Children wearing mask

Children wear masks while attending school (Photo: KATV)

In an open letter, healthcare workers across Arkansas have asked Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state legislators to reverse the mask mandate ban in schools.

As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly 900 healthcare professionals have signed the letter. Dr. Heather Young, an Arkansas physician, said this is the second time the healthcare community has asked the state to do something about the COVID crisis.

"In November we asked for lots of big changes hoping for any of them. this time our ask is very small,” Young said. “We just want school districts to be able to decide for themselves, and the parents in those school districts to be able to decide for themselves what the masking requirements should be in the schools."

The letter states masks are a simple and immediate intervention that science has proven to reduce the spread of the virus. Young said their concern is for those children who have not been vaccinated and those who are under 12 years old that aren’t eligible.

"Adults are able to make that free choice to protect themselves with the vaccine, but children under the age of 12 do not have that choice,” she said. “They are victims of the choices of the adults around them."

Young said she’s not surprised about the relationship between high COVID numbers and low vaccination rates in the state.

Arkansas physician Dr. Abdallah Dalabih said because of those two factors, he’s not sure if his son will attend school in person.

"I am actually thinking of not sending him to school and go virtual again if we don't have a way to protect him when he goes back," he said.

On Wednesday, Hutchinson met with the COVID-19 task force on how they should handle the coronavirus crisis in the state. He said they discussed hospital capacity and the steps they are taking to increase that along with staff issues.

"When they look at a COVID patient, why didn't they get vaccinated, why did they take this risk. The focus though was trying to remedy the problem," the governor said.

Hutchinson said he understands the fatigue frontline workers are facing. He also said one of the solutions is for Arkansans who can get vaccinated to get vaccinated.

According to Hutchinson, children who can’t get vaccinated as school begins next month are another challenge. He said they are working diligently to come up with the right solution on ACT 1002.

KATV did ask Hutchinson how soon a decision could be made regarding the mask mandate ban in schools.

"That's still under consideration, we've got some time before school starts but I want more time to hear from the public and the legislators and see if we can develop a consensus so stay tuned," he said.

According to the governor, the Department of Higher Education has expressed the need for flexibility in managing the healthcare of their own students. Hutchinson said he may consider a special session to give schools more control, but he has set a date on that announcement.

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