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Governor's decision to end Arkansas' statewide mask mandate, explained

by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette , Nyssa Kruse | April 1, 2021 at 2:03 p.m.
In this July 20 file photo, Gov. Asa Hutchinson removes his mask before a briefing at the state Capitol in Little Rock. (The Associated Press)

This story is a part of The Article, your guide to Arkansas news and culture, presented by the Democrat-Gazette. Sign up for The Article's twice-weekly newsletter here or to see stories that have appeared in past newsletters, go here.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday lifted the state’s mask mandate — but that doesn’t mean masks are no longer required in public places.

Back up: Why did the governor lift the mask mandate?

Hutchinson said last month if fewer than 7,500 tests were being conducted a day, then the mandate would be lifted if fewer than 750 patients with covid-19 were in hospitals.

Because the average number of tests conducted each day has fallen below 7,500, and only 170 patients were hospitalized Tuesday (the number fell further Wednesday to 166) the mask mandate was lifted.

Why might masks still be required in public places?

Local municipalities can enforce mask mandates of their own.

Hutchinson had previously said local governments would not be allowed to enforce a mandate, but reversed his position this week because barring municipalities from making their own rules would have required an executive order.

"Just like we lifted all the business restrictions, I'm lifting the restrictions in reference to local governments as well," Hutchinson said.

Some cities have already announced mandates, including Little Rock, North Little Rock and Fayetteville. Read more on the decisions of some local governments here.

What does the end of the mandate mean for businesses?

Businesses can still require masks for employees and patrons regardless of local government decisions. Some businesses said they plan to continue requiring masks — go here to read more.

What does the end of the mandate mean for schools?

Secretary of Education Johnny Key said Tuesday school boards will decide for their districts whether masks will continue to be required.

Some districts temporarily continued mask rules until school boards can meet, some school boards previously voted to retain mask-wearing policies and some districts have already announced loosening of mask requirements.

Read more about the decisions at various districts on masks so far.

Despite the governor’s comments, some or all of the mask rules by businesses, municipalities and schools could be done away with because of a bill the state Senate passed Wednesday that would nullify "all mandatory face covering requirements."

The bill’s author said it’s not aimed at local government or business decisions — just statewide ones — but other legislators think the bill’s language would affect all mask rules. Read more about the legislation here.

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