By Ray King

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson on Friday defended his decision to issue an executive order requiring the use of face coverings in both indoor and outdoor settings when social distancing is not possible.

The Governor issued the order Thursday and the Arkansas Sheriff’s Association and members of the legislature have spoken out against it.

At his daily COVID-19 press conference, Hutchinson said he was expecting a call from a representative of the sheriff’s association later Friday and would listen to what they had to say.

Over the past 24 hours, 648 new cases of COVID-19 were reported, bringing the state’s total to 31,762. Of those, 6,633 are active cases with 131 in nursing homes, 1,013 in correctional facilities and 5,489 in community settings.

There are currently 464 people hospitalized, six less than were reported on Thursday.

Pulaski County again had the highest number of cases of any county in the state with 69, followed by Washington County with 44, Craighead County with 32, Pope County with 30, Benton County with 29, Sebastian County with 22 and Saline County with 21. No other county in the state had more than 20.

An additional 12 deaths were reported, bringing the state total to 353 but State Health Officer Dr. Nate Smith said seven of those deaths were in the past three days while the other five occurred between June 24 and July 12 and were just reported.

The Governor also responded to a question about legislative opposition to the mask mandate.