With record numbers of active COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Arkansas is lifting more restrictions on businesses put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Wednesday the state will move to Phase Two of the Trump Administration’s “Opening Up America Again” plan on Monday, June 15. This comes as an additional 288 Arkansans tested positive for the virus, while four more residents died from COVID-19.
Speaking in his daily briefing, Hutchinson said the state will move to Phase Two despite not meeting the criteria to do so.
“They were based upon an assumption that doesn't exist in most states, and that is that you have one peak and you come down,” Hutchinson said. “Ours is more flat, ours is more hilly, ups and downs, were doing more testing, and so I don't believe that that gating criteria is something that the states are accepting as sacrosanct.”
Likening Arkansas’s numerous peaks of coronavirus activity to “the rolling Ozark hills,” Hutchinson said he believes the requirements for states to move to Phase Two, such as 14 days of declining coronavirus cases, are no longer realistic.
“The experience is the same as in many other states; there's been more testing in all of our states including Arkansas, and therefore we have an increase the number of cases,” Hutchinson said. “Americans are on the move and they can't be tied down and they can't be restrained, unless they make a voluntary decision that this is right for me and my health or my family.”
As of Wednesday 3,087 of the state’s 10,368 total coronavirus cases are considered active, while 181 people are hospitalized with COVID-19. A total of 165 Arkansans have died from COVID-19.
Hutchinson said the state has already lifted numerous restrictions consistent with Phase Two guidelines, except for regulations on the number of people allowed inside businesses at any given time.
“This is the limitation on sizes for gyms, it'll be for restaurants, it will be also impactful for some of the salons… everything that had a limitation on capacity can move from one-third to two-thirds,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said the state will be directing more resources toward northwest Arkansas, which has seen the highest rate of coronavirus infections in the state in recent weeks.
Pulaski County saw the highest increase in new cases Wednesday with 51 people testing positive, while Washington and Benton counties had a combined increase of 81 new cases. The number of incarcerated people testing positive for the virus increased by 60, mainly from the East Arkansas Regional Unit in Lee County.