Arkansas House votes to require masks as virus cases rise

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas House voted Thursday to require members and staff to wear masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The House voted 81-2 to adopt rules for this year's session that included the mask mandate, a requirement that came a day after another lawmaker tested positive for the virus.

The rules are nearly identical to those approved by the Senate for its chamber three days earlier. Neither chamber has included penalties for lawmakers who do not wear a mask.

The move came the day after a state representative become the 22nd Arkansas legislator to test positive for the virus. House Speaker Matthew Shepherd said officials were conducting contact tracing, but he did not know of any new cases.

Arkansas' virus cases on Thursday rose by 2,491 to 264,511. The state's deaths from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, increased by 42 to 4,228. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, which have hit record numbers in recent weeks, dropped by 67 to 1,295. The number of COVID-19 patients on ventilators also dropped by 14.

“This will relieve some of the strain on our health care system as we continue to distribute vaccine doses,” Gov Asa Hutchinson said.

The state health department said 116,772 doses have been given of the 324,400 the state has received so far.