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Little Rock's covid-19 emergency declaration continues

City board declines changes with no vote, little discussion by Joseph Flaherty | September 29, 2021 at 6:55 a.m.
FILE — Little Rock City Hall is shown in this 2019 file photo.

An emergency declaration issued over the coronavirus pandemic will continue in Little Rock after the city board on Tuesday declined to end or alter it during a policy discussion.

The board approved an extension to the emergency declaration Aug. 31. Currently, the declaration is to expire after Dec. 29, absent board action in the coming months.

The emergency declaration primarily serves to require masks in city buildings.

The discussion Tuesday was the first opportunity for board members to periodically review the declaration in the wake of the most recent extension. They will get other chances Oct. 26, Nov. 23 and Dec. 28.

The city has operated under a series of emergency declarations issued during the pandemic.

Mayor Frank Scott Jr. recently backtracked on a municipal mask mandate, citing the persistent spread of infections in Arkansas.

In August, the mayor reinstated a version of the city's mask mandate, which the city had ended a few months earlier because of new guidance on masking for vaccinated people that was issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The latest mandate applies to facilities owned or operated by the city.

Undergirding the reissued mandate was the city's most recent emergency declaration, which had been issued in April. However, the declaration would have expired at the end of August -- presumably taking the new mask mandate down with it -- had city directors not voted to extend the measure.

During the August vote, Vice Mayor Lance Hines of Ward 5 and City Director Doris Wright of Ward 6 voted against authorizing the extension.

City directors did not take a vote during Tuesday's policy session, which occurred immediately after the board's agenda meeting.

Instead, Scott and at-large representative Dean Kumpuris had a brief exchange about the emergency declaration before the board moved on the other business.

When Scott asked for his opinion on the 30-day extension during the meeting, Kumpuris said, "I would strongly urge that we continue what we're doing right now."

He referred to the positive effects of masking in schools with regard to transmission of the virus.

Kumpuris, who is a gastroenterologist, serves as the chairman of a Little Rock covid-19 task force that has operated during the pandemic.

Also on Tuesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson during a news conference said he had allowed a state public health emergency declaration to expire one day earlier.

Hutchinson had opted not to submit an extension request to the Legislative Council.

Print Headline: LR emergency for pandemic staying in place

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