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County judge says not ready to relax virus rules just yet

by William Sanders | April 8, 2021 at 6:39 a.m.
Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde is shown at the Pulaski County Quorum Court in Little Rock.

County Judge Barry Hyde will continue to monitor covid-19 case numbers in Pulaski County before making any changes to the county's pandemic protocols in the wake of Gov. Asa Hutchinson ending the state's mask mandate.

Hyde said Tuesday that while the numbers of vaccinations and covid-19 cases are looking good in Arkansas, he wants to see more before officially going back to business as usual.

"The governor made his decision, and he has information that I have available to me," Hyde said. "He has a whole state he's looking at, and we're just looking at our county. We're still watching these numbers."

Before April, many people including Justice of the Peace Phil Stowers, speculated that the governor would allow the mask mandate to expire. Stowers asked Hyde during the Quorum Court meeting March 23 if there would be a county response to the state mandate change.

Hyde said he did not have an exact plan at that time.

The state mask mandate expired March 31, prompting a response from Little Rock.

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Mayor Frank Scott Jr. issued a directive requiring the public to wear face coverings in all public places except when social distancing of six feet is possible, and strongly encouraging people to wear masks outside of their residences in certain situations.

Hyde has extended the county building restrictions on public access and required people entering county buildings to wear masks. Employees must were masks unless they are alone in their assigned offices behind closed doors.

"Another wave of virus may be in store for us," Hyde said. "We're just trying to be cautious. I am very anxious to be able to begin backing off of the restrictions we have on county buildings and on our employees."

"We have had a decrease in the number of cases in Pulaski County," Dr. Jennifer Dallaha, state epidemiologist and medical director, said Wednesday. "We have a total of 204 active cases. These are the cases that would need to be in isolation that are infectious."

Dallaha said that while people who are vaccinated are in a good position to fight the virus, community spread is still happening in Arkansas.

"[The numbers] tell us that we still have community spread in Pulaski County, and that's important because, as long as there's community spread, people need to take whatever steps are recommended, which includes wearing masks when out in public, social distancing, avoiding large groups of people even if they are vaccinated."

Hyde said his dilemma now is how early is too early and how late is too late in regard to relaxing the pandemic rules.

"We don't want to do it too early and expose folks to risk and having a bunch get sick, but we don't want to be too late either, so we're watching very closely," Hyde said. "And I hope that just anytime here we'll be in a comfortable position where we can open county buildings to the public."

Before returning to normalcy in Pulaski County, Hyde said he would like to see about 50% of Arkansans being either vaccinated or having recovered from covid-19, and he hopes the county can begin to relax restrictions "much sooner" than summer.


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