Governor extends COVID-19 emergency declaration, converts directives to guidance

Misty Castile
Fort Smith Times Record
In this March 23, 2020 file photo, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, right, speaks along with Larry Walther, middle, Secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration and Jake Bleed, state budget director in Little Rock, Ark.  Congressional Republicans say they are against providing additional coronavirus aid to state and local governments because they claim it would "bail out" states run by Democrats. But the pandemic-induced tax drop-off is hitting Democratic and Republican states alike. Among states hit hard are those led by Republicans, including energy-dependent Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming, and tourism-heavy Florida. (Staton Breidenthal/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP)

Governor Asa Hutchinson announced Friday morning that he is extending the public health emergency order through March 31.  

The order was set to expire Saturday, February 27.  

The extension will allow the continuation of executive orders allowing business liability protections, Medicaid reimbursement for telehealth, and remote learning as well as other orders. 

Hutchinson also said he is changing his public health directives to guidelines, meaning they will no longer be mandatory. 

The exception is the mask mandate which will continue through March 31 but will end if certain conditions are met. 

The state will have to have a positivity rate lower than 10 percent on a seven-day rolling average.  If fewer than 7,500 average daily tests are conducted, hospitalizations will be considered; fewer than 750 patients will be the threshold. 

"We don't expect a change in behavior, but we expect people to keep their nose to the grindstone so that we can get through this and back to a normal life, but it paints a picture on how we can get there," Hutchinson said. 

The emergency declaration was originally put in place in March of 2020.