City, schools reinstate mask mandates
Both the Eureka Springs School District and the Eureka Springs City Council took action Monday to address the recent surge in positive cases of COVID-19 that has been sweeping across Carroll County and the rest of the state, voting to reinstate mask mandates on the school campus and inside city buildings.
The increase in cases has largely been attributed to the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, the second main variant that has been discovered since the pandemic began.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Omicron variant accounts for 92 percent of new COVID-19 cases in a region including Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico.
According to school district superintendent Bryan Pruitt, the board also voted to give administrators the authority to modify the mandate in relation to the district’s risk level without needing board approval.
“The board gave us the authority to use the guideline, and the guideline is based on the [Arkansas Center for Health Improvement] website,” Pruitt said. “It shows the general population of the whole district, which there’s 8,500 people that live in our school district. Anytime we have more than 3 percent positive or 10 percent in quarantine, we can bring back the mask mandate for three weeks. If we don’t need it, then we can stop wearing masks without calling a special board meeting or something like that.”
According to the ACHI website, a record 226 Arkansas public school districts, or 97 percent of the state’s 234 contiguous school districts, have COVID-19 infection rates of 50 or more new known infections per 10,000 district residents over a 14-day period.
In the Eureka Springs district — which has approximately 700 people on campus during a typical school day — that translates to approximately 21 positive cases and 75 people in quarantine.
As of Monday, Pruitt said, the district had 32 positive cases among staff and students and 92 in quarantine. Pruitt said an additional 27 people avoided quarantine thanks to their vaccination status.
For now, Pruitt said, the mask requirement will apply to “all students, staff and visitors at school and school events” and will remain in place until at least Jan. 30.
“Everybody is saying this Omicron variant is fast moving,” Pruitt said. “It has hit us fast, very fast and I’m hoping it leaves us very fast as well.”
At the city level, the the Eureka Springs City Council — at the request of Mayor Butch Berry — voted Monday to adopt a resolution requiring masks inside city buildings.
“It’s obvious this epidemic is increasing faster than it ever has before, and I know I don’t need to remind the City Council how scary it was two years ago when we had the city shut down because of COVID,” Berry said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen, but we don’t know what’s going to happen for sure. But I think one of the things we can do to protect ourselves is extending … this resolution expired, I think, in December. And so I would like to go ahead and have this new resolution, which is basically the same resolution we had before it, with the exception that the old resolution had comments in there about being vaccinated and this one does not.”
Council member Bill Ott spoke in favor of the resolution, saying “I just think you cannot go wrong erring on the side of caution. You know, to do our little part to protect those people who deal with the city or city employees, elected officials and those citizens that come in to utilize city services. I think that a simple little thing can be so meaningful.”
Berry emphasized that the resolution has no binding effect on private property.
“This is strictly for the city-owned and -operated state government facilities,” the mayor said. “It has nothing to do with private property or public spaces, but just city buildings and so on.”
In response to a question from council member Harry Meyer, Berry said Eureka Springs police officers would not be required to wear masks inside their patrol cars.
“Not in their cars, necessarily,” Berry said. “I don’t think I wear a mask in my car.”
“Well if they pull me over and get in my face, I would like them to have a mask on,” Meyer said.
“Well, that’s when they’re dealing with the public, yes,” Berry replied.
Meyer then moved to approve the resolution, and council member Autumn Slate seconded the motion.
The motion passed by a vote of 5-1 with Meyer, Slane, Melissa Greene, Bill Ott and Nick Roberts voting yes and Terry McClung voting no.
After the resolution was read in full, the council voted to amend it to remove references to unvaccinated individuals and to property that is owned but not directly operated by the city government.