Trial on Arkansas mask-mandate ban wraps up with no ruling
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas judge is considering whether to strike down a state law he temporarily blocked that bans mask mandates by schools and other governmental entities.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox heard arguments Monday over the law, which has been on hold since August when Fox issued a preliminary injunction preventing the state from enforcing the mask ban.
State health officials said Monday that schools without mask requirements had a 25% higher rate of virus transmission than schools with a mandate.
“This is exactly what we would expect, we would expect to see a significant decrease” in transmission rates at schools with a mask requirement, state Health Secretary Jose Romero said during a Tuesday news conference.
Fox did not issue a ruling Monday and set a Dec. 10 deadline for both sides to submit final written arguments.
In August, Fox ruled the law violates Arkansas’ constitution, saying it discriminates between public and private school students. He said it also infringes on the governor’s emergency powers, as well as the authority of county officials and the state Supreme Court.
More than 100 school districts and public charter schools approved mask mandates following Fox’s order, though many lifted or relaxed them as the state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases decreased.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the ban into law in April, but he has since said he regretted that decision and agreed with Fox’s ruling against it.
Hutchinson said at the news conference Tuesday that the number of active virus cases in the state has increased by about 900 in the past week and total hospitalizations rose by 69.
“That alone should tell you that we’ve got to be very cautious and wise not to have a surge” during the holidays, Hutchinson said, continuing to urge residents to receive vaccinations.
Hutchinson said 50.4% of Arkansans are fully immunized, and another 11.2% are partially vaccinated, numbers that include 5 to 11 year olds who were approved to receive a kid-size COVID-19 shot on Nov. 2.