Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson is realizing he might’ve jumped the gun by passing a law that banned mask mandates earlier this year.
Despite rising case numbers and vaccine hesitancy throughout the state, Hutchinson and the GOP-led state legislature voted yes on a bill in April of this year that prohibits state and local officials and entities from ordering a face mask mandate. According to Hutchinson, the bill made sense at the time as the state’s cases were “at a low point.” The problem now, however, is that Coronavirus cases among people under the age of 18 have seen a 517% increase between April and July, just as families prepare to send their kids back to school. The ban on mask mandates extends to public schools, and because children under the age of 12 aren’t eligible to receive the vaccine in Arkansas just yet, there’s a real concern that this new Delta variant could devastate the state’s youngest, most vulnerable population.
“Everything has changed now,” Hutchinson told reporters when questioned about the law. “In hindsight, I wish that it had not become law.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) says he regrets signing law banning local mask mandates, as COVID cases quickly rise in his state.
“In hindsight, I wish that had not become law,” said Hutchinson, who has asked lawmakers to allow school districts to adopt mask mandates. pic.twitter.com/sj1Q8ukLCA
— The Recount (@therecount) August 4, 2021
Hindsight might be 20/20, but when you’re in the middle of a pandemic and an entire subgroup of people in your state doesn’t have access to a vaccine, you don’t have to be clairvoyant to know that banning mask mandates is a bad call. Unfortunately, the only way Hutchinson can now reverse his decision is by taking it back to the GOP-led legislature to amend it, or bringing it to the courts for them to judge whether it’s constitutional or not. Either road means a long, drawn-out process, especially as some parents are opposed to reversing the ban. Currently, Arkansas has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country among its adult population, and with evidence suggesting new variants may impact teens and children more than the first COVID wave, Hutchinson’s decision could prove catastrophic for the state’s school system.
“Local school districts should make the call and they should have more options to make sure that their school is a safe environment during a very challenging time for education,” Hutchinson said.
His newly pro-science tune would have been much more helpful months ago.