Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s daily coronavirus update included an announcement of a limited reopening of state parks to overnight campers May 1 with further easing May 15.
The summary of coronavirus cases today: 3,111, up 94 from 3,017 at the same time Monday. 20 were in Cummins prison. Hospitalizations dropped from 109 to 104. Deaths increased by two, to 52. He noted active cases dropped because recoveries exceeded new cases. But new community cases continue to rise by small amounts. The case count at Cummins is now 911, including 51 staff members. The case count at the federal prison in Forrest City is 93, including 12 staff.
He said the “reality” was that new cases and hospitalizations will continue to rise, in part because of efforts to increase testing.
He said he wanted the state to be prepared to do contact tracing. The numbers on that, based on an NPR report, are not good currently. By that account, Arkansas has 200 contact workers now with plans to hire 50, which would provide 8.3 for every 100,000 residents. An association of county and city health officers thinks the number should be 30 per 100,000 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Health Director Nate Smith said he wasn’t prepared with a number yet.
Stacy Hurst, the state parks, travel and heritage director, was on hand to talk about a gradual reopening of parks, which have been restricted to day use only. RV camping will be reopened for overnight use by in-state campers in RVs on May 1. Bathhouses will not reopen. On May 15, other aspects of the state parks will be open. But in all cases, only Arkansas residents will be permitted. Staff will maintain distance and encourage visitors to do so.
The governor will announce the plan for reopening of restaurant dining tomorrow. Does the reopening of parks restaurants mean similar rules for other restaurants will come tomorrow? The governor said, “We’re still working on it.” But he said don’t presume the situations will necessarily “correlate.”
How will residency be determined in parks? People have to check-in and staff also will notice license tags. The governor said there could be a “polite conversation” in the case, for example, of a new resident of the state who still had an out-of-state license.
Some “high-use” trails in the parks will remain closed.
What are mayors saying about restaurants? They have differing views. Some would like to see them opened yesterday. Some would like to see it delayed, the governor said. “They understand the need for a statewide policy,” he said.
Blood plasma donors. There have been 30 and 13 patients have received it, Nate Smith said.
What about Donald Trump’s reported urging of governors to reopen schools this year? The decision was already made, the governor said, and there’s very little time left. “It’s not a practical solution for us,” Hutchinson said.
When will state employees return to normal work? In Phase One, telecommuting will still be part of the guidelines. But he has encouraged cabinet members to begin thinking about a phase-in of return to more normal work.
Can phase one reopening begin May 4? The governor said he’s still “comfortable” about meeting criteria. But that still does not mean full reopening in every aspect. Some restrictions must continue, he said.
There’s been one new prison-related case, a staff member at the Barbara Ester Unit near Pine Bluff.