JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - While some city officials in Northeast Arkansas, including Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin, believe the executive order from Gov. Asa Hutchinson on the issue of face coverings in the Natural State is a step in the right direction others, including law enforcement officers, are not so sure.
Perrin said Thursday it was time for people to work on the issue.
“I like the governor’s message that this is a challenge we need to meet together. It’s time to put away conspiracy theories and side-taking, and fight this virus as a community with one goal in mind: run COVID-19 out of town,” Perrin said. “I don’t enjoy wearing a mask and would prefer not to, but I understand how germs work. That tells me to trust the experts who almost uniformly tell us that this is crucial to keeping Jonesboro from the sad outcome so many cities and states have endured.”
An increase in cases in the past week or so has also pushed for the idea, Perrin said.
“Our total cases now are well above 500 in Craighead County, but what concerns me is that we have grown from 57 active cases to more than 130 in the past seven days. That is a warning of potential peril to our city,” Perrin said. “So I urge everyone to diligently follow governor’s executive order to protect us and our loved ones from this virus by: using social distancing; wearing a mask in public and at work; washing your hands as often as possible and carrying hand sanitizer. Those actions are not too much to ask when faced with a pandemic, and I encourage everyone to embrace them. We will get through this. #JonesboroStrong.”
While the mayor is promoting unity, Councilman Bobby Long says he does not support the state mandate. He believes enforcing this with a misdemeanor charge and fine is the wrong road to go down.
Long says this decision shouldn’t have been left solely to Governor Asa Hutchinson.
“The only way to curb totalitarianism is not to allow it to get a foothold in the first place. I hope that our legislators will look at this and determine the best course of our actions, instead of our Governor, almost doing this on his own,” Long said.
Long also says this mandate will put the police department in a precarious situation on how to determine if people should wear masks because of health conditions.
He believes we should focus on all measures including hand-washing and not place fines on those not wearing a mask.
“I just think this is an over-reaction and an over-reach and something that our businesses and our people, right now, could have done without,” Long said.
Dr. Shane Speights, who serves as the dean of New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University, said Thursday in a statement to Region 8 News that the decision was important.
“I applaud the Governor for making this decision that will reduce the number of cases, hospitalizations, and ultimately deaths from COVID-19 in our communities. The medical literature and evidence is clear that properly wearing an effective mask will reduce the spread of the virus from those who are infected with COVID-19 and don’t know it, and can, as new evidence suggests, also provide protection to the wearer. The latest model from the UAMS School of Public Health projects that our state could see upwards of 20,000 COVID-19 cases per day by late September if we don’t do something to stem the tide. That number is cut by 60% ‘with almost complete compliance with mask wearing in public.,” Dr. Speights said. “We have an opportunity to drastically reduce the impact of this virus if all Arkansans wear masks, so I believe this step taken by Governor Hutchinson is a necessary one that will positively impact our state’s fight against the pandemic.”
Jonesboro police also released a statement Thursday on mask enforcement in the city.
“This is, of course, still very new to everyone and we do not yet have it worked out how this will look for us on the enforcement side, but command staff will be working on getting together and consulting with the city attorney to put together some enforcement guidelines as soon as possible,” Assistant Chief Lynn Waterworth said.
Randolph County Sheriff Kevin Bell said Thursday in a Facebook post that while he supports wearing a mask, his department will not be arresting people on the issue.
“I feel that the government has no place telling an individual what to wear or for that matter, when and how a person can worship God. We live in a democracy and we have a written Constitution to follow and I will uphold my oath of office and not infringe on a person’s constitutional rights,” Bell wrote. “With that being said, I think you SHOULD wear a mask when around people in public. I will wear one to protect myself and to RESPECT business that require them and other people. Common sense has to kick in at some point.”
In a social media post Friday, the Marked Tree Police Department denied rumors that they would impose fines of $750 to those who violated the mandate. What’s more, the department said it would not fine anyone for not adhering to the governor’s order.
Upon hearing the responses of various law enforcement agencies around the state regarding the mask mandate, the state’s top legal officer, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, issued the following statement on Friday:
The Greene County Sheriff’s Department also issued a statement Friday on the issue.
The Paragould Police Department issued a statement Monday on social media concerning the mask mandate.
The city of Batesville has been the only Region 8 city to issue an resolution requiring masks and Mayor Rick Elumbaugh says he was glad to see the governor step up.
Elumbaugh says health and wellness is the key to economic development.
“We have to beat this pandemic. If we do not do the simple things, like wearing a mask, then we are going to be behind the curve. So, we have to step up, we have to do the right thing. At the end of the day, we do not have a vaccination at this time for this. We do not have medicine,” Elumbaugh said.
Gov. Hutchinson issued the executive order Thursday after a media briefing at the state Capitol in Little Rock.