Arkansas eases park virus limits, restaurant decision nears
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas will allow some overnight camping to resume at state parks, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday, the day before he plans to announce whether he’ll allow restaurants to reopen dining rooms closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hutchinson said the parks will allow camping beginning Friday for Arkansas residents in self-contained recreational vehicles. The parks will resume lodge and cabin rentals for state residents May 15 and reopen their restaurants, museums and shops.
The park’s restaurants will have a limited capacity that will be set by the state Department of Health. A timeline wasn’t released for when the parks will reopen to other types of camping or to out-of-state visitors.
“We want to invite Arkansas residents back into our parks,” Stacy Hurst, secretary of the state Department of Heritage, Parks and Tourism, said. Hurst said that some high-use trails the state had closed because of the pandemic will remain shut down.
Hutchinson plans to announce this week whether other businesses can reopen, starting with a decision Wednesday whether restaurants can resume sit-down service. Restaurants have been limited to carryout, delivery and curbside service since March 20.
Hutchinson plans to announce Thursday whether gyms can reopen and a decision on hair salons and barbershops on Friday.
The governor said the May 15 reopening for the park’s restaurants doesn’t necessarily mean he’s considering the same date for lifting other restrictions. Arkansas was among a handful of states that didn’t issue a broad stay-at-home order, though the state has had other restrictions.
“We recognize if we don’t keep some of the restrictions in place and the guidelines in place, the we could have an outbreak and that’s what we want to avoid,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said he’s been talking with the hospitality industry about what requirements need to be in place if the state does allow sit-down service to resume.
Montine McNulty, executive director of the Arkansas Hospitality Association, said there’s no consensus among the state’s restaurant owners on whether the limits should be lifted.
“I hear that some think it’s too early and some think it’s too late because of financial reasons,” McNulty said.
Health officials on Tuesday said Arkansas has confirmed at least 3,111 coronavirus cases, an increase from 3,017 reported on Monday. The number of coronavirus-related deaths reported in the state increased from 50 to 52. The number of infections is likely higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
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.