Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday (April 28) he would eye May 1 as the re-opening date on a limited basis for Arkansas State Parks while expanding services by May 15.
In his daily press briefing, Hutchinson said this Friday (May 1) state parks will be open for camping for in-state recreational vehicles (RVs). The camping sites will be open Friday-Mondays only to allow for sterilization of the parks in between weekends.
“It’s open to Arkansas residents with self-contained RVs,” Hutchinson said.
On May 15, the governor said he expected more park services to be allowed including opening up food establishments, museums, exhibits, visitor centers and marinas. Also on that date, cabins, lodges and RV rentals will be permitted.
“We want to make sure that the park personnel has adequate opportunity to have the protective equipment they need,” he said. “It takes some lead time to open these facilities and we want to do it the right way to protect public health.”
On Wednesday, the governor is expected to give guidelines on the re-opening of restaurant and bar establishments in Arkansas. He said there is not necessarily a correlation between the May 15 parks’ restaurant re-openings and wider-scale statewide hospitality establishments re-opening.
“I wouldn’t necessarily tie those two things together in terms of the dates,” Hutchinson said, adding that he is still gathering feedback from the hospitality industry.
Some select high-use trails, such as Pinnacle Mountain state park, will not be opened at this time, according to park officials.
As of Tuesday, Arkansas saw 94 new cases of COVID-19 with 20 of those new cases being in correctional facilities. All told, Arkansas has logged 3,111 COVID-19 cases. Hospitalizations are down from yesterday from 109 to 104, while the number of deaths has risen by two to 52. There have also been 159 recoveries in the last 24 hours.
“You can see that our actual cases are going down which we’re very grateful for,” Hutchinson said.
Nationally as of 3:30 p.m., there were 981,246 U.S. cases and 55,258 deaths. Globally, there were 2,954,222 cases and 202,597 deaths.
Hutchinson also touched on two new topics: state employees returning to work and President Donald Trump’s executive order to keep meat processing facilities open.
On when state employees might return to work, Hutchinson said that date hasn’t been decided yet.
“We’ll gradually look at bringing them back, but that will be past May 4th and we’re looking down the road,” he said.
President Trump issued an executive order on Tuesday to mandate meat production factories remain in operation. Trump was invoking the Defense Production Act to establish that the facilities were critical infrastructure in order to supply the nation’s food chain. On Monday, Tyson Foods chairman John Tyson said that COVID-19 was “breaking the food chain” as a number of meat processing plants closed after outbreaks of the disease.
The president’s executive order does not specifically give legal immunity to companies that own the plants, although national reports suggested it would be part of the order. The possibility meant that employees could not sue their employers if they were to get sick on premises, a move that angered food union members and political activists.
However, a copy of the President’s executive order obtained by Talk Business & Politics does not discuss this provision. It does give the U.S. Secretary of the Agriculture broad authority to enact rules, regulations and provide orders to keep meat plants open and running.
Hutchinson said he had not seen the executive order and wanted to review it before taking a position on the immunity provision.
“We have taken steps to ensure first responders, front-line health care workers, and Arkansas National Guard Soldiers and Airmen infected with COVID-19 while in the workplace will receive workers compensation coverage. I am constantly evaluating whether additional protections are needed to protect our workers during this crisis. As far as the President’s announcement today, it is premature to comment on the EO, as it has not been released. I plan to review once it is available,” Hutchinson tells Talk Business & Politics.