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Oxford Aldermen Lessen Some Restrictions as COVID-19 Numbers Increase

By Alyssa Schnugg
News editor

The Oxford Board of Aldermen voted Friday during a special meeting to make revisions to the city’s Serving Oxford Safely, A Recovery Plan Phase II, lessening some restrictions by adopting Gov. Tate Reeves’ latest Executive Orders 1495 and 1496.

Prior to going over the proposed changes, Emergency Management Coordinator Jimmy Allgood updated the board on the current COVID-19 numbers for Lafayette County. Due to technical issues at the Mississippi State Department of Health, numbers have not been updated for the last two days.

As of Wednesday, Lafayette County had 160 total cases since March.

“About 28 are active cases,” Allgood said.

Mayor Robyn Tannehill said a rise in the number of cases was not “unexpected” with businesses reopening and University of Mississippi students returning to Oxford.

Tannehill said she spoke to Bill Henning, CEO of Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi, who said the hospital has seen an increase in hospitalizations of patients with the virus.

“He said it is not to any level that alarms them and they have plenty of capacity,” she said. “But for weeks as we saw an increase in cases daily, we did not see increases in hospitalizations and that is changing.”

Two local restaurants, Jinsei and Volta, announced they were closing for a few days due to employees testing positive for COVID-19.

“I’ve also received several phone calls over the last few days about students who have had large gatherings and now are seeing increases in that age group,” Tannehill said.

On Wednesday, the University of Mississippi announced two employees recently tested positive. Earlier this month, UM announced an employee and student tested positive.

“As people let their guard down, and not wear their masks and practice social distancing, this virus is continuing to spread,” Tannehill said. “We are just not at the end.”

Tannehill said the area’s numbers could be falsely lower since students who are here in Oxford are tested, the results are showing up in their home states or counties.

“I’m not sure how reliable the numbers are,” she said. “We still really don’t have an accurate number here.”

However, despite the increases, the Board made some changes to its reopening plan that mostly coincide with Reeves’ latest orders, including allowing bars to close at 1 a.m., rather than at 10 p.m.

Alderman John Morgan said since restaurants and bars are required to remain at 50 percent capacity, he didn’t see where closing at 1 a.m. Rather than at 10 p.m. would have negative consequences.

“Actually, people are leaving the Square at 10 p.m. and having parties where they’re all together in small places,” he said. “At least at the bar, there is some type of supervision (of social distancing).”

The Board also voted to allow gyms to operate with one employee to every 10 clients, where it was previously one to eight; opened pavilions at city parks and allowed pools with a lifeguard to have up to 100 people. Pools without a lifeguard are still mandated to remain below 50 people.

The Board briefly discussed the requirement of face coverings.

Morgan suggested lifting the requirement in non-essential businesses and leaving it for essential businesses.

“Since wearing the masks are for the other person, it should be a business’ choice to require them,” he said. “If it’s a nonessential business, then a person can choose not to go into that business if there’s a sign that says ‘Masks are not required.’”

Alderman Janice Antonow said she felt it was too early to remove the requirement with cases going up in Oxford and around the country.

“I think it’s critical we keep it in place,” she said.

The Board decided to discuss the face-covering requirement in place and bring it back up for discussion during their regular meeting at 5 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.

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