Arkansas Judge Puts State Ban on Mask Mandates on Hold

August 8, 2021 by Dan McCue
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson stands next to a chart displaying COVID-19 hospitalization data as he speaks at a news conference at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)

The state of Arkansas cannot enforce a planned ban on face masks pending further court action, a county circuit judge has ruled.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the law in April banning government entities from imposing mask requirements.

The ban was challenged by two lawsuits, including one from an east Arkansas school district where currently more than 900 staff and students are quarantining because of a coronavirus outbreak.

On Friday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox issued a preliminary injunction against the law on several grounds, including that it discriminated between public and private schools.

The law “cannot be enforced in any shape, fashion or form” pending further court action, Fox said.

Fox issued the ruling hours after the state legislature adjourned a special session that Hutchinson had called to consider rolling back the ban for some schools. 

Hutchinson, who has said he regrets signing the ban into law, had argued the change was needed to protect children under 12 who can’t get vaccinated as the Delta variant has caused a huge jump in the number of coronavirus cases.

But the legislature kept the ban in place, a state House panel on Thursday rejected two measures that would have allowed some school districts to issue mask requirements.

Hutchinson later criticized the lawmakers who opposed taking action, saying they had taken a “casual, if not cavalier, attitude” toward the state’s COVID-19 crisis.

The governor is now considering whether to ask the state Supreme Court to uphold Fox’s ruling when it’s appealed.

With only 37% of its population fully vaccinated against the COVID virus, Arkansas ranks second in the country for new cases per capita, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University researchers. 

The state reported more than 3,000 new virus cases on Friday, bringing its total since the pandemic began to more than 400,000. It also reported 22 new COVID-19 deaths.

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