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Council considers removing COVID-19 ordinance

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At its next meeting on May 17, Springfield City Council will consider an emergency proposal to remove the current COVID-19 ordinance in its entirety by May 27.

During a study session on Thursday, Katie Towns, acting director of the Springfield Greene-County Health Department, said the department would support the repeal of the ordinance which requires wearing masks in public places, recommends social distancing and sets limits on the size of group gatherings, by the end of the month.

Towns said the May 27 date was chosen to line up with the end of the school year, in the hope that best practices would continue until then.

Springfield’s restrictions started to ease on April 16, after council passed an ordinance moving the city into the yellow phase of the Road to Recovery plan, which removed most restrictions on occupancy limits and allowed gatherings of under 500 people, while masking stayed in place.

To reach the yellow phase, the Health Department outlined 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.

In the Road to Recovery, the green phase which would remove the ordinance requires thresholds of under 20 new cases per day, under 20 hospitalizations and a 50% vaccination rate. The emergency bill under consideration would remove the ordinance and move Springfield into this green phase, despite all thresholds not being met.

As of May 13, Springfield had a daily new case average of 17, 37 COVID-related hospitalizations and a vaccination rate of 35%, according to the Health Department’s COVID-19 dashboard.

An original goal of vaccinating at least half of the population was set for May, a mark Towns said she does not expect to hit due to decreasing interest in the vaccine. Since April 9, all Missourians over the age of 16 have been eligible, and as of this week, children ages 12-15 now are eligible.

Despite ongoing concerns about the level of vaccination, Towns said the department would continue to recommend mitigation efforts for individuals who are not yet vaccinated if the bill is approved.

Also on Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance that removed face mask and distancing recommendations for fully vaccinated individuals. The Health Department would continue to recommend public health guidelines from the CDC be followed, Towns said.

Towns said Health Department officials still view COVID-19 as a concern to public health. She said COVID-19 is becoming an endemic rather than a pandemic – a disease that is likely to stay present in our lives.

“COVID-19 has become and will continue to be an ever-present threat for unvaccinated individuals for the foreseeable future,” Towns said during the work session. “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.”

Towns said public policy was necessary during the height of the pandemic to protect overall public health and prevent the health care systems from becoming overwhelmed. However, she said the Health Department believes mitigation efforts can now be undertaken at an individual level.

Council decided on Thursday to add an emergency bill to its May 17 agenda that can be introduced and voted on in one meeting. If passed, the COVID-19 ordinance would be removed in full on May 27.

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