With known COVID-19 cases hitting a new record and cities acting or considering rules to require the use of face masks, Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Friday (June 19) announced new face mask guidance but said a directive mandating face mask use would not work because it would be unenforceable.
Known COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 14,631 on Friday, up from 13,928 on Thursday. Of the 703 new cases, 41 were from correctional facilities. The number of deaths rose from 208 to 214. The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 231 on Friday, up from 226 on Thursday. There are 57 patients on ventilators, up from 53 on Thursday.
Of the 662 new community cases, 37.5% were from Washington (136) and Benton (112) counties in Northwest Arkansas. Rounding out the top five in new case growth were Pulaski County (53), Sevier County (44), and Sebastian County (26). The number of new cases statewide is up 175% in the past 30 days, rising from 5,322 on May 19 to 14,631 on June 19. The new case growth is up 59% in the past two weeks.
As of Friday at 1 p.m., there were 2,205,307 U.S. cases and 118,695 deaths. Globally, there were 8,550,458 cases and 456,881 deaths.
Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said the Friday surge is similar to the 609 new cases reported the previous Friday. He said there is not “enough information on those” similar surges to make a definitive connection, but it does raise a possibility.
“But when you see a weekly pattern like that and you go back the five or six days of the average incubation period, at least there’s a suggestion that what’s happening on the weekends is having some bearing there,” Smith said.
He said information from “places of worship” resulted in a list of more than 25 churches with one or more cases, and that more than one-third of the churches did not require face mask use.
NEW FACE MASK GUIDANCE
Gov. Hutchinson said the new face mask guidance issued by the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) includes information he hopes will encourage more citizens to wear masks.
“I encourage everyone to really look at some of the case studies that are in the guidance and references the scientific literature that shows that when face masks are used by … a majority of the population in public settings, then it is effective in starting to reduce that transmission. So help us out. Follow that recommendation, and it will make a difference as we go through this,” he said during the daily COVID-19 briefing.
Following is the exact ADH language issued Friday about face mask guidance.
• The general public should wear face coverings in all indoor environments where they are exposed to non-household members and distancing of 6 feet or more cannot be assured. This includes, but is not limited to, workplaces (with few exceptions), retail stores, businesses, places of worship, courtrooms, jails and prisons, schools, healthcare facilities, other people’s homes and all the scenarios addressed by the Governor’s Directives.
• The general public should also wear face coverings at all outdoor settings where they are exposed to non-household members unless there is ample space (6 feet or more) to practice physical distancing.
• Regarding the type of face covering, medical masks may be somewhat more protective than cloth masks (if they are clean and dry), but more and more evidence supports cloth masks as being sufficient for the general public and effective in preventing transmission. Cloth masks should consist of at least two layers of fabric. N95 respirators should be reserved for front-line health care workers.
• All face coverings should cover both the mouth and nose at all times in order to be effective.
In light of a Fayetteville ordinance mandating mask use and a directive by Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., to wear masks, and the rise in COVID-19 cases, the governor was asked why he resists doing more to require the use of face masks. He responded by essentially saying he trusts Arkansans to do the right thing.
“My experience is with Arkansans is you give them information, they will make good judgments. We’re trying to give them good information so they will make good decisions in terms of public health. It’s also a public enforcement issue. … If you’re going to make a law or a directive, and that’s what a directive is, then it’s not good policy not to have the ability to enforce or the fact that it’s going to really make the directive illegitimate to begin with,” Gov. Hutchinson said.
EMT PAY BOOST
Gov. Hutchinson also announced Friday that the CARES Steering Committee and the Arkansas Legislative Council approved $12.127 million to support extra pay for emergency medical technicians (EMT).
The money comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act approved by Congress to provide aid to individuals, businesses and state and local governments in response to the pandemic.
Of the $12.127 million, $10.106 million will reach an estimated 5,053 EMT workers in the state, with the remainder used to pay taxes, social security and other payroll costs. The money provides an extra $125 a week for those who worked 20-39 hours a week and $250 a week for those with 40 or more weekly hours. The pay covers the period from April 5 through May 30.