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City Beat: Council approves step toward reducing COVID-19 regulations

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Springfield City Council voted to dial back COVID-19 restrictions starting April 16 – specifically occupancy restrictions in public spaces and at large group events.

At its April 5 meeting, council approved an ordinance extending current public health and safety recommendations that were set to expire April 9 until April 16. On that date, the regulations will shift into the yellow phase previously outlined by the Springfield-Greene County Health Department.

The Road to Recovery yellow phase requires masking and recommends physical distancing but removes most occupancy restrictions and allows mass gatherings of under 500 people, with larger gatherings allowed at 50% capacity.

In order to enter the yellow phase, the Health Department set 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. As of April 8, the daily case count for Greene County was 20 and hospitalizations was at 22 patients. The vaccination rate was 20.87%, according to Health Department data.

“While we’ve not yet met our yellow vaccination goal of 25% fully vaccinated, there are many signs that are pointing us towards progress,” said Katie Towns, acting director of the Health Department.

As of April 7, 33% of Greene County residents over age 16 were partially vaccinated and awaiting second doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. To continue raising the vaccine rate, the Health Department hosted an April 8-9 mass vaccination event. All Missourians became eligible for the vaccine on April 9.

Officials were prepared to vaccinate 10,000 people at the event with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one dose. As of press time, Health Department officials said just over 4,000 people were registered for the event to be held at Missouri State University’s Hammons Student Center.

Towns said Health Department officials feel confident enough in Springfield’s progress toward the 25% vaccination rate to recommend beginning the yellow phase on April 16. But Towns said variants of the disease are a concern for department officials.

On April 2, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services confirmed a Greene County resident had tested positive for the U.K. variant of COVID-19, which has a higher level of transmission and is known to be more severe, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Craig McCoy, president of Mercy Springfield Communities, and Steve Edwards, president and CEO of CoxHealth, spoke to council in favor of moving forward with the Road to Recovery based on current levels of cases and hospitalizations.

At his presentation to council, McCoy said Mercy currently had seven hospitalized COVID-19 patients with just one in intensive care and had distributed 37,000 vaccines. Edwards said CoxHealth, which once had a peak of 170 COVID-19 patients, was down to around 16 with only three in intensive care, and had distributed 70,000 doses of the vaccine.

Edwards echoed Towns in expressing concerns about the COVID-19 variants coming to the area and said continuing to mask and increase vaccinations will be the best way to combat the disease.

“While the vaccine is not perfect about preventing the disease, it’s 100% about preventing severe disease, hospitalization and death,” Edwards said. “Our staff know when we vaccinate in our clinics, we’ll never see that person in the hospital with COVID, and that’s a really meaningful thing to us.”

The next step on the Road to Recovery – the green phase – will remove the ordinance entirely including the masking mandate. To reach that phase, the Health Department has outlined thresholds of less than 20 new cases per day, under 20 hospitalizations in COVID-19 isolation and a vaccination rate of 50% of the eligible population.

Second reading bills
Council unanimously approved an ordinance allowing the city to purchase 404 N. Jefferson Ave. as part of the effort to daylight Jordan Creek. The 3.44-acre property is the site of a 27,000-square-foot building that formerly housed a Meek’s Lumber Co. warehouse.

City Principal Engineer Chris Dunnaway, during council’s March 22 meeting, said the property had previously been identified as a key site in the Jordan Valley Park Concept Plan, the vision for Renew Jordan Creek and a railroad configuration study. The property, just north of East Trafficway Street, will help provide a connection between the east and west areas of Jordan Valley Park. According to city planning documents, a portion of Jordan Creek could be daylighted on the property. Dunnaway said the building on-site is currently vacant and there are no plans for the city to demolish it.

The $1.5 million purchase cost will come from the quarter-cent capital improvement sales tax. The city is purchasing the property from Scottsdale, Arizona-based Store Master Funding XV LLC, according to city documents.

In the latest step toward developing a multimillion-dollar youth sports complex near the Springfield-Branson National Airport and Deer Lake Golf Course, council approved a conditional use permit to allow playing fields to operate within the highway commercial district and airport overlay district on West State Highway 266.

Mary Lilly Smith, director of the city’s Department of Planning and Development, said the 105-acre site is already zoned properly for the athletic complex to be built, but the conditional use permit was required.

Council previously approved a funding agreement with developer SGF Sports LLC to reimburse up to $2.1 million for public infrastructure. The development is slated to include 12 soccer fields and an indoor complex with two soccer fields and four basketball courts that can convert into eight volleyball courts.

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