Arkansas restaurants allowed to resume dine-in service at one-third capacity


Restaurants in Arkansas were allowed to resume dine-in service today for the first time in nearly two months.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson ordered all restaurants to stop dine-in services 53 days ago on March 20 to help limit the spread of COVID-19. Carryout, drive-thru and delivery services were allowed to continue.

The governor nearly announced the plan for a phased reopening of restaurants across the state, which begins today (May 11) with Phase 1.

The first phase includes a series of guidelines that require daily health screening of staff, use of face masks and gloves, and strict social distancing.

The full list:

  • Restaurants must limit number of customers to one-third of total capacity.
  • Tables must be 10 feet apart so that diners will be seated six feet away from diners at other tables.
  • Each employee who directly interacts with patrons must wear a face mask that completely covers their nose and mouth. Kitchen staff and others are encouraged to wear a mask.
  • Each employee must wear gloves. Gloves should be changed between each customer, customer group or task.
  • Management must conduct a daily health screening of all employees before they enter the restaurant. An employee with a cough, sore throat, fever or shortness of breath must not enter the restaurant.
  • Patrons must wear a face covering until the food or drink is served.
  • Salad bars, buffets and other self-serve features will remain closed.
  • Groups must be 10 or fewer customers.
  • Tables, chairs, salt/pepper shakers, condiment containers and napkin holders must be cleaned and disinfected after each customer.
  • Bars and entertainment operations (such as live music, in-seat gaming devices or arcades) are prohibited.
  • Normal service of alcohol within the restaurant seating area is allowed.
  • Restrooms should be disinfected frequently.
  • Service may be declined to patrons not wearing masks.

The governor acknowledged that it won’t make sense for all restaurants to operate at only one-third capacity, but said a phased approach is necessary to continue to limit the spread of the virus.

“I recognize that 33% (occupancy) is not enough for some restaurants to even cover overhead on,” said Hutchinson. “But that’s where we need to start.”

Hutchinson said Phase 2 will eventually allow 67% occupancy, and Phase 3 will allow full occupancy. He said no dates are currently set for any future phases, and that those decisions would be made based on data.

“Success brings success,” said Hutchinson. “If we’re successful in making sure we follow the guidelines and we protect safety, then we’ll be able to move toward more normal operation.”

Case update

Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Arkansas reached 4,043 on Monday, which is an increase of 31 since Sunday or 59 since Saturday. Of the 31 new cases, six from correctional facilities and 25 are from the general community.

There are 803 active cases, of which 278 are inside correctional facilities, 86 are in nursing homes, and 439 are in the community.

Sixty-one people are hospitalized with the illness and 11 are on a ventilator.

There were four additional deaths over the weekend, bringing the toll to 94.

There are 49 nursing homes across the state with active cases, including 289 residents who have tested positive and 172 workers.

There were no new cases from the Cummins Unit prison. Nine prisoners are hospitalized from Cummins and one is on a ventilator. There are a total of seven deaths from inside Cummins.

From the federal correctional facility in Forrest City, there have been 332 cases, including 16 staff members.

Smith said a total of 3,149 people have recovered from the illness.