By Bradly Gill and Patric Flannigan
While Governor Asa Hutchinson has ended Arkansas’ mask mandate, city and county officials say that they are planning on continuing to require masks to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Ouachita County Medical Center President and CEO Peggy Abbott stated that the hospital would follow the United States Centers for Disease Control guidelines and require masks to be worn at the hospital.
Abbott said, “We function under the guidelines for the CDC, and their recommendations continue that health care facilities continue to require the wearing of masks. So our employees and any visitors coming to this building, anybody coming in for any patient coming into the building will be required to wear a mask. So our policy regarding the requirement to wear a mask is not changing at this time.”
County Judge Robert McAdoo said, “Masks will still be required at the government building of the courthouse as the governor stated in the press conference.”
City officials indicated that a decision would be forthcoming at the next city council meeting, but leaned toward keeping the mandate under the advice of Dr. Larry Brayden, Ouachita County Health Officer.
Camden Mayor Julian Lott said, “I don’t have a response yet. The hospital has already told me they aren’t dropping it. Dr. Brayden said our numbers weren’t good enough to drop it. As far as City Hall we may have to wait a bit, but as far as the whole city I’m not going to hold them to anything except what Dr. Brayden tells me.”
“At City Council we will have to make a decision, but Dr. Brayden is our County Officer and as our health officer for the county, he is who I am going to have to lean on right now,” Lott added.
The Camden Fairview School District School Board approved a recommendation during its meeting on March 16 to continue wearing face masks and follow the CDC guidelines for the remainder of this school year.
The Arkansas Chamber of Commerce additionally released the following Frequently Asked Questions concerning the ending of the maks mandate.
- As a business/employer, can I still require my employees and/or customers to wear a mask after the Governor drops the mask mandate?
a. Yes, and you likely should.
b. The CDC has released requirements for vaccinated individuals: https://www.cdc.gov/ coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated-guidance.html
c. These guidelines include continuing to wear masks in public spaces, including the workplace.
d. The CDC guidance also says that employees should continue to follow the protocols of their individual employers.
e. CDC guidelines still include social distancing, wearing masks (even when social distancing), separating sick employees, disinfecting properly, informing employees of close contact to an infected employee, correct quarantine procedures, and providing PPE for your employees.
- What if an employee refuses to wear a mask citing Constitutional grounds, no directive in place, disability, etc.?
a. Employers generally may require employees to wear masks while at the workplace even if there is no state mandate.
b. If an employee claims a medical condition or disability, the employer should engage in the interactive process to determine if there is a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.
The most common accommodations including working from home, moving the employee to a location where he/she does not interact with other individuals, or offering wearing a face shield.
- What are the legal ramifications of NOT requiring masks?
a. Importantly, in order to receive immunity under the Governor’s AR Executive Order, an employer must follow CDC and OSHA guidelines. Thus, not requiring masks may strip you of immunity.
b. Not requiring masks may make you susceptible to an OSHA investigation
- The OSHA General Duty Clause requires employers to provide their workers with a workplace that is free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm. COVID-19 and risk of exposure to COVID-19 are considered recognized hazards. An employer could be subject to an OSHA investigation if accused of violating this general duty.