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Governor extends emergency order, mask mandate; other directives become guidelines

by Brianna Kwasnik | February 26, 2021 at 11:15 a.m.
FILE — Gov. Asa Hutchinson arrives the state Capitol in Little Rock for his daily coronavirus briefing in this June 17, 2020 file photo. See more photos at arkansasonline.com/618governor/.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Friday the extension of the state’s public health emergency until March 31. The governor also said all public health directives besides the mask mandate have become guidelines, effective immediately.

The mask mandate will become a guideline on March 31 if certain public health goals are met, Hutchinson said.

The termination of the mandate would require a combined PCR and antigen positivity rate at 10% or less, with at least 7500 specimens tested on average daily. If testing is below 7500 on average daily, hospitalization rates would become the “indicator for action,” according to the governor. Fewer than 750 hospitalized covid-19 patients statewide would be the “trigger.”

Additionally, the governor said all other public health directives will become guidelines, effective immediately.

Hutchinson described directives as mandates "with a potential penalty after due process” and guidance as “a strong recommendation based on medical advice.”

The restrictions being lifted include capacity limits for bars, restaurants, gyms and large venues.

If cases were to increase, the governor said the emergency order would remain in place and could be adjusted as needed. Guidelines may be reinstated as mandates.

Health Secretary Jose Romero stressed the importance of Arkansans continuing to wear masks and wash their hands, adding that, despite no findings of covid variants in Arkansas, they may already be in the state.

Romero added that despite the mandates becoming guidelines, it is still essential for Arkansans to receive the vaccine, as it is the “only way” we will return to normal.

EARLIER:

Gov. Asa Hutchinson will provide an update on Arkansas’ current public health emergency and on the state’s covid-19 directives at 9 a.m.

Check back to watch the live video.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to view » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBINGFfD638]

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

This story has been updated. It was originally published at 8:36 a.m.

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