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TEXARKANA, Ark. — COVID-19 cases in Miller County have reduced in recent weeks but it is unknown if that will change when the mask mandate is relaxed, officials say.

Governor Asa Hutchinson has a proposal to remove/relax the mask mandate by the end of March. Hutchinson's goal to lift the mandate is conditioned on a COVID-19 testing positivity rate below 10% or fewer than 750 hospitalizations statewide.

"At this time, Miller County has a positivity rate between 2% and 5%, but it is unknown if that will change when the mask mandate is relaxed by the state," said Joe Bennett, director of the Miller County Office of Emergency Management.

In Miller County, Emergency Management has tracked the positivity rate based on data received from the Arkansas Department of Health and various local testing facilities, Bennett said, "We've tracked new positive cases since this time last year and saw our peak in January and February at about 175-190 every ten days. For March, the cases have reduced to about 35-40 every 15 days."

"Wearing a mask should be a personal choice, and certainly portions of the population are more vulnerable than others to the COVID virus, but people have been educated on improving hygiene, social distancing and vaccinations which has proven to reduce the positivity rate," Bennett said.

There are several opportunities to receive the vaccine for people within the Phase 1A, 1B and 1C in Miller County. Clinics have been offered but the volume of people arriving for a vaccine is relatively low. Lansdell Family Clinic has opened its drive-through vaccination clinic at 3809 E. 9th. For more information call 870-330-4385.

Appointments for veterans can be made by calling 318-221-8411.

The Arkansas Department of Health shows vaccination rates in Miller County are still low and can be attributed to several factors including many Arkansans have responded to a Texas vaccination clinic which does not track Miller County residents, Bennett said.

A consensus of medical practitioners is that although it is encouraging to have a low COVID census and rising vaccination rate, officials need to get a better idea of the volume of vaccinations provided which will help guide decisions later.

Miller County government as well as city officials want everyone to remember that even though the mask mandate may be removed, many people and businesses will continue to provide the safest environment.

"We hope that people respect businesses or restaurants that chose to keep their mandates in place since some employees have yet to be vaccinated and patrons will want to feel comfortable," County Judge Cathy Harrison said.

Texarkana, Arkansas, city officials will continue use of masks and social distance during city board meetings or any business at city offices. Wearing masks will be a personal choice at public county meetings such as the Quorum Court.

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