Ozarks continues to be in the national media spotlight for all the wrong reasons
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) – Tracy Kimberlin and Matt Morrow, leaders of the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, generally like the Ozarks to get free publicity.
But not these days.
National television, digital and print media spotlight southwest Missouri on a daily basis, but they don’t emphasize the scenic beauty, the various forms of entertainment, or the friendliness of its people.
The discussion revolves around the huge increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases brought on by the Delta variant and how the region’s low vaccination rate allows it to grow by leaps and bounds every day.
Many of the mainstream media have published articles on the situation in the Ozarks.
Over the weekend, the Washington Post, one of the nation’s most respected newspapers, headlined, “Delta Variation is ravaging this Missouri (Springfield) town. Many residents are still wary of vaccines. “
The Atlantic, founded in 1857 in Boston, also ventured into the Ozarks for a story titled “The Delta is Ditching a Ditch Across Missouri.”
Last week, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow spent an entire segment of her hour-long show talking about the Ozarks’ COVID-19 wave, pointing out that the Delta variant hails from India.
“This variant is the one that crosses the Ozarks and southwestern Missouri,” she said. “This is a global pandemic. It doesn’t go anywhere until it goes everywhere.
Springfield Mayor Ken McClure, appearing on a nationwide Sunday morning show, warned other cities should prepare for their own outbreaks as well.
Kimberlin and Morrow agreed even though they accepted that Springfield was taking the initial hit in terms of the New Wave and the negative publicity that came with it.
“Someone will always be the first on things that are good and bad when they happen,” Morrow, president and CEO of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. “In that case, a lot of other communities are going to be facing the same thing here very soon. Obviously, right now, it’s shaping people’s opinion of Springfield. I don’t think that’s the sort of thing that five years from now people will think of us as a hotspot for the Delta variant. But the most important thing for people to know is if you watch Springfield take a look at how we approach tough things and how people make the most of a bad situation.
“We have competed with other Springfields across the country for years and years and years,” added Kimberlin, president of the Springfield Visitors and Convention Bureau. “And it’s unfortunate that we were put in the spotlight because of it. But it’s going to spread across the country and we won’t be the last to have epidemics. “
The CVB has definitely been on a roller coaster ride since the pandemic took control of the country in March 2020.
The tourism industry essentially dried up and had just started to recover this spring before the wave threatened to send the industry back to dark days.
“We get calls from people who have conventions scheduled,” Kimberlin said. “We had a few small canceled events. They all had concerns about the variant of the coronavirus. “
The roller coaster comparison also applied to hotel occupancy which had been decimated by the pandemic last summer and last fall to rebound to a record high of 70% last month.
“It’s ironic that our hotels had the worst year they’ve ever had and then had the best year ever,” Kimberlin said. “They were trying to scale up with employees that they had a hard time finding staff. And now we’re living it.
And this new impetus is so threatening that the CVB is currently waving the white flag when it comes to one of its main means of attracting tourists.
“We actually suspended our advertising today,” Kimberlin said. “We think we have to wait a bit before starting over.
The House, for its part, hopes that the bad publicity will not stop the overall process of economic recovery.
“As a community, we’ve had remarkable resilience,” Morrow said. “From an economic development perspective, we have had one of the best years we have ever had in terms of announcements of new projects, new jobs created and expansion of capital investments throughout the region, such as construction and other types of development that are beneficial to all of us. It continued even during those difficult days of last year.
So yes, the latest wave is bringing the Ozarks unwanted national attention.
“I received an email from a man in St. Louis who called us ‘stupid’ because of our low vaccination rates here,” Kimberlin said. “That kind of irritated me and pointed out to him that the vaccination rate in the city of St. Louis is much lower than that in Greene County.”
And officials here are hopeful that the way we deal with this latest wave will change those negative views.
“We need to fix this problem because it is a serious problem in our community,” Morrow said. “The way is through higher levels of immunization. But as we get there, I think at the end of the day we’ll have a good story to tell in Springfield and people will keep coming here.
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