Nearly all retail businesses forced to close due to the coronavirus pandemic can reopen by Monday as the number of people testing positive in Arkansas continues to rise.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Friday the state has a total of 4,463 coronavirus cases, an increase of 97 new cases since Thursday. The state’s death toll from COVID-19 remained unchanged Friday at 98.
Speaking in the governor’s daily briefing on the pandemic, Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said that by next Monday, coronavirus testing will be available at about 70 of the department’s Local Health Units across the state.
“We especially want people to come in if they have symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or if they believe they've been exposed to someone with COVID-19,” Smith said. “If they've been in an area where there's active transmission of COVID-19 even if they have no symptoms, we’d like them to come in and get tested.”
Hutchinson also announced a new online resource to help Arkansans find their nearest coronavirus testing site. Of the state’s total coronavirus cases, 975 were considered active as of Friday with 65 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and nine on a ventilator. Of the state’s active cases, 322 were from prisons, 102 from nursing homes, and 551 from the general public.
Smith said the state is also relaxing a requirement for patients undergoing elective surgeries to complete a COVID-19 test within 48 hours before the procedure.
“That, we understand, for some facilities has been a challenge. Although we still highly recommend getting that test done within 48 hours of the surgical procedure, starting Monday we will allow that to go out to 72 hours when 48 hours is not feasible,” Smith said.
Indoor venues like casinos, movie theaters and museums will be allowed to reopen Monday, when Gov. Hutchinson said he will also announce when bars in Arkansas will be allowed to resume operations.
Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, said some of the more popular hiking trails in the state park system were reopening Friday, including the summit trails at Pinnacle Mountain State Park. Hurst said restrictions on lodging at state parks are also set to be lifted next Monday.
“We are taking great precautions as we consider the safety of visitors and our staff. For example, if you rent a state park cabin, you stay in it for two or three nights, we will let that room stay vacant for two or three nights after that, have the staff clean the room, let it stay open,” Hurst said. “And that is the safest way to approach renting that room out to the next customer.”
Hurst also announced roughly $500,000 granted by the National Endowment for the Arts to the Arkansas Arts Council, to be sub-granted to nonprofits for assistance related to the coronavirus pandemic. Hutchinson said those funds are still pending legislative approval.