Since the beginning of the pandemic that completely uprooted daily life in the United States and has killed more than 600 thousand Americans, former President Donald Trump repeatedly railed against the use of masks to slow the spread of the virus, despite their proven effectiveness in doing so.
With Trump enjoying near-unanimous adoration among the Republican party, right-wing elected officials and media personalities quickly followed suit. They falsely slammed masks as ineffective or even harmful, claiming they were an exercise in government control.
As a result, a number of Republican governors, in conjunction with Republican legislatures, passed legislation banning businesses or local officials from imposing mask mandates in their establishments or jurisdictions.
Now, stronger and deadlier variants of the viruses continue to emerge, and virus cases across the nation are skyrocketing, along with fatalities and hospitalizations.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised guidelines, now recommending that even vaccinated people begin wearing masks in crowded indoor settings to add an extra layer of protection for those who remain unvaccinated.
But because of these bans on mask mandates, many officials in red states can't enforce guidelines from health officials and keep themselves and their constituents safe without breaking the law.
Earlier this year, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas signed Act 1002, which bans local officials and agencies from imposing mask mandates. The law went into effect late last month, as the seven day average of positive cases in Arkansas has doubled in the past two weeks, and as the state ranks 48th in the nation for fully vaccinated residents.
This week, Governor Hutchinson admitted he regrets signing the bill into law.
"I signed it for those reasons, that our cases were at a low point. Everything has changed now. And, yes, in hindsight, I wish that had not become law. But it is law, and the only chance we have is either to amend it or for the courts to say that it has an unconstitutional foundation."
Hutchinson has since called the state legislature into special session in hopes they'll amend Act 1002 to exclude school boards, which could allow school-age children, many of whom can't receive the vaccine yet, to remain masked.
People aren't sympathetic to Hutchinson's regret.
Social media users also noticed Hutchinson's use of passive voice to absolve himself from responsibility, saying he regretted the bill "became law," rather than noting that he signed the bill into law.