Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) reiterated Sunday his regrets that he signed a law banning mask mandates in the state amid an ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant of the virus.
“Facts change and leaders have to adjust to the new facts that you have and the reality of what you have to deal with,” he said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “Whenever I signed that law, our cases were low, we were hoping that the whole thing was gone, in terms of the virus, but it roared back with the delta variant.”
Hutchinson went on to say he had hoped to amend the law to better protect children in the state who are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
“I realized that we needed to have more options for our local school districts to protect those children,” he said. “And so I asked the legislature to redo the law that prohibited those requirements or those options for the school districts to protect the children. And so it was an error to sign that law.”
Hutchinson retreated from his support for the bill, which he signed in April as case numbers were retreating due to a country-wide vaccination blitz, earlier this week. The state legislature, however, has declined to support new legislation, although The New York Times notes a judge temporarily blocked the ban, allowing schools and government agencies to require masks.
“I signed it at the time because our cases were at a very low point,” the governor said at a press conference on Tuesday. “I knew it would be overwritten by the legislature if I didn’t sign it.”
“Everything has changed now,” he added. “And yes, in hindsight, I wish that had not become law.”
Every state in the nation is currently seeing dramatic growth in new COVID-19 cases, but regions with particularly low vaccination rates are being hit the hardest. Public health officials in Louisiana, which leads the nation in new infections, have called the last few weeks the “darkest days” of the pandemic and some hospitals have said they are running out of beds for severely ill patients.
Vaccines remain the best defense against severe cases of the coronavirus or deaths associated with the disease, and protect well even against the delta strain. Almost all deaths linked to COVID-19 are among the unvaccinated.
About 49% of Arkansans have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and 37% are fully vaccinated.
Some cities and states have begun reintroducing mask mandates as a method to reduce transmission of the delta variant, while others — led by Republicans — have refused to do so and doubled down on laws that prohibit mask mandates.