By Ray King

Governor Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday that the state will be moving to Phase 2 of reopening businesses and industries on Monday, June 15.

This means that those businesses such as restaurants, gyms and the like that have been operating at a one-third capacity will be able to expand to two-thirds as long as existing social distancing requirements such as a six-foot separation are maintained.

At the same time, he extended the emergency health order, which was due to expire soon for an additional 45 days. That order gives the State Health Department the authority to set policies such as wearing face masks and social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Before announcing his decision, Hutchison said that Arkansas, unlike a number of other states, did not adopt a shelter-in-place policy but a series of regulations that for the most part have now been lifted.

“Arkansans’ can’t be tied down, can’t be restrained,” he said. “They are on the move and they understand the risks.”

He went on to say that since restrictions began to be lifted on May 4, studies have shown that the increase in the number of reported cases of COVID-19 is not linked to the reopening of restaurants, bars, gyms, or the resumption of day and overnight camps. As the restrictions have been lifted, testing has increased state-wide and the state is on-track to test every patient and staff member of every nursing home by the end of the month.

Looking at the most recent numbers, there were 10,080 reported cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. An additional 288 were reported in the past 24 hours, bringing the state total to 10,368. Of the new cases, 60 were in correctional facilities, primarily the East Arkansas Regional Correctional Facility in Lee County. The remaining 228 were in communities.

Hutchinson said 51 of the new cases were in Pulaski County, followed by 51 in Washington County and 37 in Benton County. An additional 16 cases were reported in Crittenden County, 15 in Sevier County and 13 in Craighead County. No other county had more than 10.

There are currently 173 people hospitalized and there have been 165 deaths.

State Health Officer Dr. Nate Smith said 7,116 people have recovered from the virus.