ACHI board calls on local leaders to step up after statewide mask mandate ends

Coronavirus

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.- The Health Policy Board of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement called on community leaders across the state Thursday to take the lead in finding strategies to fight COVID-19, including mask mandates.

The following statement was issued two days after Governor Asa Hutchinson announced the end of the state’s mask mandate:

The ACHI Health Policy Board calls on leaders across the state ― business owners, school board members, faith leaders, and local elected officials ― to adopt strategies that maintain Arkansas Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Specifically, termination of the state mask mandate should be replaced by local decisions to continue important efforts to minimize the spread of this disease, including mask mandates.

Arkansas’s progress in containment and the extension of vaccine eligibility to all Arkansans over age 16 are critically important. But the presence of variants in the state that are more contagious and potentially more lethal, the observation of increases in both COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in other regions of the U.S., and the growing public fatigue with COVID-19’s impact call for renewed commitments. The lifting of the mask mandate is not an all-clear signal to abandon safeguards in our communities.

The relaxation or elimination of statewide requirements transfers responsibility to local leaders to take action. Schools are required to publicly state how they will continue to safely operate, and those plans should include mask requirements. Parents, teachers, and school board members should engage with school officials to ensure public health guidelines are maintained.

Communities are empowered to decide on continued masking requirements. Community action will support businesses in their efforts to continue safeguards for employees and patrons. Businesses, faith-based organizations, and educational institutions should continue science-based guidelines to prevent COVID-19 spread, including:

• Continuing to require masks (over nose and mouth) to protect patrons and employees.

• Maintaining signage and other reminders to ensure appropriate distancing.

• Keeping spaces ventilated.

• Encouraging employees to get vaccinated.

For individuals:

• Get vaccinated, and encourage others to do the same.

• Wear a mask in public.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water.

• Maintain appropriate distance from others.

• Avoid crowds.

With graduation ceremonies and other spring events coming up, school and university leaders should review and follow CDC and ADH guidelines and consider virtual graduation ceremonies and/or delayed events until higher vaccination levels are achieved.

The next 60‒90 days are a critical window to continue progress, maintain defensive strategies, achieve high levels of protection through vaccination, and safely transition to a post-pandemic period.

Arkansas Center for Health Improvement Health Policy Board

The board members are:

• Jerry Adams, President & CEO, Arkansas Research Alliance
• Chris Barber, President & CEO, St. Bernards Healthcare
• Lawrence “Larry” Braden, MD, Family Medicine, Ouachita Valley Family Clinic
• Sandra J. Brown, MPH, MSN, RN, CEO, Jefferson Comprehensive Care System, Inc.
• Rick Elumbaugh, Mayor, City of Batesville
• Joe Fox, MBA, President, CBI Investments
• Stephanie Gardner, PharmD, EdD Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost, UAMS Academic Affairs
• Ray Hanley, President & CEO, Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care
• Don Hollingsworth, JD, Retired Executive Director, Arkansas Bar Association
• Andrew Kumpuris, MD (Vice Chair), Cardiologist, CHI St. Vincent Heart Clinic Arkansas
• Marquita Little Numan, Leadership Officer, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation
• Jayme Mayo, PA-C, Wellness Director, Nabholz
• Eddie Ochoa, MD, Associate Professor, Arkansas Children’s Hospital
• Marcus Osborne, Senior Vice President, Walmart
• James “Skip” Rutherford III, Dean, UA, Clinton School of Public Service
• Herb Sanderson, State Director, AARP Arkansas
• G. Richard Smith, MD, Marie Wilson Howells Professor and Chair, Department of, Psychiatry, College of Medicine, Director, UAMS Psychiatric Research Institute
• F.S. “Sandy” Stroope, Executive Director, Arkansas Motor Vehicle Commission
• Joe Thompson, MD, MPH (Ex-Officio), President & CEO, Arkansas Center for Health Improvement
• Annabelle Imber Tuck, JD (Chair), Public Service Fellow & Jurist-in-Residence, William H. Bowen School of Law, Retired Justice, Arkansas Supreme Court
• Susan Ward-Jones, MD, CEO, East Arkansas Family Health Center, Inc.
• Mark Williams, Ph.D. (Ex-Officio), Dean, UAMS, College of Public Health
• Namvar Zohoori, MD, MPH, Ph.D., Deputy State Health Officer, and Chief Science Officer, Arkansas Department of Health

The Health Policy Board said the next two to three months will be critical.

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