Governor sets timeline for decisions about reopening restaurants, gyms, salons and large venues

Gov. Hutchinson announces decision dates during his daily COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday announced a timeline for decisions about reopening restaurants, gyms, salons, and large venues. He also said he’ll lift a state restriction on elective surgeries in hospitals beginning next week.

The target date for lifting most restrictions is still May 4, but decisions about individual business types will be made separately, and on different days. Those decisions, Hutchinson said, hinge upon whether the state continues to see a reduction in community COVID-19 cases.

The announcement decision dates are:

April 29 – Restaurants
April 30 – Gyms
May 1 – Beauty and barber salons
May 4 – Places of worship and larger venues (sporting events)

When asked about the lodging industry, Hutchinson said no decision date has been set. The governor on April 4 issued an executive order that aimed to limit out-of-state travelers from visiting Arkansas. He said it’s a pressure point because the state has a strong tourism economy, but opening up discretionary travel – especially to non-Arkansas residents – is something that’s still discouraged.

Any opening announcements will likely come with a set of conditions that businesses must meet in order to reopen, Hutchinson said.

The specifics of the rollback of elective surgery restrictions are still being finalized, but Hutchinson said hospitals may resume non-coronavirus procedures starting on April 27.

“That is earlier than we expected,” said Hutchinson. “But with our number of hospitalizations and the limited spread (of COVID-19) across the state, we feel comfortable with that date.”

Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said it will be an incremental rollback, beginning with day surgeries. In other words, no procedures that would require a patient to stay overnight in a hospital.

Patients would also have to be tested for COVID-19 within 48 hours of their scheduled procedure. Any patients with symptoms of COVID-19 or who have had contact with a coronavirus-positive person in the previous 14 days will not be allowed to have a surgery.

Hospitals will be encouraged to start with a smaller volume before building back up, and will be required to have adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Smith the actions of residents are still the biggest factor in whether the state will continue its downward trend of positive cases, and that businesses cannot reopen if the numbers begin to rise again.

“If you throw a party this weekend and get a bunch of people infected, our numbers will go up and you’ll ruin it for everyone,” he said. “So let’s continue to practice social distancing and other measures that have gotten us to where we are now.”

Smith said the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Arkansas reached 2,276 on Wednesday, which is an increase of 49 since Tuesday. There were no additional deaths, but a Missouri resident was included in Tuesday’s count, so the death toll actually decreased by one to 42.

There were 97 patients hospitalized for the virus as of Wednesday, including 23 who are on a ventilator. An additional 54 people had recovered from COVID-19 since Tuesday for a total of 863 recoveries.