Arkansas business owners express concern over potentially lifting mask mandate


LITTLE ROCK, Ark.— Some business owners in Arkansas are worried about Governor Asa Hutchinson potentially lifting the mask mandate next week.

In an interview with CNN last weekend, Hutchinson said the goals he announced in February to lift the mask mandate, which includes a positivity rate of below 10 percent or fewer than 750 hospitalizations, are being met and he believes the mask requirement will be removed.

He then told reporters Tuesday that he expects the mandate to end March 31, since the state has so far met the requirements for new cases and hospitalizations he set for its end.

“Everyone can expect on March 31st for that mask mandate to be lifted,” he said.

The announcement of lifting the mandate is concerning for some business owners, who say they would prefer their customers to continue wearing masks.

Hannah Brotherton, a manager at Boulevard Bread Company, says the decision to end the mask mandate feels premature and could be problematic for the health of her staff and customers.

“We will be keeping our mask policy in place,” Brotherton said. “We just want our staff as well as our customers to be safe we have to keep everyone healthy.”

Other businesses are expressing similar feelings. Michael Jackman, the owner of Jerry’s Barbershop of Kavanaugh in Little Rock, says his shop will continue requiring customers to wear masks upon entry.

“Something is better than nothing,” Jackman said. “As far as our shop, our clients, and our barbers here we will be wearing masks for a while here.”

Those working retail say if Hutchinson lifts the mask mandate on Wednesday, it could put their staff at risk. Josie Burnett, the manager at Beige, a boutique in the Heights, says her employees are not yet eligible to get the vaccine.

“It’s a little bit worrisome, just because we want to make sure our employees get vaccinated and our customers feel safe when they come in this space,” Burnett said. “There’s still a big chance for people to catch COVID.”

All the three businesspeople say they respect Hutchinson’s decision. However, all three also say they have to do what is best for their customers and employees.

“More than likely we’re going to keep these masks through the end of the year, just to be on the safe side,” Jackman said.

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