Governor loosens restrictions on state parks, hints at coming restaurant announcement

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, right, shared this chart tracking the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Arkansas since the first coronavirus infection was documented in the state. (OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR/Submitted)


Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday that starting May 1 state parks would be reopened in a limited capacity for state residents.

He also said that he planned to announce Wednesday a decision about allowing restaurants in the state to reopen. 

At the time of Hutchinson’s daily briefing Tuesday, Arkansas had a total of 3,111 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease that results from an infection by a novel coronavirus. While researchers are still unsure of how the disease works, COVID-19 is known to cause difficulty breathing, and some survivors have been known to have strokes following recovery because of complications related to the disease. 

The total count had increased by 94 over 24 hours. Twenty of the cases were located at the Arkansas Department of Corrections’ Cummins Unit, bringing the number of corrections-related infections in state prisons to 860, including 51 staff.  The Forrest City Federal Correctional Center had also seen 87 inmates and 12 staff infected.

State Health Secretary Nate Smith said Tuesday that of Arkansas’ total cases of COVID, 1,013 were considered active and 20 currently required the use of a ventilator.

The state has 208 nursing home-related infections, he said, including 115 staff.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the state had seen 52 COVID-related deaths. Hutchinson said 159 patients had recovered over the past 24 hours.

“When you compare those new cases with those who have recovered, you can see our actual cases are going down, which we are grateful for,” Hutchinson said.

The governor’s announcement about state parks is that camping will be allowed for in-state residents with self-contained RVs, and that they will be allowed to check in and out using touches methods.

As of May 15, when park personnel have had a chance to obtain proper personal protective equipment and training in sanitization, the park restaurants, retail areas, marinas and rental equipment, cabins and rent-a-RV stations will be open for in-state residents only.

Hutchinson has previously said he wants for a May 4 date to start relaxing some quarantine restrictions. Pointing to a chart showing a rolling average of the number of cases and hospitalizations since the start of tracking, Hutchinson said that he is pleased, “the seven-day rolling average is pointing in the right direction in the last few days.

But even as the governor spoke with optimism about cases, he said the public should still be aware of the reality of more coming infections.

“Cases and hospitalizations will continue to increase in Arkansas,” he said. “That is the reality of it, because we are doing more testing, and as you have more cases there are going to be a certain number of them that are hospitalized.

“What we are watching very closely is community spread. Are they coming from a new flare up in a community — like we saw in Heber Springs from one church —  or is it an isolated incident, is it in a confined environment like a prison facility, and what we want to watch is even though cases might increase because we are doing more testing is…is it indicative of a community spread?


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