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This state banned mask mandates. Now the governor regrets it

The delta variant is surging and school is starting soon. What will happen now?

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Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. This spring, Hutchinson signed a bill to ban mask mandates on state and local levels. This week, he regrets it.

Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

This spring, he signed a bill to ban mask mandates on state and local levels.

This week, he regrets it.

As COVID-19 cases surge in Arkansas from the delta variant, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has called on lawmakers to amend the ban and allow school districts to determine their own mask requirements, reported The Washington Post.

  • The reaction among the public and the lawmakers remains mixed, per The New York Times.
  • Arkansas has called a special session for the state Legislature to consider changing the ban on school mask mandates, per Newsweek.

Here’s the dilemma in Arkansas — a dilemma that may happen in other states soon, according to The New York Times.

Why did Arkansas ban mask mandates?

In March, coronavirus cases in Arkansas were rapidly declining, prompting Hutchinson to let the statewide mask mandate expire, per The Washington Post. One month later, he signed a bill that barred state and local officials from mandating masks or face covering.

  • “I think (Gov. Hutchinson) was trying to walk that fine line between doing what he felt was right and doing what, politically, he had to do with an irksome Legislature,” said state Sen. Keith Ingram, the minority leader, per The New York Times.

At the time, health experts warned that banning mask mandates could limit the government’s ability to respond to future surges, per The New Times.

  • ​​“I signed it for those reasons that our cases were at a low point,” saidHutchinson on Tuesday, per The Hill.
  • “Everything has changed now,” he said.
  • “Yes, in hindsight I wish that had not become law,” he said.

What is COVID-19 like in Arkansas?

Cases in Arkansas have skyrocketed recently, particularly among the younger student-aged population. The state ranks in the top three for infections per capita, according to The New York Times.

  • Only about 58% of Arkansas residents have received one vaccine dose and just under 37% have been fully vaccinated, per Newsweek.
  • Last week in Arkansas, hospitalizations increased by 20% and deaths increased by 70% with unvaccinated people being hardest hit, per The Washington Post.
  • Other Southern states are seeing similar spikes in COVID-19 cases. Like Arkansas, many of these states — such as Florida and Louisiana — have public anti-mask and anti-vaccine sentiments, per The Washington Post.

Why does Hutchinson want to lift the ban on school mask mandates?

Between April and July, cases for those under 18 years old have increased by more than 500%, and hospitalizations for this age group have increased by 270%, reported The Washington Post. This has led Hutchinson to propose allowing schools to determine their own mask requirements.

  • “The local school districts should make the call,” Hutchinson said, per The Washington Post. “They should have more options to make sure that their school is a safe environment during a very challenging time for education.”
  • “The exceptions for which I am asking are true to the conservative principle that puts control in the hands of local government,” he said.

Hutchinson said he still supports a ban on statewide mask mandates because adults can choose to remain unvaccinated, but many students are ineligible for vaccines and have no choice, per The Hill.

Will Arkansas allow school mask mandates again?

Both chambers of the Republican-led state Legislature need a two-thirds majority vote to lift the ban on school mask mandates before school starts. A simple majority vote means that the ban would be lifted but only after 90 days, per The Hill.

  • The state courts could also overturn the ban on mask mandates, per Newsweek.
  • “We may or may not get there,” said Hutchinson, per The New York Times.