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Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox has issued a preliminary injunction against the law Governor Asa Hutchinson signed in April banning mask requirements by government entities. The ban was being challenged by two lawsuits, including one in a district where more than 800 staff and students are in quarantine due to a coronavirus outbreak.
Fox spoke against the measure on several grounds, including the argument that it discriminated between public and private schools. Fox released the decision hours after lawmakers adjourned a special session Hutchinson called to consider revisiting the school ban.
Hutchinson had said the change was necessary to protect children under 12 who cannot get vaccinated as virus cases and hospitalizations skyrocket in the state.
A House panel Thursday rejected two measures that would have allowed some school districts to impose mask requirements.
There had been growing calls to lift the ban before school started across the state later this month.
“I think we are going to really regret that we did not act,” said Democratic Senator Keith Ingram, House Minority Leader. “I just hope the consequences will not be fatal for the children, staff or teachers in this condition.”
Pediatricians and health officials have said masks in schools are needed to protect children, as the delta variant and Arkansas’ low vaccination rate are fueling the state’s spiraling cases.
The state on Monday reported its largest one-day increase in hospitalizations for Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, and the Department of Health said on Thursday that only 36 intensive care unit beds were available in the state.
But Hutchinson faced strong opposition from his fellow Republicans, who had been inundated with calls and messages from opponents of masks in schools.