Decision dates set on possible opening of restaurants, beauty shops, other venues

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 6,107 views 

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday (April 22) said the state, with some limitations, will lift restrictions on elective surgeries, and he set dates for when he will make decisions on the openings of restaurants, gyms, barbershops and beauty salons and large venues.

Known COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 2,276 as of Wednesday afternoon, up from 2,227 on Tuesday. Of the 49 new cases between Tuesday and Wednesday, 13 were in the Cummins state prison.

Of the total of cases, 1,371 are active, with the remainder accounting for deaths and recoveries. The number of deaths fell from 43 to 42 to account for a non-state resident erroneously included in the Tuesday report. The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 97 on Wednesday, up from 86 on Tuesday.

Of the COVID-19 patients, 23 were on ventilators, down from 27 on Tuesday. The number of healthcare workers with COVID-19 was 262, up from 249 on Tuesday. Of those, 148 have recovered.

As of Wednesday at 1 p.m., there were 830,789 U.S. cases and 45,638 deaths. Globally, there were 2,603,147 cases and 180,784 deaths.

Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said restrictions on elective surgeries will begin April 27, and the Arkansas Department of Health will issue a detailed directive no later than Thursday. Smith said restrictions in the directive will include that day surgeries only will be allowed, patients with COVID-19 like symptoms will not be eligible, a patient can’t have had contact with a COVID-19 infected person within 14 days, and patients must have been tested for COVID-19 within 48 hours of the procedure.

Gov. Hutchinson said lifting the elective surgery decision comes before his target date of May 4 to begin reopening the state economy because of the financial impact on hospitals and clinics from the loss of elective surgery revenue.

The governor also listed four dates prior to May 4 on which decisions will be made as to the potential early opening of some businesses. A decision on restaurants is set for April 29, the date for gyms is April 30, the date for beauty and barbershops is May 1, and a decision on large venues and churches is set for May 4. The decisions will likely include limitations based on health policy and will be coordinated with the governor’s Economic Recovery Task Force.

“This is about not just giving businesses an opportunity to go back to work and make a living, but it’s also about giving the consumers confidence that you can go somewhere and the right public health measures are in place,” Gov. Hutchinson said. “That’s our objective in balancing that. Arkansans want to work. We need to go to work. Our economy is suffering, but we’ve got to do it in a way that is consistent with our health guidelines. That’s the balance we’re trying to achieve.”

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington issued new estimates for when social distancing could be safely relaxed in each state. In Arkansas, June 20 is the date relaxed social distancing “may be possible with containment strategies that include testing, contact tracing, isolation, and limiting gathering size.”

The institute also notes that April 28 is the projected date for “peak resource use” in Arkansas, with peak use continuing until May 6. The institute is projecting the death total topping out at 131 on Aug. 4, down from the previous estimate of 195.

When asked about the institute’s June 20 date and how that may factor into the May 4 target date and other efforts to reopen the economy, Smith said the model does not include all the factors state officials will use to make decisions.

“It doesn’t completely make sense for a state like Arkansas,” Smith said of the institute report.