Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he regrets signing a law that blocked mask mandates as the state faces a surge in COVID-19 cases and a low vaccination rate.
“Well, I signed it at the time because our cases were at a very low point,” Hutchinson, a Republican, told reporters at a news briefing on Tuesday, referring to the law he’d signed in April
“I knew that it would be overridden by the Legislature if I didn’t sign it. And … I’d already eliminated our statewide mask mandate.”
“Everything has changed now,” he added. “And yes — in hindsight, I wish that had not become law.”
The governor now wants to amend the law to give schools the option to adopt their own mask requirements. Students under 12 years old are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines.
The Legislature was called back in session this week and is considering changes to the ban – but it may be difficult to build support for a change with the GOP majority.
With the highly contagious Delta variant now the dominant strain in the US, cases are on the rise everywhere. Arkansas has seen cases spiking, with a new one-day record for hospitalizations earlier this week.
Hutchinson is in the midst of a push to encourage residents to get vaccinated, combating what he called misinformation in a state where the vaccination rates are some of the lowest in the country.
About 58 percent of the eligible US population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. But only 42 percent of Arkansas’ eligible population has been fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health.
As cases rise, there has also been an increase in vaccinations, Hutchinson said in his news briefing. The state reported Tuesday that there had been 30,000 new doses administered over a 24-hour period – 25,000 of which were first shots – far and away the most in a four-week period.
“Thank you, Arkansans for doing more research, talking to your physicians, getting information, trusted sources and making that decision that helps us all,” Hutchinson said.
With Post wires