By Alyssa Schnugg
On March 19, 2020, the Mississippi State Department of Health announced the first positive case of COVID-19 in Lafayette County.
“We knew it was coming,” Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill told Hotty Toddy News this morning.
Known then as the Wuhan coronavirus, or nCov, there were 8,200 cases worldwide and only five cases in the U.S. in February 2020.
More cases would continue to pop up around the country over the next several weeks, and on March 11 MSDH announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Mississippi.
“We were just waiting at that point,” Tannehill said. “But our Emergency Management Coordinator Jimmy Allgood has started preparing us back in January (2020).”
In February 2020, the city adopted an infectious diseases manual that laid out the plans for every city department from light- to medium- to high-threat level.
“So we knew what the trigger points were to move from – OK, now everyone works from home, or now we put these protective requirements in place,” Tannehill said.
For the next three months, people shuttered in their homes. Schools closed and many businesses shut their doors, leaving hundreds of people out of work.
Restaurants and other businesses, not considered “essential,” were allowed to offer curbside pickup and delivery options – a move that allowed businesses to stay afloat.
“We have made decisions over the past year with the best information we had that day, and it has been a very fluid situation and we have tried to be fluid with all of our decision making,” Tannehill said. “Would have three meetings in a week because that’s how quickly the information we were getting was coming in.”
Throughout the year, the mandates would gradually lessen; however, the mask mandate stayed in place until just three weeks ago.
Take a look back at 2020 here.
One year later, all capacity restrictions for businesses are now gone; although many have elected to continue to require employees and/or customers to wear masks.
Today, Lafayette County has had a total of 5,866 cases of COVID-19, and 114 people have lost their lives to the virus in Oxford and Lafayette County, with about half of the deaths occurring in long-term care facilities.
As of Tuesday, more than 22,000 Lafayette County residents have received the COVID-19 vaccination.
Some of the programs and policies put into place to help businesses stay open are still in place, including outdoor dining and free parking on the Square on Tuesdays.
Shortly after the pandemic hit Oxford, the Oxford Board of Aldermen began live streaming city meetings. Tannehill said that will also continue.
“You hear people say, ‘I can’t wait to get back to normal,’” Tannehill said. “We want to be better. We want to be more equitable and more sustainable, more resilient. And I think that we are, and I think our outdoor dining is a good example of that.”
Tannehill said Oxford is better prepared for any future pandemics or major challenges the city may face.
“I believe that from an emergency management standpoint, we’ve become more effective and efficient,” she said. “We have learned how to distribute things to all of our community in a quick way. We’ve learned to communicate in nontraditional ways. We saw what some of our weak points were. We saw some of the challenges that our citizens are facing that perhaps we haven’t addressed fully and now we have a better idea of how to address those.”
While the rate of new cases continues to decrease across the state and here locally, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs reminded Mississippians Friday that all was not yet clear, and there is still an ever-changing threat in our communities.
Today, on the one-year anniversary of Lafayette County’s first case being confirmed, the MSDH announced the first case of a new variant of COVID-19 has been found in Mississippi.
The new strain – B.1.351 – originated in South Africa and has been found in 25 states across the county.
The biggest concern is that the variant may impact the effectiveness of vaccines. Dobbs says the strain appears to be more contagious than the original COVID-19 virus.
“It’s a strong reminder that we are not out of this,” Dobbs said.
He urged everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to continue practicing social distancing and wearing masks.