Arkansas public schools will remain closed through Friday, April 20 as Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced stern new measures to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The number of positive cases of the illness almost doubled in Arkansas overnight, with 62 people now known to be infected.
Gov. Hutchinson said at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon that the number of new cases was not surprising as the state’s ability to test for it has increased.
The governor is concerned about “community spread” of the disease, which is the infection of individuals with no known connection with other people who are sick.
Nine more of Arkansas’ 75 counties were added to the list with positive cases, for a total of 19 overall. Columbia, Lafayette, Nevada, Ouachita and Union counties are not on the list yet.
Hutchinson said the state will evaluate the school situation before determining if campuses will reopen for face-to-face classes on Monday, April 20.
“Let me emphasize that education will continue through alternative instruction methods,” Hutchison said. “It is important that we do not erase this time period for educational instruction but that we continue it even though K-12 schools remain closed for on-site instruction.”
State employees will remain on the job through telecommuting, or on-site work.
“On-site will be limited to personnel that’s necessary for the proper functioning of government,” Hutchinson said.
Unemployment and Medicaid claims will continue to be processed.
Hospitals, clinics and mental health facilities must screen all visitors for temperature and symptoms. “This is an important measure that many of them are taking,” he said.
All restaurants and bars in Arkansas will be closed for dine-in service. They will be open for carry-out, drive-through and delivery service. Hutchinson encouraged Arkansans to support the restaurant industry.
Restaurants licensed to serve beer and wine may sell corked or sealed bottles of wine to go with the purchase of food. Hutchinson said the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division will provide more guidance to restaurant and bar operators.
Indoor venues such as gyms are closed for non-essential functions. “We need to be separating what we need to be doing with what is optional to be doing,” Hutchison said.
“We encourage our businesses to move to telecommuting, video conference or remote work wherever possible. We recognize that’s not possible in many circumstances, but those are the evaluations that businesses should conduct,” Hutchinson said.
The governor also encouraged businesses and industries to conduct temperature and symptom screening of employees and visitors.
Businesses should also enforce “social distancing,” which has become the catch-phrase of the past two weeks for keeping a six-foot distance from others.
“Businesses in Arkansas should plan for the future by updating continuity of operation plans. We want to keep business operating and to do that, you have to plan for the future and determine how you keep your business going consistent with the public health guidance that is being provided,” Hutchinson said.
Gov. Hutchinson wants all older Arkansans and those with medical conditions to remain in their homes, and avoid contact with visitors.
All residents should avoid contact with groups of 10 people or more. They should also avoid trips where exposure to large groups of people is likely.
“Enjoy walking, hiking, fishing and other outdoor activities consistent with social distancing,” Hutchinson said.
“Do not visit nursing homes, retirement centers or long-term care facilities unless providing critical assistance,” he said.
This is a developing story. See more details later at magnoliareporter.com .