By Alyssa Schnugg
Walkers using the inside walking track at the Ulysses “Coach” Howell Activity Center can now choose to go mask-less.
On Tuesday, the Oxford Board of Aldermen voted 4 to 3 to allow a 2-hour period each day for people who choose to walk around the track without wearing a mask.
The mask-less time will be 2 to 4 p.m. each weekday.
Aldermen Rick Addy made the motion for the mask-less time period saying he had been approached by people who use the walking track to exercise but had a hard time doing so while wearing a mask.
“They noticed the people playing pickleball not having to wear a mask,” he said at the meeting.
Aldermen Janice Antonow was one of the three dissenting votes.
“Masks serve a purpose,” she said. “Pickleball players are far apart and separated by the net. People who are walking around the track pass each other, they’re breathing, heaving and breathing on you.”
The walking track is available for people to walk in one-hour time slots from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Those choosing to walk from 9 to 2 p.m. will be required to wear a mask.
Alderman Mark Huelse seconded the motion. Aldermen John Morgan and Jason Bailey voted in favor of the two-hour no-mask period while Aldermen Antonow, Preston Taylor and Kesha Howell-Atkinson voted against the motion.
Oxford Park Commission Director Seth Gaines said the two last hours of the day – 2 to 4 p.m. – are generally the least busy time for walkers on the track.
Earlier in the meeting, Mayor Robyn Tannehill and Emergency Management Coordinator Jimmy Allgood gave an overview update on COVID-19 in Lafayette County.
Tannehill reported that at Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi in Oxford as of Tuesday, there were 51 people in the hospital with COVID-19 and of the 181 staffed beds, 22 were open. In the ICU, there were 11 people with COVID-19 and out of the 24 ICU beds, four where open.
“That’s the least number of available ICU beds I’ve seen since we’ve been tracking and the highest ICU numbers,” she said.
Allgood said that while active cases were at 400 Tuesday, he was seeing a downward trend in the last few days after a spike in active cases last week.
“We did see an increase last week, but we’re starting to see a drop now,” he said.
Allgood said an average of 400 vaccinations were being given daily in Lafayette County at the National Guard Armory.
“Some of those are coming from outside of Lafayette County,” he said. “But we are getting a lot of our population (vaccinated).”
Allgood said he expects to see a downward trend of positive cases in about four to six weeks due to the vaccinations going on across the state.