LITTLE ROCK, Ark.- Governor Asa Hutchinson announced Wednesday that restaurants will be able to open for limited dining on May 11.
Starting May 11, the maximum amount of people allowed in a restaurant will be one-third of the occupancy rate. Physical distancing between patrons and tables will be required. Reservations will be encouraged. Employees must wear face coverings and do daily screenings. They will also have to frequently wash their hands. Customers will be encouraged to pre-order when possible. No groups of over 10 people will be allowed. Restaurants are encouraged to have a senior hour. No self-service will be allowed. Staff will need to clean and disinfect tables and menus after each meal. Gathering at bars and entertainment will be prohibited.
Dr. Nate Smith, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health, said restaurants would need cloth face coverings and gloves. Smith noted other types of masks, like surgical masks, would work as well, but an N95 mask is not needed. Smith said gloves are important, but warned restaurant employees to not forget to wash their hands or change gloves. He said employees need to change gloves between customers or wash their gloves. Smith said it is not good to use one pair of gloves an entire shift.
The governor said Wednesday phase two would increase capacity to 67 percent of the occupancy rate while maintaining a physical distance. The third phase would be returning to normal operations.
“Success brings success,” said Governor Hutchinson.
The governor also announced the creation of the Arkansas Ready for Business Grant Program. This is a $15 million grant program to offset expenses associated with ensuring the health and safety of employees and patrons. Eligible expenses include personal protective equipment (PPE), hand sanitizer stations, cleaning supplies and services and other one-time expenses to enable a business to reopen or resume operations. All industry sectors are eligible. A company can get $1,000 per full-time employee up to $100,000. The employee headcount and eligible expenses will be backdated to March 1.
Applications can be found at www.ArkansasEDC.com/COVID19. Mike Preston, Secretary of Commerce, said he hopes the forms will be available starting Wednesday afternoon.
The governor said this is subject to the approval of the CARES Act Steering group that is meeting this afternoon and the members of the legislative council.
The governor showed a sign Wednesday that said “Arkansas Ready for Business”. Hutchinson said it’s time to re-engage, rehire and start getting back to business in a phased and cautious approach.
Steuart Walton, the chair of the Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force, said some types of activities will take longer to normalize than others. Walton also said there is a reason for optimism because there is a trait of an independent, entrepreneurial spirit that runs through the state and culture. Walton also said it’s important to remember it’s not a competition to be the first or to not be the last to reopen. Walton said he’s confident Arkansas won’t be the last state to reopen. He said it’s important to have a reopening based on facts unique to Arkansas.
The governor also announced Wednesday that there was an increase of 81 cases of the virus, bringing the state’s total of coronavirus cases to 3,192.
Dr. Smith said all of the 81 cases between Tuesday and Wednesday were from the community.
Dr. Smith said of the total number of cases, 1,884 are considered active cases. This was a decrease of 29 active cases from Tuesday.
Montgomery County was added to the list that had confirmed cases.
Ninety-three people are in the hospital for the coronavirus, which is down 11 from Tuesday.
Eighteen people are on a ventilator due to the coronavirus, which is a decrease of two from Thursday.
In the last 24 hours, seven people have died due to complications from the coronavirus, according to state officials. This increases the state’s death toll to 59. Dr. Smith said Wednesday about a third of the deaths is from nursing homes.
According to Dr. Smith, 1,249 people have recovered from the virus, an increase of 103. Dr. Smith also noted more people had recovered from the virus Tuesday than the number of positive test results that same day.
Dr. Smith said as of Wednesday, 219 nursing home residents and 128 staff had tested positive for the virus.
No new cases were announced for the Cummins Unit or the Federal Correctional Institution in Forrest City.
According to Dr. Smith, 11 Cummins inmates are hospitalized due to the virus, with three on a ventilator.
Dr. Smith said Wednesday that 194 people are working on contact tracing- 85 nurses, 16 disease specialists, three epidemiologists, 56 trained workers and 25 students from the UAMS College of Public Health. Smith said there are 60 to 70 ADH employees that are trained but waiting to receive equipment and more college students are expected to come on as volunteers.