Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he aims to deliver his state an "off-ramp" to COVID-19 restrictions, by removing penalties last month and lifting the mask order by March 31 if it meets certain requirements. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
March 7 (UPI) -- Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Sunday that Arkansas plans to be the next state to lift its mask mandate at the end of the month as states witness declining rates in cases and deaths, despite warnings from the White House and health experts.
Last month, Hutchinson announced the state's COVID-19 directives would be considered "guidance" eliminating penalties for individuals and businesses and declared the state's mask mandate would end on March 31 if the state achieved a 7-day rolling average of positive tests below 10% as well as other benchmarks related to hospitalizations.
As of Saturday, Arkansas reported an average of 373 cases per day, a decrease of 2% from the average two weeks earlier, according to The New York Times database.
Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Hutchinson said he wanted his state to ease into lifting restrictions, alluding to decisions by Texas and Mississipi last week to fully lift mask mandates and restrictions on business capacity.
"I wanted to set a goal and give people hope that we can end the mask mandate if we get to these -- this place and where we feel more comfortable that our hospitalizations are still down and so we wanted an off-ramp, we didn't want a cliff," he said.
Overall the United States continues to rank first in the world in total cases and deaths with 28,973,018 infections and 524,698 fatalities, reporting 58,411 new cases and 1,485 deaths on Saturtday, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University.
The nation has also delivered 116,363,405 vaccine doses and administered 90,351,750, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
President Joe Biden last week referred to the decisions by Texas and Mississipi to lift their mask mandates as "Neanderthal thinking" and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases on Sunday said federal lifting of guidelines would be gradual and based on vaccination efforts and case rates.
"We will be pulling back on these mitigation methods. It's not going to be this way indefinitely for sure," Fauci told CBS News' Face the Nation. "We want to get the levels of the virus very, very low and then we will have a much, much easier time to safely pull back and get the economy and all the other things that we want to be normal."
California continues to lead the nation in fatalities and infections, reporting 3,816 cases on Sunday, far below a record far below a record 53,711, for a total of 3,501,394, while its death toll rose by 258 to 54,124. Hospitalizations, however, declined 5.2% from the previous day as 4,291 people in the state are hospitalized with the virus.
Texas ranks second in cases with 2,320,857 with 1,805 new infections reported Sunday along with 84 fatalities to bring the death toll to 44,451 in third.
The situation has improved since the start of the year when the state reported 348 deaths with a 7-day case average of 20,000 on Jan. 14, however the daily death rate has risen from 127 to 222 over the past two weeks while the 7-day case average has grown from 5,040.8 per day to 7,022.7 in the same time period.
Third-place Florida reported 4,098 new cases on Sunday for a total of 1,944,995 since the start of the pandemic as the state's 7-day case average has been declining since the start of the year. The state also reported 63 resident deaths, its fewest since 58 on Nov. 29, for a total of 31,683 in fourth place.
Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered a vaccination site in Florida City to return to state criteria offering to limit inoculations to people older than 65, long-term-healthcare facility residents and staff and some first responders and teachers after it on Saturday offered shots to all in response to low-demand, prompting hundreds of people to line up.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Saturday announced restaurants outside of New York City will be permitted to open at 75% capacity on March 19, while those inside the city will remain at 35%.
The state reported 6,789 new cases and 59 deaths on Sunday for a total of 1,681,169 infections and 48,335 deaths, second in the nation.
In the announcement, the state noted that the number of intensive care patients has fallen to 999, the first time it has dipped below 1,000 since Dec. 9, while the statewide positivity rate is 2.98%.