Governor: Respect decisions regarding masks
The eligibility list for COVID-19 vaccinations in Arkansas has expanded once more.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, speaking during his weekly news conference in Little Rock on March 30, announced that all Arkansans aged 16 and older would now be eligible to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, in addition to ending the state’s mask mandate, effective immediately.
“This is an important day to start a new portion of our journey through this pandemic,” Hutchinson said. “By the criteria that we set, it’s an appropriate time to lift the statewide mask mandate. This does not mean that the use of the mask will cease. This mask I wore in here today will continue to be a part of my wardrobe as I leave the house and go to work every day.”
Hutchinson said, even for those who have been fully vaccinated, it’s important to “be courteous and to be mindful that we need to protect ourselves and others.”
“Common sense should govern,” he said. “Please respect the decisions of others in regards to masks whether it is a private business or individuals.”
Hutchinson said that, in addition to many businesses that are expected to require masks in certain situations, state employees will still be required to wear face coverings in instances where social distancing is not possible.
“While we are lifting the statewide mask mandate, that does not mean it ends at every venue,” Hutchinson said. “Whenever you lift a mandate and individuals can make responsible decisions as well as businesses, we just need to honor those decisions.”
Hutchinson said he’d spoken with the owners of many restaurants and hotels who plan on keeping face-covering requirements in place for the time being.
“They want to have the highest level of safety until more people get vaccinated,” Hutchinson said. “Some others will choose something different. They have the flexibility.”
Hutchinson added that the masking policy will also continue in state prisons after the board governing the Department of Corrections voted in favor of the move in light of the “congregate setting.”
“They viewed that as important until later on, where it can be reviewed down the road,” Hutchinson said, adding that many hospitals and healthcare providers will also continue the policy.
“Please be respectful and mindful that while the mask mandate is lifted, there will be many that will continue to wear it,” Hutchinson said. “Many businesses will continue to require it. Be respectful of that. And if you don’t want to comply with that, then you have options to go somewhere else.”
On the vaccine front, Hutchinson said the decision to expand the list of those eligible a week after the last expansion resulted from a desire to get as many Arkansans vaccinated as possible in a more timely manner.
“[President Joe Biden] urged that by April 19, he wanted to see 90 percent of Americans that are eligible adults to be eligible for the vaccine,” Hutchinson said. “Obviously, we are meeting that goal today.”
Hutchinson said those seeking more information about scheduling an appointment to receive a vaccine should call the state hotline at 1-800-985-6030.
Monday’s report from the Arkansas Department of Health indicated that Arkansas has received a total of 1,819,110 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, with 1,242,842 doses administered. As of Monday, 462,515 Arkansans — or 19.48 percent of the state’s population aged 16 and older — have been fully immunized against the virus, while another 352,806 have received an initial dose.
Monday’s ADH report indicated that the total number of cases of COVID-19 in the state has increased by 1,125 in the past week, rising to 331,054, including 259,816 confirmed cases, 1,732 active cases and 5,643 deaths — including 48 additional deaths related to the virus in the past week — and 323,633 reported “recoveries.”
In Carroll County, the number of cases increased by eight in the past week, rising to 2,755, a number that includes 2,336 confirmed cases, 12 active cases, 2,699 “recoveries” and 44 deaths.
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