Governor Hutchinson today ordered face coverings in the state effective Monday. There are some exceptions.
It will take the form of an executive order but carry the force of law and violations can be punishable by fines up to $500. It will stay in place during the continuation of the emergency directive.
He listed a variety of reasons:
- The number of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths “speak for themselves and indicate we need to do more.”
- Doctors and nurses on the front line have asked the public to do more.
- He’s talked with legislators. There are many different opinions. But many say, “I don’t like it, but whatever it takes, let’s get through this.”
- Children will be going back to school. If children are to be asked to wear masks, adults must help them be ready and “set the right example.”
Hutchinson said the fight against COVID-19 was likely to get harder, not easier, and the action that he’d long resisted he now believes is “appropriate and necessary.” He said everyone must do their part.
The Health Department’s Dr. Jose Romero said his agency was excited about the impact of the mandate and hoped it would produce positive results over time.
A reporter asked what changed his mind about earlier statements that a mask rule would be unenforceable.
He said he never believed “government coercion” was the first thing to turn to. At the beginning of the pandemic, he thinks it would have been impossible to enforce. There has to be a level of acceptance for enforcement, he said.
That has come through education and also from businesses moving in that direction. “Broad acceptance allows this to be enforceable and acceptable by the public,” he said.
He said the rules will apply in the Capitol, where some legislators have vowed not to wear a mask because Donald Trump does not. Hutchinson said Trump has worn a mask recently. But he said he hoped legislators would follow the rules. He said a constitutional question might exist about whether laws could be enforced against legislators when they are in session.
He said he’d followed a nursing home guideline that might allow for a county to become exempt from the mask rule after 28 days without new positive cases and evidence of continued adequate testing.
He said he might be ready to change other postures on things, depending on how things develop. But rising cases here and everywhere dictated this action, “inconvenient but a minimal disruption.”
Asked about a special session on the issue, as Sen. Bob Ballinger had indicated he preferred, Hutchinson said: “I don’t think a special session is what the majority of legislators want.” He said the legislature had given him authority to handle an emergency and use powers to address the pandemic.
Local ordinances that had encouraged masks, but carried no enforcement provisions, will be superseded by the state mandate.
He hasn’t issued the precise order yet, but he displayed these outlines of the specifics:
Some legislators have already been chafing at the governor’s broad use of emergency powers. This should bring more griping. For example:
— Laurie Rushing (@RepRushing) July 16, 2020
The daily coronavirus count
Arkansas recorded 817 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, pushing the cumulative total to 31,114. Deaths rose by six to 341. Hospitalizations rose by 12 to 470. Active cases: 6,578.
The top counties in new cases over the 24 hours: Pulaski, 114; Washington, 68; Benton, 48; Sebastian, 43; Pope, 40; Faulkner, 27; Yell, 26; Garland, 24; Craighead, 22; Arkansas, 20, and Garland, 24.
Tests completed in 24 hours: 6,020.
He was asked about financial help for parents in Fayetteville, where there will be no full week of regular classroom education, only a blend of in-class and at-home. He said Fayetteville had “gotten off track” of what he’d expected, but he didn’t anticipate financial help for parents. He said there is some federal money for child care, but he preferred to emphasize in-class education.
He said the state had “aggressively” begun addressing CDC recommendations in a report on its review of a Northwest Arkansas outbreak. This included the hiring of bilingual contact tracers, already added to the staff.
He said he hadn’t made a final decision on attending the Republican National Convention, which is limiting attendance because of health concerns.