LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Governor Asa Hutchinson has reinstated Arkansas’ public health emergency after reporting a record-high number of new COVID-19 cases since January.
The declaration will extend for 60 days and be reviewed by the General Assembly.
Governor Hutchinson will also call a special session of the legislature to amend Act 1002 to give local school boards and decision-makers the authority to impose a mask mandate and make decisions for the public health of those that are 12 and under in their school environment.
The special session will likely be next week, according to the governor.
The governor says the proclamation for two specific reasons. He wants to seek the necessary staffing assistance in health care programs across Arkansas and to ease licensure health care professions for returning to the profession after they have retired or to speed entry into service.
Governor Hutchinson is also asking for assistance at the federal level to come to Arkansas to help evaluate the situation with bed capacity for COVID-19 patients and they’re sending the surge response team to Arkansas.
“This will help evaluate, strategize, and maximize the current hospital space in Arkansas. We welcome that level of expertise that might be of assistance to us,” Governor Hutchinson said.
Governor Hutchinson also emphasized there will be no statewide mask mandate imposed by him when talking about the special session.
“This is not about a debate about mask mandates for those that can make their own decisions and have the means to get vaccinated. This is a discussion about the school environment where schools can make decisions to add to the public health for their own school environment for the children they have the responsibility to protect,” Governor Hutchinson said.
He also said there’s no discussion about restrictions on business mandates.
“Businesses are wide open in Arkansas. We’re going to be doing business in Arkansas. We have to live with the threat of the virus, the increase in vaccinations, we have to continue to do business, provide for our families and there’s not going to be those kind of restrictions here in the state,” Governor Hutchinson said.