SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The Springfield-Greene County Health Department says the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations is overwhelming and is beginning to affect other types of care medical facilities can provide.

“As we feared, Omicron has taken hold in our community,” Assistant Health Director Jon Mooney said in a news conference Wednesday morning. Mooney said Greene County’s seven-day rolling average is 409 cases per day, a 62% increase in the last seven days. The department keeps track of cases on its COVID-19 recovery dashboard.

Mooney also said today there are 202 people in Greene County hospitals, and those hospitals are being forced to make tough decisions about how to provide care.

Five people died of COVID-19 in the last seven days, according to the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. That brings the total for January 2022 to eight deaths, and the total of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic to 651.

Slow the Surge

The Springfield-Greene County Health Department is launching a new campaign called Slow the Surge. Mooney says this campaign is urging people to do three things: mask, boost, and test.

Mooney says everyone should wear a mask as Omicron surges, even people who are fully vaccinated. He says surgical, N95, or KN95 masks are recommended, but a cloth mask is better than no mask at all. The health department is working with groups in the community to distribute 50,000 surgical masks for people who need them.

52% of people in Greene County are fully vaccinated. The health department is still offering $50.00 gift cards to people who receive their first or second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine through the department. Mooney said a vast majority of people who are in the hospital for COVID-19 are not vaccinated. He says just 5% of people who tested positive in the last two weeks have had a booster shot. The Health Department has a map on its site to help find a vaccine location.

The last part of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department’s plan to “slow the surge” is testing. The health department just launched an interactive map to help people find testing sites.

Mercy, CoxHealth, Jordan Valley Community Health, and the Springfield-Greene County Health Department all say they have enough COVID-19 tests for now. Mercy is not testing people who are asymptomatic at their clinics or emergency rooms to make sure they have enough supplies. CoxHealth is still testing people who do not have symptoms.

Impact on healthcare

“Please do not say that you support the health care workers in our community and walk around unvaccinated,” Mercy Springfield President Craig McCoy said during Wednesday’s news conference, “Those statements don’t go together. The one thing you can do to protect your community and protect yourself is get vaccinated so please do so.”

Representatives from both Mercy and CoxHealth said one major challenge is the number of staff who are out because of COVID-19. For Mercy, 272 people are in quarantine, according to McCoy. Amanda Hedgepeth, President of CoxHealth Springfield, said approximately 300 employees are out because of COVID-19. She said that’s about 3% of the staff. According to Hedgepeth, hospitals in Kansas City and St. Louis are seeing as much as 10% of staff loss, and the hospital is working on contingency plans in case that happens in Springfield.

CoxHealth physicians are rescheduling wellness and routine appointments in the next 30-45 days to divert resources to helping COVID-19 patients. Anyone who had an appointment will be contacted. Mercy is not rescheduling appointments for now.

Questions about community spread

When asked if Springfield Public Schools should go to virtual learning again, Assistant Health Director Mooney said he won’t speak for SPS, but he believes many organizations will have to make difficult decisions in the coming weeks when it comes to staffing and continuing operations to serve the community. Springfield Public Schools ended its masking mandate in January after legal threats from Missouri’s Attorney General.

Mooney also responded to a question about the upcoming Tournament of Champions in Springfield by saying a virus needs fuel, and that fuel is people in close proximity for extended periods of time. He advised anyone with symptoms to avoid going out, “Please don’t’ say I’m fighting a cold, I’m sure it’s just that or ignoring that tickle in your throat and then going out to be active in the community,” encouraging those people to isolate and seek testing as soon as possible.