Editor’s note: This editorial expresses the views of the Log Cabin Democrat. The editorial board is composed of Frank Leto, Jeanette Anderton and Alex Kienlen.
The Log Cabin Democrat commends Fayetteville and Little Rock for making city ordinances requiring the use of masks while in public and urges the city of Conway to do the same.
After the Arkansas Department of Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said that most of the Faulkner County cases of COVID-19 came from Conway, city officials made a Public Service Announcement on Thursday featuring Mayor Bart Castleberry, Conway firefighter Ty Ledbetter and Conway Downtown Partnership Director Kim Williams “strongly encouraging” everyone to wear masks while out and about in Conway.
Ledbetter announced the positivity rate for the city had reached nearly 14 percent earlier this week.
“On June 1, we had six active cases off COVID-19 in Conway. [On Wednesday] that total was up to 175 active cases,” Ledbetter said. “The positivity rate [for Conway that day] was 13.9 percent. That’s well above what the World Health Organization and the Arkansas Department of Health suggests we keep it at.” The suggested threshold is 10 percent.
But “strongly encouraging” people to take personal responsibility in an effort to help stop the spread, sadly, has proven ineffective.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson on June 15 eased restrictions and allowed the state to enter Phase II. Since that time, the state has seen nearly 4,000 new cases, as of Friday morning, with no leveling in sight.
Arkansas is now considered a “hot spot” in the nation and is on the list for restricted traveling. Several states now require residents who have visited Arkansas to quarantine for 14 days upon their return.
Surrounding states who rushed into reopening without mandating masks and saw a surge in cases have started backpedaling. On Friday, the governor of neighboring Texas announced bars were ordered to shut down again, dining rooms in restaurants were scaled back, elective surgeries were halted and residents were urged to stay at home. As hospitals in Arizona neared capacity, its governor did the same, declaring the state “on pause.”
On Thursday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson used the phrasing that Arkansas was “clearly on pause;” however, he was referring to not setting a timeline for lessening restrictions even further rather than taking a step back.
Hutchinson has said cities don’t have the authority to require masks but also that he doesn’t plan to take any action to stop them from doing so.
He has continuously rejected the idea of a statewide mandate to require masks, even though the Arkansas Department of Health said there is both scientific and anecdotal proof that masks prevent the spread of the virus.
City leaders have made tough, sometimes unpopular, choices since the start of the pandemic that was in the best interest of its residents, for which the Log Cabin Democrat commended them in a previous editorial. It is time for them to do so again. Rather than “strongly encouraging” people to wear masks, they need to require it.
In 16 weeks, the coronavirus has killed 121,000 Americans. That should make anyone more uncomfortable than wearing a face mask does.