Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Friday issued new guidance on wearing face masks in public along with an announcement that the statewide tally of positive COVID-19 cases increased by 703 to 14,631.
With 41 of those cases coming from inside correctional facilities, it is the highest spike in community cases to date.
The number of Arkansans hospitalized with the virus increased by five to 231, and six more people died from the virus, bringing the overall statewide death toll to 214.
Hutchinson said the updated guidelines for face coverings call for masks to be worn in all indoor and outdoor settings where people are exposed to non-household members and when at least six feet of physical distancing is not possible. He said masks should cover both the mouth and nose.
The official update document was later posted to the Health Department’s website, and lists a page full of supporting data to show that wearing a mask is an effective means of preventing transmission of COVID-19.
“I encourage everyone to really look at some of the case studies,” Hutchinson said. “(The guidance) references scientific literature which 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.”
Hutchinson said the new guidance is not an official directive so there won’t be any actual civil punishment for those who choose to ignore the recommendation of the Health Department, but he said it’s important advice that should be taken seriously.
“Help us out and follow that recommendation,” he said. “It will make a difference.”
Hutchinson yesterday signed an order extending the public health emergency he originally declared in March by an additional 45 days. It was set to expire today (June 19). He also recited a paragragh from the original order which states that only the Health Department may issue any official public health rules – such as mandating the use of face masks – during the pandemic.
Before voting unanimously Tuesday to adopt the new ordinance, Fayetteville City Council members said they knew state law likely prohibits the city from enacting public health regulations, but they were willing to risk retaliation from the governor in order to help protect residents at a time when COVID-19 cases are surging in Northwest Arkansas.
Hutchinson said he doesn’t intend to interfere with Fayetteville’s law, but discouraged other cities from writing their own rules.
“If it becomes more of a problem across the state with different instances of municipalities taking action, then we’ll re-examine that,” he said. “We want to have a coordinated approach, not a hodgepodge of different types of ordinances across the state.”
The governor said the northwest region continues to lead the state in new positive COVID-19 cases. He said Washington County had 136 new cases on Friday while Benton County had 112. Pulaski County had 53 new cases, Sevier County had 44, and Sebastian County had 26. All other counties had less than 20 new cases.