Health Department Assistant Director Katie Towns says increased efforts are underway to combat the spread of COVID-19.
SBJ photo by Geoff Pickle
Health Department Assistant Director Katie Towns says increased efforts are underway to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Health Department seeks to beef up staff as COVID-19 spreads

Posted online

The Springfield-Greene County Health Department plans to ask City Council for permission to increase its staffing as COVID-19 continues to spread locally.

Speaking at a livestreamed council luncheon yesterday, Health Department Assistant Director Katie Towns said a request for 37 contract employees would go before the governing body at its July 13 meeting.

The Health Department would cover an estimated $2.2 million in expenses for the hires, said spokesperson Kathryn Wall. The council measure would be an emergency one-reading bill, she said, noting the expenses would be paid for from department funding that hasn’t been spent elsewhere.

Towns said the Health Department’s 110 employees have been stretched thin taking on COVID-19 case work in addition to their usual responsibilities.

"We continue to be short staffed ... to adequately respond to the large numbers of increased cases as well as fulfill those normal departmental duties," she told council members.

The contract positions would be for disease investigators, laboratory scientists and communications department workers, Towns said. Wall added the positions would be temporary, but there's no set timeline on their expiration.

At the council luncheon, Towns reported a daily record 35 new COVID-19 cases in Greene County within the prior 24 hours. She said 28 people currently are hospitalized with the virus, including six who are in intensive care. Comparatively, eight people were hospitalized with COVID-19 at the same time last month, she said.

As of this morning, there have been 396 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Greene County during the pandemic, according to the Health Department's coronavirus dashboard.

In a news release issued by the city, CoxHealth President and CEO Steve Edwards said there was a 43% increase in positive lab results last week. Wall said the Health Department lab and local health care partners administered 709 tests June 22-July 1 and 1,671 tests during the entire month of June.

“Combined with high prevalence in our surrounding catchment area, rapidly growing prevalence in Greene County and strained regional hospitals, we believe we are at our triggering point,” Edwards said in the release. “Most of our indicators have increased by nearly 50% in the past two weeks. We have gone from four inpatients to 17 in the past week.”

Council members yesterday were provided a memo and white paper from the Health Department laying out evidence of face masks as viable tools to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Council is scheduled to consider a masking ordinance at its July 13 meeting.

Health Department Director Clay Goddard previously told council at its June 29 meeting that he was working on a face mask ordinance to present.

“People are tired of COVID-19. We want our normal lives back,” he said last month. “The only problem is, and I can assure you this, the virus is not done with us.”