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Oxford businesses could be closed temporarily for failure to comply with COVID-19 requirements

Oxford businesses that are not in compliance with the mask requirement, and other COVID-19 ordinances in the City’s recovery plan, could be forced to close their doors for a couple days.

During Wednesday’s Board of Aldermen budget meeting, Mayor Robyn Tannehill asked emergency management director Jimmy Allgood to provide a quick update on the enforcement of the mask requirement since discussing the issue on Monday.

The Oxford Police Department issued three citations for violating the COVID-19 order on Tuesday. Allgood told the Board that issuing the citations should help, and said word was getting around that OPD was beginning to enforce.

“I think everyone is seeing what (the mask requirement) can do,” Allgood said. “Word is actually spreading through the community that we’re now writing citations. … I think it’ll be effective once word spreads around that we are actually writing the citations.”

There had been discussion of issuing citations to every employee found within a business to not be in compliance with the order, but Allgood said he was in favor of only issuing a citation to the management of the business, as he had been told in some cases that management was telling their employees to not follow the rules put in place.

Businesses can call OPD for customers who are not in compliance or refuse to comply after being asked to do so by employees. Those customers could then be issued citations individually, according to Allgood.

When it came to the idea of closing businesses that are found to not be in compliance with the mask requirement, social distancing protocols and occupancy restrictions, Allgood presented an outline of a plan he put together in how the closing of businesses could work.

Customers and employees are required to wear masks inside businesses at all times. Customers at restaurants and bars must keep their mask on when not sitting at their table and tables must be at least six feet apart with no crowding of the bar top area when ordering drinks.

If the Board adopted the plan and a businesses was then found to be in violation and forced to closed their doors, it would be for a period of 24 to 48 hours. An example given was if a business that is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. is issued a citation at 2 p.m. and must close, they would be allowed to stay open the remainder of that day, but then close starting the following day.

The business would have to immediately come into compliance to stay open the remainder of the day the citation is issued.

“It gives them time to get ready to shut down, but it also keeps our people from having to run customers out of a business; to have to shut restaurants down, shut bars down at a moments notice,” Allgood said. “It gives us a little leeway, but for the next 24 to 48 hours they are shut down because of the citation.”

Allgood also proposed that the business post a sign on their door stating they were forced to shut down due failure to comply with COVID-19 mandates.

The city of Jackson put a similar order into effect on Tuesday, issuing citations to individuals not in compliance with their mask mandate, along with a fine of no more than $300. Businesses will also be forced to shut down for a 24-hour period and sign an attestation of compliance with the City of Jackson.

If adopted, the proposal would be written into the City’s Serving Oxford Safely plan.

“It’s a lot to ask of these businesses, but it’s the only way for them to be open,” Tannehill said. “That’s kind of where we are. We know it’s a tricky balance to keep businesses open so that people can provide for their families and protect our healthcare system from being overwhelmed. We’ve proven we can do both if everyone follows the guidelines that are in place. If we are going to leave businesses open they are going to have to comply as we see these spikes. Our population, hopefully, will increase very soon, and we need to have these things well-ironed out before the students return.”

No action was taken on Wednesday, but the Board will discuss and possibly vote to put that plan in affect during their July 6 meeting. Police chief Jeff McCutchen is also going to supply an update on enforcement throughout this week during the July 6 meeting.