By Ray King

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson on Monday announced guidelines for churches who have been limited to the number of people who could attend services.

At his daily press conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, the governor also announced he had issued a directive dealing with large indoor and outdoor venues which will take effect May 18.

Regarding churches, the Governor said while churches are still encouraged to conduct on-line services, they will be permitted to open their doors with social distancing guidelines, meaning six-feet separation between people except family groups who may sit together, a 12-foot separation between the worship leader, singers and the congregation, wearing face masks for everyone 10 years of age and older, no physical contact, meet and greets should be done outside, and entrance and exit lines should be monitored to ensure social distancing requirements.

Large outdoor venues like arenas and stadiums would be limited to 50 or less participants or performers, 6-feet of separation except for family groups, face coverings and every other row of seats vacant.

The same requirements will apply to indoor venues such as auditoriums, concert halls, funeral homes and others.

The Governor said the directive does not cover casinos. Guidelines for them will be announced later as Hutchinson said those guidelines will depend on preparations the casino’s have already made and the guidelines will probably timed at about the same time the directive on indoor and outdoor venues takes effect.

He announced that there were 27 new cases of COVID-19 reported in the past 24 hours, bringing the state’s total to 3,458. Five additional deaths were reported, bringing the total to 81 and there are 91 people hospitalized.

State Health Officer Dr. Nate Smith said 14 of the new cases were in correctional facilities while the remaining 13 were in the community. That is one of the lowest one-day totals in more than a month.

Five prison inmates from Cummins Prison have died and 31 additional deaths were of nursing home patients. At Cummins Prison, 873 prisoners tested positive, including those that died.

Dexter Payne, the director of the Department of Corrections said 1,931 inmates at Cummins were tested and the first group that were tested have now finished their 14-day quarantine. He said the department was now working with the health department to determine the next course of action for that group.

Payne also confirmed a disturbance over the weekend at Cummins where inmates broke windows and set a trash can on fire. He said the department’s Emergency Response Team went into the barracks where the disturbance occurred and were able to quell it without injuries to correctional officers or the inmates.

Payne said one complaint he has heard is that food service at Cummins has been slow and said that was because inmates receive food trays in their barracks instead of at a common mess hall but the inmates are still receiving three meals a day.