Some bars choose to keep doors closed amid COVID-19 spike in Arkansas

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas saw its largest number of new COVID-19 cases in the community on Thursday and some business owners say that’s enough to keep doors closed.

“I think that it was just way too early,” Jason Wiest said.

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Jason Wiest is the owner of Club Sway in downtown Little Rock. He has no plans to reopen anytime soon.

“We’re playing the ‘wait and see’ game,” he said.

He believes opening a bar when COVID-19 is still spreading is an irresponsible decision.

“We’re a gathering place. Right now, we’re living in an era where we need to be cautious how we gather,” he said.

He also worries about the potential of having to re-close in the case there is a large outbreak.

“We’re seeing that’s already happened in places like South Korea, where they had an outbreak earlier this month that was due to a 29-year-old spreading the virus by going to five different night clubs in one night and exposing up to 1,500 people,” he said.

As a gay bar, Wiest points to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and what the LGBTQ community has already learned from history. The mysterious virus at the time spread rapidly, too, and killed thousands of Americans.

“I think that our community elders would be rolling over in their graves if they saw members in the gay community, like me, making an ill-informed decision like this to reopen a bar,” he said.

And while Sway has remained closed, the night club was vandalized multiple times in the last few weeks.

“For someone to just vandalize and create more of expense is, of course, infuriating,” Wiest said.

Wiest came to the club one day to find the back covered in racist and homophobic terms.

“As a business, we have no revenue and it’s already going to be difficult enough of an economic task to reopen,” he said.

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And even though he’d love nothing more than to open his doors, Wiest hopes people will be understanding of his decision to wait.

“Hopefully, we’ll say oh wow, the virus didn’t spread and it’s safe now and we didn’t risk anything while we arrived at that conclusion,” he said.