Governor: Schools Need Flexibility on Stronger Mask Rules


LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas' governor on Wednesday said he believes it should remain up to local school districts rather than the state whether to require all students to wear masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus when classes resume next month.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he doesn't think a broad rule on masks for students should be issued statewide, despite a recommendation from pediatricians for a stricter requirement in K-12 schools. Arkansas this week began requiring masks to be worn in public when social distancing isn't possible, but the order exempts children under 10.

Hutchinson said some schools may have enough room for students to socially distance in class without requiring a mask.

“I think there ought to be some flexibility for the social distancing and the environment the students are in,” Hutchinson said, who noted some districts have already approved such requirements. “I think there has to be some flexibility there.”

The Arkansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics on Tuesday recommended stronger mask requirements for K-12 students as the group said it couldn’t support a return to in-person classes next month. 

“Perfection is not required, but masks are the state’s best tool to prevent spread," the group said Tuesday.

Hutchinson said he's reviewing some of the group's other suggestions.

The Department of Health said at least 35,240 people have tested positive for the virus, an increase of 591 confirmed cases since Tuesday. The department said 6,876 of those cases are active, meaning they don't include people who have died or recovered. 

The true number of cases in Arkansas is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick. 

The number of deaths in the state from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, rose by six to 380. The number of people hospitalized decreased by 14 to 474.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

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