Gov. Asa Hutchinson has sent some mixed messages in a spate of announcements about a phased return to business, but it looks like a cure is in the works.
He announced Thursday that casinos may reopen May 18 under “stringent” but as yet unannounced guidelines apart from operating at one-third capacity.
At Saracen Resort in Pine Bluff, a spokesman has said this will mean allowing about 200 people inside, with health screening, a reduction in available slot machines and barriers between them, closure daily for disinfecting and other measures.
But a music venue in Fort Smith, Temple Live, plans a concert May 15, three days before the lifting of bans on indoor group gatherings and then with seating reduced to about 200, not the 50-person limit set for large group indoor facilities to reopen. The owner says, in addition to running down a list of health precautions, that he doesn’t see how it’s fair for churches to be exempt from group attendance limits while he is not. Hutchinson has shown great deference to churches. They NEVER were banned from meeting in-person. The governor has said he hopes things can be worked out in Fort Smith. For now, the owner seems intent on pressing the issue.
Neither Oaklawn nor Southland has yet announced specific plans for their casino reopenings, but both seem likely to be opening doors to more than 50 people. Both are larger than the Saracen annex now operating in Pine Bluff.
Which brings us to the other head-scratcher in the Hutchinson directives. Among others, the governor is limiting attendance at museums that may reopen May 18 to 50 people. Some Arkansas museums are quite large, much larger than the Saracen casino annex in Pine Bluff. May Crystal Bridges or the Clinton Presidential Center reopen to no more than 50 people May 18 while the elderly penny slot players of Arkansas, many of them smokers, will be allowed to congregate in groups of 200?
UPDATE: Queried about the discrepancy this morning, Arkansas Department of Health spokeswoman Meg Mirivel said the department is “looking at adjusting that requirement in the large venue directive,” and that she believed an announcement would be made at today’s press conference or tomorrow’s.
Mirivel also said that ADH is still “hopeful we can come to an agreement” with the Temple Live promoter. The department does have the authority to use law enforcement if it appears a directive will be ignored, but as Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said at a recent press briefing, the folks at ADH are “peaceful.”