Following Thursday’s announcement, Gov. Asa Hutchinson used Monday’s COVID-19 press briefing to further explain his executive order and the reasoning behind it.
Hutchinson spoke of growing up on a farm where his father told him on several occasions that "neighbors help neighbors." The governor stated that this is what Arkansans wearing a mask is doing and again clarified that an individual’s mask is for the protection of others.
The governor further stated, "We still have a lot of work to do."
In the executive order, there are several exceptions listed. Children under 10 are not required to wear masks unless their school requires it. If people are able to maintain a distance of six feet from others, a mask is not necessary. Voters, poll workers and people in places of worship are not required to wear masks, but it is "strongly encouraged." Those who have jobs where a mask inhibits their ability to work are also not required to wear masks. Anyone with a medical condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a mask would not be required to wear one.
There were 699 new cases in Arkansas on Monday after a weekend of about the same number of new cases each day. Hutchinson stated that the number of new cases was level over the weekend, but the plateau was too high.
Even with the plateau over the weekend, the seven-day average rose for the second day in a row.
On Monday, there were 11 counties with more than 20 new cases. Sebastian County ranked seventh with 25 new cases on Monday.
According to one of Hutchinson’s slides, Arkansas ranks third in the Southeast for the number of hospitalizations per 100,000 residents at approximately 80. Due to this high rate, the governor authorized 10 national guardsmen to help Washington Regional Hospital with case management.
The hope of the governor was that these guardsmen would take work off nurses so the nurses are able to focus on the patients. Guardsmen previously helped in a central Arkansas hospital.
Out of the 471 patients hospitalized, 111 were on a ventilator as of Monday. Arkansas had 363 deaths and 7127 active cases on Monday.
Hutchinson addressed the return to school and shared that everyone wants kids to return, but there are several factors to be considered. One of the factors is the positivity rate which stood at 9.6% as of Monday.
The 9.6% positivity rate is barely under the recommended 10% threshold from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). However, Hutchinson was asked if that rate should be closer to 5% before reopening schools. The governor shared that he moved the date back two weeks and he had no intention of moving it again.
The testing goal for the month of July was 200,000, but with ten days left in the month and only 112,000 tests administered, that goal will be difficult to reach. Hutchinson attributes this lag to the backlog of commercial labs that has taken place nationwide.