Fayetteville council allows mask mandate to expire

Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan leads the March 1 City Council meeting.

Flyer staff photo

FAYETTEVILLE — The city’s temporary mask mandate has officially expired.

City Council members adjourned their regular meeting on Tuesday without extending the most recent mask mandate, which means it is no longer in effect.

The latest mandate was enacted on Jan. 18. A previous mandate expired Dec. 23, but the Omicron variant’s surge brought record highs for new COVID-19 cases and led Council Member Teresa Turk to call for a new ordinance that temporarily required masks indoors in public places and city-owned buildings.

At the time, Turk said the variant’s history in other countries indicated that while it had greater infectious ability, local cases could see a rapid decline after the initial surge. Because of that possibility, the mandate was written to automatically terminate on March 2, unless the council extended it.

Fayetteville’s mandate required masks for anyone who entered a city-owned building, but included no enforcement mechanism. It also applied to public areas in public places.

Exceptions were included for people who were eating or drinking, those with a disabling condition that prevents mask-wearing, and children under two years old. Settings with fewer than 10 people and places without regular public access were also exempted.

Active cases in Arkansas have dropped from 88,938 when the mandate was enacted to 4,887 on Tuesday, according to the latest numbers from the Arkansas Department of Health. Hospitalizations are also down 75% to 449 from their highest level of 1,819 in late January.

Tuesday’s meeting included no discussion of an extension of the mandate.

With the number of nationally-reported virus cases also dipping to their lowest level since December, several states are planning to remove their mask mandates.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week announced relaxed guidance for areas where hospitals are no longer facing a high strain. The new guidelines suggest that about 70% of Americans can safely stop wearing masks.

California allowed its indoor mask mandate to expire on Feb. 15 and plans to stop requiring masks in schools after March 11. Other state-level shifts are occurring in Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington.

Masks became optional inside Fayetteville Public Schools on Feb. 28, and the end of classroom masking requirements at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville was announced on March 1.