Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said on Sunday that he had made a mistake in signing a law banning mask mandates in his state.
“It was an error to sign that law. I admit that,” Mr. Hutchinson, a Republican, said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”
Arkansas, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, has seen cases approach last winter’s surge counts. It now has a seven-day rolling average of 2,351 new daily cases.
“Facts change, and leaders have to adjust to the new facts and the reality of what you have to deal with,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “Whenever I signed that law, our cases were low, we were hoping that the whole thing was gone, in terms of the virus, but it roared back with the Delta variant.”
Mr. Hutchinson signed the bill banning mask mandates in April, and he had been working to modify it in the wake of rising case counts and outbreaks at schools. But the state legislature has declined to take up the new legislation. On Friday, a judge temporarily blocked the ban, allowing schools and other government entities in Arkansas to require masks.
Mr. Hutchinson cited improved vaccination rates in the state but noted that children under 12 are ineligible for Covid shots. “We are pushing the vaccines out, but those under 12 cannot get vaccinated in the schools,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “So I realized that we needed to have more options for our local school districts to protect those children.”
In Marion, Ark., more than 800 people were in quarantine after dozens of teachers and students tested positive. “For those under 12, we want them to go to school and we need to have that flexibility because they do have some risk,” he said.
About 49 percent of Arkansans have received at least one shot, an improvement Mr. Hutchinson attributed to factors including community town halls and people’s proximity to risk.
“People see the hospitalizations up, they see the cases, they see what happens to their neighbors, they’re worried about it, and they’re going out and getting vaccinated.”