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Oxford reinstates mask mandate at special City Council meeting

Oxford City Council voted to reinstate a mask mandate at a special meeting Monday night after failing to vote on the order at its Aug. 17 meeting.

Residents who do not comply with the mandate are subject to a fine of $100.

Only Councilor Glenn Ellerbe voted against the mandate.

Emergency ordinances need a supermajority of six out of seven councilors to vote in favor in order to pass. Councilors Jason Bracken and Chantel Raghu were absent from the Aug. 17 meeting where the ordinance was first introduced, so a special session was called to vote on the measure before the next scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 7.

More than 30 Oxford residents and Miami University students showed up to argue both for and against the mandate.

At the last council meeting, most Miami students had not yet moved back to campus, and public comments were split. At the Monday meeting, a majority of public participation came from students, and most spoke against the mask mandate.

“I just don’t think [the mandate] is going to be effective,” one Miami senior said. “Students are going to congregate, and they’re going to bend the rules. They’re going to do whatever they need to do, whether it’s right or wrong.”

The mandate requires masks to be worn indoors in public buildings and businesses, as well as on public transportation, but not while eating or outdoors.

Miami senior business economics major Patrick Goggin said the death rate due to COVID-19 in Butler County combined with Oxford’s relatively young population didn’t warrant reinstating the mask mandate since younger residents are less likely to be seriously affected by the virus.

“I just ask that [Council] makes a decision that’s based off the whole community of Oxford and not disregard 70% of the population who are essentially — especially once vaccinated — completely safe when it comes to COVID,” Goggin said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Butler County has seen 554 deaths due to COVID-19, and the CDC currently reports transmission as “high,” the most severe transmission level.

Councilor Chantel Raghu compared the toll of the pandemic on Butler County to the death of 13 service members in Kabul, Afghanistan, and said her goal in wearing a mask was to protect as many people as possible.

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“Every single person that dies, that sucks,” Raghu said. “Every single one of our lives deserves that importance.”

Ellerbe proposed two amendments to the ordinance, one to lower the minimum age that people would be required to wear masks from six years old to two years old, and another to provide an exemption for residents who could show proof of vaccination.

“I believe that if individuals are vaccinated then they should be rewarded for that behavior, and that should be incentivized with this legislation,” Ellerbe said to applause from students in the audience.

While Council approved the first amendment to lower the minimum age, the second amendment failed to pass with only councilors Ellerbe and Jason Bracken voting in favor.

The emergency mask mandate will remain in effect until Dec. 13, 2021 – the end of Miami University’s fall semester.

Council will meet again at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 7, in the Oxford Courthouse.