LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas reported nearly 700 confirmed new cases of the coronavirus on Monday, the first day of a statewide mask mandate that’s drawn some resistance from local leaders and law enforcement.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said hospitalizations remained at a troubling level, and he authorized the use of 10 National Guard members to support a hospital in northwest Arkansas.
The true number of cases in Arkansas is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
Six more deaths were reported for a total of 363 since the pandemic began.
In south Arkansas, the El Dorado Police Department said Sunday that its officers would not wear masks while on duty, and the officers wouldn’t enforce the mask mandate either, the El Dorado-News Times reported.
“A mask can significantly inhibit communication both verbal and non-verbal,” Police Chief Kenny Hickman said in a statement. “That is a compromise we cannot afford to include as a general practice. Our officers will observe ‘social distancing’ whenever possible.”
Violators face a fine of up to $500 but can’t be arrested or detained under Hutchinson’s order. First-time offenders and people under 18 receive only verbal or written warnings under the order.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.