Governor requires face masks
On Thursday, July 16, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson announced beginning Monday, July 20, all Arkansans will be required to wear face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The executive order came after the state experienced its third highest daily increase in new cases since the pandemic began.
The mandate will expire once the state of emergency concerning the pandemic comes to an end. The current public health emergency is set to expire in approximately two weeks. The health emergency could be extended if new cases of the virus continue rise.
During Thursday's announcement, Hutchinson cited several reasons to issue the executive order including the increased number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the state, medical expert advice, concerns from state legislators and the upcoming school year.
Hutchinson said, "This mandate if appropriate and necessary. Fighting this virus will get harder, not easier. This is one way that every Arkansan can help in this fight."
According to the executive order requires Arkansans, with some exceptions, to wear a mask in an indoor setting with people not from their household and maintaining a minimum distance of six feet cannot be achieved. It also requires masks to be worn outdoors when proper social distancing cannot be achieved.
The exceptions to the order include children under the age of 10; a medical condition that prevents wearing a face covering; job duties make it impossible; practicing athletics where six feet cannot be achieved; when eating or drinking; engaging in worship; driving alone or with household members only; giving a speech; in counties where the department of health has certified the risk of transmission of the virus is low; and voting or those assisting a voter.
Hutchinson explained that the mandate is an executive order and the violation of the order is a misdemeanor offense and upon conviction punishable by a fine of not less than $100 and not more than $500. Hutchinson added that law enforcement and local officials have the authority and are encouraged to enforce the directive. He stated that first time violators shall receive a verbal or written warning; violators of this order under the age of 18 shall receive only a verbal or written warning; no law enforcement officer may detain, arrest or confine in jail a person for violation of this order; and the order will not prohibit law enforcement officers or local officials from enforcing trespassing laws or other applicable laws in removing violators at the request of business or property owners.
Searcy County Sheriff Kenny Cassell and Chief Deputy Dewayne Pierce questioned the constitutionality of the mandate. Cassell said, "We are going to rely on the common sense of the citizens of Searcy County when it comes to wearing masks. We ask the people to use common sense. Businesses can mandate in-store policies and we ask citizens to respect the stores policies when shopping in their stores or places of business."
Pierce added, "Due to an already demanding workload of the sheriff's office and limited number of officers, we are not going to become the mask police."
On Friday, July 17, Searcy County Judge Jim Harness reported the county had added one additional positive case of COVID-19. Harness said, "The way they add cases and remove them makes it a little difficult to keep track of the new cases. As of 8:15 this morning, Searcy County had a total of 18 positive cases with 14 recovered but included in those numbers is the one new case, which is in the northwest part of the county."
Harness also stated as of Friday morning, he had not received any formal documentation describing the exact conditions (other than 28 days) or perimeter for the health department to determine an area be exempt from wearing a mask in public. He did say when he received more details, he would share them with the public.
Marshall Police Chief Lang Holland said, "As most everyone knows the governor issued a mask mandate yesterday July 16, 2020 that goes into effect Monday July 20, 2020. I feel this order is a very large overreach of the powers given to State government by the citizens of the state of Arkansas. Therefore the Marshall Police Department will take no enforcement action of any kind this includes arrest or citation by anyone who is not wearing a mask while out in public."
Holland added, "It is a free country if you want to wear a mask wear one, if you do not want to wear one don't wear one. If a business chooses to have a mask policy to enter their private business they have the right as a private business to require the mask. If you do not want to wear a mask inside the establishment then do not enter it is that simple. Shop somewhere else. Remember Benjamin Franklin said, 'Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.' These mandates by government are killing our economy all over this county and until people in positions of authority in government stand up and say enough is enough we are going to become a failed communist state."
He is encouraging residents to speak with him about this issue if they feel the need it do so.