Masks required

Faulkner County deputies will not respond to individual noncompliance complaints regarding the governor’s mask mandate. However, deputies will assist businesses if customers refuse to wear a mask when asked.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s mask mandate took effect Monday.

The governor announced the executive order on Thursday, noting the mandate was made “pursuant to the public health emergency concerning COVID-19.”

The mandate requires everyone to wear a face covering “over the mouth and nose” in all indoor facilities and outdoor environments where one would be unable to practice social distancing of at least 6 feet from others outside their family and other household members.

“Arkansas continues to experience high numbers of COVID-19 cases through symptomatic and asymptomatic spread of the virus, requiring additional mitigation measures,” Hutchinson wrote in his mask mandate proclamation. “It is in the best interest of all Arkansans to keep businesses open and maintain the activities of daily life. Requiring face coverings is a less restrictive mitigation measure that will not only enable the Arkansas economy to remain open, but it will also reduce the spread of COVID-19,”

In announcing the mask mandate, Hutchinson said he was turning to law enforcement agencies across the state to enforce the new directive.

Many agencies across the state have said they would not enforce the mask mandate. Marshall Police Chief Lang Holland was among law enforcement officials who said his department would not take action against those not wearing a face covering in public.

“I Chief Lang Holland feel this order is a very large overreach of the powers given to State government by the citizens of the state of Arkansas. Therefore the Marshall Police Department will take NO enforcement action of any kind this includes arrest or citation by anyone who is not wearing. Mask while out in public,” the police chief wrote in a press release issued on July 17. “It is a free country if you want to wear a mask wear one, if you do not want to wear one don’t wear one. If a business chooses to have a mask policy to enter their private business they have the right as a private business to require the mask. If you do not want to wear a mask inside the establishment then do not enter it is that simple. Shop somewhere else!”

Faulkner County Sheriff Tim Ryals issued a statement late Sunday night saying the department would not fully enforce the new directive in regard to citing those without a face covering but said it would assist businesses if a customer refused to wear a mask when asked.

“As sheriff, I trust that the citizens and visitors of our county know when they should and should not wear a mask and whether they fall within the exceptions listed [in Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s mandate],” Ryals announced late Sunday night. “However, in light of the current situation, the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office will be adopting a policy that specifies how our employees will operate under the EO 20-43 directive. This policy only applies to the actions and decisions under the direction of the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office. It does not apply to other law enforcement agencies or jurisdictions in Faulkner County.”

According to the governor’s executive order, those who do not wear a face covering are at fault of a misdemeanor offense and could be fined $100 to $500 if convicted for violating a Secretary of Health directive during a public health emergency.

While local sheriff’s deputies will not respond to individual complaints, the sheriff said deputies would assist businesses with unruly customers and enforce trespassing requests.

“The FCSO will not respond to complaints of non-compliance of the mask directive in EO 20-43. No enforcement action will be taken against non-compliance of wearing a mask,” his statement reads in part. “As always, the FCSO will respond to complaint calls when a person has been asked by a local business to comply with the mask directive or leave the premises but then refuses to leave. This would be similar to a business having the ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service’ rule. Non-compliance of this rule would constitute a criminal trespass matter that is a separate and distinct violation under the law.”

Those exempt from wearing a face covering per the mask mandate directive include:

  • Children 10 years old or younger.
  • Anyone with a medical condition or physical disability preventing them from wearing a mask.
  • Workers whose job duties make wearing a mask unfeasible.
  • Athletes actively playing.
  • Anyone who is consuming food or drinks.
  • Motorists driving alone or with household members.
  • Individuals who must show their face for security reasons.
  • Anyone voting at the polls.
  • During religious worship services or when giving a speech to an audience.
  • Areas deemed “low” risk by the Arkansas Department of Health, meaning they have no new COVID-19 cases for 28 consecutive days.

According to the mandate, first-time violators will receive a verbal/written warning. Anyone 18 years old or younger would only receive warnings for any alleged violation.

Law enforcement officers are not permitted under the directive to detain, arrest or jail anyone found in violation and the mandate does not prevent authorities from enforcing “trespassing or other applicable laws in removing violators at the request of businesses or other property owners.”

Staff writer Marisa Hicks can be reached at mhicks@thecabin.net.

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