Leslie Rutledge Asks Judge to Dismiss Lawsuit Over Virus Mandates

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas reported 20 more deaths from the illness caused by the coronavirus on Wednesday as the state asked a judge to dismiss an effort by some Republican lawmakers to invalidate virus safety restrictions.

The state Department of Health reported that 1,229 people have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March. The number includes both confirmed and probable cases. The department also reported 874 new confirmed cases of the virus on Wednesday.

Arkansas has seen its 7-day rolling average for new daily cases and deaths rise over the past two weeks, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University. The state’s 7-day rolling average for test positivity was the 13th highest in the country, according to data collected by The COVID Tracking Project.

In a filing Tuesday, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said a lawsuit challenging the state’s virus safety measures would effectively allow the Legislature to “micro-manage” the state’s response to the pandemic. 

Eighteen lawmakers asked a judge this month to invalidate 43 restrictions the state has issued since the pandemic began, including a mask mandate and limits on capacity for bars and restaurants. The lawmakers argue that such restrictions require legislative approval.

The state said the restrictions are also valid under rules approved by the Legislature last year giving the Health Department the authority to act during an emergency. 

“The ever-changing demands of a public health crisis such as a pandemic require quick action,” the state’s filing said. “As such, they cannot be met completely through the legislative process.”

In its filing, the state also said the lawsuit should be dismissed because it doesn’t name Gov. Asa Hutchinson as a party.

Arkansas has had 75,646 confirmed virus cases since the pandemic began. The state also said its probable cases grew by 108, to 2,317. The number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 rose by one to 460.

The actual 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. 

White House task force this week said Arkansas remained in the “red zone” for its rate of new cases and said stronger compliance with virus mitigation efforts was needed. Hutchinson on Wednesday urged Arkansans to wear masks, social distance and follow other safety guidelines.

“Today we are again reminded of the serious nature of COVID-19,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “Following the guidelines of the Arkansas Department of Health continues to be the most effective way to mitigate the spread of this virus.”

The University of Arkansas reported that active cases on its main campus in Fayetteville had dropped to 115. Arkansas State University in Jonesboro said it had 97 active cases.

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