On July 27, the CDC updated its guidance on COVID-19 to recommend masking in areas of substantial transmission for all residents regardless of vaccination status. The move followed a surge in cases across the country this summer as the delta variant, a more contagious strain of the virus, made up 80% of new cases and was responsible for a relatively small number of breakthrough infections among vaccinated people.
Miami University announced it would require all students to wear masks indoors this semester, a move Councilor Edna Southard said Oxford may soon follow.
“We … want to follow Miami’s lead,” Southard said. “They have mandated masks indoors, and for consistency it would make sense for our community to follow through.”
Southard said after cases in Butler County spiked last year when Miami students returned, having a mask mandate in addition to a vaccinated population may help the community avoid the same outcome this year.
“When the Miami students come back, they come from all over the world, all over the country, from so many places,” Southard said. “They come on so many various means of transportation, so that's another reason to wear masks now until we know really what's going to happen here.”
Councilor Chantel Raghu was the only council member to vote against repealing the mask mandate in May, and she said she will vote to reinstate it at the Aug. 17 meeting.
“I've taken this approach that I wish we could all be safe, and there's a lot we don't know about [COVID],” Raghu said. “This virus likes to mutate, and so why can't we be cautious?”
Raghu said she was in college when the HPV vaccine was first approved. At the time, it was only recommended for women because men were thought to be carriers only and weren’t at risk of infection themselves. Later, researchers found that the virus could cause cancer in both men and women, and now the vaccine is recommended for everyone.
For Raghu, wearing a mask is an important line of defense because the long-term effects of COVID-19 are not yet known.
“We don't know what the long term effects are of COVID and I'm talking beyond long haul COVID infections,” Raghu said. “We don't know what viruses do decades down the road.”
Mayor Mike Smith said he anticipates the mask mandate going through, but it may not last as long as the previous one.
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“We don't know what's going to happen with the delta variant and community spread,” Smith said. “We’ll probably adopt an indoor mask mandate for Oxford again, and then hopefully, we won't have it very long.”
While Smith said most meetings average five to 10 listeners, he’s expecting a large public turnout this Tuesday, Aug. 17, with community members voicing their opinions in support of and against the new mask mandate. Regardless, he said it’s likely that the mandate will be put into place.
“We’ll be back with masks unless something drastic happens.”