FOX 16 Investigates: Are all state offices enforcing COVID-19 mandates?

Investigates

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Under Arkansas’ COVID-19 mandates, businesses across the state have been cited for not following the rules. Meanwhile, those same rules aren’t always being followed or enforced at offices run by the state. 

The state’s Central Revenue Office off 7th Street in downtown Little Rock is a traffic spot. Our FOX 16 Investigates team went inside and found a lack of social distancing and multiple people who weren’t wearing a mask. 

That same sight wasn’t a comfort for Jeanetta Townsend and her kids. 

“It’s very concerning,” Townsend said. “People are dying every day from this and the numbers are steady going up.”

Townsend says she couldn’t avoid a trip in since it’s the only way her 17-year-old daughter could get her first license. 

“You have to wear mask and a lot of people don’t wear it,” Townsend added. 

We saw that firsthand during trips we made to the Central Revenue Office over the course of a few days. In all our cameras captured more than a dozen people without masks on, some sat on crowded benches, others walked through the lobby, and several stood at the counter. 

Commissioner of Revenue for the Department of Finance and Administration, Charlie Collins, tells us it’s something he plans to check on. 

“We’re always working to do better,” Collins said. “I hear you saying that now you’ve spent some time, so now that tells me that’s something I need to keep a better eye on so I will keep a better eye on it.”

What’s happening downtown is a stark contrast to the other two offices in Little Rock where employees control who gets in and seats are spaced out. Collins says that system isn’t feasible in the Central Revenue Office since it is in on ground floor of an office building.

Collins pointed to other standardized policies, including a sanitization machine that travels to offices across the state for a deep cleaning.  

“We have a very aggressive cleaning schedule for example in our large offices the workers there attempt to clean those surfaces virtually on the hours.”

Collins sees a big challenge as balancing Governor Asa Hutchinson’s executive order from July, which put the rule in black and white but leaves enforcement as more of a shade of gray. 

“If you can’t social distance it’s mandatory you wear a mask,” Collins said. “There are multiple components to this, for example there are medical exemptions.”

Instead of singling someone out Collins says employees can offer them a mask, but they won’t turn them away. 

“Our employees, frankly they’re not law enforcement.,” he explained. “I’ve seen in various places around the country great amounts of violence spark up over what I would call vigilante mask enforcement.”

That’s why it’s his employees he hopes people will think about before stepping into an office, and remember they’re putting their health at risk. 

“I think our front-line workers are heroes in this whole pandemic,” Collins said.

In all, there are 134 revenue offices across the state. Since the pandemic started about 1 of every 3 of those had to close because of COVID.

Collins is also reminding people there are many services they can access online, including renewing their license and registration. You can find more information about those services HERE

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