FAYETTEVILLE -- The city Board of Health strongly encouraged voters who do go to the polls this fall to wear a mask inside, as did Gov. Asa Hutchinson when he issued his statewide mask mandate in July.
Masks will not be required inside polling places during the Nov. 3 election. Hutchinson's mandate said face coverings must be worn in an all indoor environments where distancing of at least 6 feet cannot be achieved, but listed several exceptions. Exceptions are made for people who are voting, assisting voters, serving as poll watchers or actively doing election administration duties. The order specifically encourages face coverings, however.
City health board members on Wednesday discussed whether they had any authority regarding polling places. The meeting was held online via Zoom.
City Attorney Kit Williams said the board couldn't exceed the authority of Hutchinson's proclamation.
"You have a Constitutional right to vote," he said. "Therefore, if you deny somebody that if they're not wearing a mask, that sets up a real problem."
Huda Sharaf, medical director for the Pat Walker Health Center at the University of Arkansas, said it concerned her to potentially have people congregating at sites where masks aren't required.
"It opens the door to other types of facilities," she said. "If it's OK for folks to not wear a mask in front of a polling center, then why do masks need to be worn, let's say, in a restaurant? Why do masks need to be worn in a movie theater?"
The Washington County Election Commission on Tuesday approved turning Bud Walton Arena into an early voting site this year. The Associated Student Government has long pushed for a polling site somewhere on campus.
The city health board formally recommended voters wear masks at indoor polling places.
In other business, Lenny Whiteman, vice president of managed care at Washington Regional Medical Center, said covid-related hospitalizations at the facility rose from eight last week to 18 this week. He also expressed concern over non-covid patients requiring intensive care treatment. The hospital has been receiving non-covid patient transfers to its Intensive Care Unit, he said.
"We believe a factor that's causing that is patients have delayed or deferred care over the last several months due to concerns about covid," Whiteman said. "We really think that's becoming a big factor today."
A potential influx of non-covid intensive care patients, covid-related ones and patients with the flu may put added stress on the region's hospital system this fall, Whiteman said.
"It's an ominous storm that's brewing," he said.
A webpage has launched with regular updates from Fayetteville’s public health officer, Dr. Marti Sharkey, at: