SPRINGFIELD, Mo.– The COVID-19 surge is impacting several parts of the Springfield community. During a virtual COVID-19 briefing, the Springfield-Greene County Health Department stated the Omicron variant is causing the local community to feel the weight of COVID-19 like never before.

“Due to the sheer volume of cases, we are seeing more severe illness, hospitalization, and death due to COVID-19,” said Springfield-Greene County Health Director Katie Towns on Wednesday. 

On Tuesday, the health department reported 912 new cases of COVID-19 in Greene County. The same day, one of every two COVID-19 tests ran through the department’s lab came back positive.

The department on Wednesday also announced nine new deaths from COVID-19 in the last seven days. 

Health leaders said Wednesday the Omicron variant is proving to be so contagious that hospitals are delaying non-emergency care and schools are having to close their doors. Meanwhile, those at Cox and Mercy say their hospitals are working at or beyond capacity.

“We have 174 COVID-19 positive patients and a 43% rolling positivity rate,” said President and CEO of CoxHealth Steve Edwards. “We had 896 positive test results on Tuesday. At the height of Delta, the highest single day was 183.”

“Last week we documented 863 cases of COVID-19,” said Dr. Grenita Lathan, superintendent for Springfield Public Schools. “Our staff aren’t even well enough right now to teach virtually.

Springfield schools are temporarily closed until Monday, January 24, but Lathan says if cases are still bad that opening could be postponed.

Lathan says the last thing she wants to do is close schools down. However, the contagious variant is causing major staffing issues. On Tuesday, January 18, 200 students and 100 staff members tested positive in one day.

Steve Edwards says Omicron is spreading so rapidly that 500 employees within the Cox system are out sick. However, workers who are not sick at CoxHealth are taking on other roles to help the hospital.

The health department again urged folks to wear masks, stay home if you’re sick, and seek out vaccinations. 

“Reality is COVID is very much still present,” said Towns. “It’s alright to change your mind [on getting vaccinated] at any time. We will welcome you when you’re ready.”

Towns recognized the lack of available testing in Greene County the past few weeks, saying if you cannot find testing and you’re experiencing symptoms, “just stay home. Even if symptoms are mild, please don’t assume that you have something else and risk spreading it to others who are at-risk.”

At Mercy in Springfield, President Craig McCoy reported Wednesday the hospital is currently treating 139 COVID-19 patients, with seven of those patients having received a booster shot. 

McCoy pointed out there are still 48% of Greene County residents unvaccinated, adding, “If you say you care about your community, if you say you care about your neighbors…you need to get vaccinated.”

Health leaders who spoke Wednesday all agreed, we still have not reached the peak of the Omicron surge and likely still have several more weeks of surging cases before hospitals and testing sites start to see demand decline. 

“Pretending everything is back to normal doesn’t make it so. We must continue to take precautions and slow the surge, especially when it comes to the impact it’s having on our community’s children.”  

Katie Towns