Gov. Hutchinson: Statewide mask mandate won’t ‘happen in the near future’

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 1,168 views 

Gov. Asa Hutchinson continues to say a statewide mask mandate is not right for Arkansas, pushing back against a growing number of states and cities enacting similar measures and against a new investment bank study suggesting mask mandates better contain COVID-19 and help the economy.

20 states and the District of Columbia have some form of a mask mandate, and other state governors are under pressure to implement mask mandates as the rise in COVID cases nationwide continues to spike. The number of cases reported Tuesday (June 30) in Arkansas topped 500, breaking a four-day decline in new cases.

When asked Tuesday during his daily COVID-19 briefing about declines in Illinois and New York because of mandated mask use, Gov. Hutchinson said California has a mask mandate but is seeing a rise in cases.

“But how about California? California has had some of the strictest rules, and you see their cases going up. I think you can continue to look at the data. As I talk to other governors, the majority of governors have not provided any mandates, statewide mandates, for wearing masks,” he said.

The governor also asserted without proof that his “strategy of education, of leadership, of encouragement and showing the difference that it makes” is resulting in more Arkansans wearing masks.

“That [strategy] has increased the usage of face coverings when you can’t do social distancing. So we drive that message. I think you’re seeing success in it, and we’re going to continue to do so,” Gov. Hutchinson said.

He stuck to his guns when asked later in the briefing if a continued rise in Arkansas cases would cause him to be open to a mask mandate.

“For a lot of different reasons, I don’t think that is right. … We’ll look at the data. If we need to make adjustments we will. But I don’t expect that to happen in the near future,” Gov. Hutchinson said.

An 11-page investor note from Goldman Sachs estimates a national face mask mandate would help avoid a return to broad economic lockdowns that would reduce the U.S. GDP by 5%. The report estimates that new COVID cases grow 17.3% each week without a mask mandate, but only 7.3% with a mandate. A mask mandate would also reduce “cumulative fatalities” per week from 29% to 16%, according to the report.

“We estimate that statewide mask mandates gradually raise the percentage of people who ‘always’ or ‘frequently’ wear masks by around 25 [percentage points] in the 30+ days after signing,” the Goldman Sachs economists noted in their report.

Known COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 20,777 on Tuesday, up from 20,257 on Monday. Of the 520 new cases, 18 were from correctional facilities. There are 5,976 active cases. The number of deaths rose from 265 to 270. The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 290 on Tuesday, down from 300 on Monday. There are 67 patients on ventilators, up from 63 on Monday. Of the known cases since March 11, 14,531 have recovered.

Of the 502 new known community cases, 69% were in five counties: Washington (152), Pulaski (118), Benton (33), Faulkner (23), and Yell (21). However, 30% of the Pulaski County cases are possibly from the Wrightsville prison unit. Details on the possible prison numbers are expected Wednesday. The number of reported new cases is up 161.4% so far in June.

As of Tuesday at 1 p.m., there were 2,606,211 U.S. cases and 126,360 deaths. Globally, there were 10,360,882 cases and 507,014 deaths.

Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said tests have been conducted with more than 40,000 residents and staff in long-term care facilities, but a few facilities have yet to test all residents and staff. Gov. Hutchinson set a goal to test all nursing home residents and staff – estimated by state officials to be more than 56,000 – during June.

Smith also said a second team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is in Arkansas working with nursing homes about how the virus spreads among residents and staff.

Gov. Hutchinson announced June 17 that nursing homes and other long-term health care facilities may begin limited reopening July 1 for family visits. Smith said Tuesday that state criteria for the reopening now includes a CDC rule that a nursing home must have 28 days without a positive case before reopening. Smith said as of Tuesday, 326 long-term facilities have been tested, with 59 having at least one case.