SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The bearded man in a t-shirt and jeans, leaving his house one morning last week, nodded politely as Annaliese Schroeder handed him a door tag.
She told him the Springfield-Greene County Health Department was holding a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at nearby Dickerson Park Zoo in two days. It was free. Did he have any questions?
He didn't. He took the door tag, thanked Schroeder and continued on his way.
When a reporter followed up, he was dismissive.
"Nah, I'm not getting vaccinated," he said, declining an interview request.
Schroeder, a community health advocate for the department, and her colleague Kelsey Conner, a public health information specialist, split up a stack of handouts. They continued their morning canvass in a neighborhood of modest one-story homes near the city's northern edge.
This is door-to-door outreach in the age of COVID. For all the alarming images conjured by critics — federal agents dispatched to "compel vaccination," as Missouri Gov. Mike Parson put it, "Beijing-style surveillance," according to Sen. Josh Hawley, and "KGB style" efforts to "knock down your door," as Rep. Jason Smith wrote on Twitter — the reality is much more mundane. It is rarely confrontational or insistent. "No" is always taken for an answer.
Those who open their doors are greeted by a woman in her 20s holding nothing but a door tag. The script is simple: a brief spiel about an upcoming clinic, the door tag and a handful of gentle questions. Do you want information about the clinic? Do you know someone who does? Do you have any questions about other clinics, or the vaccines?
The entire interaction can take less than 30 seconds. But the soft-sell belies the urgency of the effort.
Springfield hospitals are buckling under a weeks-long surge in COVID-19 cases, driven by the more contagious delta variant. The health department has asked the state for aid to set up field hospital beds. Missouri, along with Arkansas, Florida and Texas, have generated 40% of the nation's new cases. The state's epidemiologist has warned that the unvaccinated are at risk of getting sick themselves, and of allowing the virus to mutate into new variants and spread further.