The following is a transcript of an interview with Springfield, Missouri, Mayor Ken McClure that aired on Sunday, July 18, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
JOHN DICKERSON: We go now to Ken McClure, the mayor of Springfield, Missouri, where cases have skyrocketed, driven by the spread of the Delta variant. Good morning, Mr. Mayor.
SPRINGFIELD MAYOR KEN MCCLURE: Good morning, thank you for having me.
JOHN DICKERSON: In your community, the two largest hospitals are maxed out. One of them, the CEO of the hospital, tweeted that he was pleading with people so that nurses would have to stop zipping body bags. How did it come to this?
MAYOR MCCLURE I think there are several reasons for Springfield as a hub. We are an attraction for tourism, we are an attraction for transportation, for business, for higher education and certainly health care. So, people come to Springfield to shop to do business. And so, people will come here. And I think that has greatly increased our exposure, compounded with what has been already indicated on misinformation.
JOHN DICKERSON: What kinds of misinformation are you seeing in your community?
MAYOR MCCLURE: I think we are seeing a lot spread through social media as people are talking about fears which they have health related fears, what it might do to them later on in their lives, what might be contained in the vaccinations. And that information is just incorrect. And I think we as a society and certainly in our community are being hurt by it.
JOHN DICKERSON: There’s been a conversation throughout this pandemic about information that comes from the top down and information that comes in the community, which is why we wanted to talk to you. What is the most effective work that’s going on there on the ground to address those who are vaccine hesitant?
MAYOR MCCLURE: We are a community of collaboration. Nothing really of substance gets done in Springfield without a lot of people talking about it. And so, we’re focusing on those trusted community leaders, those trusted community institutions. And we know that if it comes from the community and leaders of people trust that that helps. The Springfield news later this morning had a great article focusing on several community leaders who had taken the vaccine, why they were encouraging it. So, we are working with so many entities to try to spread the word. And these are trusted sources. And I think that’s a key to what we have to do to overcome this.
JOHN DICKERSON: How about in the churches? The pastors- there’s been- pastors have been talking about it, haven’t they?
MAYOR MCCLURE: The pastors have been a great help through this. We had established in April a year ago what we call the Have Faith initiative, which at its peak had 80 to 100 different churches across denominational lines. We’ve had several of our largest churches, including the pastors in the last week or ten days, stepping up from the pulpit and urging that their congregations get vaccinated. Churches have been stepping up to host vaccination clinics, and the key is faith leaders are trusted. People respect those who with whom they worship their worship leaders. And so we are relying upon those trusted entities. And we had just this past week, for example, the latest numbers showing that we had the largest increase in our vaccination rate in several weeks. And so I’m optimistic that that message is starting to take hold right now.
JOHN DICKERSON: How about- there’s another somewhat mildly controversial issue about going door to door to get the information to people who may not get this kind of accurate information you were talking about? How has that worked in your community?
MAYOR MCCLURE: Well, I think the whole discussion and going door to door has been overblown, I will tell you that public health has been using the Doda going door to door philosophy for years. It has been a tried-and-true practice which they use our Springfield Greene County Public Health Department is using it, has been using it for a long time. But the key is that these are trusted community people. We call them community advocates. So, it gets down to the people that community members will trust, the spreading information that is factual and trustworthy.
JOHN DICKERSON: And how has the community in the past, there have been instances where a community faced with a challenge like this unifies. But we’ve seen so much disunity in America in some of these questions related to the coronavirus. How has the reaction been in this most recent wave, as you’ve seen the Delta variant come through Springfield?
MAYOR MCCLURE: The most recent wave, in my opinion, has been very positive because we’re talking about community collaboration and that ultimately is going to be the key to our success. We know what the solution is. It’s vaccination. People need to get it. It’s readily available. We have so many sites that can provide that service. The age groups are now all encompassing down to age 12. So, it gets down to the community leaders, the community institutions that people trust, saying you have to get vaccination. That’s the only way that we are going to emerge from this.
JOHN DICKERSON: You mentioned the school. Springfield is the home to the- to the largest school district in the state. As I understand it, mass mandates have come back for the summer. What do you think about mandatory vaccinations for the fall when they go back to school?
MAYOR MCCLURE: Well, mandatory vaccinations are going to be a very, very touchy issues, particularly as you get into publicly funded institutions. Some private institutions are doing that. I know our school district is strongly encouraging that vaccinations occur. They’ll be doing that, I think, as students come back in the fall and to urge their parents to do that. But I have every confidence that the Springfield Public School District will take the appropriate steps to make sure students are as safe as can be. I know they want to focus on in-person learning and I believe that they’ll be able to do that.
JOHN DICKERSON: A number of other counties in Missouri have low vaccination rates. What would you advise the mayors and leaders in those counties who haven’t yet experienced what you’re going through? What would your message to them be?
MAYOR MCCLURE: My message is that the surge is coming. The Delta variant will be there. It’s going to spread. It’s already spreading throughout Missouri. Take advantage of this time to get your vaccination rates up as high as you can. Use your community collaboration, your trusted sources, make sure that people have good information, solid information, and use that time wisely because it will be too late if you have not established those relationships by the time that it gets there. But the surge will spread. And so hopefully people can learn what we’ve been experiencing here in Springfield.
JOHN DICKERSON:Mayor Ken McClure, we thank you very much for being with us this morning. Good luck in your community. Thanks again.