Arkansas judge blocks state from enforcing mask mandate ban – News Vibe24

    Arkansas judge blocks state from enforcing mask mandate ban - Times of India
    A LITTLE ROCK: A judge in Arkansas has temporarily barred the state from imposing a ban on mask orders after lawmakers abandoned the ban despite a growing number of Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations.
    Pulaski County District Judge Tim Fox issued a preliminary injunction against the law signed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in April banning mask requirements from government entities. The ban was challenged by two lawsuits, including one in a school district in eastern Arkansas, where more than 900 workers and students are quarantined due to the coronavirus epidemic.
    Fox ruled against the measure for a number of reasons, including arguing that it discriminated between public and private schools.
    The law “cannot be enforced in any form, manner or form” pending further legal action, Fox said.
    Fox issued the ruling hours after lawmakers adjourned a special meeting convened by Hutchinson to consider suspending the ban on certain schools. Hutchinson had said the change was necessary to protect children under the age of 12 who could not be vaccinated as state virus cases and hospitalizations skyrocketed.
    Hutchinson faced strong opposition from Republicans, who were overwhelmed by calls and messages from masked opponents in schools.
    The governor, who said he regretted signing the ban, said he agreed with Fox’s decision but had no plans to reinstate the mask command throughout the territory he issued in March. He also criticized lawmakers for opposing action, saying many of them had “an accidental, if not cavalier, attitude” toward the Covid-19 crisis.
    “What worries me is that many listen to the loudest voices and do not stand with compassion, common sense and serious action,” he told reporters.
    Hutchinson was named as a defendant in the trial along with state and legislative leaders. He left open the possibility of separately requesting the state Supreme Court to uphold Fox’s decision when an appeal is filed.
    The House committee on Thursday rejected two measures that would allow some school districts to issue mask requirements.
    There have been growing calls for the ban to be lifted before school starts across the state later this month, and the mayor of Little Rock issued a mask order Thursday for the city’s parks and buildings, despite the ban.
    The Marion School District, which joined the Little Rock schools to challenge the ban, said Friday that 949 staff and students had been quarantined since classes began last week due to the coronavirus epidemic. The district said 54 students and 11 staff tested positive for Covid-19.
    Inspector Marion Glen Fenter warned lawmakers that his district’s experience could be a harbinger of what other schools will face. He said Friday that he would consult lawyers and begin discussing the mandate with the local school committee.
    “This gives us another chance to protect our students again,” he said.
    Pediatricians and health officials said masks were needed in schools to protect children, as the delta variant and low vaccination rate in Arkansas fuel the state’s spiral cases. The state on Monday reported the largest one-day increase in Covid-19 hospitalization since the pandemic began, and the Department of Health said Friday that only 28 intensive care unit beds were available in the state.
    Only 37% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated against the virus.
    Arkansas ranks second in the country for new cases per capita, according to data gathered by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. The state reported more than 3,000 new cases of the virus on Friday, bringing the total since the pandemic began to more than 400,000. It also reports 22 new deaths from Covid-19.
    Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online.
    “This is frustrating, we are not making decisions about data, respectful data,” said Democratic Rep. Dennis Garner, who co-sponsored one of the proposals to lift the ban.
    The Republican sponsor of the ban said he believes the state should focus on other ways to deal with cases in schools, such as licenses for teachers to be quarantined.
    “What I do not want is this false sense of security that the masks seem to provide, because it is an easy political tool,” said Republican Sen. Trent Garner. “Let us find the real solutions when this happens in our schools and I think we are unfortunately inadequate in this.”
    The House and Senate gave final approval to the only other item on the agenda, legislation aimed at preventing the state from repeating supplemental unemployment insurance payments to 69,000 people in the state.
    A state judge last week ordered Arkansas to resume payments, ruling that Hutchinson does not appear to have the power to stop payments on its own. Hutchinson was among more than a dozen GOP governors who terminated their states’ participation in the federally funded payments, which were scheduled to last until early September.

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