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Arkansas may close some state parks over virus concerns

March 31, 2020 GMT
In this Sunday, March 29, 2020 photo, a video screen outside the Clinton presidential library in Little Rock, Ark., includes guidance about social distancing. (AP Photo/Andrew Demillo)
In this Sunday, March 29, 2020 photo, a video screen outside the Clinton presidential library in Little Rock, Ark., includes guidance about social distancing. (AP Photo/Andrew Demillo)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas may temporarily close some of its most popular parks over concerns that large numbers of out-of-state visitors are crowding them during the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday.

Hutchinson said he is looking at steps to curtail non-resident recreational visitors and has asked state parks officials for recommendations.

Hutchinson cited complaints that have come from local officials and businesses in the Buffalo National River area who said many of the license plates they have seen came from out of state. Social media posts in recent days have shown large crowds along other hiking trails and sites.

The governor said the social distancing guideline to stay at least 6 feet away from one another isn’t being sufficiently followed at the parks.

“If you want to simply reduce the flow of out-of-state visitors, you’re going to have to close some of the attractions that’s bringing them here,” Hutchinson said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

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Hutchinson announced the state’s eighth death from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, and said the number of cases in the state had risen to at least 523. Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith identified the most recent death as someone at least 65 years old from central Arkansas.

Hutchinson said he has asked the federal government to declare a major disaster in Arkansas because of the virus.

Hutchinson said many people from out of state have flocked to the Buffalo National River, which is operated by the National Park Service. The largest Buffalo National River resort has closed for a month because of the overcrowding, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Tuesday. Hutchinson said he’s talked with the park service about the issue.

The park has imposed some restrictions, including closing some visitor centers and campgrounds for overnight stays.

“They’re not just here enjoying the beauty,” state Rep. Keith Slape, whose district include the Buffalo National River area, said about the crowds visiting. “They’re trying to escape the hot spots.”

Arkansas has imposed widespread restrictions but has stopped short of a shelter-in-place order as in many other states. Hutchinson’s administration last week prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people in confined spaces. The state has also prohibited sit-down service at bars and restaurants, and closed, gyms, barber shops and hair salons.

The governor said he will likely make a decision next week on whether to extend his order closing public schools until April 17.

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Check out more of the AP’s coronavirus coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.