By Alyssa Schnugg
The Oxford Board of Aldermen narrowly passed a mask mandate with a 4 to 3 vote to try to help reduce the stress on Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi.
“Our hospital system, quite honestly, is failing,” said Mayor Robyn Tannehill.
During a special called meeting Tuesday afternoon, Tannehill reported that Baptist declared an internal disaster earlier in the day.
“This allows them to cut documentation time that allows nurses to spend less time on charts and more time on patients,” she said. “It also gives the hospital the ability to adjust policies, roles and procedures.”
The hospital is at max capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tannehill said the city has requested a military mobile hospital to help provide 50 more beds to the hospital that would also come with 35 military medical personnel.
The mask mandate requires everyone 6 and older to wear a mask while inside local businesses and outdoors when social distancing can’t be achieved. The mandate resolution does not have an end date; however, the board will reconsider the mandate weekly.
The motion was made by Alderman Rick Addy who said it’s the only thing he can think of to at least try to help the hospital and its staff.
“If it helps keep one person from dying, then it’s worth it,” he said.
Dissenting votes came from Aldermen Jason Bailey, John Morgan and Mark Huelse, who also expressed concern for the hospital but questioned whether the mask mandate would help or just hurt local businesses.
Tannehill and the other aldermen encouraged citizens to get vaccinated. The city is providing free pop-up vaccination sites. There will be one on Wednesday from 12-5 p.m. at CashSaver and one on the Square every Friday before home game weekends.
Dr. Michael Koury, an ER doctor at Baptist, said the ER is at its “stress point.”
“We’re in a difficult, unprecedented time,” he said. “It’s putting a strain on our hospital and hospitals around the region, state and nation. We’re at max capacity. All other hospitals in the region are also at max capacity. We’ve had a difficult time of getting people with complicated strokes, trauma patients … to a higher level of care where we would normally send them.”
Koury said that while vaccinations are the key to ending the pandemic, wearing masks while indoors and around large gatherings would offer some help.
He also warned that citizens should use extra precautions during their day to avoid being injured.
“Slow down when driving. Be careful when using power tools. Don’t overdrink to the excess that you have to go to the hospital,” he said.
Oxford Police Chief Jeff McCutchen said his department will do its best to enforce the mandate but that it puts stress on the number of calls officers are asked to respond to, especially with Ole Miss football weekend around the corner. From April 2020 through January 2021, he said OPD received more than 10,000 calls about people not wearing a mask. Officers issued about 150 citations from those calls.
Watch the entire Board of Aldermen meeting on the city’s YouTube page.