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Aldermen move to close restaurant and bar dining rooms for 15 days due to COVID-19 pandemic

On a night where bars and restaurants around Oxford were primed to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the City of Oxford made a decision that will alter business for the foreseeable future.

During their regular meeting on Tuesday, the Board of Aldermen approved a resolution to declare a civil emergency in the City of Oxford due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The resolution adopts emergency measures, including the closure of all restaurant dining rooms in Oxford, shifting them to utilize drive-thru, curbside pick-up or delivery methods for 15 days. The resolution takes affect at 6 a.m. on March 18 and will run for 15 days, which would conclude on April 2.

This measure includes all bars that serve food as well.

“There is no rule book, obviously and unfortunately,” Mayor Robyn Tannehill said. “The general consensus is that our daily lives have altered, beginning now. Things are changing absolutely by the minute.”

The resolution was presented to the board by Tannehill after she spoke with Dr. Jason Waller, who is the chief of staff at Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi, and said he felt despite Lafayette County not having a confirmed presumptive case, that COVID-19 “is here.”

As of Monday at noon, Lafayette County did not have any presumptive cases, according to Tannehill. She also stated many were “sequestered” and in “isolation” who had been tested for COVID-19 and were awaiting those results.

Mississippi has 21 confirmed presumptive cases of COVID-19, as of Tuesday, out of almost 400 people tested, according to the State Department of Health. The only counties with cases north of Interstate-20 are Leflore with four, and Monroe with one.

Lafayette County supervisor Brent Larson, who is one of the owners of Larson’s CashSaver, was in attendance and asked for a clarification on if the resolution included grocery stores. Tannehill noted the resolution does not include grocery and retail stores, though any store that serves food and offers a dine-in option, such as CashSaver, must only provide take-out options.

Gas stations that serve food and offer a dine-in option, much like the one located at the corner of University Avenue and South Lamar Boulevard, must also enforce the resolution and shift to take-out only.

The City designated parking spots around the Downtown Square as curbside pickup locations as part of their #ServeOxfordSafely initiative. Those locations are near Oxford Grillehouse, Saint Leo, Tallahatchie Gourmet, City Grocery, the old S&J and Cicada, and are marked with a red hood over the parking meter.

To help accommodate the curbside pickup, the Board voted to waive all parking fees during the 15-day period at all off-street lots, metered spots and the first floor of the parking garage. The Board also approved Square restaurants who are utilizing curbside pickup to set up tents at the designated areas, to help with any inclement weather or other issues.

Other options that are included in the resolution include giving Tannehill the authority to close all retail liquor stores and the “discontinuance of intoxicating liquor and/or beer.” The mayor also has the power to order a general curfew to “such geographical areas of the municipality, or to the municipality as a whole” to any days or hours that Tannehill deems necessary.

Neither of those options were discussed during Tuesday’s meeting, and a curfew did not go into effect with the passing of the resolution.