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LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson left open the possibility of a statewide mask mandate to prevent coronavirus on Wednesday but said the state is making progress encouraging their use as the number of virus cases surpassed 30,000.
Hutchinson, a Republican who has resisted mandating masks, applauded Walmart’s decision to require customers to wear them. Hutchinson said such a requirement “remains a tool we can implement as we need it.”
Hutchinson has allowed cities to enact their own mask restrictions, but under an ordinance that doesn’t spell out penalties for not complying. Hutchinson said he hears both from people who want a mask mandate, as well as those who call it an infringement that wouldn’t be enforceable.
“We’re moving in the right direction. As to whether we need a statewide mandate, that will continue to be evaluated and if we do it, you’ll know about it,” Hutchinson told reporters.
Walmart’s decision came as a growing number of mask requirements are being ordered in other Republican-led states, including Alabama and Texas. The chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences has also called for a statewide mask requirement.
The state Health Department said at least 30,297 people have tested positive for coronavirus, an increase of 564 confirmed cases since Tuesday. The Health Department said 6,439 of those cases are active, meaning they don’t include people who have died or recovered.
The number of people who have died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, rose to 335. Thirteen more people have been hospitalized, bringing the state’s total hospitalizations to 458.
The true number of cases in Arkansas is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
Arkansas’ cases have dramatically risen since May, when the state began allowing businesses that closed because of the pandemic to reopen.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
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