By Devan Cole, CNN
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Sunday defended his decision to approve a statewide ban on face mask mandates earlier this year, citing a low coronavirus case rate at the time — a rate that is now rapidly rising.
“Well, that was the will of the General Assembly. I signed it. At that point we had very low case rates in Arkansas and people knew exactly what to do. They were capable of making their decisions,” Hutchinson, a Republican, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” when asked about his decision to approve the ban in April.
The governor added that when he approved the law, which is set to go into effect this week, the state “shifted to the emphasis on vaccination” and that its guidelines “continue to say if you’re not vaccinated, you should wear a mask.”
“That is the guideline that we have in place but we don’t have a mandate because that was held back from the legislature,” Hutchinson said.
The ban, SB 590, was first introduced in late March and eventually passed both chambers of Arkansas’ GOP-led General Assembly in April. It prohibits state and local officials and entities from ordering a face mask mandate, but makes an exception for private businesses, health care facilities, correctional facilities and facilities operated by the Department of Human Services’ Division of Youth Services.
The ban allows state and local officials and entities to recommend using a face mask but requires them to “provide notice that the recommendation is not mandatory.”
As Arkansas moves closer to when the ban takes effect, the state is grappling with a rising coronavirus positivity rate, with the state reporting 11,748 new cases and 56 new deaths this past week — a positivity rate of 19.32%, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
At least 36% of the state’s residents are vaccinated, according to the center, something Hutchinson said is holding Arkansas back in their fight against the virus.
Hutchinson told Tapper that he wouldn’t consider a vaccine mandate “because that would even cause a greater reaction of negativity toward the government, and then imposition on freedom.”
But, the governor said, the ban on mask mandates is something that could change between now and when school starts in the state depending on its vaccination rate and whether lawmakers convene a session to consider changing the law.
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