ADH gets thousands of social distancing complaints since start of coronavirus pandemic

Even if a mask-wearing directive was set in place for the state, health officials say it would be tough to enforce.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — A day of record new coronavirus cases prompted Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson to unify guidance on wearing face coverings Friday, but stopped short of mandating wearing of masks in public spaces.

The different guidelines and directives over social distancing has led to some confusion and thousands of complaints to the Dept. of Health as people try to navigate the pandemic.

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“Since the beginning, we’ve received several thousand,” said Don Adams, the deputy director for the administration and operations of ADH. “We receive them through a phone people can call and complain, and through a website.”

Complaints also arrive through direct staff contacts. They come through the media, and even the governor’s office directly.

“Today, I had an email from someone who traveled through Arkansas and went to a particular restaurant and said only two of the wait staff were wearing masks,” the governor told reporters and said he had forwarded the tip to the ADH.

But the governor also reiterated that even if he were to order a mask-wearing directive, enforcement is tough.

“We’re not typically in the business of shutting establishments down,” said Adams, who added they have some leverage over businesses licensed by the ADH. “We’re in the business of trying to work with these establishments to comply.”

Often, it’s up to local governments to provide more immediate enforcement, but even then it’s limited.

“If we hear something like that, that’s something that’s very hard to manage and police,” said Bill Burrough, Hot Springs city manager. “It is something that we would follow up and make sure the manager knew that we had received a complaint.”

Burrough said civic leaders have discussed how to address mask-wearing. For now, they are following the governor and avoiding making any local laws like those on the books in Fayetteville and, soon, Little Rock.

RELATED: Fayetteville City Council unanimously votes to require face masks in public

Officials at all levels say all of us should try to think of others when we go out. Hopefully, social pressure puts some muscle behind the lack of mandates.

“Our ultimate goal is to try to help the establishment, the business, or the venue to comply with directives,” said Adams.

“For us, we want to certainly encourage masks, making sure people are wearing masks,” said Burrough. “We know that’s how we’re going to beat this disease back.”