GOVERNOR HUTCHINSON: Advises, but does not mandate, the wearing of masks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

The health policy board of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, known as ACHI, is urging employers — private and public — to require workers, customers and visitors to wear masks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.

The board has issued its recommendations for five “precautions”: Along with masking, the board recommends employers screen all employees as they arrive at work for possible COVID-19 symptoms of fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat or loss of taste or smell; post signage in the workplace that encourages face coverage, hand hygiene and coughing and sneezing etiquette in English and other languages for non-English speaking customers; create and provide in writing protocols for protection of employees, customers and visitors; and make sure to stay in compliance with guidance from public health guidance and “peer-reviewed evidence” as it evolves.

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ACHI President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson issued the following statement:

“Voluntary adoption by employers of these five precautions, in addition to following all of the Arkansas Department of Health’s general and business-specific directives, will further strengthen Arkansas’s public health response to COVID-19. Fighting the spread of this disease requires changes in our behavior, and not enough of us are making the necessary changes. We call on employers to step up and do more than the minimum to ensure that their places of business are not COVID-19 transmission zones.”

There is much evidence around the state that people see masking as a political statement, including the recent suggestion by Bella Vista JP Michelle Chiocco at a Benton County Republican Women’s meeting that asking people to wear masks to protect others was the equivalent of requiring women to wear burqas and that “we are in the middle of a coup and we have a limited time to fight it.” Asked for comment on Chiocco’s statement at Thursday’s COVID-19 press briefing, Governor Hutchinson, who both urges people to mask but won’t act to mandate them, brushed off its importance, saying it was important to “preach” that masks are a public health, not a political, issue. (Is he the target of the fearsome coup, or the leader of it? Hard to tell.)

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