Governor closes schools for three more weeks

Friday, March 20, 2020

By Scott Loftis

Arkansas schools will remain closed to on-site instruction for an additional three weeks, through April 17, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced during a news conference Thursday afternoon at the Arkansas Department of Health headquarters in Little Rock. Hutchinson said there have been 62 positive tests for COVID-19 in Arkansas, up from 37 on Wednesday.

Individuals have tested positive in nine additional counties in Arkansas, but as of Thursday afternoon there were no positive tests in Carroll County.

“This is not a surprise,” Hutchinson said of the day-to-day increase. “It is simply a reflection of additional testing capacity that we have, and tests are coming in from the commercial test providers, as well. But it does reflect the fact that we do have continued challenges in Arkansas, and we’re starting to recognize the extent of the challenge that we face.”

While many of the positive tests in Arkansas have been connected to out-of-state travel, Hutchinson said the growing number of cases indicates the virus is spreading within the state.

It is clear to me that we do have increasing community spread,” he said.

Because of that, Hutchinson said, he issued several directives. On-site personnel in state government will be limited, while hospitals, clinic and mental health facilities are mandated to screen staff and visitors for temperature and symptoms. Bars and restaurants will be closed for dine-in service, but may offer carryout, drive-through and delivery service. Those licensed to sell beer and wine may sell corked or sealed bottles of wine with purchases of food. Indoor venues, such as gyms, are closed to non-essential services.

Hutchinson also said businesses should adapt to remote work or telecommuting as much as possible.

“We recognize that’s not possible in many circumstances, but those are the evaluations that businesses should conduct,” the governor said.

Hutchinson said the public can also help slow the spread of the virus.

“Older individuals and those with serious medical conditions should stay home to the extent possible,” he said. “Avoid unnecessary contact with visitors.”

He added that the public should avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people; use the drive-through, carryout and delivery services of local restaurants; avoid unnecessary travel; do not visit nursing homes, retirement centers or long-term care facilities unless providing critical assistance. He advised Arkansans to enjoy outdoor activities consistent with social distancing.

“These are common-sense measures that many are already taking in light of the national emergency and state emergency that we see,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson said “we do think that it would be wise” for churches and other religious institutions to abide by the limits on social gathering and consider canceling services.

“They need to minister to their congregations with the same innovations that we’re asking businesses to do,” Hutchinson said.

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