Jul 29, 2021 - Politics

Governor asks legislature to reconsider ban on school mask mandates

Photo of Asa Hutchinson

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks during a community town hall to promote COVID-19 vaccinations at Arkansas State University-Mountain Home on July 16, 2021. Photo: Liz Sanders/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Gov. Asa Hutchinson reinstated Arkansas' public health emergency Thursday, and announced he is calling a special session of the legislature to amend the law banning mask mandates to allow more flexibility for schools.

What's happening: COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are out of control in the state. And Act 1002 prohibits school districts from requiring masks when classes start again in a few weeks.

  • Hutchinson stressed school districts need to be allowed to require masks, in particular to protect kids under 12 who cannot get vaccinated.

Threat level: Four COVID-19 patients were forced to wait in ambulances Thursday until EMTs could find open hospital beds, Hutchinson said.

  • A federal surge response team is coming to Arkansas to evaluate how to handle the uptick in hospitalized patients.

Why it matters: The emergency declaration will allow the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management to seek emergency staffing assistance and will ease licensure requirements for health professionals, speeding up the process for those going into health care and making it easier for retired health professionals to re-enter the field.

By the numbers: The state added more than 2,800 new cases between Wednesday and Thursday, and 1,055 people were in the hospital as of Thursday.

  • Arkansas Children's Hospital had 24 COVID-19 patients, Hutchinson said. Half the patients were under 12.

1 important thing: 29.4% of Arkansans ages 12–18 are partially vaccinated, and another 17.5% are fully vaccinated, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.

What's next: The legislature will likely meet next week to reconsider the mask ban.

  • Spokespeople for Bentonville, Springdale and Rogers school districts tell Axios they do not yet have specific plans if Act 1002 is amended.
  • The Fayetteville school board on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution asking the legislature to suspend, amend or repeal Act 1002 and stating the district would immediately reinstate a policy requiring masks for all students and employees.
  • Fayetteville board members clarified the resolution does not enact a mask mandate and the board would still need to pass a policy if Act 1002 changes.

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