The City of Oxford’s Board of Aldermen voted in a special board meeting on Tuesday to lift the city-wide mask mandate. The decision comes after cases of COVID-19 nationwide, statewide and locally have been on the decline. Unvaccinated city employees are still required to wear masks inside city buildings.
Despite the city’s decision to lift the city-wide mandate, the University of Mississippi is maintaining the university-wide indoor mask mandate.
“The University of Mississippi currently requires face coverings in indoor public spaces on campus, regardless of vaccination status. It is an evidence based mitigation strategy that has assisted us in delivering in-person learning and maintaining a full on-campus experience with the least amount of disruption,” said UM Strategic Communications Director Lisa Stone. “We continue to evaluate this protocol and urge our community to do its part to keep everyone safe by taking advantage of the free and widely available vaccines.”
The Board of Aldermen’s decision was made in a brief special board meeting on the afternoon of Sept. 28. Oxford’s Director of Emergency Management Jimmy Allgood opened the meeting with remarks on Oxford’s COVID-19 statistics as of late.
“We’re actually starting to trend down now with an average of 22.86 cases per day over the past seven days,” he said.
When the mask mandate was reinstated on Aug. 24, the seven-day average was 27, and cases were trending upwards. Baptist Memorial Hospital North-Mississippi declared an internal state of emergency the same week. The hospital is now treating drastically fewer COVID-19 cases and is even accepting transfer patients, as Mayor Robyn Tannehill explained.
“Our hospital numbers continue to be much better. That number [of COVID-19 patients in Intensive Care Unit beds] has gone down dramatically over the past few weeks, but consistently over the past seven days,” she said. “They have taken in 31 direct admits or transfers over the past week, which says that we’re doing a good job of freeing up hospital beds — they’re able to take folks from the surrounding counties or states even when our beds become free. And it shows what a great job our hospital has done in managing effective care when they are a regional health center.”
Currently, 49.9% of Mississippians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and in Lafayette county, 48% of people are fully vaccinated. Both the University of Mississippi’s Faculty and Associated Student Body Senates passed legislation imploring the university to instate a vaccine mandate before the Institutes of Higher learning Board of Trustees voted to bar universities from doing so.
“ASB still fully encourages increasing vaccinations with the resources available on and off campus,” said Bennett Matson, ASB’s chairman of external affairs. “We believe that the University’s mask requirement indoors is an effective way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. We will continue to promote student health and safety in all matters.”
Tannehill and the city of Oxford have made a concerted effort to encourage local residents to get vaccinated, hosting vaccination drives. Tannehill even referred to the pandemic as a ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’ when the mask mandate was initially announced in August. Tannehill believes those who wish to protect themselves will mask voluntarily when necessary.
“There seem to be equal numbers of people who support and oppose a mask mandate. Our decision has been based on hospitalization numbers for the past year and a half. The decision today was based on the decreasing cases of COVID that are requiring hospitalizations,” Tannehill said. “I honestly believe that the people who are committed to protecting themselves and others will continue to wear a mask indoors when social distancing is not possible without a mandate.”