Mayor Robyn Tannehill.jpg

Over the past three weeks, Lafayette County has seen large increases in positive COVID-19 cases. This is not completely surprising. It went without saying that as students returned and businesses reopened that positive cases would increase. We have, however, been surprised at the rate of transmission over the past month and subsequent increase in positive tests.

The City of Oxford Board of Aldermen has relied on advice from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Mississippi Department of Health (MsDH) Officials, consultation from local healthcare providers and data to make decisions regarding how to govern during this pandemic. Timely data has become harder to come by. Oxford and other college towns in Mississippi have unique reporting issues.

The MsDH assigns a positive COVID-19 case to the county a person lists as his primary residence. This means that a student from Atlanta attending the University of Mississippi that tests positive at a clinic in Oxford is reported as a positive case in Fulton County, Georgia – not Lafayette County. We knew each day as we looked at our case increases that there were probably a handful more than reported.

I was contacted by two local urgent care clinics concerned about the huge increase in positive cases they had recently seen among college age individuals – most of whom were from outside of Lafayette County. This meant that these positive cases were not credited to Lafayette County through the MsDH. Obviously if these two clinics had seen such an increase in positive cases then there were many more cases in Lafayette County that we did not know about.

I contacted two additional clinics and learned that among the four clinics we had at least 162 positive COVID-19 results attributed to people reporting primary residences outside of Lafayette County between June 1-14. These clinics reported that most of the positive individuals reported being at large gatherings. This is a huge concern for leadership of college towns, and we have addressed these concerns with the MsDH over the past few weeks. The best we can determine it is taking approximately 10 days for someone that tests positive for COVID-19 to be counted in MsDH’s daily reports. MsDH is working with outdated software and is woefully understaffed. This week the City of Oxford began requesting reporting from the 14 testing sites in in our community to be sent directly to Oxford’s Emergency Management Department. We believe this data is critical as we determine a path forward for our community, and I want to publicly thank those healthcare providers for working with the City of Oxford to provide this information.

Experts had warned that there would be a second spike in the fall. In the spring, experts speculated that cases were expected to dissipate in the summer. This makes this summer spike even more concerning.

The City of Oxford has had a Serving Oxford Safely Plan in place since March. We believe we have a plan that affords us the best opportunity to continue to have our businesses open without overwhelming our healthcare system. We have learned quickly that even the best plan on paper is only a good intention unless it is taken seriously and followed by our residents. Gathering data from these clinics and requiring residents to wear face coverings will be critical to our future success. People are experiencing frustration and fatigue from this ongoing pandemic and are not being as diligent about following the requirements.

Dr. Fauci stated this week, “A risk for you is not just isolated to you. Because if you get infected, you are a part – innocently or inadvertently – of propagating the dynamic process of a pandemic.”

The overwhelming majority of individuals testing positive in Oxford recently are young adults. These young adults get infected, and infect someone else – who infects someone else who ultimately infects someone who is vulnerable. Think about your grandparents, your neighbor with diabetes, the person going through chemotherapy. Dr. Fauci summed it up perfectly, “You have an individual responsibility to yourself but you have a societal responsibility.”

When I wear a face covering, it is not because I am fearful. It is because I want to be part of the solution, not the problem. We are all in it together and the only way we are going to end it, is by ending it together.

ROBYN TANNEHILL is the mayor of Oxford. Readers can contact her at robyn@oxfordms.net.

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