OXFORD • At the recommendation of Mayor Robyn Tannehill, the Board of Aldermen have for 15 days closed the dining rooms of restaurants and bars throughout the city of Oxford, mandating that food only be available for curbside pick-up, drive-through or delivery.
The emergency measure is intended to help stem the ongoing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and will go into force at 6 a.m. Wednesday.
Tannehill expressed regret for the economic hardship restaurants may experience, but said she believes public health and safety requires urgent and proactive action.
“This absolutely breaks my heart to do, but I’m going to err on the side of protecting our community,” Tannehill said.
Aldermen approved the recommended resolution without any dissent.
Retail establishments and grocery stores remain open, though any dining facilities inside a grocery store should close, a point clarified Tuesday night in response to questioning.
Prepared food available for purchase inside a grocery store can continue to be purchased inside the grocery store, but cannot be consumed onsite and must be carried out of the store as would any groceries.
Clint Boutwell, of the Oxford Grillehouse, did offer public comment expressing concern about what he saw as an inconsistent policy to bar customers from picking up food inside a restaurant for carryout while allowing carryout of prepared food from a grocery store.
Boutwell’s questions led to a slightly tense exchange.
“I’ll let someone else argue with you, because I’ve already done it for two hours today,” Tannehill said.
City attorney Pope Mallette explained that since foot traffic would already be allowed inside grocery stores for routine shopping, ending carryout would not be particularly feasible.
“There are going to be overlapping interests when you pass an emergency measure like this,” Mallette said, while offering the view that the city’s actions had a rational basis.
Ward 4 Alderman Jason Bailey said he hoped restaurants would be allowed to erect tents, tables and other items as needed to facilitate curbside pickup. Tannehill agreed that this would be acceptable, and the suggestion made its way into a resolution approved by the board.
Aldermen also agreed to waive fees for metered parking on the Square, including lots and the first floor of the garage. This action will also be in force for 15 days and is intended to help facilitate curbside pickup for restaurants.
The state Health Department has now reported 21 presumptive cases of the new coronavirus statewide. Lafayette County has no identified cases at this time, but Tannehill said she and medical experts believe the new virus is likely already in the community.
She said multiple individuals are in isolation in Lafayette County awaiting testing results, and that results are taking between one and three days.
As testing continues across the country and Mississippi, Tannehill said she hopes aggressive containment efforts now can forestall even more invasive efforts later to impose social distancing.
“There is no rule book and the general consensus is that our daily lives have to change beginning now,” the mayor said.
Some Oxford restaurants have already announced voluntary closures, including Ajax Diner, Proud Larry’s, The Sipp, McEwen’s, Volta Taverna, Oxford Canteen and Track 61.