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Oxford City Council fails to vote on proposed mask mandate

In a move reminiscent of its Aug. 17, 2021 meeting, Oxford City Council failed to vote on a proposed mask mandate at its Jan. 4 meeting, just weeks ahead of Miami University students’ planned return to the city for the semester.

The proposed ordinance, which would require face coverings in businesses and public spaces, is an emergency measure, meaning it requires a supermajority of six out of seven councilors to vote in favor of it before going into immediate effect.

Councilor Jason Bracken was absent from the meeting, and Councilor Glenn Ellerbe indicated he would not vote in favor of the measure.

“It is not my job to legislate behavior of the constituents in this town,” Ellerbe said.

Even though he wouldn’t vote in support of a mask ordinance, Ellerbe said residents should be getting vaccinated and masking, and he would support a resolution that encouraged but didn’t mandate these actions.

“At this point, everyone knows that masks and vaccines help … and vaccines definitely reduce the severity of any kind of infection,” he said.

Because of Ellerbe’s opposition, Mayor Bill Snavely said Council shouldn’t vote on the measure until an emergency session or its Jan. 18 meeting when all councilors would be present.

The decision not to vote on a mask mandate followed a presentation from Mike Everett, a representative for McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital. He provided up-to-date data for the city to consider how COVID-19 continues to impact the local healthcare system as they make decisions moving forward.

McCullough-Hyde was operating at 88% capacity in the morning on Jan. 4, but it dropped to 52% by the evening. Everett said the turnover represented a typical day for the hospital. Eight patients are currently at the hospital with COVID-19 infections, up from one at the last Council meeting two weeks ago.

All four beds in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit are currently occupied, and 29% of patients tested for COVID-19 have come back positive in the past two weeks, up drastically from the rate of 1-2% during the summer. The number includes 77 residents within Oxford’s zip code.

“We’re kind of at an all-time high within the last 14 days,” Everett said.

Oxford resident Amy Shayman spoke in support of the mask mandate. She said the city should prioritize businesses’ survival, citizens’ health and hospitals’ preparedness: three pillars she believes would benefit from a mask requirement.

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“Protecting safety means that people will be here healthy and able to participate in our local economy,” Shayman said.

Councilor Alex French echoed Shayman’s sentiment, saying businesses will fare better under a mask mandate than they would if forced to shut down due to high infection rates.

“What happened a month ago is very different from where we are now … but I too heard some numbers that are high,” French said. “It feels like we’re getting into a pinch that we don’t necessarily need to be in.”

Councilor Amber Franklin indicated her support for a mandate if it moves to a vote at the next meeting as a way to address differences in health between the largely vaccinated Miami population and the greater Oxford community. (Butler County has a vaccination rate of 58%).

“I’m concerned that by not doing something, we’re creating a disparity within our own community,” Franklin said.

Council will once again address the mask mandate at its Jan. 18 meeting in the Oxford Courthouse at 7:30 p.m.