LR board to weigh call for revisions to mask law

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Little Rock’s board of directors at a meeting tonight will consider a symbolic resolution calling on state lawmakers to reconsider Bill 1002, the measure approved earlier this year that bars local governments from imposing mask warrants.

The measure cites the “rampant” presence of the covid-19 delta variant in the state – in addition to other variants circulating in the region – as well as public health advice on masking in areas of high transmission.

The proposed resolution reads: “[T]Governing bodies elected in a local area should have discretion, under police authority, to protect public health, safety and welfare, where appropriate based on identified risks such as attendance and rates transmission rates that the Delta variant currently imposes. “

According to the resolution, the governor and the General Assembly are encouraged to review and amend Law 1002 so that a local mask warrant can be imposed if the Arkansas Department of Health, alone or with the assistance of federal authorities, determined that a local government is in a high transmission area.

The wording of one section of the resolution is slightly ambiguous as to whether the law should be amended to allow the health ministry to make the final decision to impose a mask requirement, or whether that decision should be left to the public. local governing body.

However, the preamble to the measure suggests that the intention of the resolution is to advocate for local governments to be allowed to use masks.

Last week, Hutchinson said he would convene a special legislative session to amend Law 1002 to give school districts the power to make decisions about face coverings.

He stressed that no statewide mask warrant would be imposed.

“This is a discussion of the school environment where schools can make decisions to improve the public health of their own school environment and of the children they have a responsibility to protect,” Hutchinson said during a press conference.

The law, sponsored by Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, prevents the state government, as well as local governments and school districts, from enforcing face covering. Exceptions exist for certain state-owned or controlled health care facilities and for Department of Corrections facilities.

Private companies are still allowed to require masks.

Hutchinson signed the law on April 29. It came into force on Wednesday.

A statewide mask warrant that Hutchinson issued in the summer of 2020 was allowed to expire in late March.

Following the move, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. sought to keep a local face covering mandate in place. He chose to lift the local mandate in May in light of guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the wearing of masks by vaccinated people.

At a city council meeting last week, Scott stressed the severity of the continued increase in virus cases and hospitalizations in Arkansas.

Scott said that “certain decisions will be made or will need to be made to protect the public health, safety and well-being of our residents.”

He added: “We haven’t made any decisions at this point, but it’s something that we follow the data – we follow the science, we listen to our health care providers because we want to protect public health, the safety and well-being of the residents of Little Rock. “

City Manager Dean Kumpuris, a general representative on the board and a gastroenterologist who chairs the city’s covid-19 task force, said last year’s challenge was the availability of equipment such as personal protective equipment and respirators.

The problem now is the availability of health workers to treat Covid-19 patients, Kumpuris said at last week’s meeting.

Looking ahead, he noted the two-week latency period that accompanies the second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine before individuals are considered fully immune.

Kumpuris said that “we are preparing for a very bad five week period,” adding: “There is nothing we can do about it except be safe, and that is washing your hands, wearing your mask, practicing distancing. social, and we just have to work together. “


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