After months of resisting any rules to make Arkansans wear masks to protect against the coronavirus (COVID-19), Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced on Friday guidelines for wearing masks when unable to properly social distance. The governor noted that this was not a directive and therefore not enforceable, but strongly encouraged when interacting with anyone outside of the household.
These new guidelines are that people should wear masks whenever they are in an indoor setting and are not able to properly social distance or outdoors when they will closely interact with people outside their household.
This is not a directive and therefore is not enforceable by state or local governments, but Hutchinson cited a study that stated if more than half the population wears a mask, the rate of spread decreases.
Arkansas Health Secretary Nate Smith pointed out that "my mask protects you and your mask protects me."
Smith also expressed concern that people misunderstand or misuse masks and urged residents to prioritize public health.
Friday saw the largest increase in community virus cases with 662 along with 41 in correctional facilities for a total of 703. Washington and Benton counties remained the highest number of new cases with 136 and 122 respectively. Sebastian county had 26 new cases.
Smith pointed out that a similar spike in cases took place the previous Friday and, given the five day incubation period, this indicates that people are letting their guard down on the weekend and attending large gatherings.
There were six additional deaths on Friday which made the total 214.
The governor took the opportunity of his briefing to acknowledge Juneteenth, the day the last slaves heard about the Emancipation Proclamation in 1866. However, Hutchinson was asked about making it a state holiday and mentioned that it would have to replace another one due to the limited number available.
Another number the governor shared was that Arkansas unemployment was below 10% as of May. This stands approximately 4% less than the current national average.