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Fayetteville mask mandate remains in place with new recommendations on horizon



FAYETTEVILLE, Ark.  — The city’s mask mandate will stay in effect for at least two more weeks.

The City Council likely will reconsider the ordinance creating the mandate at its next meeting June 1, assuming the state’s emergency declaration related to the pandemic ends this month.

The council could keep, change or rescind the ordinance.

The city Board of Health last week agreed on a set of revised recommendations regarding mask-wearing and other public health measures in light of new guidelines for vaccinated people from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC on Thursday said fully vaccinated people can go maskless without practicing social distancing in most circumstances.

The state’s mask mandate expired March 30. However, some cities such as Fayetteville kept their local mandates in place.

The city’s mask mandate, adopted in June, requires face coverings in most indoor public places. Businesses must provide disposable masks to customers, and anyone who declines to wear a mask is to be declined entry. The city has been providing disposable masks to businesses for free.

The city ordinance has a provision that it will come back to the council for reconsideration once the state’s emergency declaration related to the pandemic ends. The declaration is set to expire May 30. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has until Thursday to request the state Legislative Council approve an extension of the declaration, if he desires.

A spokeswoman for Hutchinson said he would announce his decision this week.

On Friday, Mayor Lioneld Jordan discussed with the city health board the possibility of bringing a set a revised public health recommendations to the City Council on Tuesday. Jordan decided to wait to bring the item to the council after a Monday Board of Health meeting.

“We have a sunset clause in the existing ordinance that will have it coming back to council probably in the next two weeks,” he said. “Until then, our existing mask mandate is still in effect.”

Health Board Chairman Hershey Garner said it’s up to the city administration to decide when to bring the new recommendations to the council, but the timing made sense.

The updated recommendations include nine broad statements. The board recommends residents get vaccinated as quickly as possible, and residents should wear masks until fully vaccinated. Those fully vaccinated can go maskless but should still wear one if in a health care setting, bus, jail or shelter for homeless. The board also acknowledges knowing who is and isn’t vaccinated isn’t feasible, and any vaccinated person who wants to continue to wear a mask should feel comfortable doing so.

The board encourages residents to respect other residents wearing a mask or not. Businesses continuing to require customers wear masks have the board’s support.

If cases of covid-19 in Washington County exceed eight per day over a 14-day rolling average, the board may recommend all residents go back to wearing masks at indoor public spaces.

A state law passed this year banning local governments and public entities from enacting mask mandates is set to go into effect in late July, barring any legal challenges. The new recommendations from the city Board of Health have no legal authority and aren’t enforceable, City Attorney Kit Williams said.

Rogers has a similar strategy and plans to consider rescinding its mask mandate during its May 25 City Council meeting. Mayor Greg Hines has said the plan is to have the mandate end on the last day of school May 27. Hines also said he intends to present the council a resolution encouraging residents to follow health protocols.

According to the Arkansas Department of Health’s online information, about 32% of residents in Washington and Benton counties were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday. About 9% in the two counties were partially vaccinated.

There were 138 active cases of covid-19 in Washington County, with 240 in Benton County. So far, 769 residents in the two counties have died from the coronavirus.