Board of Aldermen amend Phase II of the “Serving Oxford Safely” recovery plan

Published 11:05 am Friday, June 12, 2020

Restaurants and bars can resume normal operating hours, but masks or facial coverings must still be worn in Oxford businesses, for now.

The Board of Aldermen amended portions of Phase II of the city’s “Serving Oxford Safely” recovery plan and voted for an eighth emergency resolution during a special meeting on Friday. The changes made were to fall in line with Governor Tate Reeves’ executive order No. 1496, which was issued on Wednesday.

The changes will take effect at 8 a.m. on June 15.

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A 10 p.m. curfew on restaurants and bars has been lifted, allowing them to operate their dining rooms in normal business hours. All other restrictions are in place, including limiting occupancy to 50-percent capacity.

Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill said during the meeting that the Board brought back all previously furloughed officers at the Oxford Police Department to help enforce the restrictions.

“We do have a full force of police officers who are patrolling and helping to ensure that these are enforced as well, and everybody is putting these safety measures in place as much as possible,” Tannehill said.

Customers are also still required to wear face coverings in restaurants when not seated at their table. Face coverings are also still required when going into businesses.

The Board will discuss how long the face coverings will be required, and in which businesses, during their June 16 meeting.

Alderman Janice Antonow said she was in favor of keeping face coverings mandatory for the foreseeable future, with the number of positive COVID-19 cases rising in the last couple weeks.

“Given what is happening throughout the country where people are not wearing masks, where they’re seeing enormous increases in cases and hospitalizations I think it is critical that we keep that in place,” Antonow said.

Alderman Preston Taylor was in agreement with Antonow’s sentiment.

The Mississippi State Department of Health did not provide updated COVID-19 numbers on Thursday, due to more “technical problems” with their data reporting, according to MSDH.

Oxford emergency management director Jimmy Allgood said 28 cases were active as of the last count with the data provided. Tannehill said that Bill Henning, CEO of Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi, told her the hospital was seeing an increase in hospitalizations due to COVID-19.

“It is not to any level that alarms them,” Tannehill said. “They have plenty of capacity. Keep coming to the hospital for any emergency needs. … For weeks, as we saw increases in positive cases daily, we did not see increases in hospitalizations and that is changing.”

Tannehill noted that two restaurants, Volta Taverna and Jinsei Sushi, have closed due to employees testing positive for COVID-19 in recent days, along with students who are having gatherings and seeing an increase in cases in that age group.

Two University of Mississippi students told Tannehill they had tested positive, but they are not from Mississippi, so the numbers will not show up in Lafayette County’s total despite living there while attending school.

“I’m unsure at this point how reliable the numbers are that we’re seeing,” Tannehill said. “A lot of the students that I’ve been told about having positive cases are from Oxford, and those numbers will show up in our cases. I was in Jackson this past week and mentioned that to several folks who said, ‘Tell us how it’s going? Is the reporting going well with the department of health?’ That was before these technical difficulties but I said, ‘The frustrating thing is, we still really don’t have accurate numbers here, since we don’t know how many positive tests there were.'”

Other amendments to Phase II include gyms increasing their capacity to 10 people per one trainer and no more than 50-percent occupancy. Pavilions are allowed to reopen at parks, but must follow the social distancing guidelines for outdoor gatherings.

The Board did make another change to the requirements for pools. Any pool that has a lifeguard or someone monitoring it at all times is allowed to have 100 people. Pools that do not have a permanent lifeguard on duty must still have a maximum occupancy of 50 people.

Changes to arenas were included in Reeves’ latest executive order. The Lafayette County Arena is inside Oxford city limits and the Board voted to approve the new requirements. The number of guests shall be no more than 25 percent occupancy and concession stands must remain closed.

The number of guests at reception halls and conference centers must be no more than 25 percent occupancy with social distancing. For seated dinners only, the venues can have no more than 50 percent occupancy and tables must be arranged to be at least six feet apart and food served must fall under the requirements in executive order No. 1478.