Governor Asa Hutchinson has not mandated the use of masks in Arkansas, instead he is strongly encouraging Arkansans to wear them.

To mandate or not to mandate, that is the question when it comes to wearing masks in public spaces. As many states begin to lift COVID-19 restrictions, more people are returning to everyday activities, but the number of cases are still rising on a national, state and city-wide level.

Governor Asa Hutchinson has not mandated the use of masks in Arkansas, instead he is strongly encouraging Arkansans to wear them.

For some Arkansans, encouraging is not good enough. Many residents are now looking to their mayors to enforce the rule if a statewide order is not in effect.

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. said last week he was preparing an executive order on wearing masks in public places where social distance couldn’t be maintained and in Fayetteville, the council adopted a mandate.

Hutchinson said he would "prefer that cities not take that step," and it was not “good policy” to make an order that can't be enforced but as community spread cases start to become the bulk of the positive tests results, some local residents want an order in place that will secure their safety.

“I absolutely think masks should be mandated,” said Tracy Ashburn. On her way to grocery shop at Super 1 Foods in Pine Bluff, Ashburn said with the numbers going up in Jefferson County, masks are vital.

“It’s very important to keep everyone else from getting the virus and I want to keep myself from getting it,” said Ashburn.

Head chef of Pine Bluff High School, Raymond Berry, said masks should at least be mandated in public places.

“I keep a mask in my car and any time I go to Walmart or anywhere I put my mask on before I get out of my car,” said Berry. “It’s important when you get in front of other people because they are not going to social distance like they are supposed to. They crowd up on you so it’s best to have a mask on then to not.”

Not everyone agrees with the wearing of masks.

Kenneth Hamilton said he chooses not to wear a mask because it doesn’t fully protect like everyone thinks.

“I feel if you are comfortable wearing one then wear one but if you are not then don’t,” said Hamilton. “Like I always say, that mask is not protecting everything. Just because you got a mask doesn’t mean you can’t get it and that’s my honest opinion.”

The Arkansas Department of Heath states that more evidence supports the efficacy of wearing masks for the prevention of transmission of COVID-19.

Information provided directly to ADH from the Missouri Department of Health was an example how masks prevented the spread of COVID-19.

On June 17 the Kansas Department of Health listed Arkansas as a hot spot requiring anyone who has traveled to Arkansas to quarantine for 14 days after arrival in Kansas.

As of Wednesday, June 24 Arkansas has a total of 16,678 cumulative COVID-19 cases with 5,221 of those active and 237 statewide deaths according to the Arkansas Department of Health. Jefferson County has totaled 657 positive cases so far with 91 active and 28 deaths.

Many states are requiring people to wear masks when out in public such as California whose Governor issued a statewide order last week requiring the use of face coverings in public indoor spaces and on public transportation.

Washington has become the latest state to mandate wearing any facial covering over the nose and mouth starting Friday in any indoor public space, as well as outdoors if social distancing can't be maintained.

Two COVID-19- infected stylists with symptoms in a Missouri hair salon exposed 140 clients and 6 co-workers. The salon where they were employed required universal use of face coverings. The stylists wore cloth masks. Of the 46 people who agreed to be tested for COVID-19, none were positive. Additionally, none of the 146 exposed people developed symptoms of COVID-19.

A World Health Organization (WHO)-funded study found that wearing masks of any type not only served as preventing spread from an infected person but also gave some protection from COVID-19 to the wearer as well.

A recent modeling study reported that when face masks are used by a majority of the population in public settings (not just symptomatic people), the effective reproductive number for SARS-COV-2 falls below 1.0. This would decrease the spread of COVID-19, flatten future disease waves, and allow people to resume normal activities with greatly reduced risk.

Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington said mandating masks in public is a decision for the state government, however she hopes local residents will adhere to the guidelines and take the appropriate steps to protect their collective health.

Those guidelines set forth by ADH include:

• The general public should wear face coverings in all indoor environments where they are exposed to non-household members and distancing of 6 feet or more cannot be assured. This includes, but is not limited to, workplaces (with few exceptions), retail stores, businesses, places of worship, courtrooms, jails and prisons, schools, healthcare facilities, other people’s homes and all the scenarios addressed by the Governor’s Directives.

• The general public should also wear face coverings at all outdoor settings where they are exposed to non-household members, unless there is ample space (6 feet or more) to practice physical distancing.

• Regarding the type of face covering, medical masks may be somewhat more protective than cloth masks (if they are clean and dry), but more and more evidence supports cloth masks as being sufficient for the general public and effective in preventing transmission. Cloth masks should consist of at least two layers of fabric. N95 respirators should be reserved for front-line health care workers.

• All face coverings should cover both the mouth and nose at all times in order to be effective.

Masks are required for restaurants reopening for dine-in, gyms and fitness centers.

Hutchinson believes by educating the public they will exercise self-discipline.

ADH provided supporting data and evidence that SARS-COV-2, the cause of COVID-19, is transmitted through large respiratory droplets, which are generated by coughing and sneezing.

According to ADH, more and more evidence supports the transmission of SARS-COV-2 through aerosol droplets, which are produced during coughing, singing, speaking and even quiet breathing.

“Aerosol droplets can remain in the air for long periods of time and travel longer distance,” said ADH Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith in his Guidance on the Use of Face Coverings by the General Public. “A closely related virus, SARS-COV-1 (the cause of the SARS epidemic of 2003), is known to travel long distances through the air from sources.”

Smith said Asymptomatic (people infected but have no symptoms) and pre-symptomatic (before the infected person has symptoms) transmission of SARS-COV-2 is now well-documented and is thought to contribute significantly to transmission.

One example, according to Smith, of this was the Skagit Valley Chorale rehearsal in Mount Vernon, Washington, which resulted in the infection of 45 of 60 choir members. Three required hospitalization and two died.

“In terms of the face mask, I think it would be the judgment of any medical professional and I would agree with it that more people that wear masks, the least risk of transmission and that’s why I’ve encouraged it from day one,” said Hutchinson. “We set forth the statewide guidelines last week to continue and encourage people to wear masks to protect themselves but most importantly protect others. We continue to look at that recognizing there is a scientific basis that that will help reduce the transmission.”

Setting the tone from day one when CDC first recommended masks usage in public, Hutchinson said leaders following the right healthcare protocols will set an example for those to follow.

“Wearing a mask is a courtesy as well as a safety precaution. It protects your health and that of others,” said Washington, which already requires masks before entrance in any city owned building. “The city strongly encourages residents to wear masks while in public. We also urge all private entities to require that their visitors, customers, and guests wear masks.”