Lifting COVID-19 Restrictions Could Bring Consequences


On Friday, February 26, Governor Asa Hutchinson lifted the COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and converted them to recommendations, meaning that they are no longer enforceable by law. If the positivity rate remains below 10% for tests, the mask mandate is to be lifted on March 31.  His reasoning is that public education about the virus has increased, the number of cases per day has decreased since the beginning of the year, and vaccinations are being administered to the public at a steady rate.  While these actions are well-intentioned and meant to restore normalcy to the state, they are too shortsighted to be reasonable and fail to meet the gravity of the pandemic.


Looking at the numbers for cases, Arkansas saw 432 new confirmed cases on March 9, which falls around the average number of new cases that the state has been experiencing recently.  Compare that to the number of new cases on January 1st–4,304–and it is true that they have decreased since the peak in January.  The reason for this decline is unclear, though, and it cannot be easily attributed to public action as Hutchinson says.  Not only is his claim based on no quantifiable measurement that people have begun to act more cautiously, but it discredits the mandates that are currently in place which could be a contributing factor for the decline in cases.  With so much uncertainty and only 9.27% of Arkansans fully vaccinated as of March 9, it makes little sense to remove these guidelines which only serve to keep people safe.


If cases are down, shouldn’t we try to keep them down?  Why should we be so hasty to change the status quo when it is better now than it has been in months?  I can understand Hutchinson’s desire to capitalize on this grace period, but I would also like this grace period to extend into the future for as long as possible.  We have finally made it to what feels like the home stretch, but we still can’t forget about the safety of the people who are still susceptible to the virus.


And when you consider COVID variants that may have made it into the state, being 50% more effective at spreading, it is just another compounded reason that restrictions should remain.


The potential lifting of the mask mandate is also premature, but the negative impact that it could have on public health is more drastic.  Public health officials have stressed time and time again that masks are the best tool that we have to fight the virus, but they have unfortunately transformed into a political issue.  They are irritating and uncomfortable, yes, but those aspects are negligible in that they have prevented the death of thousands of people.


 As alluring as the promise of normal life is, we are unfortunately just not to that point yet.  With 5,529 Arkansans dead and hundreds still in and out of hospitalization, the losses that we face from this virus are still immense, and we should try to keep them to a minimum.