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Oxford lifts mask ordinance

Oxford’s City Council voted to repeal the city’s mask ordinance at its May 18 meeting.

The ordinance originally went into effect last summer and required residents to wear masks in all non-residential indoor spaces and outdoor spaces where social distancing couldn’t be maintained.

Despite Council’s decision to repeal local regulations, residents are still required to follow state guidelines regarding COVID-19 safety measures. 

The Ohio Department of Health still requires masks for all individuals in public transportation and individuals who aren’t fully vaccinated in other public areas such as businesses and government buildings until at least June 2.

“The governor has stated publicly that he plans to repeal the health orders on June 2, which would be right before our next council meeting,” City Manager Doug Elliott said. “I think it might be time to repeal [the original ordinance] and then basically we can follow the state’s lead on this.”

The move follows a May 13 change in guidelines from the CDC stating that fully vaccinated individuals are safe to go without masks or social distancing in most settings.

“We passed this back in July because the science told us this was the good idea, and we followed the CDC and the governor’s recommendations and acted locally,” Councilor David Prytherch said. “I think transitioning away, I kind of feel like we have to follow the science on that, too.”

Councilor Edna Southard voted in favor of repealing the mask ordinance but said she hopes fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks to protect those who are unvaccinated, health workers and people with compromised immune systems.

“It’s so easy to wear a mask,” Southard said, “and I don’t see why we don’t all do that for the protection of everybody.”

Councilor Chantel Raghu was the sole vote against repealing the mask ordinance, citing public comments from the May 4 Council meeting in which 10 residents said they were against repealing it and one said they were neutral. No residents commented in favor of repealing the mask ordinance at that time.

In addition to repealing the mask ordinance, Council voted to spend $11,400 of federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to establish mobile vaccination clinics and incentivize vaccinations.

Assistant City Manager Jessica Greene said Oxford is working with health officials to set up mobile vaccination clinics in nearby churches and neighborhoods to operate at various dates and hours to accommodate residents’ schedules. 

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As an incentive to get the shot, between 100 and 200 people who receive their second vaccination dose at a mobile clinic will receive Visa gift cards worth between $50 and $100, though a final price hasn’t been decided.

“For lack of a better phrase, cash sometimes speaks,” Greene said. “We thought this could be a small pilot program with the last bit of the CARES Act dollars to see if we can help get more of our residents vaccinated.”

Councilor Glenn Ellerbe and Vice Mayor Bill Snavely both voted against the resolution.

“Regarding any incentives, monetary or otherwise, that in my mind runs into an equity issue because all the people that decided to be good stewards amongst their fellow men are not getting rewarded for this,” Ellerbe said, “and those that are choosing not to are now receiving these incentives in the forms of monetary issues.”

Snavely agreed and added that residents might try to bargain for more incentives in the future.

“If we offer 50 dollars, and we have a poor response, are we going to up it to 100?” Snavely asked. “People should be doing this for the right reason. We want them to be vaccinated, but if they’re against vaccinations, this isn’t going to help.”

The next City Council meeting will be held in-person following social distancing guidelines at 7:30 on Tuesday, June 1, in the Oxford Courthouse.