GOVERNOR HUTCHINSON: Not too proud to wear a mask. Brian Chilson

A one-day record of new COVID-19 cases the day after top state doctors said the state needs a unified mask requirement and as evidence grows of a slapdash approach to safety in schools, Governor Hutchinson responded. He’s concerned and will have more to say Monday.

His spokesperson, Katie Beck, also gave this statement to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

“The Department of Health, in consultation with the Governor’s office, issued statewide guidance strongly supporting the wearing of face coverings,” the spokesman, Katie Beck, said in an email.

“The Governor also issued an executive order granting cities the authority to pass their own ordinances to mandate the wearing of face coverings and provided cities with a model ordinance to assist them. This will provide an additional tool through law enforcement to assist businesses in assuring compliance. The Governor will continue to consider effective options to control the spread.”

Strongly support means nothing. Requirements do. They can be enforced. As Hutchinson’s Health Department shut down a bar that was flagrantly ignoring state orders (as opposed to words of strong support).

It is laughable for Beck to cite the governor’s grant of “authority” to cities to pass a model ordinance approved by the governor and only that ordinance. It provides no tool that doesn’t already exist. It prohibits enforceable mask ordinances. It doesn’t prevent a business from using police to claim trespass IF they choose to require masks of their customers. But it also doesn’t prevent businesses from refusing to follow the “strong encouragement” to wear masks, whether their employees or customers.

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Example of how toothless this city ordinance promise is. We have a similar directive by mayoral order, tailored to meet the governor’s wishes. It is unenforceable.

I just visited a grocery that I think does a pretty good job of cleanliness. It posts a sign saying the city requires customers to wear a mask (which isn’t true). There’s a masked security guard at the door, along with a station with disinfectant spray and disposable wipes.

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As I approached the door, a family of four, a couple and an older man all entered the store without wearing masks. The store effectively follows the governor’s stated policy — strongly encourage, but no enforcement. All staffers were masked and a majority of customers were as well. But as Dr. Cam Patterson and Dr. Joe Thompson made clear on Arkansas Week Friday night, universal mask-wearing will save more lives.

The governor refuses. Maliciously in at least one case. His Education secretary, Johnny Key, has prohibited the state’s second-largest school district, Little Rock, from requiring masks. Other districts are allowed to make this decision, but not Little Rock. It is the same message sent to Little Rock during the state’s six years of mismanagement of the school district — Little Rock School District Lives Don’t Matter.

What does matter to the governor is money, or more precisely those who have lots of it. They want business open. And some of the biggest of them also want the Little Rock School District destroyed. Here, the governor can kill two birds with one stone. But some real lives might be collateral damage.

 

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