Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s daily coronavirus briefing included his proclamation that all retail businesses may open for business Monday, with one exception — bars.
He said an announcement would come Monday on bars, which remain closed. (Restaurants with bars currently may serve drinks, but not operating free-standing bars).
Hutchinson was asked about reports of open bars in Little Rock, with people not wearing masks or keeping distance. He said he wasn’t aware of that. He noted that restaurants could be open for dining in and might sell drinks. Smith urged people to call the Health Department with specifics.
Retail stores had never been prohibited from opening, but guidelines on social distancing had discouraged some from operating. The governor was asked about that. He said he included restaurants and barbershops as among the retail establishments that had been closed. He said he mainly wanted to emphasize, “We are open for business in Arkansas.” He said closures were decisions of individual businesses.
The daily count
The number of news cases rose 97 to 4,463. 18 were prison cases. Hospitalizations decreased by four, to 65. Deaths are unchanged at 98. The biggest jump in cases came in Crittenden County, with 10, and Jefferson County, with 11. Nine were reported in Pope County from a single facility, apparently a substance abuse rehabilitation center.
The governor announced a website ar.gov/covid that will provide locations of all testing sites in the state. He said the state is close to meeting the goal of completing 2,000 tests a day.
Health Director Nate Smith said elective surgeries now will be allowed to go forward if a test has been completed within 72 hours of a procedure, rather than 48. Many facilities, including the only surgical abortion facility in the state, has said it’s difficult to obtain tests at all or to get them completed in 48 hours.
State park lodges and cabins were reopened today. The response has been good. Reservations are coming in, about 29 percent from out of state. Parks Director Stacy Hurst said steps will be taken to maintain healthy conditions, including leaving rooms vacant for two to three days after they’ve been rented.
Hurst also said the east and west trails at Pinnacle Mountain State Park would reopen at 5 p.m. today, as well as the day-use area, but parking will be limited to designated lots. The Ozark Folk Center craft village will reopen Tuesday.
Smith said the state generally would recommend against using the speedy Abbott testing machine for people without symptoms because of a high error rate.
As things stand, the governor said he didn’t see a return to previous shutdown orders, given the generally positive trajectory of key indicators in Arkansas. “I expect us to stay in phase one and not retreating. We want to continue to open up but we want to do it safely.” He indicated he’d be guided by Arkansas statistics when asked about some neighboring states that are moving ahead more rapidly.
Health Director Smith said Temple Live had submitted sufficient plans to hold a country-rock concert Monday at the club in Fort Smith. The club had talked of going ahead tonight, ahead of a lifting of a ban on indoor entertainment, but pulled back in the face of state enforcement.
Hutchinson was pressed on low testing rates in Arkansas. He blamed it on a shortage of testing materials. He explained the ability of Tennessee and Mississippi to do more by the fact that they were virus hotspots and so more materials were allocated to them. But a reporter pressed on the high rate in Crittenden County, across the river from Memphis, higher per 100,000 that Shelby County, Tenn. As she pressed, Hutchinson cut off her questions.
Smith said the state so far had no reports of a children’s inflammatory disease that might be associated with coronavirus. But he said they were aware of the potential problem.
The governor said he planned no updates this weekend and would broadcast Monday from Forrest City.