It is now up to communities, churches, schools, and businesses to decide on continued masking requirements, since Gov. Asa Hutchinson allowed the statewide mask mandate to expire Wednesday.

According to the Arkansas Department of Health, there were only five confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Independence County. There 2,453 confirmed cases of the virus in the county since the pandemic began, and 86 confirmed COVID-19 deaths. No reports of the virus have been reported in area nursing homes or schools recently.

The Batesville Kiwanis Club is returning to their in-person meetings on Friday, while also streaming their meetings on social media. The Batesville Rotary Club is also looking at returning to mostly in-person meetings and streaming.

Southside and Batesville school districts are waiting until their April school board meetings to announce any changes. Midland School District modified their protocols by not requiring masks, but still having health screenings as needed, and limiting visitors.

Dr. Sherry McMasters with the Cedar Ridge School District said that district will no longer be taking temperatures.

“... but will adhere to the spacing guidelines of three feet and daily disinfecting will continue. Mask will continue to be required until the April board meeting. At that time the board and I will review the COVID data and determine whether the mask requirement continues on campus or is eliminated,” McMasters wrote.

The Independence County Library will reopen to the public on Tuesday, April 13 for browsing and checking out materials. The library will limit the number of people browsing to eight persons at a time. Areas of the library that encourage socializing will remain closed until further notice. This includes the play areas of the children’s department and the reading lounge.

Public computers will continue to be available with the current restrictions in place, but appointments will not be necessary. The library will also continue to offer curbside service for patrons who wish to check out materials. Curbside service is available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.

The Bad Boy Café featuring T’s Boxed Lunches will reopen on Monday, May 3, with extended hours and will offer coffee and snacks in the afternoons, Monday through Friday.

Library director Vanessa Adams appreciated the library board for their support during the pandemic and is thankful to the citizens of Independence County for their patience and understanding.

“Our entire library staff have missed our patrons and appreciate how kind they have been during this stressful time. Now that the staff who wished to be vaccinated are receiving their second dose of the vaccine next week, we feel that it is safer to reopen the library,” Adams stated in a press release.

The Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, per the Veterans Health Administration policy and CDC recommendations, will continue requiring mask wear at all CAVHS facilities, including Community Based Outpatient Clinics. CVAHS requires everyone entering the facilities to wear a mask that covers their mouth and nose. If a veteran, family member, or caregiver does not have a mask, one will be provided.

The Health Policy Board of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement on Thursday called on community leaders across the state to take the lead in actions that support businesses in their efforts to continue safeguards for employees and patrons.

The board issued a blanket statement in a press release Thursday encouraging business owners, school board members, faith leaders, and local elected officials across the state to adopt strategies that maintain Arkansas Department of Health and CDC guidelines to help prevent the spread.

It reads in part: “The presence of variants in the state that are more contagious and potentially more lethal, the observation of increases in both COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in other regions of the U.S., and the growing public fatigue with COVID-19’s impact call for renewed commitments. The lifting of the mask mandate is not an all-clear signal to abandon safeguards in our communities.The relaxation or elimination of statewide requirements transfers responsibility to local leaders to take action.”

The advisory board urged restraint with school graduation ceremonies and other large events in the next 90 days until higher vaccination levels are achieved.

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