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In Emergency Meeting, Oxford Mandates Masks Inside City Buildings, Plans Vaccine Clinics

Robyn Tannehill, masked, at Oxford meeting
Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill told the audience at the Aug. 12, 2021, emergency Board of Aldermen meeting that hospitals could fail statewide within about a week, echoing a warning from University of Mississippi Medical officials earlier this week. The board passed a mask mandate for city buildings. Photo by Grace Marion

The City of Oxford’s Board of Aldermen voted at an emergency meeting this afternoon to mandate that masks must be worn inside all city buildings. 

“Our hospital is completely full; our ICU is completely full,” Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill said. “And we have said all along that maintaining our hospital so that beds are available when people have more accidents, when people have heart attacks, when people go into labor, all of those things, you know, our role is to protect our hospital.”

Tannehill noted that vaccinations were not available to the public during Oxford’s previous mask mandate, but are now. She explained why she sees mask requirements as a choice businesses themselves should make. 

Masked members of Oxford city council at a meeting
Oxford Director of Emergency Management Jimmy Allgood, left, opened the Aug. 12, 2021, emergency meeting of the Oxford Board of Aldermen with updates on infection and inoculation rates in the area before board members discussed possible new COVID-19-related regulations. Photo by Grace Marion

“If you look back a week or so with the number of new positive cases and rate of hospitalizations, if we continue on this trajectory for another week, then we could very well reach the failure of our hospital systems,” Tannehill said, echoing what UMMC Associate Vice Chancellor for Clinical Affairs Dr. Alan Jones said in a press conference on Wednesday. 

Despite this dire prediction, the Board of Aldermen decided against a city-wide mask mandate, saying that individual businesses should decide on mask policies themselves, just as the University of Mississippi, Oxford School District and the City of Oxford are doing.

Ward 4 Alderman Jason Bailey said that he would be requiring masks in his place of business. The University of Mississippi and Oxford School District have also adopted mask mandates.

“What scares me the most about these numbers is, as Jimmy has relayed to me and others, we have not peaked yet,” Tannehill said, referring to City Emergency Management Director Jimmy Allgood. “So what we are expecting to continue to see, especially if people don’t get vaccinated, we’re expecting to see these numbers grow.” 

Masked members of Oxford city council at a meeting
Oxford Alderman Jason Bailey told fellow city officials that he has been vaccinated against COVID-19, and will require masks in his place of business. Photo by Grace Marion

Pop-up Vaccination Clinics

The Oxford Board of Aldermen also announced that the city will be organizing pop-up vaccine clinics beginning next week, with details to be announced at the scheduled aldermen meeting next week on Tuesday, Aug. 17. 

The City of Oxford is not yet prepared to release the details of which organization will be assisting with the pop-up clinic, Allgood told the Mississippi Free Press.

“Just in case (the organization) happen(s) to miss a day, the health department said that they will backfill on those days on Fridays, football Fridays, if they needed to,” Allgood told the board. 

Masked people attending a Oxford city council meeting
Audience members looked on at the Aug.12, 2021, emergency Oxford Board of Aldermen meeting, waiting to see if the board’s decision would go as far as a city-wide mask mandate. Photo by Grace Marion

The board then voted to sign a memorandum of understanding with the state health department to solidify this plan. 

“I can tell you for me, and I hope for a lot of other people in our community, if the minor inconvenience of wearing a mask protects me or protects somebody else, then to me it’s worth it,” Tannehill said. 

“So I’m asking our community to join us in whatever this board decides, to get vaccinated and wear masks. I think that is critical to our success as we move through the second wave.” 

Tannehill: All Businesses ‘Essential’

Reflecting back on the City of Oxford’s first reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, the mayor says it made a mistake in distinguishing essential and non-essential businesses. In March 2020, Gov. Tate Reeves initially chose not to enact statewide safety precautions leaving mayors like Tannehill to make their own decisions in a patchwork of precautions across the state.

Robyn Tannehill, masked, at Oxford meeting
Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill said on Aug. 12, 2021, that she regrets that the board chose to differentiate between essential and non-essential businesses during the first wave of COVID-19 in 2020, saying that she realizes now that any business that people depend on to provide for themselves is essential.

“We took that lead from the federal level and went with it and spent so much time deciding that,” Tannehill said. 

“I can guarantee you as a small business owner myself that any business that you were expecting to pay for your rent, for your food and take care of your family and your employees’ families is essential.”

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