Statewide mask mandate lifted; vaccine eligibility expanded to Arkansans 16 and older

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 898 views 

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday (March 30) lifted the statewide mask mandate even as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged governors to not lift such restrictions. Gov. Hutchinson also on Tuesday opened vaccine eligibility to all Arkansans age 16 and older.

“It is an appropriate time to lift the statewide mask mandate,” Gov. Hutchinson said, noting that the criteria of having fewer than 750 COVID-19 hospitalizations has been met.

The mask mandate was implemented on July 20, 2020. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in early March that now is “not the time to relax these things as exhausted as we all are because we do really see that real promise of getting to vaccinate everyone.”

He said the mask mandate, ending Tuesday, does not mean Arkansans should quit using masks. He said local governments can implement mask mandates, and said Arkansans should respect decisions by restaurants, hotels, government buildings, salons and barbershops, stores, hospitals and clinics and any other location in which the owner requires a mask.

“Please respect the decisions of others in regards to masks. And that is true whether it is a private business or individuals,” Gov. Hutchinson said.

Gov. Hutchinson and Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero said Arkansans should continue to be careful because cases are rising in other states fueled in part by COVID variants that are more transmissible and deadly. COVID case numbers reported Tuesday were up 12% in the U.S., with the seven-day average topping 63,000 for the first time in a month. A growing number of public health officials are warning of a fourth wave of the virus even with increased vaccinations.

“These growing numbers outside of the state will get here if we are not careful. … You need to continue to mask when you leave your home. You need to continue to avoid large gatherings. You need to follow the recommendations as per the CDC. Only that way will we be able to keep the numbers low as we are seeing them now,” Romero said.

The governor also said he is opening vaccine eligibility effective immediately to all Arkansans age 16 and older because it is the “path out of the pandemic.” He also said the White House informed him Tuesday that an additional 5.4 million vaccines would be made available to the states, with Arkansas set to receive an additional 25,000 doses a week for the next three weeks.

“We’re opening it (eligibility) up because we want to make sure we maximize every opportunity to get this life-saving vaccine into the arms of Arkansans and to accelerate that to the extent that we can,” he said.

Arkansas has received 1,662,850 vaccines since Dec. 14 and administered 1,153,739 doses, or 69.4% of vaccines received.

New known COVID-19 cases, active cases, tests
• Total confirmed and probable cases: 330,186, up 178
• Total confirmed and probable active cases: 1,717, down 56
• Total confirmed and probable deaths: 5,616, up 15
• There were 2,068 test results provided in the previous 24 hours.
• There were 1,754 antigen tests in the previous 24 hours.

170, up 6

25, down 3

The top five counties with new known cases reported Tuesday were: Washington (29), Benton (25), Pulaski (20), Sebastian (10), and Lonoke (8). The counties accounted for 51.6% of the 178 new confirmed and probable cases.

As of Tuesday at 2:30 p.m., there were 30,349,019 U.S. cases and 550,371 deaths. Globally, there were 127,880,539 cases and 2,796,431 deaths.