Arkansas GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Sunday that despite a third wave of COVID-19 infection in the state, it’s not the right time to talk about a mask mandate that has been previously banned in Arkansas.
In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Hutchinson said the emphasis has to be on getting people vaccinated against the virus.
“I really think it's important not to have the current debate about mask wearing but have the current emphasis on getting a vaccine,” he said. “That's the singular focus we have, even though our guidelines continue to say if you're not vaccinated, you should wear a mask…. we don't have a mandate because that was held back from the legislature.”
But he said more people may be looking at the guideline for the unvaccinated and for those under 12 years old.
“There's two mandates that are possible. One would be a vaccine mandate. We're not going to do that, because that would even cause a greater reaction of negativity toward the government and that imposition on freedom,” he said.
“Secondly would be a mandate for wearing masks,” he continued. “It is a conservative principle to allow for local control. … That's something we're going to have to continue to weigh, depending upon vaccination rates and how they proceed between now and school.”
“You've got to worry,… you're not going to be able to enforce it very well. The schools are in a better position to do it,” he said.
“We need to get everybody else around that young child vaccinated. That's the cocoon. That's the protection we need to provide them going back to school,” he said.
Hutchinson said town hall meetings have been a good way to reach the unvaccinated in his state, calling it “a pivotable moment in our race against the COVID virus.”
“I made the decision that it's really not what the government can tell you to do, but it is the community and their engagement and citizens talking to other citizens and trusted advisers, whether it's medical community or employers, those are key,” he said. That's why I'm having these town hall meetings. It is more than listening. It's engaging the community. So far we've seen a 40% increase in our vaccinations since we started this.”
He added that vaccine resistance “has hardened in certain elements and it's simply false information. It is myths.”
“As I go into these town hall meetings someone said ‘don't call it a vaccine. Call it a bio weapon,’ and they talk about mind control,” he said.
“Those are obviously erroneous. Other members of the community correct that. … We are seeing younger adults going to the hospital. And people of Arkansas and across the nation respond to risk. … You're seeing a high escalation of the vaccines because people are measuring the risk.
“People can change their mind,” he added. “Even though there's a very hardened resistance, it's a small percent.”
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