By Ray King

As the number of new cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas nears 29,000, there is still debate about the importance and necessity of wearing a mask.

At his daily press briefing, Governor Asa Hutchinson was asked about the debate.

He cited the example of Benton County which averaged high numbers of COVID-19 and currently those numbers are down to less than 25. He said Benton County has had no mask ordinance.

Hutchinson compared that to Pulaski County, which has had a mask ordinance in Little Rock. Over the past 24 hours, there were 77 new cases of COVID-19, the most for any county in the state.

After a weekend which saw the number of cumulative cases increase to 28,367, another 572 were reported in the past 24 hours, raising the state’s total to 28,939. Of those, 6,510 are active with 127 in nursing homes, 958 in correctional facilities and the remaining 5,425 in community settings.

The Governor said 19 additional people have been hospitalized raising the statewide total to 439 and there have been 323 deaths.

Hutchinson said the state is looking for tools (to reduce the spread of COVID-19) and if simply encouraging people to wear masks doesn’t work and new cases don’t go down, state officials will look for another tool that will work.

State Health Officer Dr. Nate Smith also talked about masks and said they serve as a source control or a way to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Masks can’t protect you if no one is wearing one,” Smith said.