Gov Asa. Hutchinson announced last week that churches can begin meeting in person again, though he said they should follow social distancing guidelines and continue offering online services for those who don’t feel safe to attend.
With that permission, however, the state said anyone who has a fever may not attend and everyone present must wear a face mask.
The restrictions the governor placed on opening churches included a ban on serving communion, child care and youth classes.
The following day, Hutchinson announced that he had signed a proclamation extending the state of emergency in the state because of COVID-19 for an additional 45 days.
“What this means is that we are not yet finished with our work,” he said. “We still have an emergency situation in Arkansas and across our nation.”
He noted, however, that in Arkansas the number of people being hospitalized for the disease were “on a plateau.” As of that Tuesday afternoon, the state had 4,012 cases; 64 people who were hospitalized; 13 who required the use of ventilators; and 91 who had died.
Hutchinson said he was also allowing non-resident travelers to stay in the state, provided they did not come from a designated hot spot state. Louisiana, especially the New Orleans area, is considered a hot spot.
“If you return from a hot spot anywhere in the country to Arkansas, of if you want to visit here from a hot spot, you are expected to self-quarantine for 14 days,” he said. “The objective we are trying to accomplish is to allow our hotel and lodges to expand their occupancy.”
When he allowed churches to resume meeting, Hutchinson also opened large outdoor venues, provided hand sanitizer stations are available at all entrances, the facilities are cleaned after every use and 12-foot distance is maintained between people if they are not wearing face masks.
Barber shops and salons, tattoo parlors and medical spas opened May 6.
The Wednesday reopening was for a limited capacity, with no more than 10 people allowed in at a time or 30 percent of the stations in the shops or salons. Customers have to have an appointment and will not be allowed to wait inside prior to their appointments.
Employees of the businesses will have to wear masks and will have to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms.
Hutchinson had previously announced in-person dining in restaurants could resume in Arkansas this Monday, May 11.
Before restaurants can open, they will have to require face masks for employees and customers. They will also have to space seating and tables at least 10 feet apart. The restaurant will have to limit business to 33 percent of its normal seating capacity, according to new rules promulgated in advance of the reopening.
The three-phase plan was set to begin with the May 14 limited opening, and dining establishments will be allowed to increase to 66 percent capacity when Arkansas Secretary of Health Nate Smith, “determines epidemiological data are sufficient.”
During the first phase:
• Customers will have to wear masks covering their mouths and noses when they enter the business and will be required to wear them until they receive food or drinks.
• Staff that interacts with the public will have to wear masks at all times. They will also have to wear gloves that will be changed between each customer or task.
• No group of 10 or more will be allowed to sit at a table.
• Anyone working at the business will have to submit to a daily screening, including for cough, sore throat, fever or shortness of breath. Anyone who has those “shall be immediately excluded from the facility. Restaurants are also required to post signs warning potential customers that if they have such symptoms they cannot enter.
• Bars will remain closed, including restaurant bars. Salad bars and other self-serve options will not be allowed.
The third phase will be a return to normal operations at full capacity.
The emergency declaration that Hutchinson extended last week was originally scheduled to expire on May 21. While Hutchinson said he had the authority to extend it a full 60 days, he believed that 45 days was a good benchmark for evaluation.