Route 66 Festival canceled amid COVID-19 surge in Missouri

Andrew Sullender
Springfield News-Leader

The Birthplace of Route 66 Festival will be canceled for the second time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As southwest Missouri remains one of the nation’s COVID-19 hot spots, the annual festival scheduled for Aug. 13 and 14 was canceled Monday for fear of causing local hospitals to push past their capacity. 

“The steering committee that includes a stakeholder group, voted unanimously to cancel the festival amid the surge in COVID-19, which is a direct result of Delta variant cases,” said City Manager Jason Gage at Monday night’s City Council meeting.  

“The festival is just too large and draws too many people from around the world, and the group really did not feel like they could take a chance if it overwhelmed our hospitals or contributed to the spread of the horrible variant when we know that our hospitals are just about at their peak level of occupancy.”  

Assistant Director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department Katie Towns told the council that local hospitals could reach the end of their capacity as soon as next week.   

David Eslick, one of the founders of the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival, talks about the annual event's return in August.

“This is an all-time high. This rate of severe illness is worse than anything we've seen,” Towns said.   

More:Greene County's COVID-19 cases up 44%; Missouri cases surge 49.4%

“Our hospitals are also telling us that they are seeing more severe illness and younger people in our community, contradicting the assumption held by some that COVID-19 only impacts the old or the unhealthy.”  

According to Towns, Greene County is reporting an average of 165 COVID cases per day, compared to 116 two weeks ago. There are 226 people hospitalized in Greene County, 98 patients in critical care, and 58 on ventilators, according to Towns.  

Councilman Craig Hosmer said he was “shocked” that so many people refused the vaccine, saying he was “disappointed in this community.”  

“We should be happy and proud that we developed this [vaccine] as quickly as we did and we’ve given people the opportunity to be vaccinated against something that needs to be dealt with,” Hosmer said. “I know that there are a lot of people that didn't like the mask mandate and I understand that. But if you don't like the mask mandate, the first thing you should do is vaccinate.” 

City Council had scheduled on Monday a vote that would have added an extra day to the festival and hired a band for the “Rockin’ the Route 66” concert. 

More:Springfield hospitals struggle with staffing, ventilators as COVID-19 surge continues

Councilman Richard Ollis said that "since we've canceled the Route 66 Festival, I guess we don't need a band." 

Springfield Mayor Ken McClure talks about the return of the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival in August.

At a council meeting two weeks ago, Director of Public Engagement Cora Scott promised that the festival would be “far above what we’ve had in the past.” 

She expected 70,000 to participate in total and that more than 10,000 people could be expected for the kickoff concert. 

More than 450 classic cars had registered for the car show, which Scott said was more than had ever signed up this far in advance. 

Car show participants can request refunds or allow their registration to roll over to 2022. Those who registered with cash or check can email to request a refund. Those who registered online can receive a refund at the event’s Eventbrite page