Arkansas mask mandate to take effect Monday

Updated: Jul. 19, 2020 at 5:21 PM CDT
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (WMC) - Arkansas will become the latest state to require people to wear masks in public starting Monday.

That's when Gov. Asa Hutchinson's mask mandate, which he issued through an executive order, takes effect.

“We believe this is important from a public health standpoint,” said Hutchinson. “It is something that is necessary in Arkansas with the cases we’ve had.”

The mandate comes as Arkansas health officials confirmed more than 32,000 cases.

The governor’s mandate says masks must be worn in all indoor and outdoor environments where people are exposed to non-household members and where social distancing isn’t possible.

There are exceptions.

Children under 10 don't have to wear them; neither do people with medical conditions.

Masks will not be required for people participating in sporting events or practices. People also don’t have to wear them when eating or drinking.

Violating the order is a misdemeanor offense, punishable by a fine of $100 to $500.

But there is no imprisonment provision in the order. Therefore, people won't be arrested for violating the order.

"First it is a warning that has to be given. Secondly, there could be a citation for a fine," said Hutchinson.

But some sheriffs across Arkansas have said they will not be enforcing the mandate, saying they have neither the time nor personnel to do so.

Scott Sawyer, the sheriff of Polk County in western Arkansas posted this message on Facebook:

“...Polk County Sheriff’s Office will not be writing tickets to our citizens or visitors to our community for not wearing a mask. I have neither the time, the personnel, or (in my opinion) the right to write tickets to anyone for not wearing a mask.”

Hutchinson said it would be up to local law enforcement officials to decide how strongly to enforce his mandate.

West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon said the governor took his time issuing a mandate, but he is glad he did.

McClendon asked citizens in his city to wear masks in May.

“I’m just glad to say Governor Hutchinson welcome to the party. Thank you. We’ve been pushing for some time and I don’t know why it took so long,” said McClendon.

Although he initially resisted issuing a mandate, Hutchinson says it's important to remember how things can change quickly with COVID-19.

“In this business of fighting COVID-19, you can’t get cocky because where you see it going well one day, the next day it’s not going well,” said Hutchinson. “There’s no arrogance. There’s not any magical solution. It’s simply hard work every day and doing the right thing.”

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