Governor announces directives for venues

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

By Scott Loftis

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced new guidance and directives Monday for places of worship and indoor and outdoor venues as part of the state’s reopening plan.

Hutchinson also announced that the state now has 3,458 confirmed cases of COVID-19, an increase of 27 from Sunday and 441 from the previous Monday, April 27. Five Arkansas residents died of the virus between Sunday and Monday, bringing the total to 81 — 31 in the past week.

The Arkansas Department of Health website indicated Monday afternoon that there were six confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Carroll County, with four recoveries.

Hutchinson’s guidance for places of worship, effective Monday, encouraged online platforms along with signs advising no entry for individuals with recent fever, symptoms or contact with positive patients. The governor advised a 6-foot distance except for family groups, face coverings at all times inside for anyone over 10 years of age. Under Hutchinson’s guidance, worship leaders addressing the congregation may remove their masks, as can performing singers — with 12 feet of physical distance. Hutchinson also advised placing hand sanitizing stations at entrances.

“Meet and greet” times should be moved outside as possible, the governor said, with refreshments offered outdoors only. Lines for entry and exit should be monitored for distancing, there should be no physical contact, and there should be no use of items shared by multiple people, such as a collection plate or shared books. The governor advised refraining from having people come forward to a common altar rail, said there should be no youth classes or childcare and that common areas should be sanitized.

“Let me emphasize that we’re talking about places of worship,” Hutchinson said. “This is called guidance. This is what we offered before, when we said we should not be worshipping or we should be doing it online. (That was) guidance, in contrast to a directive. Everything else we issue are directives, primarily, but the guidance is for places of worship, recognizing the separation of church and state.”

Hutchinson’s directives for large outdoor venues such as arenas, racetracks, fairgrounds and amusement centers also were effective Monday. They included maintaining a 12-foot distance between the performers and audience, limiting the total number of performers to 50, limiting the audience to 50 people, maintaining a 6-foot distance in seating except for family, keeping every other row unoccupied, having lines marked and monitored for distancing and requiring face coverings for anyone over 10 years old (with the exception of performers, if there is 12 feet of distance from all others), with signs advising no entry for individuals with any symptoms or contact with positive patients. There should be hand sanitizer stations at all entrances and exits. Refreshments are allowed, but no self-service, and the facility including seating should be cleaned and sanitized before and after each use.

Directives for indoor venues such as auditoriums, lecture halls, movie theaters, funeral homes and bowling alleys take effect Monday, May 18, and are essentially the same as those for outdoor venues.

The directives and guidance announced Monday were Arkansas’ latest steps toward reopening. Gyms and fitness clubs were allowed to open Monday, barbers and salons may open Wednesday, and restaurants will be allowed to resume dine-in service on Monday, May 11 — all with restrictions.

Hutchinson said Monday that Arkansas residents should continue to exercise caution in order to help the state avoid a spike in infections and move forward with more loosening of restrictions.

“In order to enlarge this more, which we all want to do, we need to be careful to keep our cases going in the right direction — which is a downward or a flat trend. We’ve got to keep from having a resurgence, so we need to stick with this social distancing. We need to follow these guidelines so that we can, after another period of time, go into a greater number of people and more flexibility in some of these venues.”

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