Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday that he would support efforts to overturn a forthcoming federal mandate for businesses with 100 or more to require their employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or tested regularly.
"I think it’s primarily a decision for the courts to make, and I would expect a very organized challenge to it from various attorney generals," Hutchinson said. "I would support that effort."
Hutchinson made the comments at his weekly news conference at the state Capitol in which he sought to clarify his opposition to the mandate announced Thursday by President Joe Biden.
The Republican governor spoke as the number of people hospitalized with covid-19 in Arkansas fell for the seventh day in a row, reaching its lowest level since July 30.
The state's count of cases rose by 1,544, an increase that was more than twice as large as the one a week earlier, when the number of test results reported was lower than normal because of Labor Day.
Arkansas' death toll from the virus, as tracked by the Department of Health, rose by 36, to 7,334.
Hutchinson said he recognizes the authority of the federal government to mandate vaccines for the military and other federal employees, but he said a broad mandate applying to businesses "is not consistent with historical use of federal authority in public health matters" and "will increase vaccine hesitancy."
"I should emphasize that I continue to advocate for everyone that is eligible to be vaccinated," Hutchinson said.
"That is the message, and this debate on mandates is a side attraction that withdraws, really, from the greater voice that we’ve had in encouraging vaccinations."
Although health officials have expressed concern that gatherings over Labor Day weekend would lead to a spike in cases, such an increase didn't appear to have materialized as of Tuesday.
The number of people hospitalized with covid-19 in Arkansas fell by 16, to 1,097.
The number who were on ventilators fell for the fourth straight day, going from 286 as of Monday to 281, its lowest level since Aug. 8.
With recoveries outpacing new cases, the number of cases in the state that were considered active fell by 737, to 17,084, the smallest number since July 28.