Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced on Feb. 26 that the state’s COVID-19 directives will now be considered “guidance” which do not carry penalties for businesses or individuals.
He also announced Arkansas’ mask mandate will end on March 31 if the state reached certain goals.
The new order changes the directives into “guidance” which he defined as a “strong recommendation.” At the news conference, he and Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero said they don’t expect Arkansans behavior to change, as mask-wearing, hand washing and social distancing is still necessary.
On CNN’s ‘State of the Union,’ Hutchinson said goals announced in February to lift the mask mandate, which include the 7-day rolling average of testing positivity rate remains below 10 percent after an average of 7,500 people tested daily, or fewer than 750 hospitalizations, are being met and he believes the mask requirement will be lifted.
“You can’t keep directives in place forever,” Hutchinson said. “This gives us a safe path to move forward following the guidelines. And if a business believes that they can keep their customers safe and their employees safe and they want to tweak it … then there’s more flexibility.”
Former UA Little Rock student, Jeffery Huber said the way Gov. Hutchinson has handled the pandemic is the best job he’s done since he’s been in office. “He’s put together a really smart team to surround and advise him,” he said.
When asked how he thinks business will handle the restriction being lifted he responded, “People need to understand that each business has the right to require you to wear a mask.”
He said he doesn’t think the restriction being lifted will set Arkansas back in the progress made since the pandemic started last March.
Veronica Lindsey, a senior from Philander Smith has a different take on the proposal. “I feel the governor is a little more relaxed than he should be with the mask mandate,” Lindsey said. “In my opinion, it is still a little too early to let individuals walk around or go into various businesses without a mask on because the coronavirus is still prevalent and a big concern to many individuals around the world and even in this state.”
Lindsey said that she thinks the restriction being lifted will set us back in our progress.
“The cases are still high and prevalent in Arkansas, and everyone has not been allowed to receive the vaccination yet,” Lindsey said. “Even though we will be able to go out without a mask, I will continue to wear mine until I feel more comfortable being without it in a public setting.”
On March 24, a week before the mask mandate is expected to be lifted, Arkansas had 231 new positive cases and 172 active hospitalizations.