Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s daily coronavirus briefing today included the announcement of a May 6 return-to-business day for salons and barbers but his Q&A period was dominated by discussion of the fouled-up Ready for Business grant program, evictions, abortion and other topics.
The new order includes massage therapists, cosmetologists, tattoo parlors and spas. There are several restrictions.
This is two days later than the gym openings announced yesterday. The governor said a couple of days were needed for businesses to prepare.
The Health Department will post specific directives. A limit to the number of people in a shop is the key protection. Workers must wear masks and customers should, too.
Another vital service was mentioned today. Health Director Nate Smith said he was assembling a group of dentists and hygienists to make plans for a resumption of dental practices on May 18. Reports had been rising of unhappiness about restrictions on dentists, particularly as gyms and restaurants were given the green light to reopen.
Ready for Business grants
We’ve written extensively already today about the $15 million fund rolled out prematurely Wednesday and snapped up before many people in the state knew about it. The handling of the program has done bipartisan criticism and a call for an investigation by the Democratic Party. Republican senators joined in caution about Hutchinson’s move to quell the turmoil by increasing the fund to $100 million and to back off a first-come-first-served basis for awarding the money.
Hutchinson announced the steering committee’s approval of an additional $85 million infusion to the fund. A four-member legislative committee is to renew that this afternoon. He characterized this as the desire of the legislature in response to high interest. That’s not exactly what happened.
A reporter noted frustration among lawmakers over the handling of the program and the amount sought.
Hutchinson said he’d fully explained everything yesterday. He insisted the members of the General Assembly inspired the amount sought. Senators, however, said it was far more than they thought prudent at this point. The governor now said it was up to the legislature to determine the correct appropriation.
He was again asked about eviction protection. He said he didn’t want landlords to take advantage of anyone. But he said a fund had been established for nonprofits to help people unemployed by COVID-19. In short, no, he will take no action to help tenants. He said there are many good reasons landlords might want to remove tenants. He said there is help for those who’ve lost jobs because of COVID-19. He said the state could direct them to a charity.
He was asked about the difficulty of getting tests done to qualify for a surgical abortion. He said it applied to all procedures. He cited, as he always does, the 8th Circuit ruling overturning Judge Kristine Baker’s finding that the state had unconstitutionally prohibited abortions for many women. He supports that ruling.
Will people whose employers reopen but are uncomfortable going to work for health reasons lose June unemployment benefits? A: Yes.
If an employee refuses to go back to work and tries to claim unemployment it’s a fraudulent claim, Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said.
And what about claims by independent contractors? This federal program is underway in many states, including Mississippi, but not Arkansas. Preston said he expected it to begin in Arkansas in several days. He gave no specific date.
The daily number
The daily numbers: The Thursday count of 3,255 rose 66 to 3,321 today. Hospitalizations held steady at 95. Three more deaths were reported, to a total of 64. The governor said the trends remain good as did Health Director Smith. The transmission rate isn’t growing and the health system isn’t overtaxed, so while certain numbers might not meet specific federal guidelines for phasing in return-to-work, the guidelines are flexible.
The governor was also asked about a report that a mayor had refused to open a storm shelter because of the general guideline against gatherings of more than 10 people. He said mayors have the power to overrule such limits in emergencies.