Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Wednesday during his COVID-19 briefing that the state would further ease coronavirus restrictions on certain businesses and enter “Phase 2” of reopening on Monday.
“We are still in the heart of the woods. We’re not out of the woods; we’re still in the heart of the woods when it comes to this health care emergency,” he said, adding that he will extend by 45 days his emergency declaration order that had been set to expire in mid-June.
The governor said moving to the second phase means businesses that had been allowed to operate at one-third capacity on May 4 or after during “Phase 1” will be allowed to operate at two-thirds capacity. Those businesses include restaurants, gyms and salons.
He also said the state had already completed many “Phase 2” actions, such as allowing non-essential travel to resume, visitation at senior care facilities and hospitals, the reopening of schools and organized youth activities and more.
Whether states like Arkansas continued to reopen with fewer restrictions had been based on seeing a peak and then decline in cases. But the governor said most states are rejecting that criteria because what they are seeing is what Arkansas is seeing: several small spikes interspersed with declines. He attributed the state's spikes in cases to increased testing.
In addition, efforts to address a rise in cases in northwest Arkansas will continue, Hutchinson said. Those efforts include:
Identifying multilingual staff to track cases;
Increasing staffing to conduct inspections and respond to complaints about businesses not adhering to restrictions;
Continuing to increase testing and partnering with organizations to do mass testing;
Amplifying messaging on social media, television, print and other digital channels and having that messaging be in English, Spanish and Marshallese.
Hutchinson also said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sending an Epi Aid team of four to five bilingual staff to assist in response efforts for the Latinx community.
The Department of Health said at least 10,368 people have tested positive for the virus, an increase of 288 cases from Tuesday. The number of active cases, meaning those that exclude people who have died or recovered, rose to 3,087.
The true number is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
The number of people who have died from the illness caused by the virus rose by four to 165, and the number hospitalized increased to 181.