Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Thursday that he would sign an executive order mandating the use of face masks in indoor and outdoor settings where social distancing is not possible.
The mandate will require that all Arkansans wear face masks in indoor and outdoor settings where social distancing of at least six feet between oneself and non-household members is not feasible or possible. It will go into effect on Monday, July 20.
Exemptions are made for those under 10 years old, those with medical conditions or disabilities preventing them from wearing face coverings and those whose job duties prevent them from wearing face masks.
Other exemptions include situations where visibility of one's face is needed for security reasons; participation in athletic events where social distancing of six feet isn't possible; while one is consuming food or drink; while one is alone or only with household members in their vehicles; when one is giving a speech or performing before an audience, so long as social distancing is possible; and in counties where the Arkansas Department of Health has certified that the risk of spreading COVID-19 are low.
The mandate will also include an exemption for those participating in religious worship, though Hutchinson noted that the use of face masks is still strongly recommended in those settings.
The mandate will have the force and effect of law, Hutchinson said, and those who violate it could be subject to misdemeanor charges and a fine of between $100 and $500.
The first time someone is caught violating the order, they will be subject to a verbal or written warning; the same goes for minors caught in violation of the order. The order does not allow for the detainment, arrest of jailing of anyone caught in violation of the order, though law enforcement will still be able to enforce trespassing laws or other laws applicable to remove violators at the request of businesses or property owners, Hutchinson said.
The order will automatically expire upon the termination of a State of Emergency that is declared in Arkansas regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a mandate; it does carry consequences; it is enforceable; but its being implemented in a way that allows for normal activities," Hutchinson said during a news briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday. "This is something that is necessary in the current environment."