LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Gov. Asa Hutchinson says residents will be required to wear masks in public through at least the end of the month, but health officials are developing criteria for when to lift the measure aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

In contrast to the swift rollbacks of mast mandates in the neighboring states of Texas and Mississippi, Hutchinson told "Fox News Sunday" that he loosened restrictions on businesses but wanted a gradual approach to face coverings.

“I wanted to set a goal and give people hope that we can end the mask mandate if we get to these -- this place and where we feel more comfortable that our hospitalizations are still down, and so we wanted an off-ramp, we didn’t want a cliff," the Republican told anchor Chris Wallace. “I wanted an off-ramp.”

Health experts say masking is among the most effective ways to curb transmission of COVID-19. The disease has been linked to nearly 5,300 deaths in Arkansas.

On Saturday, state health officials reported 327 confirmed and probable cases of the virus and 14 more deaths from it. There were 345 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Arkansas, 14 fewer than on Friday.