Governor Hutchinson has a proposal to remove/relax the mask mandate by the end of March 2021. This has mixed views among medical practitioners, business owners and the public.

Hutchinson’s goal to lift the mandate includes a COVID-19 testing positivity rate below 10 percent or fewer than 750 hospitalizations statewide are being met.

In Miller County, Emergency Management has tracked the positivity rate based on data received from the Arkansas Dept of Health and various local testing facilities. Miller County Emergency Management Director Joe Bennett said, “We’ve tracked new positive cases since this time last year and saw our peak in January/February 2021 at about 175-190 every ten days. For March 2021, the cases have reduced to about 35-40 every 15 days.” At this time, Miller County has a positivity rate between 2% and 5%, but it is unknown if that will change when the mask mandate is relaxed by the State. Bennett also said, “Wearing a mask should be a personal choice, and certainly portions of the population are more vulnerable than others to the COVID virus, but people have been educated on improving hygiene, social distancing and vaccinations which has proven to reduce the positivity rate.”

There are several opportunities to receive the vaccine for people within the Phase1A, 1B and 1C in Miller County. Clinics have been offered but the volume of people arriving for a vaccine is relatively low. Vaccination clinics are also offered to veterans by calling 318-221-8411 ext. 5820 or 6900. A local clinic is scheduled for veterans this weekend. Lansdell Family Clinic has opened their drive through vaccination clinic at 3809 E. 9th in Texarkana, AR. call 870-330-4385 for further information.

A consensus of medical practitioners is that although it is encouraging to have a low COVID census and rising vaccination rate, we need to get a better idea of the volume of vaccinations provided which will help guide decisions later. Currently, combined inpatients at area hospitals are eight. Some medical professionals mentioned the mask was not intended to be worn constantly because they develop moisture which causes small particles such as viruses to stick to the fabric.

Miller County government as well as city officials want everyone to remember that even though the mask mandate may be removed, many people and businesses will continue to provide the safest environment. Miller County Judge Cathy Harrison said, “We hope that people respect businesses or restaurants that chose to keep their mandates in place since some employees have yet to be vaccinated and patrons will want to feel comfortable.” This was mirrored by Texarkana, AR. city officials that continued use of masks and social distancing will be observed during city board meetings or any business at city offices. City Manager, Dr. Kenny Haskins mentioned to OEM that the mask mandate will remain during Texarkana, AR. city business until otherwise notified, but employees can not be placed in jeopardy. Hopefully, all will be vaccinated by the end of the year and then the city will reassess. For County business, wearing of masks will be of personal choice at public county meetings such as Quorum Court.

Bennett also said, “The Arkansas Department of Health shows vaccination rates in Miller County are still low and this can be attributed to several factors but most importantly many Arkansans have responded to a Texas vaccination clinic which does not track Miller County residents.” “The residency restrictions are relaxed in Texas and there is no immediate uniform protocol of differentiating a vaccine recipients address.”

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