Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s COVID-19 town hall meetings have been an interesting glimpse into local views about the virus and vaccine. In some locations like Siloam Springs and Mountain Home, the governor, along with state and local healthcare providers, were jeered and booed at times.
The town hall meeting in Heber Springs at the Performing Arts Center at the Heber Springs School District campus, was calm and civil. Questions were asked, answers were given. Opinions were shared openly and respectfully.
The next day, Hutchinson reinstated the state’s Public Health Emergency.
Citing the increased number of virus cases, rises in hospitalizations and staffing shortages in Arkansas hospitals, the governor said the order was needed to seek staffing assistance and ease licensure requirements for retired health care workers returning to the field to help man short-staffed hospitals.
Additionally, the move, triggered a special session for lawmakers in hopes of amending Act 1002 of the legislature which restricts local school districts (and state entities) from mandating face masks on the local level.
With the start of school less than two weeks away, Hutchinson said the act needed to be amended to protect the state’s youngest ahead of the new school year, as the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t authorized for use in children under the age of 12.
“This is not a debate about mask mandates for those that can make their own decisions and have means to get vaccinated. This is a discussion about the school environment where schools can make decisions to add to the public health for their own school environment and the children they have the responsibility to protect,” Hutchinson said.
“It’s a conservative principle to utilize local decision-making because not everything fits statewide,” Hutchinson added.
As of Tuesday morning, the Arkansas Department of Health reported there were 223 active cases of COVID-19 in Cleburne County and 74 deaths have been attributed to the virus. Vaccination rates in Cleburne County are at 35.1 percent fully vaccinated, and 8.1 percent partially vaccinated.