As his state struggles with a massive increase in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations due to the delta variant, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has a regret; signing a bill that bans local mask mandates.
Hutchinson, a Republican, was asked about the law at a press conference on Tuesday. He said at the time the law was signed, the state was doing much better in terms of is COVID numbers. But he also admitted that he was certain that if he did not sign the law, the state legislature would have overridden him.
“Our cases were at a low point. Everything has changed now, and yes, in hindsight, I wish that had not become law, but it is the law, and the only chance we have is either to amend it or for the courts to say that it has an unconstitutional foundation.”
Hutchinson says the call on mask mandates should be left up to local authorities. In particular, he says school districts should have the freedom to decide the best policies to make schools as safe as possible for students and educators.
To that end, the governor has called the state legislature back for a special session in an attempt to change the law to let local school districts enact their own rules to protect students who are too young to get the vaccine. According to Arkansas’ Health Secretary, cases have skyrocketed among young residents, with 19 percent of the current patients state hospitals are seeing are under 18 years of age.
Arkansas, which has only 37% of its population fully vaccinated, has been hit especially hard by the latest coronavirus surge. From Yahoo! News:
According to tracking from the New York Times, over the last 14 days Arkansas has seen a 69 percent increase in cases and a 52 percent increase in hospitalizations. According to the state's health department tracking, 260 patients being treated for the virus were on ventilators, the most since the all-time high of 268 in early January.
Despite his state ranking near the bottom in terms of vaccination rates in the U.S., Hutchinson says demand for the vaccines is increasing. It should be noted that in April, the governor signed another law that prevented state and local government officials from requiring proof of vaccination to access their services.