Springfield City Council has voted to lift all pandemic restrictions after May 27, including face masks, occupancy limits and physical distancing, even though local immunization rates against the disease have not yet met the original target of 50 percent.
Council members voted Monday night to remove all COVID restrictions following the recommendation of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, moving from the “yellow” to the “green phase” of the city’s COVID-19 Road to Recovery plan. Face masks and social distancing will no longer be required after May 27.
Earlier in the pandemic, officials said the city would only lift those restrictions once 50% of residents had been fully vaccinated. But as of Tuesday, the number of vaccinated residents stands at 35.6%, according to the health department. Springfield is also higher than its benchmark of 20 COVID hospitalizations recommended to remove all restrictions.
At a news briefing with health care leaders Tuesday, acting director Katie Towns said the health department changed its guidelines because Greene County’s vaccine supply is readily available to anyone who wants one and hospitals are no longer in danger of reaching capacity.
“With all of those reasons, we feel strongly that moving ahead after May 27 with removing additional mitigation strategies is a good step,” Towns said.
May 27 coincides with the last day of classes for Springfield Public Schools. The health department continues to encourage individuals to get fully vaccinated, wear masks, and be cautious around large gatherings.
At the same briefing, Springfield Mayor Ken McClure said the COVID restrictions saved many lives.
“We took the correct actions, at the right times, and stood firm," McClure said. "And our community is better because of it.”
This is not the first time the Springfield City Council voted to lift restrictions without meeting goals set out in its own Road to Recovery Plan. In April, Springfield moved from the “red phase” to the “yellow phase,” removing occupancy limits from indoor spaces, even as the county fell short of the goal of having 25% of residents fully vaccinated beforehand.
The repeal of Springfield’s COVID ordinance comes just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated people can resume activities they did prior to the pandemic.
On Friday, the health department emailed a statement to KSMU explaining in more detail the decision to remove local restrictions. That statement reads in full:
"The widespread availability of vaccine and stabilized case rates and hospitalizations have allowed us to take the next step and support a decision by Springfield City Council to repeal the current ordinance. Although this position varies from guidance outlined in the Indicators for Stepping Out of the Road to Recovery, recent case numbers and hospitalizations demonstrate that increases are likely to be modest and temporary. Vaccine has been widely available since April 9 with ample supply for all eligible individuals. This data and experience provide the Health Department with greater confidence in public health and health care capabilities to respond to future cases of COVID-19. The Health Department would still recommend that individuals who are not vaccinated continue to wear a mask in public settings for the health and safety of our community's most vulnerable."