State mask mandate lifted, more eligible for COVID-19 vaccines

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announces the lifting of the state’s mask mandate and increased eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines during a news conference Tuesday.

With the end of March, the state’s mask mandate also has gone away.

Last month, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson lifted most of the state’s restrictions because of COVID-19, and said he expected to end the mask mandate on March 31 if case numbers stay low. On Tuesday he announced he was immediately lifting the mask mandate.

Hutchinson also announced, during a news conference, that all Arkansans age 16 and older are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to Hutchinson’s office, the decision to lift the mask mandate came after the Governor, in consultation with Secretary Jose Romero of the Arkansas Department of Health, determined that Arkansas has met the guidelines it set on Feb. 26. But, the Governor stated that businesses still have the right to require customers to wear masks, and Hutchinson asks that people respect those requirements.

“I’ve talked to a number of restaurant owners who will continue requiring masks within their restaurant for the safety of their employees and patrons,” Hutchinson said Tuesday. “Please be respectful and mindful that, while the mask mandate has been lifted, many businesses will continue to require it.”

On increasing vaccine eligibility, Hutchinson said: “We want Arkansans to get vaccinated because it is our path out of the pandemic. It is the way to get there quicker, and we want to ensure we give every Arkansan that opportunity.”

On Monday, Arkansas lawmakers rejected an effort to end the emergency declared by the governor because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Arkansas Legislative Council reviewed a request under the new law Hutchinson signed last week that expands the Legislature’s power to end a declared emergency.

Hutchinson said keeping the emergency declaration in place would allow the state to continue receiving additional food stamp benefits and would guarantee some liability protection for businesses.

The Arkansas Department of Health reported a total of 128 new virus cases Tuesday and 13 deaths, though eight of those deaths were from delayed reports.

Active cases declined by 15 to 1,717. However, hospitalizations statewide rose by six to 170. Northeast Arkansas hospitals added two patients, bringing the total to 19.

Northeast Arkansas COVID-19 cases by county through Tuesday:

Jackson – 2,431 confirmed (unchanged), 776 probable (up 3); 10 active cases (up 2); 23 confirmed deaths, 15 probable.

Craighead – 11,357 confirmed (up 6 from Monday), 1,719 probable (up 1), 64 active cases (unchanged); 155 confirmed deaths, 19 probable.

Greene – 4,786 confirmed (up 2), 1,217 probable (up 2); 20 active (down 4); 63 confirmed deaths, 12 probable.

Lawrence – 1,669 confirmed (unchanged) 400 probable (up 4); 6 active (up 4); 38 confirmed deaths, 4 probable.

Poinsett – 2,714 confirmed, 399 probable (both unchanged); 12 active (down 3); 61 confirmed deaths, 15 probable.

Mississippi – 5,107 confirmed (up 2), 637 probable (up 1); 24 active cases (down 1); 90 confirmed deaths, 16 probable.

Randolph – 1,572 confirmed (up 5), 489 probable (up 3); 14 active cases (up 6); 35 confirmed deaths, 12 probable.

Cross – 1,499 confirmed (up 1), 4120 probable (up 1); 5 active cases (up 1); 46 confirmed deaths, 3 probable.

Clay – 1,329 confirmed (up 1), 394 probable (unchanged); 6 active cases (unchanged 3); 36 confirmed deaths, 14 probable.

Paxton News Bureau contributed to this report.

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