Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday (June 18) extended by 45 days the state’s emergency public health order, and recited a passage from the order that makes it clear cities can’t issue public health rules – such as mandating the use of face masks – that are more restrictive than state rules.
On Tuesday, Fayetteville City Council members unanimously passed a law that will require everyone to wear face masks inside public places in the city. It went into effect immediately. Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., is considering pushing an ordinance that also would require wearing face masks in public places.
The governor, speaking Thursday at the U.S. Marshals Museum in Fort Smith, said the original health order was set to expire June 19, and he is pushing it out another 45 days. He took time to read from paragraph five of the order.
“The secretary of health may issue orders of isolation and quarantine as necessary and appropriate to control the spread of COVID-19 in Arkansas. The secretary of health, in consultation with the governor, shall have sole authority over all instances of quarantine, isolation and restrictions on commerce and travel throughout the state. Cities and counties shall not impose any restriction of commerce or travel upon citizens that is more restrictive than a directive or guideline issued by the secretary of health in consultation with the governor.”
Gov. Hutchinson said the point of the order is that the state move in one direction and with one purpose in its COVID-19 response.
“We have a strategy in place. We need to implement that and make sure that we stay together as a state,” he said, adding later that he does not plan to take action against cities that have face mask and other rules that are more stringent than state rule.
Known COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 13,928 on Thursday, up from 13,606 on Wednesday. Of the 322 new cases, 23 were from correctional facilities. The number of active cases are 4,344, with 644 in correctional facilities. The number of deaths rose from 197 to 208. The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 226 on Thursday, up from 217 on Wednesday. There are 53 patients on ventilators, unchanged from Wednesday.
There were 46 new cases reported in Washington County, 33 in Benton County and 23 in Pulaski County. All other counties had fewer than 20 new cases reported.
As of Thursday at 1 p.m., there were 2,173,804 U.S. cases and 118,029 deaths. Globally, there were 8,400,320 cases and 450,137 deaths.
KANSAS QUARANTINE, TULSA RALLY
In response to a media question about Kansas issuing a quarantine order for travelers from Arkansas, Gov. Hutchinson said “it’s a little bit ironic” that people can travel from New York to Kansas without being quarantined, but not Arkansas.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Wednesday added Alabama, Arizona and Arkansas to its quarantine list, and removed Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island.
“That’s just an aberration from what the other states are doing in handling this, but, I didn’t have any advance notice on that,” Gov. Hutchinson said of the Kansas directive.
When asked about President Donald Trump’s June 20 rally in Tulsa, Gov. Hutchinson said he understands some from western Arkansas will attend. He encouraged rally-goers to wear masks and practice social distancing, and hoped others attending the rally would do the same.
“If those criteria aren’t met, and you go, I would encourage you to come back and get a test taken,” he said.
POSSIBLE EMPLOYER ACTION
Also on Thursday, the Health Policy Board of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI) asked all private and public employers to adopt five COVID-19 precautions. Following is the list of voluntary measures the ACHI hopes business owners will consider.
• Require employees, customers, and visitors to wear face coverings in shared spaces while inside
• Screen all employees for potential COVID-19 exposure and symptoms including fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, or loss of taste or smell as they are entering the facility at the beginning of work
• Make verbal announcements and post signage including signs for non-English speakers that encourage proper face covering placement, hand hygiene, and coughing and sneezing etiquette
• Establish and make available to the public written COVID-19 protocols for protection of employees, customers, and visitors
• Regularly monitor and assess compliance for necessary changes to existing practices based on available peer-reviewed evidence and public health guidance.
“Voluntary adoption by employers of these five precautions, in addition to following all of the Arkansas Department of Health’s general and business-specific directives, will further strengthen Arkansas’s public health response to COVID-19,” ACHI President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson said in a statement. “Fighting the spread of this disease requires changes in our behavior, and not enough of us are making the necessary changes. We call on employers to step up and do more than the minimum to ensure that their places of business are not COVID-19 transmission zones.”