Gov. Asa Hutchinson is widely expected today to announce guidelines for the resumption of in-restaurant service in Arkansas as early as next week, even as coronavirus cases in Arkansas continue to rise.
He announced yesterday that restaurants in state parks would reopen in some fashion May 15, but declined to say anyone should presume that means other restaurants would be able to reopen then as well, or perhaps even by his May 4 target for entering “phase one” of a return to normal business. The outlines of social distancing rules weren’t revealed for state park restaurants or others. They are certain to be required.
Among those also predicting some return of restaurant dining, perhaps by May 4, was Pat McCabe, mayor of Hot Springs, a tourist town with a major restaurant and bar business. (Bars may not be part of the governor’s plans.)
McCabe told the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record that she didn’t expect restaurants to operate as before. Rather, she said, she expected a “new normal.”
“So they’re going to give some guidelines as to what the expectations would be of restaurants to keep people safe, keep them socially distant, things along those lines; what the expectation for wearing masks would be.”
She hopes everyone can adjust. Even some restaurant operators — Little Rock City Director Capi Peck, operator of Trio’s, has been one — have expressed doubts about a return to business this soon. Evidence exists of transmission in enclosed spaces by asymptomatic people unrelated to people at other tables. Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. has previously wanted the state to go farther on stay-home guidelines than Hutchinson has been willing to go. Pulaski County is home to the biggest number of virus cases so it would seem to be at higher risk, but Little Rock’s convention and visitor business has been devastated by the virus shutdowns.
Will masks be pulled down to spoon in soup? Will dishes be tossed to tables by servers standing six feet away? Will employees be screened daily?
Restaurants may be allowed to open and many choose to do so. That doesn’t mean customers will choose to go inside. Or perhaps even continue curbside pickup at businesses where the public is traipsing in and out.
Note the morning numbers on coronavirus, which will be updated at the 1:30 p.m. daily briefing: Deaths are up five from yesterday. Montgomery County is now shown with a confirmed case, leaving only Little River and Calhoun with no cases.