A mask mandate requiring the wearing of masks in Arkansas has been lifted by state officials.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that the statewide mask mandate would be ending, effective Tuesday, March 30. “This is an important day to start a new part of our journey through this pandemic,” he said.
Hutchinson had told reporters during a press conference on Feb. 26 that he expected to lift the mandate on Wednesday, March 31. During that press conference, Hutchinson unveiled the criteria the state would be required to meet for the mandate to be lifted. The first goal was for the state to have a combined PCR and antigen test positivity rate of 10 percent or less on a seven-day rolling average with at least 7,500 individuals tested daily on average. The second criteria, if the testing did not meet the 7,500 mark, would be a hospitalization number of less than 750 COVID patients statewide.
According to Hutchinson, the state did not meet the testing requirement but there were fewer than 750 patients. The Arkansas Department of Health reported 170 hospitalizations on Tuesday. “By the criteria we set, it’s an appropriate time to lift the statewide mask mandate,” Hutchinson said.
With the lifting of the mandate, Hutchinson acknowledged that some individuals and businesses would continue to use them. He stated that he would also continue to incorporate masks as part of his “wardrobe” when going about his duties, though he is vaccinated.
“There will be many times during the day that I will wear the mask. While I’ve been vaccinated, it’s important to be courteous to others and be mindful that we should protect ourselves and others,” Hutchinson said.
“Common sense,” he said should govern the use of masks in Arkansas.
In regards to businesses, Hutchinson emphasized that owners can choose to set mask requirements for their establishments or not. Customers who do not wish to abide by those requirements, he said, can choose to take their business elsewhere.He honed in on restaurants, in particular, noting that restaurants may choose to have customers continue wearing masks when they are not eating. “Some others will choose something different – they have the flexibility. But there’ll be many that continue to require a mask while they’re not eating in the restaurant,” he said.
State employees will be required to wear masks despite the mandate lifting, if they cannot socially distance in the workplace.
Public schools will be allowed to “continue, modify or eliminate” mask wearing, according to Arkansas Department of Education Secretary Johnny Key. Local boards of education will make determinations on the school policies concerning mask usage.
The statewide mask mandate has been in place since Monday, July 20, according to previous Arkansas Money & Politics reporting.
While the mask mandate has been lifted, the COVID-19 public health emergency is still in place in Arkansas. The Arkansas Legislative Council voted to extend the public health emergency for an additional 60 days – it was set to expire on Wednesday – at the request of Hutchinson.