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Board of Aldermen vote to open restaurant dining rooms, salons and barbershops with restrictions

Oxford restaurants will be able to open their doors to the public next week, after dining rooms were closed for nearly two months.

During a special meeting called on Saturday, the Board of Aldermen voted to reopen dining rooms while following strict guidelines in accordance with Governor Tate Reeves’ executive order 1480 and the “Serving Oxford Safely” Phase I recovery plan. The Board also voted in a sixth COVID-19 emergency resolution, which includes their latest revisions.

The vote was 4-3 in favor with Aldermen Janice Antonow, Kesha Howell-Atkinson and Preston Taylor as the dissenting votes.

Restaurants across Mississippi were allowed to reopen their dining rooms under strict guidelines on May 7, but the Board decided to keep Oxford restaurants’ dining rooms closed until they met on Saturday to allow new COVID-19 case numbers come in.

Jimmy Allgood, the city’s emergency management director, provided updated COVID-19 data to the Board on Saturday and said there are “no more than” 16 active cases in Lafayette County as of Friday. The State Department of Health reported 288 new cases as of 6 p.m. on Friday. Lafayette County did not have a new case.

“This battle is not over,” Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill said. “I know that there are those who believe that it is overblown and not serious, and I really could not disagree more. This is an extremely serious virus and our healthcare professionals have let us know exactly the serious health issues that are caused from it. As much as we want this to be over, it’s not.”

Tannehill noted the Board received more than 66 emails from local businesses owners expressing their concerns over both reopening and keeping businesses closed. There was one letter asking to keep hair salons closed, five in favor of salons reopening, 34 asking for restaurants to reopen their dining rooms and 26 asking them to stay closed.

Similar to Tuesday’s discussion about restaurants during their regular meeting, the Board was still split on their feelings regarding reopening dining rooms.

Aldermen Janice Antonow and Kesha Howell-Atkinson reiterated their concerns about reopening dining rooms and what they felt could happen if the Board chose to do so.

“Wherever you’re seated in a restaurant, you’re at risk for the virus coming to you,” Antonow said. “I don’t know if there’s a solution. … We have to weigh the risk for citizens, and I understand about the economics of this. I worry about not just the individuals who are owners and workers, but about the City and the revenue that we’re losing. That’s something we have to weigh, and my conscience leans toward people not getting sick and dying. I just can’t get past that.”

Atkinson’s concerns leaned toward the safety of the restaurant employees and their fears of coming to work; they are required to wear a mask, while customers do not wear one while eating.

The restaurants will now follow the guidelines put in place in Reeves’ executive order 1478, which states no more than 50 percent occupancy of the dining room while placing tables at least 6 feet apart. The Board was more concerned with the spacing of the tables rather than the percentage number.

Prior to resuming dining room business, the entire restaurant and bar including areas not open to the public must be deep cleaned, disinfected and sanitized.

Restaurants with self-service buffets, food stations and drink stations are prohibited. Cafeteria-style buffets, or worker served buffets, are permitted with appropriate barriers in place. Live music is not allowed under Phase 1 of the plan.

All restaurants and bars must close their dining rooms at 10 p.m., per the executive order.

The Board also voted to reopen all close-contact services, effect at 8 a.m. on May 11. Those services include: barbershops, hair salons, nail salons, tanning salons, tattoo parlors and massage therapy facilities. Those services are allowed to reopen under the guidelines set forth in Reeves’ executive order and the City’s “Serving Oxford Safely” recovery plan.

Customers will not be allowed to wait inside and must stay in their car until their appointment is ready. No more than six customers and six employees are permitted  inside at all times while staying six feet apart.

Gyms were also approved to reopen on May 11 at 8 a.m. under the guidelines of one employee per eight customers with the occupancy not to exceed 30 percent capacity and equipment must be marked that has been previously used until it is properly sanitized for use. Gyms in apartment and condominium complexes are required to stay closed during Phase 1 of the recovery plan.

After making decisions regarding relaxing some of the outdoor recreation guidelines on Tuesday, the Board revisited the topic during Saturday’s meeting. The Board voted to allow fishing to take place at Lamar Park and to allow no more than 10 pet owners and 10 pets to use the city dog park. The city skate park was also reopened, allowing no more than 20 people to use it at one time.

Playgrounds, pavilions and restrooms remain closed.

Commercial and private pools at apartment complexes are allowed to reopen, beginning on May 11, between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. and no more than 20 people at the pool at one time. The number includes people in the pool, lifeguards and any other pool staff. If the number of participants at the pool area exceeds 20 people, then it will be responsibility of the pool’s owner to ensure compliance or face citations or other penalties from the Oxford Police Department.

During executive session, the Board approved to remove four OPD officers off furlough to help with assistance and enforcement of the revised recovery plan.

To read the revised Phase 1 plan of “Serving Oxford Safely” click here or visit oxfordms.net. To read Reeves’ latest executive order, click here.