Asa Hutchinson ‘Distressed’ by People Not Distancing

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LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas’ governor on Monday said he’s “distressed” by reports of people in the state not socially distancing because of the coronavirus, but he doesn’t regret allowing businesses shuttered by the virus to reopen.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson cited no specific examples, but the Republican governor’s comments came after social media posts over the weekend showed crowds and lines, including people not wearing masks, at some stores.

“I got a few reports this weekend that I was a little distressed at that there was not the social distancing that we all need to stay healthy and to make sure we stop the spread of COVID-19,” Hutchinson said.

Arkansas never issued a stay-at-home order because of the virus but had imposed other restrictions Hutchinson has been rolling back recently. Restaurants on Monday were allowed to resume offering dine-in service but with new capacity limits and safety rules.

Hutchinson said he didn’t regret reopening restaurants, as well as gyms and hair salons last week, saying the retailers where crowds were seen would have remained open even if the state had a broader stay-at-home order in place.

“We want to stay open and the way you stay open and not have a resurgence is to be disciplined in our behaviors, and that’s what we need to continue to work on,” Hutchinson said.

Under Arkansas’ new rules, restaurants are allowed to reopen their dining rooms but can’t exceed one-third their capacity and must follow other restrictions.

At the height of lunch hour Monday, only eight people were dining at Dugan’s Pub in downtown Little Rock, down from the 45 or so owner Don Dugan said the pub sees normally. All but two of the customers were eating outside.

“I don’t think we have ever shut down,” said Greg Robinson, who sat with his wife Judy as they waited for their order at the restaurant.

Dugan said the decision to reopen the dining room allows his staff to keep working and hopefully bring some back he had to let go. 

“It’s not ideal by any means, but something is better than nothing,” Dugan said.

Health officials said at least 4,043 people in the state have tested positive for the virus, an increase over the 4,012 reported Sunday. The true number is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.

The number people in the state who have died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, increased from 91 to 94.

For most people, the new 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. The vast majority of people recover.

Hutchinson also called the plan a Fort Smith venue has for a concert this weekend was “insufficient.” The show by singer Travis McCready is scheduled for Friday, three days before the state is allowing indoor entertainment venues to reopen. TempleLive has said its protocol will include taking the temperature of patrons at the door and distancing seating groups.

The capacity for the show is 229 people, higher than the 50-person limit allowed for those venues, though Hutchinson on Saturday the state was easing that restriction. Hutchinson did not specify what about the venue’s plan was insufficient, or what the state would do if organizers move forward with it.

A Health Department spokeswoman said the agency is still in discussions with officials from the venue.

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