Coronavirus in Arkansas: Governor Hutchinson announces statewide face covering mandate starting Monday

Coronavirus

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.- Governor Asa Hutchinson announced Thursday a statewide face covering mandate will be issued and will be effective Monday.

Governor Hutchinson said the number of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths was an indication of this mandate being needed.

The governor said he listened to doctors and nurses who asked the public to do more.

Hutchinson said he also heard from legislators. According to the governor, many legislators say they didn’t like it, but was willing to do whatever it takes to eliminate the virus.

Gov. Hutchinson said the mandate was also for children and grandchildren, who will be going back to school where most of the schools will require wearing masks.

According to the face coverings executive order:

“The Secretary of Health shall issue a public health directive requiring every person in Arkansas to wear a face covering over the mouth and nose:

-in all indoor environments where:

  • they are exposed to non-household members and
  • distancing of six (6) feet or more cannot be assured and

-in all outdoor settings where:

  • there is exposure to non-household members, unless there exists ample space of six (6) feet or more to practice physical distancing.”

Governor Huthcinson said what is above is the order that he will sign.

Exceptions to the mandate are children younger than 10 years old or people with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering. People who are performing job duties where a six-feet distance is not possible, but a mask is “inhibitory to the activity”. People who are consuming food or drink will not have to wear a mask at that time. People who are driving alone or with passengers from the same household will not have to wear a mask at that time. If someone is receiving services that require seeing a face for security, surveillance or other purposes may temporarily remove their face covering while receiving the service. People who are voting, assisting voters, being a poll watch or performing election administration duties are not required to wear a face covering, but face coverings are strongly encouraged. People who are engaged in religious worship activities are not mandated to wear a mask, but face coverings are strongly encouraged. People who are either giving a speech for a performance or a broadcast to an audience will not have to wear a face covering, but they should safely distance. There is also an exemption for counties where the Arkansas Department of Health has certified that the risk of community transmission of COVID-19 is low.

Governor Hutchinson said executive orders of the governor have the force and effect of law.

According to state officials, “Violation of a directive from the Secretary of Health during this public health emergency is

  • a misdemeanor offense, and
  • upon conviction, punishable by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars ($100) nor more than five hundred dollars ($500).”

State officials say law enforcement and local officials have the authority and are encouraged to enforce the directive.

According to state officials, first-time violators of this order shall receive a verbal or written warning.

State officials say violators who are under 18 years old can only receive a verbal or written warning.

According to state officials, no law enforcement or local official can detain, arrest or confine in jail any person for violation of the order.

The governor said, “This is not about arresting anyone, but education and a penalty and a consequence.”

The order cannot prohibit officers or local officials “from enforcing trespassing laws or other trespassing laws or other applicable laws in removing violators at the request of businesses or other property owners.”

According to the executive order, cities and counties can issue local ordinances consistent with the order. It is also stated that cities can not impose a measure is in conflict with a directive or guideline issued by the Secretary of Health, in consultation with the governor.

The executive order will automatically expire when the current emergency is over.

“This is a mandate,” said Governor Hutchinson. “It does carry consequences. It is enforceable, but it’s being implemented in a way that allows for normal activities whenever you can do a social and physical distancing. But this is something that is necessary under the current environment.”

Governor Hutchinson said the fight will get harder, not easier. The governor also said everyone must do their part.

As of Thursday afternoon, there are 31,114 total COVID-19 cases and 341 deaths in Arkansas, according to state officials. That is an increase of 817 cases and six deaths from Wednesday.

According to state officials, the counties with the most new cases are Pulaski County (114), Washington County (68), Benton County (48), Sebastian County (43), Pope County (40), Faulkner County (27), Yell County (26), Garland (24), Craighead County (22) and Arkansas County (20).

Dr. Jose Romero, there are currently 6,578 active cases in the state.

According to state officials, there are currently 470 people hospitalized due to the virus in Arkansas, which is a net increase of 12 from Wednesday.

According to Dr. Romero, there are 101 people on a ventilator due to the coronavirus in Arkansas, which is an increase of seven from Wednesday.

Baptist Health CEO Troy Wells said the facility has 200 Intensive Care Unit beds across Arkansas. On June 19, they had 181 people in ICU with 16 of those having the coronavirus, according to Wells. Today, they have 161 in the ICU with 31 coronavirus patients with 19 of those on ventilators, Wells said.

Wells said hospitals always run 80 to 90 full in ICU beds.

According to Wells, they are limited each day on reagents to process COVID tests.

Wells said they have seen waits from five to six days in their own lab. They are relying on private labs to help.

State officials say 6,020 tests were completed in the state on Wednesday.

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