As the number of COVID-19 cases in Arkansas continue to increase, several municipalities are taking matters into their own hands, enacting ordinances designed to limit the spread of the virus.
On Tuesday, June 16, the Fayetteville City Council passed an ordinance requiring individuals to wear masks when in public. This was followed by an announcement on Wednesday, June 17 from Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. that he is planning to sign an executive order to require face coverings in the capital city.
The state’s chief executive weighed in on the issue of municipalities taking their own preventative measures during his daily COVID-19 press briefing. Speaking about the Fayetteville ordinance, Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters that he would advise cities to avoid taking their own prevention measures and to follow state guidelines and directives.
“I understand where their heart is. I would prefer that cities not take that step simply because we want to make sure that we educate people, they exercise self-discipline, that they take their own responsibility, and through that education and the example of leaders, follow the right health protocols. That’s the preference, that’s the direction we’ve gone as a state,” he said.
According to Hutchinson, there is a risk of creating a “hodge podge” of different regulations and ordinances concerning COVID-19. Hutchinson went on to say that there was “some conflict” between the Fayetteville ordinance and the state directives. However, he did not elaborate on what the conflict might be. “I would discourage other cities from stepping out there. There is some conflict between what the city of Fayetteville did and the executive orders we’ve issued,” Hutchinson said.
When asked if the state was planning to take action on the Fayetteville ordinance, Hutchinson said he was not planning any immediate measures. However, he left the door open for the future, saying that state officials could reexamine this approach in the future if more municipal actions were taken without consultation from the Governor’s Office.
“Any citizen could take action if they felt like that was necessary or thought they were aggrieved. I don’t anticipate state action at this time,” he said. “Again, I know the intent of it, and I know they’ve got a growing number of cases. I don’t intend to interfere with that. If it becomes more of a problem across the state and different instances of municipalities taking action, we’ll reexamine that. We want to have a coordinated approach. We don’t want to have a hodgepodge of different types of ordinances across the state. That’s been the objective of our directives, and we’ll continue to look at our own directives and to see if there’s ways that we can strengthen the messaging that we have to Arkansans that this is important.”
Several hours after the press briefing, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. held his own press conference just a mile-and-a-half away from the State Capitol. He announced his intention to sign an executive order requiring face coverings in Little Rock when social distancing is not feasible.
Currently, there has been no response from Hutchinson on the Little Rock announcement.