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Oxford lifts mask mandate: Aldermen vote to follow Reeves’ executive order

Masks and facial coverings are no longer legally required inside the City of Oxford.

The Oxford Board of Aldermen voted to follow Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves’ Executive Order 1549, which lifts the state wide county mask mandates. The vote removes the nearly year-long mask mandate in Oxford, which has been in effect for essential businesses since April 29, 2020.

The new order takes effect at 5 p.m. on March 3.

Reeves announced his latest COVID-19-related executive order on Tuesday, a year to the day since the Governor signed his first executive order.

The Board was in favor of removing the mask mandate, but acknowledged the right for all businesses, restaurants and bars to still enforce masks or facial coverings at their own discretion.

One factor in the Board’s decision was the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines entering their third month and vaccination numbers steadily increasing.

As of 8 a.m. on March 2, over 15,600 Lafayette County residents have received at least their first dose of the vaccine, according to City emergency management coordinator Jimmy Allgood. Statewide, nearly 640,000 Mississippians have received one dose with close to 228,000 of those being fully vaccinated.

Allgood also noted that, at least locally, case numbers recently reported were trending down prior to last month’s snow storms, which halted testing and vaccines for a week.

“We’re to a point now where vaccines are available,” Tannehill said. “We have maintained that we will get to a place where people can make choices about, ‘Will I get a vaccination or will I wear a mask or do I want to stay home?’ Those become our personal freedoms and decisions and once vaccinations are available we start looking at these numbers and it is certainly evident that our cases have gone down and our hospitals are in good shape.”

The idea of continuing to require essential businesses, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, to enforce a mask policy was brought up by Alderman Janice Antonow, but was not included in the motion.

Ultimately, the Board agreed on asking those businesses to encourage the use of masks or facial coverings when shopping at their stores. The city will also ask those businesses to consider continuing the early senior-only shopping hours but amend it for those who want to wear a mask.

The Board voted to continue allowing curbside pickup as well as the use of outdoor dining by restaurants located at the Downtown Square.

“I hope that people will continue to wear masks, but I think we’re at the point where it is a request, not a requirement,” Tannehill said.

The outdoor dining will continue through March and be revisited at the end of the month, Tannehill did note that as restaurants and businesses on the Square begin to fully open that those parking spots and sidewalks will be needed again in the near future.