Springfield and Greene County have scrapped plans for a field hospital to treat new COVID-19 cases, although local officials and Gov. Mike Parson offered different reasons for the decision.
Local health providers asked the state in mid-July for funds to set up an alternative care site at a local hotel, where patients could be treated to free up hospital beds for those in more serious condition.
State officials toured sites on Monday with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a potential conversion and were prepared to open one as soon as next week, Parson said, but hospitalizations in Greene County have stabilized. The seven-day average of new cases has dropped 24% compared to the week before.
While Parson touted the role of other state aid in reducing the need for the alternate care site, the Springfield-Greene County Health Department said local officials withdrew the request because area hospitals had increased their own capacity as they awaited approval from the state.
Officials first submitted their request for the field hospital on July 14 and had to re-apply on July 19.
“While waiting for approval and assistance from the state, our healthcare partners moved forward with addressing the very immediate need by building their own capacity through hiring additional staff and repurposing existing spaces,” Springfield-Greene County health director Katie Towns said Thursday. “Because this additional capacity allows us to address our current surge, and knowing that an alternate care site was at least another week away from being operational, there is no longer an immediate need for an alternate care site.”
Data from the Springfield-Greene County Health Department shows the rate of hospitalizations slowing in the past week.
But the number hospitalized remains at the highest ever, and executives of two southwest Missouri hospitals late on Thursday said they were rising. COVID-19 patients at Mercy Hospital Joplin, which is not in Greene County, reached a new record high on Thursday, president Jeremy Drinkwitz said on Twitter. At Mercy Hospital Springfield, chief administrative officer Erik Federick said the number of patients was “trending back up.”
“This decision was not made in response to falling cases or hospitalizations,” Towns said.
There are signs the outbreak is spreading northward, with cases rising in the Lake of the Ozarks area.
Last week, the state sent ambulances, medical personnel and other requested aid to Springfield as southwest Missouri continues to deal with the aggressive delta variant. The state contracted with Arkansas to send 10 “ambulance strike teams” which transported 87 COVID patients to hospitals as far as four hours away.
It also helped set up an antibody infusion center, where patients from around the southwest Missouri region were able to avoid hospitalization by being treated with monoclonal antibodies, proteins that help the body fight off the virus. The center has treated 88 patients in the past week, according to Parson’s office.
Those efforts “created additional capacity” in Greene County, Towns said.
“The Delta variant remains a very serious concern, and our response efforts continue across Missouri,” Parson said in a statement. “We applaud these public servants for their tireless efforts and remind everyone to take COVID-19 seriously. Vaccinations are free, readily available, and the best way to combat this deadly disease.”
Vaccinations are on the uptick in Missouri, though the total share of the population completing vaccination (41%) remains well below levels needed to fully contain the virus.
Parson unveiled an incentive program last week that will allow 900 vaccinated Missourians to win $10,000 in cash or college scholarships each. As of Thursday, 295,000 have signed up, according to health department spokeswoman Lisa Cox. It is not yet clear how many have already received a vaccine.