By Ray King

Arkansas has set May 4 as the day as the target date for lifting some restrictions put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Governor Asa Hutchinson.

At his daily press conference Friday, the Governor said a report from his Post-Peak Response team headed by State Health Officer Dr. Nate Smith and guidance from the White House figured into his decision and said the state will take a measured approach, lifting some restrictions but leaving others in place for a period of time.

Smith said that the post-peak team, composed of himself and other doctors agreed that it is important to help restore the state’s economy, protect the state’s most vulnerable citizens, maintain an adequate health care system which includes more contact tracing and PPE (personal protection equipment) for health care workers, and finally prevent a resurgence of COVID-19.

Until that May 4 date, Smith said people need to continue to keep doing the things they have been doing including social distancing, wearing masks when social distancing is not possible and avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.

“Businesses also need to start thinking about how they are going to manage social distancing and may need to put some new policies in place,” he said.

The Governor said there were 75 new cases of COVID-19 reported in the past 24 hours, raising the state’s total to 1,695. Of those, 1,065 were active cases.

No new deaths were reported, leaving the total at 37, and 93 people were admitted to hospitals, that’s eight more than on Thursday.

Smith also talked about cases in the Arkansas Prison system, saying that additional testing at Cummins prison near Grady which was performed by UAMS showed that there are now 83 new cases of COVID-19 reported, bringing the total at the prison to 129.

Initially, 43 of 46 prisoners in one barracks at Cummins had tested positive and Smith said other prisoners had been transferred out of that barracks and to other barracks prior to the initial testing. He said about 300 tests had been performed on inmates.

In response to a question, Smith said that while there are differences in various regions of the state, the reopening will be a coordinated effort state-wide.