By Anna Kate Boyd
Within one night of the Oxford board of alderman’s decision to endorse the lifting of the state’s mask mandate, many popular bars on the Oxford Square made public announcements on social media stating that they would fully reopen with no limits on capacity and closing time.
Rooftop Bar “Roosters” posted on Instagram stating, “Fully open as of tomorrow… come hang with us until 1:00 a.m.”
Many other bars, including The Library, Tangos, and Rafters, have since had covers up to $100 for entry and allowed people to crowd in shoulder to shoulder. A video posted on @barstoololemiss featured the Roundtable balcony packed with college students dancing to party music only one day after the mandate was lifted.
While Funky’s on the Square never made a public announcement referring to the lifted restrictions, bouncer Reid Brown stated that the newfound freedom has already changed the atmosphere for the better.
“Everyone is excited to be able to move around the bar, mingle with friends, dance… I expect an increase in business simply because of the fact that we can allow more people to enter,” said Brown.
According to Brown, the new mandate is somewhat difficult for management and employees. However, Funky’s is excited to bring in more business and lessen restrictions.
“We want our customers to enjoy themselves in a safe environment. We don’t have to be as strict about what our customers are doing inside the bar, but we are still having the employees wear masks to avoid any internal issues with the virus,” Brown said.
However, some other businesses in the community will not be operating under lessened restrictions and will continue to require masks upon entry.
Stephanie Messer, an employee at Oxford Cryotherapy, believes that removing the state mandate was a terrible mistake and too soon of a decision. The health service will not be changing any of its COVID safe practices that have been in place due to the desire to protect themselves along with their customers.
“I think removing the state mandate is a terrible mistake,” said Messer. “I think it’s totally a move to garner favor and not because it is in the best interest of the people. I only hope that the choice doesn’t lead to another uptick in deaths. But what is another human life compared to being able to have a party again?” stated Messer.
According to The New York Times (as of March 9), “Cases have decreased over the past two weeks but are still very high. The number of hospitalized Covid patients has also fallen in the Lafayette County area, but I.C.U. occupancy is still very high. Deaths have remained at about the same level. The test positivity rate in Lafayette County is relatively low, suggesting that testing capacity is meeting current demand.”
Messer’s primary concern for the business in light of Governor Reeves’s announcement is that some conflicts may arise with clients.
“My only worry is having clients who try to challenge the mask rule when they enter. Before, I could use the state mandate as backup when asking people to comply. But now that it might be a rule we enforce by ourselves as a business, I’m worried people might be more aggressive in their refusal and it lead to conflicts.”
Some University of Mississippi students have expressed similar concerns to Messer.
Even though campus guidelines remain in place, with the university continuing to require masks within buildings and at events, Junior Jarret Owen believes that state restrictions were lifted too soon, and not enough vaccines have been administered.
“It concerns me because even though many people have already received the vaccine, it will still take a long time for it to be safe to go out without masks,” said Owen. “Students are going to be able to go to bars and parties without any restrictions.”
Although over one million vaccines have been distributed throughout the state, Mississippi nevertheless is ranked #46 in the nation for doses administered, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.
“I think the atmosphere in Oxford is going to become more similar to how it was before COVID,” said Owen.
The University of Mississippi will wait until the Fall 2021 semester to return to full in-person operations, despite the relaxed restrictions. Governor Reeves has yet to make a statement about what steps the state will take if COVID cases spike again.