Public health emergency extended through March
During Governor Asa Hutchinson’s press conference regarding COVID-19 on Friday, Feb. 26, several significant announcements were made about Arkansas’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These changes reflect the state’s downward trend in key COVID-19 numbers.
The public health emergency was set to expire on Feb. 27, but Governor Hutchinson extended the public health emergency for another 30 days, until March 31. His decision was based in part on one of the key Executive Orders that keeps business liability protection in place.
The mask mandate will continue through March 31, at which time it might be lifted if certain public health goals are maintained. These goals include values based on COVID-19 testing results. If less than 10 percent of tests across the state turnout positive (based on an average minimum of 7,500 tests daily), then lifting the mask mandate will be considered. Also, if there are less than 7,500 daily tests on average, then the number of hospitalized COVID patients would serve as an indicator. Fewer than 750 COVID patients statewide would be the goal to justify lifting the mask mandate.
Also, in effect immediately (with the exception of the mask mandate), all other public health directives (orders) for businesses and citizens are converted to public health guidelines. This means that potential penalties will no longer be in place; however, businesses are still expected to follow the guidelines (such as social distancing), as are private citizens.
Governor Hutchinson stated if the state’s COVID-19 numbers begin to rise again with these changes, both the mask mandate and the public health directives can be reinstated.