Positive coronavirus cases continue to increase in Arkansas, prompting state leaders to take additional measures to address the growing outbreak.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced a series of statewide actions and mandates that are designed to slow the spread of coronavirus in Arkansas and help authorities better manage it.
The new actions come as Arkansas saw the biggest single-day jump in positive cases to date. There were 29 new reported cases since yesterday’s coronavirus update. There are now 62 confirmed cases, up 29 cases from the 33 reported in the Wednesday press conference.
“This is not a surprise. It is simply a reflection of the additional testing capacity we have,” Hutchinson said. “We’re starting the recognize the extent of the challenge that we face.”
To combat the spread of the virus, Hutchinson is rolling out five different public health measures. One will extend school closures, one will have state employees work remotely, one will require hospital screenings, one will prohibit sit-down service at bars and restaurants, and one will close “nonessential functions” at indoor venues.
Hutchinson is mandating that all K-12 schools be closed through April 17. This extends the current school closure by three weeks. Previously, schools were set to reopen after spring break on March 30. As recently as yesterday, Hutchinson and other state officials were saying that they intended schools to reopen at that time.
During this extended closure, students will continue to receive education through alternate methods of instruction (AMI). It is currently unclear how this closure will affect end-of-year testing for students.
The second measure will be requiring state employees to telecommute, or work remotely. This measure is designed to limit exposure and the virus’ spread among essential state employees.
However, Hutchinson noted that some employees will be required to work on-site as needed. This segment of the state workforce is expected to be limited.
Hutchinson is also required hospitals, clinics and mental health facilities to screen all individuals entering their facilities. These screenings will include temperature and symptom screenings. He noted that many healthcare facilities have already implemented these measures.
For the fourth measure, Hutchinson ordered all restaurants and bars to stop providing sit-down services. Restaurants and bars can continue to provide take-out, curbside service and delivery services.
This comes after the City of Little Rock announced its own prohibition of sit-down services at restaurants and bars in the city. Mayor Frank Scott Jr. said that the city will be waiving the zoning restrictions to allow Little Rock restaurants to use their available space in creative ways, such as opening a specialty grocery store, to make up for lost revenue.
The final directive from Hutchinson was that indoor venues must close down all “nonessential” functions. Hutchinson was vague on what constitutes essential functions.
Hutchinson also cautioned Arkansas employers to implement increased health measures to protect their employees. He encouraged them to adopt telecommuting when possible and enforce social distancing.
Businesses, he said, should also craft or update continuity of operation plans. These plans are designed to prepare businesses for the future and help them determine how they can keep their businesses moving forward.
Since yesterday, coronavirus has spread to nine new counties. There are a total of 20 counties that have reported positive cases. The counties have reported infections include Cleburne, Cleveland, Desha, Faulkner, Garland, Grant Jefferson, Lincoln, Pulaski, Saline, Washington, Clark, Bradley, Craighead, Poinsett, Independence, Pope, Searcy, Van Buren, and Sevier counties.