Nothing to cheer about

Magnolia's cheerleaders during the Class 4A basketball finals in Hot Springs last March. The state has now banned most gatherings of 10 or more people due to the coronavirus, COVID-19.

Arkansas has officially banned gatherings of 10 or more people due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed on Thursday an executive order banning large gatherings with certain exceptions.

The order took effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday and will remain in force indefinitely.

Violators of the ban can be charged with a misdemeanor and subjected to a fine of between $100 and $500, and/or imprisonment up to a month.

The ban made official what's already been happening across Magnolia and the state for more than two weeks. Schools are closed at least until April 20. Magnolia has closed its public parks. Texarkana instituted a 10 p.m to 6 a.m. curfew for all residents. 

All public and private gatherings of any number of people, taking place outside a single household or living unit, are subject to the restrictions.

The ban applies to gatherings in any confined indoor or outdoor space, including community, civic, public, leisure, commercial or sports events, concerts, conference, conventions, fundraisers, parades, fairs and festivals. 

McNeil's annual Festival on the Rails, set for April 11, was first rescheduled for an October date but it has since been switched Saturday, September 26. The Magnolia Blossom Festival is May 15-16 and for the moment, remains scheduled.

The ban does not apply to gatherings of 10 or more people in unenclosed, outdoor spaces such as parks, trails, athletic fields and courts, parking lots, golf courses and driving ranges where people can be separated by at least six feet of space – a practice that has come to be known as “social distancing.”

The ban also does not apply to businesses, manufacturers, construction companies, places of worship, and government operations. All of those entities have been advised to maintain at least six feet of space between participants.

While churches may meet, does not know of any church in Columbia County that plans to have in-person services in the near-term, or with the arrival of Easter on Sunday, April 12. Many churches are offering live streaming of worship services through online services, such as Facebook.

Arkansas’ health secretary, Dr. Nathaniel Smith, is empowered to close down any of the excluded entities if, in his judgment, their operations are conducted in a manner that risks public health.

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