other for more than 15 minutes.

The change comes after an announcement on April 27 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that vaccinated individuals no longer have to wear masks while participating in outdoor activities.

Katie Towns, acting director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, said the agency recommends unvaccinated individuals continue to wear masks and that indoor mask requirements not be removed.

In April, council approved the yellow phase threshold of COVID-19 regulations – a step forward on the outlined Road to Recovery that allowed for lessening restrictions.

At the time, the community had met the Health Department’s thresholds of less than 40 new cases per day, under 50 hospitalizations in COVID-19 isolation and a vaccination rate of 25% of the eligible population of Greene County.

To move into the next phase, which would fully lift restrictions including face masks, the Health Department has outlined the following thresholds: less than 20 new cases per day, under 20 hospitalizations and a vaccination rate of 50%.

As of press time, there were 30 new cases per day on average during the past week, 35 hospitalizations and 33% of the population was fully vaccinated, with about 40% partially vaccinated, according to the Health Department’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Despite previous progress on lowering COVID-19 case numbers, Towns said she is concerned about the decline in interest in COVID-19 vaccines in Springfield and case numbers trending upward. All Missouri residents over age 16 have been eligible for the vaccine since April 9.

Over the week of April 26, the case count jumped 80% to 32 positive cases per day, with 75 new cases reported April 30, Towns said – the greatest number in one day since Feb. 23.

“Unfortunately, demand for the vaccine continues to decline and the pace of daily vaccinations is slowing down,” Towns said. “We’re concerned because at this point, we’re unlikely to reach our Finish Strong goal of vaccinating 50% of the population by Memorial Day.”

To increase the percentage, the Health Department has held multiple vaccine events, including a mega vaccine event on April 8-9 which vaccinated over 6,100 people, and a vaccine clinic offered at the Springfield Cardinals opening day on May 4.

Towns said based on current trends, the city isn’t likely to reach a 50% vaccination rate until late June or early July. Prior to April 9, when the final vaccine rollout phase began, Towns said an average of 930 Greene County residents were vaccinated daily. Since April 9, the number has dropped to an average of 526 people per day.

“We’re now bracing for the fact that COVID-19 will become a regular and permanent part of our lives,” Towns said. “Without enough of our community willing to get vaccinated, we will have to start preparing for this to be part of our everyday lives.”

Towns said Health Department officials believe the increase in cases is due in part to COVID-19 variants within the community, including a total of five confirmed cases of the highly contagious U.K. variant.

CARES Act
Council unanimously approved the acceptance of $55,000 in additional Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act grants through the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services for the Health Department.

Council originally approved an ordinance accepting a grant of $71,150 from DHSS in November 2020 to expand the Health Department’s capacity to support COVID-19 response efforts.

The new funding will be used to continue contact tracing, case reporting activities and laboratory testing, Towns said.

Acceptance of the bill amends the Health Department’s fiscal 2020-21 budget to appropriate the additional grant funds.

Annexations
Council unanimously approved two resolutions of intent to annex a total of about 30 acres into the city.

The first resolution is for approximately 25 acres of private property at 5505 W. Sunshine St., at the intersection of West Sunshine Street and James River Freeway.

According to city documents, the annexation was petitioned by the property owner, West Sunshine Development LLC, which is registered to Springfield developer Mike Seitz of Triple S Properties Inc. Seitz could not be reached for comment by press time.

In February, Council approved a preliminary funding agreement for development of the property. At the time, Springfield Economic Development Director Sarah Kerner said the intent of the agreement is for the developer to deposit funds, starting with $15,000, to cover the city’s legal fees while pursuing economic development incentives.

The second resolution initiates the annexation process for roughly 5 acres of Missouri Department of Transportation right-of-way along the 5900-6200 block of West Chestnut Expressway, an area near Deer Lake Golf Course and the Flying J Travel Center.

The right-of-way to be annexed borders the north side of SGF Sports LLC’s proposed athletic facility which recently broke ground near the golf course.

The proposed $10 million facility is set to include soccer fields and an indoor complex with basketball and volleyball courts. Council previously approved a $2.1 million reimbursement agreement for public infrastructure at the development. The city will be reimbursed through a community improvement district.

The annexation of the right-of-way is necessary for the project, according to city documents, because sidewalks and other infrastructure must be within city limits to quality for the CID.

The resolutions do not annex the properties but initiate the process of annexation. According to city documents, the council will hold a public hearing on the annexation bills on June 1 and vote on the bills on June 14.

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