WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. —In West Memphis and across Arkansas, it’s week No. 1 in which everyone must wear a face mask in public.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson put the order in place after first resisting a mandate.
“It’s not something we want to do. It’s not the first lever we pull. It’s one that, when the data says it’s necessary, we do it,” Hutchinson said.
West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon has been pushing for support from the governor, as Arkansas has recently seen a surge in coronavirus cases.
“Well, it gives us the credibility that we’ve been needing and the state support that the city has been doing since May 6,” McClendon said. “The governor stepping and saying this very good for us.”
But the order includes several exemptions for people younger than 10 years old or those engaged in religious worship.
“Actually, we have individuals that really believe they should not have to wear masks,” McClendon said. “I understand them, but right now they have to understand that wearing the masks isn’t for themselves, it’s for you and I.”
Violators could face a fine of up to $500 dollars, but enforcement will be a challenge, said Robert Langston, West Memphis assistant police chief.
“For law enforcement, it’s obviously going to make our job more difficult,” he said. “We want to encourage our citizens to wear masks.”
The order stops law enforcement from detaining or arresting anyone for not complying. First-time violators will only receive a verbal or written warning.
“Do we have time to have our officers driving around and making sure everyone is wearing a mask? Obviously we do not,” Langston said.
It’s why the assistant chief and the mayor say their officers will be handing out face masks in hopes of slowing down COVID-19 cases.
“We’ve had to close before, and people are out of work and can’t feed their families,” Langston said. “Let’s try to wear our masks. I’m going to wear my mask.”