It’s been a little over two weeks since Gov. Asa Hutchinson let the statewide mask mandate expire.
School districts, private businesses, and medical facilities may still require patrons to wear masks as a preventative measure against the spread of COVID-19 under the revised guidelines.
While wearing a mask for a few more weeks seems like a moot point to some; for others it is a question of health, and for others, freedom.
Midland School District had planned all along to allow their mask mandate expire whenever the governor let the statewide mask mandate expire. Batesville School District decided to keep it’s mask policy in place until the end of the school year during a board meeting last week.
Cedar Ridge School District will be deciding Tuesday, during the board meeting next week, on April 20.
In Faulkner County, five schools have chosen to keep their mandates in place, while the rural districts of Greenbrier and Mount Vernon-Enola School District decided to end theirs earlier this month.
The Conway Public Schools (CPSD) Board of Education meeting Tuesday night was marked by frustration, anger and concern from almost 50 district families and parents who came out in opposition to the board’s decision in March to extend CPSD’s mask mandate through the end of the school year.
Perhaps most notable in Tuesday night’s unexpected debate, a Conway High School student present at the meeting spoke up in defense of the board and its decision to uphold the mask mandate through the end of the school year.
The meeting audio, recorded by The Log Cabin newspaper to ensure accuracy, picked up the voice of an adult woman at the meeting whispering “Dumba--es” at the high schooler and their friends.
In vaccination news across the state, Arkansas will temporarily suspend the administration of Johnson and Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccines, a Hutchinson announced in his regular coronavirus press briefing on Tuesday at the State Capitol.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the White House both recommended that states pause rolling out the J&J vaccines after six American women, who range in age from 18-48, were diagnosed with blood clots in the two weeks following receiving the single-dose J&J vaccine.
Despite the news that the J&J vaccine is on pause for an indeterminate period of time (the governor said representatives from the White House told him the pause would last “days to weeks”), the governor still gave the J&J vaccine his vote of confidence, citing the fact only six cases of blood clots have been found out of the almost 7 million vaccine doses given out. Further, the governor said the transparency the CDC and White House has displayed in temporarily pausing the administration of the J&J vaccine should give people confidence to receive other vaccines, but he noted that the pause needs to be evaluated quickly to ensure that public trust in the available coronavirus vaccines doesn’t erode.
Despite concerns that pausing administration of the J&J vaccine would slow overall vaccine rollout in Arkansas, the governor said the state has the necessary inventory of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to cope with the temporary loss of J&J, citing the fact that the state had already received fewer doses of the J&J vaccine in recent weeks due to issues at the vaccine manufacturing plant in Baltimore. Additionally, the 63,000 doses of the J&J vaccine Arkansas already has in its inventory is being safely stored to ensure no doses go to waste during the temporary pause and upcoming vaccine clinics which planned to use the J&J vaccine at locations around the state will pivot to offering Pfizer and Moderna two-dose vaccines.
Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero echoed the governor’s confidence in the J&J vaccine and other vaccines currently being offered, saying that the systems that were put in place to detect the very rare adverse reactions that the six women experienced worked.
“[America] has one of the safest vaccine programs in the world,” Romero said.
On the vaccine front, Arkansas has now given out 1.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, or about 70 percent of its consistently growing stockpile. To make up for the pause on J&J vaccines, the state will lean more into the 245,000 Pfizer doses and 178,000 Moderna doses it has on hand, the governor said. In response to critiques that the state has struggled to vaccinate large swaths of its population, the governor placed the onus on Arkansans to get vaccinated.
“We need [Arkansans] to get their vaccination,” the governor said. “We have the doses available to get into [the arms] of [Arkansans]. Please do not delay, get an appointment and get it done.”
On the case front, Arkansas noticed a slight uptick of 224 more cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday after days of lower case numbers. Also, after three days of recording zero deaths, the death toll of COVID-19 in Arkansas increased by eight on Tuesday to 5,673.
Discussing the slight uptick in cases, the governor compared the state’s trend line of coronavirus cases to Michigan, which is currently experiencing a second surge in new cases.
“We’re at a crossroads,” the governor said. “We can avoid that second peak by making sure we protect ourselves and get in on the race to the vaccine.”