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Following a vote that divided its Board of Aldermen, the city of Oxford will require everyone ages 6 and older to wear masks while in public.

During a special called meeting, the Board of Aldermen voted 4-3 to require face masks indoors everywhere and outdoors where social distancing is not possible. This includes the premises of private businesses.

We believe in masking, but more importantly, we believe in getting vaccinated. Unvaccinated people are about 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than those who are fully vaccinated, according to a CDC study released Tuesday.

At the same time, we believe the city went too far with their order. The first problem is the citywide mask mandate was passed during a special called meeting, which did not give citizens any time to attend and voice an opinion before the vote.

The city of Oxford also went too far by requiring private businesses impose masking rules. The city of Oxford should respect the liberty of private businesses to make their own decisions and the power of a free market to guide them.

This is not like last year and the mask mandates that were passed by state and local governments. For one thing, we have far more information today than we did a year ago. Second, and more to the point, we have vaccines, including the Pfizer vaccine that now has FDA approval.

Just like in a private residence, a private business should set the rules for its establishment. Private citizens can choose to engage in a business transaction on the terms of service outlined by the business.

A business owner could require masking or even proof of vaccination. As a consumer, you choose to comply or go to a different business. This is how free society works. Freedom to choose in private business transactions is paramount in a free society.

The mayor and aldermen could set a stronger tone and lead by example by requiring all city of Oxford employees and contractors to have proof of vaccination. That would be following the lead of Baptist Memorial Hospital.

The city could continue to require masks in all city-controlled settings indoors or outside — city sidewalks, parks, City Hall, etc. But imposing local masking rules on private businesses is not who we are as Americans.

Local business owners should know they have a greater “social responsibility,” but they should get to decide on their terms how and when to impose restrictions of this nature on themselves. The free market will also give them direction, as much as their own analysis will. If private citizens choose not to do business with them because they have no rules or too many rules, business owners will adjust. The drive to profitability will have the ultimate say.

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