Hutchinson approves recreational travel from outside state

Thursday, May 7, 2020

By Scott Loftis

and Samantha Jones

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday that recreational travel from other states to Arkansas can resume, with some exceptions.

“Today, the restriction for recreational travelers, which has been previously prohibited for out-of-state recreational travelers, that restriction is lifted for non-hot-spot states from across the country,” Hutchinson said during a news conference in the governor’s conference room in Little Rock.

Hutchinson said hot spots have been identified as New York, New Orleans, New Jersey and Connecticut. However, he added that state health secretary Dr. Nate Smith has the authority to change that directive to include other areas.

“So this can be adjusted,” Hutchinson said.

On April 4, Hutchinson had prohibited out-of-state recreational travel into the state — a move that led both the Crescent and Basin Park hotels in Eureka Springs to suspend operations the next day. The Crescent had recently announced plans to reopen to in-state guests starting May 15.

On Tuesday, Hutchinson referred to lodging businesses in announcing the end of the restrictions.

“The objective that we’re trying to accomplish is to allow our hotel and lodges to extend occupancy to those who may come to Arkansas from our neighboring states,” he said. “Many of those have low numbers. They’re not accelerating. They’re not hot spots, and that’s a very important part of their life in terms of being able to visit Arkansas.”

Eureka Springs Mayor Butch Berry said Tuesday that welcoming out-of-state travelers is a “catch-22.” The business community is ready to reopen, Berry said, but residents are worried that visitors will bring the virus to town.

“The city, from a financial standpoint, is very glad to see it’s being opened up,” Berry said. “From a personal standpoint, I think it might be a little too quick.”

Berry emphasized that this was Hutchinson’s decision and said he can’t do anything about it.

“The city really can’t do anything different than what the governor allows,” Berry said. “We cannot prevent people from coming into town.”

What the city can do, Berry said, is ensure that businesses adopt sanitary practices.

“We’re just trying to make sure that the businesses … are following the best safety procedures according to the CDC that we possibly can for the safety of our own citizens and the well-being of our community,” Berry said.

Hutchinson also announced Tuesday that the state had 3,496 confirmed cases of COVID-19, an increase of 38 from Monday and 385 from the previous Tuesday, April 28. A total of 83 Arkansas residents had died of the virus as of Tuesday afternoon — 31 in the past week.

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

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

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 and 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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