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Dobbs: Oxford at the “front end or mid-section of significant” COVID-19 outbreak

The Mississippi State Department of Health has identified a cluster of COVID-19 cases and outbreaks in Oxford, according to state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs.

During Governor Tate Reeves’ daily COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, Dobbs spoke about the increase in cases in Lafayette County over the past week and the report of over 160 University of Mississippi Students who have tested positive but were not being counted in Lafayette County’s numbers.

Thursday’s numbers were not reported by MSDH due to data reporting issues, according to their website. In Lafayette County there were 58 active cases as of June 16, according to the City of Oxford’s data. That number does not include any active cases from students who do not have Lafayette County listed as their permanent address, but reside there.

Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill stated on Tuesday that four area urgent care clinics had reported a total of at least 162 students had tested positive, with some test results still pending on more students. The surge in positive cases among students was attributed to what Tannehill called “Rush parties” being held by Ole Miss Greek Life chapters at off-campus locations.

The Board of Aldermen decided on Tuesday to extend the city’s mask requirement through at least the remainder of June.

Dobbs said he spoke with Tannehill and area doctors and clinics, but also gave a grim prognosis in Oxford’s current battle to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“We do think (that Oxford is) on the front end or at the mid-section of a significant outbreak,” Dobbs said. “What we’ve identified so far is that it seems to be related to community transmission and social gatherings and we have linked some patients back, well quite a few patients back, to fraternity rush parties that’ll happen in the summer.”

Current guidelines, according to Reeves’ latest executive order, call for social gatherings of no more than 20 people, or 50 if social distancing is possible, at one indoor gathering.

The University of Mississippi Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life sent a letter to all Greek Life groups, asking them to no longer hold social events or face the penalty of social probation for the entire upcoming school year.

According to Dobbs, 80 percent of those new cases are in individuals between the ages of 18 to 24. Of that number, 92 percent are Mississippi residents, eight percent are from out of state and 60 percent are from Lafayette County.

When it comes to trying to identify cases that may be students who live in Oxford but are not permanent residents of Lafayette County, Dobbs said that is something MSDH is working on.

“We do have mechanisms for looking at not just the county residents as far as case identification goes, but also where the test was performed,” Dobbs said. “So, that’s something that we’re going to be looking at and sharing that information for the college towns specifically, because they have a unique scenario.”