By Alyssa Schnugg
Restaurants in Oxford will now be able to stay open until 11 p.m. on home football game weekends.
On Tuesday, the Oxford Board of Aldermen voted during a special called meeting to keep the original 10 p.m. closing time in place. However, in a second vote, the Board approved allowing restaurants to stay open for an extra hour on game day weekends.
Earlier this week, the New York Times published a list entitled, “Where the Outbreak is Worst Now,” that depicted Oxford as being No. 3 in the nation in terms of COVID-19 case hot spot relative to population size.
During the meeting, Alderman Janice Antonow asked Emergency Management Coordinator Jimmy Allgood if he agreed with the New York Times’ information.
“Yes, as far as hot spots go and based on population,” he said. “The state overall is going down, but we as a county are going up.”
Allgood said that in the last 15 days, Oxford and Lafayette County have gained 614 new cases.
“That is 34% of our total cases since March,” he said.
As of Tuesday, there have been 1,791 cases in Lafayette County since March.
Contact tracing has shown that much of the increase in positive cases have come from large, social gatherings and are not being traced back to restaurants, according to conversations with the Mississippi State Dept of Health and from local clinic directors and physicians, Tannehill said.
Tannehill told Hottytoddy.com prior to the meeting on Tuesday that full-time residents and businesses have done an “incredible job” since March in being diligent in following the safety protocols in place.
“This has kept our positive case numbers manageable for our health care system … A month ago, Baptist was reporting about an average of 50 patients a day that were COVID patients. They are averaging around 20 a day this week,” she said.
Tannehill said during the meeting that she had spoken with Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi officials who reported that the majority of new cases have not required hospitalizations.
“We have 24 beds in our ICU and as of today, we had 10 people in ICU, six with COVID-19,” she said. “We have a total of 181 staffed beds in the hospital and as of today, 65 are available. There are 29 people in the hospital with COVID-19. Overall, hospitalizations for COVID-19 are down, and I think that is a direct correlation to the age group where we are seeing the large increases.”
Tannehill also said Chancellor Glenn Boyce called her Tuesday to discuss recent Bid Day activities on campus, where social media posts have shown large groups of students in close contact while not wearing masks. Tannehill claimed Boyce admitted that a university official granted permission for the Bid Day activities to happen.
“He was just sick that it happened,” she said. “The University is a great partner to us, but unfortunately, they dropped the ball on this one.”
According to Charlotte Pegues, Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, the fraternities received guidance from a staff member in Student Affairs that allowed new members to arrive and exit dinner in shifts so that they could coordinate a group photo in front of their chapter houses before dispersing.
“While masks were required, the guidance included the option to remove masks momentarily for a photo,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “Members of our Student Affairs staff will review approval processes so that this type of guidance is not provided again.”
Tannehill stated that she did not think imposing further restrictions on businesses and citizens would help curb an increase in cases. In her opinion, stopping the spread will come down to young people taking the virus seriously and following mandates in place. She pointed out that 26 veterans died in recent weeks at the Oxford Veterans Home.
“We’re not worried about numbers increasing,” she said. “We care about our people … We need everyone to care.”
The Oxford Police Department has issued 42 citations since August to people and businesses violating city ordinances in regard to gatherings, including 11 over the Labor Day weekend.
The board is developing ways for restaurants to offer more outdoor dining, including blocking off several parking spots around the Square and allowing restaurants to put tables and chairs in nearby alleys.
On Tuesday, State Health Official Thomas Dobbs reported the one person under the age of 20 has died from COVID-19, and that Mississippi counties with universities, like Lafayette County, are the only counties to see a rise in cases recently.
“We’ve seen that 62 counties are shrinking in their number of new cases,” he said. “Twenty have increased. In Lafayette County and Oktibbeha County, they have the distinction of having major universities. We’ll certainly continue to watch that closely and continue to work with those leaders to fight coronavirus in our universities.”
Also on Tuesday, the Board approved extending the suspension of the city’s ordinance to allow restaurants and businesses to have additional signage to promote curbside and outdoor dining options.
Director of mTrade Park Brad Freeman also reported that only 25-30 tickets will be issued per team during tournaments, which will max out the number of spectators at 240 per quad.