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Pulaski County Judge Tim Fox issued an injunction against the law Governor Asa Hutchinson signed in April banning the mask requirement by government agencies. The ban has been challenged by two lawsuits, including one from a district where more than 800 employees and students are being quarantined because of a coronavirus outbreak.
Fox decided against the measure on a number of grounds, including the argument that it discriminated between public and private schools. Fox released the rule hours after lawmakers adjourned a special session that Hutchinson called to consider lifting the ban on some schools.
Hutchinson had said the change was needed to protect children under 12 who cannot get vaccinated as virus cases and state hospital stays skyrocket.
A house committee on Thursday rejected two measures that would have enabled some school districts to waive mask requirements.
There have been increasing calls for the ban to be lifted before school opens nationwide by the end of this month.
“I think we will really regret not taking action,” said Democratic Senator Keith Ingram, the chamber’s minority leader. “I just hope the consequences for children, staff or teachers in this state are not fatal.”
Pediatricians and health officials have said masks are needed in schools to protect children as the Delta variant and Arkansas’ low vaccination rate fuel the state’s rising cases.
The state reported its largest one-day increase in Covid-19 hospital admissions since the pandemic began on Monday, and the Department of Health said Thursday that the state only had 36 intensive care beds available.
However, Hutchinson faced stiff opposition from fellow Republicans who had been inundated with calls and messages from opponents of masked schools.