Oxford changes mass gatherings ordinance ahead of Miami graduation this week

Limits on mass gatherings outdoors were lifted by the Oxford City Council with passage of an ordinance last week partially repealing the stringent limitations approved last July.

While Council passed that ordinance, they chose to not act on a similar ordinance easing restrictions on face coverings.

City Manager Doug Elliott said the first ordinance would remove the mass gathering ban only in relation to outdoor gatherings.

“The risk of spreading COVID-19 outdoors is considerably less than indoor gatherings,” Elliott wrote in his staff report.

Council member David Prytherch said he is proud of the city’s actions in those ordinances last July.

“We helped keep the people of Oxford safe. We knew it was safer outdoors and it will be better with vaccinations. This is a safe transition for us to do,” he said. “I’m in favor of repealing that part of the mass gathering ordinance.”

Council member Jason Bracken, who voted against easing restrictions, said he was hesitant, noting he understood the logic of allowing outdoor gatherings in favor of having people gather indoors, but he said Miami graduation parties will increase the density of people.

Miami is holding graduation events for both the classes of 2020 and 2021 from Thursday through Sunday.

“Nodes of infection are really, really increased. Even a small chance of passing it to someone is just not worth it,” Bracken said.

Vice Mayor Bill Snavely said Bracken’s comments gave him pause, but he hoped this change would be a positive one.

“I want to incentivize people to be outside,” Snavely said, adding he had spoken to a fraternity advisor who said members staying inside for parties because they did not want to be seen outside.

Elliott said one option for repealing the mask ordinance was to table it until the May 18 meeting when most of the students will be gone. When that ordinance came up on the agenda, it got a motion and second only after long pauses and then just to discuss it.

The city manager said in an e-mail prior to the meeting that there is much confusion and misinformation regarding what is required or recommended at the federal, state and local levels regarding masks.

“The recommendation was not intended to suggest that face coverings should not be worn. Both the CDC and ODH either require or recommend face coverings under certain circumstances,” he wrote. “The ODH still requires face coverings inside bars, restaurants and other indoor public places. But it is not as stringent as the City’s requirement which requires a face covering outside if a person is unable to maintain a distance of six feet from non-household members.”

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