Arkansas Judge Dismisses Challenge to Virus Curfew for Bars

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the early closing time for bars and some restaurants that was temporarily imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The lawsuit argued Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state officials did not have authority to order bars and restaurants to close by 11 p.m. Hutchinson announced the order in November in response to a surge in coronavirus cases, and in December it was extended to Feb. 3.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, who dismissed the suit, called the rational basis for the early closing time “obvious” given the number of people who have died from COVID-19 nationally and in the state

“Public health and safety concerns is a rational basis for regulating how and when people gather to dine and drink alcoholic beverages in commercial establishments,” he wrote. 

Hutchinson said he was glad Griffen dismissed the suit, but said a decision had not yet been made on whether to extend the early closing time. An attorney for the group of Fayetteville bars and restaurants challenging the early time said they were discussing whether to appeal the decision.

“We still believe this is an infringement on their rights to operate a business without government interference,” B.C. Pickett said in an email.

The state’s virus cases on Tuesday increased by 2,485 to 287,187. Arkansas’ COVID-19 death toll rose by 40 to 4,690. The state’s virus hospitalizations rose by 11 to 1,095.

Tuesday’s increase came a day after the state reported its lowest number of new cases since November. 

Hutchinson also said he was pleased by the Biden administration’s announcement that it would increase vaccine deliveries to the states by 16% for at least three weeks.

“That gives us not only an increase in doses that we’ll receive, but it also gives us a lead time that we can plan better,” Hutchinson told The Associated Press after the announcement. “So all of that is very good news.”

Hutchinson said the Biden administration also indicated on a call with governors that it would continue to distribute any increase in vaccine capacity to the states based on population.

“That’s important to the rural states particularly that have more challenges in the distribution,” Hutchinson said.

The state said 234,120 doses of the 459,575 Arkansas has received have been administered as of Tuesday.

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