By Alyssa Schnugg
Oxford residents need to continue to wear face masks and practice social distancing or risk city leaders making decisions to implement more restrictions as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in Lafayette County.
On Monday during a special meeting, the Oxford Board of Aldermen agreed to keep the face-covering mandates in place for an undetermined amount of time, requiring them to be worn by employees and customers in retails stores and restaurants, except when eating.
According to Oxford Emergency Management Coordinator Jimmy Allgood, Lafayette County has had a total of 323 cases since March, with 67 active cases currently, according to data provided by the Mississippi State Department of Health. However, those numbers are provided 10 to 14 days after the person has tested positive.
“Of the three new cases reported (by MSDH) Sunday, two of those have already rolled off as active,” Allgood said.
“The biggest issue is in trying to identify trends,” said Mayor Robyn Tannehill during the meeting. “We’re trying to analyze data that is 14 days old and that’s too late.”
The city is now receiving data from several local medical clinics that reported 125 positive cases in the last week.
Many of the positive cases being reported by the Oxford medical clinics are patients whose main residency is outside of Oxford and/or Mississippi.
“Many are (University of Mississippi) students or people who are living here temporarily,” Tannehill said.
In April, 1 to 2 percent of the tests being done came back positive.
“Now, we are seeing 16.6 percent being positive,” Tannehill said.
Tannehill said she believes the restrictions in place in Oxford worked to flatten the curve in April.
“We know what works. We’ve seen it work,” she said. “In April, everyone stepped up and said ‘We’re going to knock this down.’ We’re not seeing that anymore.”
Tannehill said hospitalizations at Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi have increased as well, although the hospital reported they are not yet at a critical stage. In March and April, about 1 to 2 percent of patients had COVID-19.
“They are now at 10 percent a day,” she said. “It’s still not frightening, but you can see the upward trend.”
The board agreed to continue the face coverings and watch the number of positive cases and hospitalizations over the coming days.
Alderman Janice Antonow suggested reducing the number of large gatherings from 50 indoors (if social distancing is possible) back down to 20 and closing bars at 10 p.m. again like they were during April under Phase 1 of the city’s “Serving Oxford Safely-A Recovery Plan.”
Oxford Police Chief Jeff McCutchen asked that before the board considers changing the restrictions, he be allowed to work with his officers to crack down on enforcement of the city’s mask and social distancing mandates in restaurants and businesses and see if increased enforcement could help bring the numbers of positive cases down.
“Let us work on a strategy and be more proactive on writing citations and then if that doesn’t help they’ve forced our hands,” McCutchen said.
The board agreed to allow McCutchen to report back to the Board on Monday, July 6.