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Explainer: Gov. Asa Hutchinson's changes to the COVID-19 public health directives

Arkansas extended its public health emergency on Friday, but the governor also announced changes to the current public health directives.

ARKANSAS, USA — Arkansas could be doing away with its mask mandate if COVID-19 numbers continue on a downward trend in the state, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced Friday (Feb. 26). 

Starting now, businesses can start enforcing their own COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Hutchinson said during a press conference that current public health directives are now operating as guidelines. This means businesses should be able to adjust their capacity limits that best suit their operation. 

The statewide mask mandate could end after March 31 in Arkansas if the positivity rates remain below 10%, with at least 7,500 daily average tests a day. Hutchinson said this gives Arkansans a good idea of what needs to be done to prevent the spread of COVID-19

“Public education has increased on the virus," he said. "People know exactly what is needed to stop the spread of the virus, they know where they can go safely and where they can’t go safely, and they can make those judgments."

Hutchinson still wants people to wear masks when social distancing isn't possible, and he will continue the mask mandate if hospitalizations increase in the near future. 

“Our businesses are incentivized to follow the guidelines because that gives them business liability protections because the business liability protection is based on if they are following public health guidelines and taking good measures to make sure everyone is safe," he said. 

Starting Friday, businesses will be able to dictate what safety guidelines work best for their operation, and people can make their own judgment call where they feel safe to visit. 

“This allows for some flexibility in indoor events, outdoors, if a guideline doesn’t make sense we can work with the Arkansas Department of Health but keeping the public health interests in mind there is a little more flexibility," Hutchinson said. 

Now Hutchinson says we have to get everyone who is eligible vaccinated so we can move onto the next phase of the vaccine rollout plan which includes a large portion of essential workers. 

Over 600,000 Arkansans have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Hutchinson says these efforts are vital to keeping the state on track.

You can watch Hutchinson's full press conference from Friday below:

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