Gov. Asa Hutchinson unveiled the first phase on resuming limited dine-in operations for restaurants beginning May 11.
Officials detailed strict guidelines for the gradual reopening of restaurants. Restaurants will only be open to 33 percent of their capacity. They will also be required to proactively clean and disinfect tables and menus after each meal; customers and staff must wear masks (customers will be allowed to take off their masks after they order); and bars and entertainment within restaurants will be prohibited. Alcohol can still be served to diners, just not in places were people can congregate. (The full list of guidelines is below along with how future decisions for further restriction-lifting will be decided.)
In other big news from the briefing, Hutchinson announced the “Arkansas Ready for Business” grant program. The $15 million program will assist Arkansas companies and businesses offset expenses associated with ensuring the health and safety of employees and patrons, and it’s hoped the grant program will also build customer confidence. The plan still needs approval from the CARES steering committee, which meets this afternoon.
The funds can go to purchase PPE, sanitizing stations, cleaning supplies, and more to help enable a business to reopen or resume normal operations.
For more information on the Ready for Business Grant Program, click here to access the Arkansas Economic Development Commission’s website page on the new program.
Steuart Walton, chairman of the state’s Economic Recovery Task Force, also spoke at the briefing detailing how the task force is creating and crafting guidelines for state industries reopening. Walton told reporters some activities will take longer than others to return, but with the state’s entrepreneurial spirit, he believes there will be positive opportunities in the road ahead.
Department of Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said in the next three weeks, the country will learn a lot more about how to effectively reopen for business. Smith said Arkansas officials will continue to study data to better inform themselves and to also act faster when the state is confident to move in a safe way.
Other notes from the Wednesday briefing:
- There have been seven additional deaths related to the coronavirus since Tuesday, increasing the total death toll to 59. Dr. Smith noted that a third of the total death toll comes from nursing home patients. There are currently 219 nursing home patients testing positive along with 128 staff members.
- There have been no new cases reported from the Cunnims Prison Barracks Unit.
- The number of positive cases increased 81 since Tuesday for a total of 3,192 cases.
- There are now 340 healthcare workers testing positive, an increase of seven since Tuesday.
- Ninety-three patients are hospitalized. That’s a decrease of 11 since Tuesday.
- Eighteen patients are on ventilators while two patients have been taken off a ventilator over the past 24 hours.
- Montgomery County is the latest county with positive cases.
- And over 190 state workers are following cases and contact investigations, with more workers to be added within the next week or so.
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