‘They need to be protected,’ Gov. Hutchinson calls for a special session to amend mask ban for schools

Arkansas News

EL DORADO, Ark. (KTVE/KARD) 7/29/21 — Governor Hutchinson has reinstated a statewide public health emergency and took action on the mask mandate for schools.

In a press conference Thursday afternoon, Governor Hutchinson called for a special session to amend Act 1002 so local boards can make their own decision about requiring face coverings.

This week, he has been speaking with House Speaker Matthew Shepherd and Senator Pro Tempore Jimmy Hickey Jr. asking them about coming together to talk about the issue.

“They’ve expressed to me it’s going to be a heavy lift to get passage of this in the legislature,” he said. “I have confidence that they will understand that it’s a conservative principal to utilize local decision making and not everything fits statewide. Secondly, it’s necessary to allow school boards the opportunity to protect those who are most vulnerable.”

Governor Hutchinon says he’s concerned about those children who are 12 years and under that aren’t eligible for the vaccine.

According to the governor, there are 24 kids that are in the Children’s Hospital with covid-19. Two of those children are on a ventilator and five of them are in the intensive care unit.

None of those children are fully vaccinated and half of them aren’t old enough to get the vaccine.

“That’s the point. They need to be protected by first decisions by their parent and secondly by a school board, if they decide to take action in that regard,” he said.

Governor Hutchinson emphasized there will be no statewide mask mandate imposed by him or the legislature.

“This is not a debate about mask mandates about those who can make their own decisions and have means to get vaccinated. This is a discussion about the school environment where schools can add to the public health for their own school environment and for the children they have a responsibility to protect,” he said.

The special session is planned for next week. Governor Hutchinson expects for each school across the state to begin at its scheduled date.

El Dorado School District Superintendent Jim Tucker says masks are highly recommended right now and schools will continue to follow guidelines and safety measures that were put in place last year.

Parents can expect a survey to fill out this week asking for their opinions on face coverings and whether or not they have been vaccinated.

“We’ve been here before. We’ve done this before. We had success last year and I hope and pray that we will have success this year as well,” Tucker said.

Thursday, the state logged 2,843 new cases of the virus.

“This is not a good day in terms of our covid cases,” he said. “This is a stress point knowing this is going to lead to more hospitalizations down the road.”

Governor Hutchinson also made observations about the percent of overall hospitalizations, ICU admissions and ventilated patients for covid-19. See graph below

“This goes back to July of last year which was not the height of our previous cases and hospitalizations but it’s helpful for comparative cases,” he said.

This following graph is broken down by age group and compares January 2021, the height of the first surge of the virus, and July 2021.

The following graph is the vaccine status of cases, hospitalizations and deaths since January 1, 2021.

“This should be the good news and the motivator,” Governor Hutchinson said.

Governor Hutchinson reinstated the public health emergency statewide, effective today. He says the reasoning is due to staffing issues in the hospitals plus it has been difficult finding hospitals for covid patients to go to.

Governor Hutchinson has also spoken with health officials to ease licensure for returning to the profession after they have retired or speed entry into service. He’s also been to talking with the federal government who is sending a surge response team to help the state address its current hospital capacity.

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