Aldermen vote to begin Phase II of Oxford’s recovery plan

Published 4:16 pm Sunday, May 31, 2020

The next step in Oxford’s plan to fully reopen took place on Sunday, as Mississippi begins its reopening process on June 1.

During a special meeting, the Oxford Board of Aldermen voted to implement Phase II of their “Serving Oxford Safely” recovery plan, while following the guidelines passed by Governor Tate Reeves in executive orders 1491 and 1492 last week and adding some tighter restrictions of their own.

Ahead of the Board’s discussion of the plan, Oxford’s emergency management director Jimmy Allgood provided an update on the number of COVID-19 cases in Lafayette County and how many are active. The Mississippi State Department of Health reported on Sunday that Lafayette County had five new cases as of 6 p.m. on Saturday. The number moves Lafayette’s total case number up to 136 and the total number of active cases is 26 as of May 30, according to Allgood.

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Lafayette County has announced 13 new cases over the last seven days.

“(The numbers) are not really a surprise,” Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill said. “We knew that these numbers were going to go up once we began reopening, and they continue to. We should expect them to continue to go up as more people get out and about and you’re sitting in restaurants where masks aren’t utilized and people start to gather. We’ll continue to monitor, not only our new cases everyday, but we’ll continue to back out those numbers to analyze what our active cases are on a daily basis, and we’ll continue to discuss with our hospitals and what they’re seeing.”

Tannehill said she spoke with the Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi on Sunday morning who were “very encouraged,” according to Tannehill, that the numbers of those who are hospitalized remained the same when the latest increase in cases began.

Masks are still required in Oxford when entering a business, for both employees and customers. The Board discussed the potential of lifting some of the requirements for non-essential stores, but decided to table that discussion until their June 16 meeting. However, they could discuss it during a special called meeting before then, based on how the number of COVID-19 cases is trending.

The Board did vote to require customers in restaurants to wear a mask or facial covering when not seated at their table.

Most of what was discussed in the City’s Phase II plan fell in line with Reeves’ two latest executive orders, which also begin at 8 a.m. on June 1. Most of what the Board had discussions about involved the openings of facilities that had previously continued to be closed in prior executive orders.

“We all want to reopen businesses as quickly as we can. We want to get a sense of normalcy,” Tannehill said. “We understand all of the different factors in play here, but we also know that reopening too soon is a dangerous gamble. On the other hand, we know that sheltering in place is not sustainable any longer.”

In the newest executive orders and in Oxford’s Phase II, outdoor gatherings can now include up to 50 people and indoor gatherings can include up to 20. This number does not pertain to mTrade park, which can have no more than 100 people watching a game.

Pools that are allowed to be open in Oxford can now have up to 50 people occupying the pool area. Those pools include commercial pools and those at private clubs and apartment complexes.

The Powerhouse and Oxford Conference Center are allowed to reopen, but must limit the number of people inside each to no more than 25 percent of their maximum capacity.

Public school districts are allowed to reopen their buildings to the public to offer in-person instruction and summer school programs. The Oxford School District is forming a committee, which will include Allgood and one alderman, to help formulate a plan of using the buildings safely for the first time since March.

“I’m excited to know that that committee is working (toward reopening school),” Tannehill said. “We know how important it is for our schools to be open in the fall. We know that it is critical for our community, for parents to be able to go back to work and children to have in-classroom learning.”

Indoor amusement centers, such as Premier Lanes and both of Oxford’s Malco Theatres locations are also allowed to reopen next week. Malco has not stated when they would open the Oxford locations, though other Malco locations throughout the state have stated they will reopen sometime in June.

Once open, the Board voted to limit theatre occupancy to 25 percent in each indoor screening room and 50 percent to the outdoor theatre that is located at the Malco Oxford Commons location. The Governor’s executive order allows for 50-percent capacity in each indoor room.

The Board discussed when they would consider moving to Phase III of the recovery plan, but noted their initial process of a steady two-week decrease in new cases was not as feasible of an idea as they initially thought.

“We said out of the gate we were waiting 14 days, then we realized that’s just not the way this works,” Tannehill said. “As much as we designed for it to be black and white, it is so gray. We’re trying to be as transparent as we can be with every bit of our information and exactly how we’re making decisions and the date we’re looking at.”

The Board will hold their first regular meeting of June on Tuesday at 5 p.m. in City Hall. The entire recovery plan can be viewed at the City of Oxford’s website.