By Alyssa Schnugg
As 2021 ushered in a year ago, there was hope that something other than COVID-19 would dominate local headlines.
Cases were going down and mask mandates were being tossed. Kids returned to school in person and in-person events were being planned once again.
Vaccinations were steadily becoming available for everyone, starting with the most vulnerable and eventually children, 5 and up.
Then Delta hit in the summer and COVID-19 was back to being “trending.” Oxford’s hospital was full and mask mandates were put back in place.
However, since people now had the option of vaccinations, local leaders kept businesses open and local government departments working.
Just as the virus died down once again in the LOU community in the fall, the arrival of Omicron is making sure COVID-19 stays the top story of 2021.
In 2021, Hotty Toddy News published approximately 465 stories involving COVID-19.
Here is a look back on COVID-19 in the LOU community in 2021.
The vaccination became available for people over 75 years old in early January; however, supplies were limited with just 3,500 available in the state. The state ran out of vaccinations by mid-January.
More were made available and soon people 65 and older and those with certain health conditions could now register to get the shot.
The Mississippi State Department of Health opened a vaccination site at the Oxford Conference Center that had lines wrapped around the building for several weeks.
The Oxford-Lafayette Chamber of Commerce held a flash drive asking residents to donate water and snacks to the health care workers and Mississippi National Guardsman who were working at the site. Two SUVs filled with snacks and drinks arrived two days later to the vaccination site.
Cases of COVID-19 were starting to decrease in February; however, out of precaution, the folks at Visit Oxford announced the Double Decker Arts Festival would be canceled.
On March 1, the state announced that vaccinations would be expanded to include, preschool workers, teachers, school staff and all first responders.
A week later, the mask mandate in Oxford was lifted by the Board of Aldermen; however, schools were still required to use masks via Gov. Tate Reeve’s Executive Order. Other remaining restrictions on Oxford businesses were also lifted, including capacity limitations.
By mid-March, all Mississippians 18 and older could receive a vaccination.
Fewer COVID-19-related headlines popped up in April and May as the number of new classes locally declined.
The NCAA announced that masks and social distancing at baseball and softball tournaments would not be required and seating capacity would not be limited.
Mississippi’s vaccination rates were slower than health officials wanted. The state had to return almost 10,000 unused vials that expired. Lafayette County was one of the state’s most vaccinated with about 45 percent of the county having received at least one dose by the end of May.
Then Delta showed up.
By the end of June, the MSDH started issuing warnings that the Delta variant had arrived in Mississippi and that the strain was more contagious than the original. It appeared to also be affecting children more than the alpha strain.
However, no cases of the Delta strain had been reported by the end of June in Lafayette County; however, that was about to change quickly.
By the middle of July, cases of COVID-19 were back on the rise in Lafayette County and by July 22, the MSDH said all new cases were of the Delta strain and recommended masks be worn by students and teachers in all school settings.
By the end of July, that recommendation changed to say that all Mississippians should wear masks in public once again.
However, on July 27, the Oxford School District approved its Back-to-School plan that made wearing a mask optional. That too would change in August when the district implemented its mask mandate for all students and teachers.
In early August, the Board of Aldermen voted to require masks for everyone inside city-owned buildings.
The city also started providing “pop-up” vaccination sites on the downtown Square that would continue and expand to other locations throughout the fall.
By the end of August, the Board of Aldermen voted to expand the mask requirement to all public places to help reduce the stress on Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi that reported it was at full capacity, causing the hospital to declare an “internal disaster.”
The mask mandate required everyone 6 and older to wear a mask while inside local businesses and outdoors when social distancing can’t be achieved.
Oxford School District extended its mask mandate into September and the Lafayette County School District reviewed cases weekly and if a school had a moderate to high case level, masks would be required for that week.
The University of Mississippi started the fall semester with a mask mandate in place. The mandate remained in place as of today.
By the end of September, it appeared the Delta variant was releasing its grip in Lafayette County and on Sept. 28, the Board of Aldermen voted to end the city-wide mask mandate and the Oxford School District removed its mask mandate in late October.
Life started to return back to “normal,” with masks being tossed aside, vaccinations numbers were up around the state. Home football games helped the local economy bounce back to life.
The holidays were around the corner and plenty of events were planned around Oxford to help usher in the Christmas spirit.
While folks geared up to welcome in 2022, Omicron reared its head in Mississippi.
Just a few days after Christmas, the MSDH announced a sharp increase in new cases, hospitalizations and outbreaks. The omicron variant now accounts for 13 percent of COVID-19 cases in the state, the health department. From Dec. 21-27, Mississippi saw an 80 percent jump in new cases and 161 more hospitalizations when compared to the previous week, MSDH said.
According to state health officials, most new COVID-19-related deaths in the state are between the ages of 50 and 65 and there has been a number of children admitted to ICUs around the state with the omicron variant.