Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced Friday she has disbanded five government covid-19 pandemic groups and committees that were established under the previous administration.
The committees, all established through executive orders by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2020, are groups that advised the ex-governor on how to manage the covid-19 pandemic. In a statement, Sanders said her administration will "prioritize and promote other pressing public health challenges." Sanders cited comments President Joe Biden made in a 60 Minutes interview last year where he said "the pandemic is over."
"Unfortunately, government has prioritized covid-19 disproportionally and allowed other health concerns like addiction, cancer screenings, diabetes, and mental health to worsen," Sanders said. "As governor, I will always put the health, safety, and well-being of Arkansans first."
There were 5,677 active cases of covid-19 in Arkansas as of Friday, down by 242 from Thursday, according to data from the Arkansas Department of Health.
The total number of cases of covid-19 increased by 403, bringing the total to 991,361. There were 329 people hospitalized with covid-19, down by 24 compared with Thursday. The Health Department reported an additional seven deaths from covid-19 Friday, bringing the total to 12,750.
Sanders' latest executive order disbands the Arkansas Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act Steering Committee, the Governor's Medical Advisory Committee for Post-Peak Covid-19 Response, the Governor's Covid-19 Testing Advisory Group, the Governor's Covid-19 Technical Advisory Board and the Governor's Covid-19 Winter Task Force.
['BACK TO NORMAL': Read Sanders' executive order » arkansasonline.com/114eorepeals/]
The CARES Act Steering Committee helped advise the state on how to spend federal pandemic stimulus. The committee for post-peak response advised the state on how to reopen without causing a second wave of the virus. The testing advisory group was established to counsel the state when tests were limited. The technical advisory board helped with contact tracing, while the winter task force helped the state manage hospital capacity when cases were expected to surge.
Sanders said she would not impose "mask mandates or vaccine mandates" and promised voters she "would not shut down churches and schools" if elected.
"The first case of covid-19 was identified more than three years ago, and it is time for Arkansas -- and America -- to get back to normal," the Republican governor said in the release.
Most of the pandemic restrictions in Arkansas are gone. The order Sanders signed Friday was the ninth she has signed since taking office Tuesday.
In September 2021, Hutchinson let the state's covid-19 public health emergency expire and in March 2021 he ended the state's mask mandate.
Some of Hutchinson's covid-19 policies put him at odds with lawmakers, who wrestled more control from the Republican governor during the pandemic. One law, Act 403, passed by the General Assembly in 2021, requires the Legislative Council to approve any emergency declarations after 60 days.
Hutchinson held daily covid-19 news conferences with state health officials to brief the public on the latest coronavirus numbers.
In 2021, Hutchinson traveled the state with health officials to promote the covid-19 vaccines but resisted calls for a vaccine mandate.
In July 2021, Sanders wrote in an opinion piece in the Democrat-Gazette in support of vaccination against covid-19.
"Based on the advice of my doctor, I determined that the benefits of getting vaccinated outweighed any potential risks," Sanders wrote. "I was also reassured after President Trump and his family were vaccinated. If getting vaccinated was safe enough for them, I felt it was safe enough for me."