FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
August 6, 2021
Governor Hutchinson’s weekly radio address can be found in MP3 format and downloaded HERE.LITTLE ROCK – This week, I issued a call for a special session of the General Assembly, and today I’d like to explain why my action was necessary.
In the spring, I signed Act 1002, a law that prohibits a government agency from establishing a mask mandate. That made sense to me at the time because I oppose any government-issued statewide mask requirement. And now we have vaccines available. Also, at the time, the number of COVID-19 cases and related deaths and hospitalizations was very low. In other words, we were coming out of the pandemic nicely. But as happens in life, everything changed.
The Delta variant, which is more transmissible than previous variants, arrived, and our cases, hospitalizations, and COVID-related deaths increased. It became clear to me that the law needed to change, and I actually said I regret signing the bill. That statement created somewhat of a firestorm, but it is important for leaders to adapt and change strategies when the facts change – particularly when you are in an emergency.
With public schools opening for in-person instruction this month, I decided we needed to enact exceptions to Act 1002 to give schools some flexibility regarding face masks in congregate settings, and this should be limited to those students under twelve years of age. This was necessary because those under twelve are not eligible for a vaccine.
I convened the General Assembly to make this limited exception in order to provide more protection for those under twelve, and the law would leave the final decision in the hands of the local school board.
Pursuant to my call, the General Assembly met and considered the exception but failed to act. This leaves us all with the urgent need to get more of our students, teachers, parents, and community vaccinated. If we can’t provide life-saving vaccines to those under twelve, then we have to form layers of protection around them.
So that will be my focus in the coming days. Perhaps you will join me in one of my Community COVID Conversations – or Town Halls – to respectfully discuss how we can stop this virus with more vaccinations.