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While a lot of folks welcomed Gov. Asa Hutchinson's turn-around decision last week to order Arkansans to wear masks in public, not all did.

The governor announced the change on Thursday, after saying just a day earlier that the state was still evaluating whether to consider a masking requirement.

Hutchinson and state health officials have long encouraged the wearing of masks, along with hand washing and social distancing, to help contain the spread of covid-19.

The disease, which surfaced in the U.S. just six months ago, has to date killed 363 Arkansans and sickened more than 34,000 of us with active cases now numbering over 7,100.

Hospitalizations have increased to the point that Arkansas is now among the states with the most per capita hospitalizations, which is straining medical staffs.

The mask mandate is intended to slow that progression, even though some contend the requirement is a violation of their rights.

Although the state has actually required masks in certain indoor settings for a while now, mask-wearing had been mostly up to individual Arkansans willing to put up with the inconvenience for the sake of others.

That started to change last week when several major retailers, including Bentonville-based Walmart Inc., announced mask requirements that would apply to anyone working or shopping in their stores.

Hutchinson suggested then that Walmart's action showed masking might have become more acceptable to the public.

Whatever the reason, Hutchinson's announcement came the next day that the state, too, would mandate masks starting this week.

"We need to do more," Hutchinson said, citing the increasing numbers of covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths "that speak for themselves."

Some of the state's cities, Fayetteville being the first among them, had put mask requirements in place earlier. The governor's executive order made the mandate statewide, although there is a provision to exempt counties where the Health Department certifies that the risk of coronavirus transmission is low. None now qualify but could in the future.

The governor's order effectively requires masks indoors and outdoors where there is exposure to non-household members and where there is not six feet or more to allow physical distancing.

There are lots of logical, common-sense exemptions to the order. But everyone else is supposed to comply and could be subject to a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $100 to $500.

Such citations are not really supposed to happen, at least not often. First-time offenders and young violators are to get written or verbal warnings, not fines.

Violating the directive won't get anyone detained, arrested or confined in jail. However, violating trespassing or disorderly conduct laws can, if property owners request police action against non-compliant persons.

So, who's really going to enforce what the governor has ordered?

Hutchinson authorized and encouraged Arkansas law enforcement and local officials to enforce the state directive, but not all will.

In the days since he announced his plans, one after another agency has said its officers won't be stopping people or issuing tickets for not wearing masks.

Several are small-town police departments or county sheriff's offices with few officers. But there are some larger ones as well.

The Texarkana Police Department, for example, issued a news release stating that agency would focus on "fighting crime and providing police services" rather than enforcing the mask mandate.

Its officers will respond to assist a business in removing a customer who has been asked to leave "as we always have," the release said.

Several of the state's county sheriff's offices have taken a similar stance, some citing manpower challenges and others calling the mask mandate an overstep by the state.

A few state legislators, too, have complained about the governor's overreach. They are asking him to call a special session of the Legislature to address the issue, even though the governor's emergency powers clearly allow him to take the action he has.

Most likely, the sheriffs and legislators who've resisted the mandate are reflecting not only their own views but also what they're hearing from their constituents, the same people some of them will face in the November general election.

Hutchinson does have support from others in the Legislature as well as from some police agencies, particularly in locales that have experienced significant outbreaks and passed local ordinances of their own to mandate masks.

Still, enforcement of the statewide mask mandate may prove spotty in an environment with such strong differences of opinion.

Masking up is nonetheless a good idea, one of the few steps available now to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The more people comply, the better the chance infections will slow.

Failure to comply, on the other hand, could lead to conditions here such as those being experienced in neighboring Texas or other hard-hit states.

Don't refuse to wear a mask because you feel put upon by the government. Wear one because it's the right thing to do.

Brenda Blagg is a freelance columnist. E-mail comments or questions to [email protected]

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