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Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, has expressed regret in signing into law a ban on mandatory mask mandates at the local level at a time when infection rates have surged across the state.
The governor was asked at a Tuesday press conference why he signed the ban in the first place if he now regretted it.
“Well, I signed it at the time because our cases were at a very low point. I knew it’d be overridden by the legislature if I didn’t sign it ... I already eliminated our statewide mask mandate,” MS Hutchinson said.
“I signed it for those reasons that our cases were at a low point. Everything has changed now. And yes, in hindsight I wish that had not become law,” he added.
Amid soaring infection rates, Mr Hutchinson has called a special session for the state legislature to overturn portions of the law that prevent local entities, specifically schools, from mandating masks. Children under the age of 12 are unable to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, making them more vulnerable to the virus compared to others.
“The local school districts should make the call, and they should have more options to make sure that their school is a safe environment during a very challenging time for education,” Mr Hutchinson said.
Both chambers of the state legislature would need a two-thirds majority vote in order to lift the ban prior to the start of school. If they get a simple majority, that means the ban will not be lifted for 90 days.
The governor said that he still supported banning statewide mask mandates, even with increased infection rates.
Arkansas has recorded a 69 per cent increase in Covid-19 infection rates and a 55 per cent increase in hospitalisations due to the novel virus in the last 14 days, according to a data tracker released by The New York Times. Deaths were also up 246 per cent.
During this surge, the state remains one of the lowest vaccinated states in the US. Only 47 per cent of all Arkansas residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 37 per cent are fully vaccinated.
But Mr Hutchinson said the state was witnessing an increase in vaccinations in the last few weeks.
“I think we’ve seen a sea change in attitude, a sea [change] in action, more importantly, of people stepping up to the plate and recognising it’s important for their health,” the governor said. “I think you’re also seeing more people trying to get accurate information.”