By Ray King

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson on Friday announced that recreational swimming pools, splash pads, water parks and swimming beaches will be allowed to reopen May 22, a day before the Memorial Day Holiday weekend begins.

At his daily COVID-19 press briefing, the governor said the pools and parks will be restricted to 50 percent capacity and there must be controls at the entrance to the facility to ensure 6-foot physical distancing and crowd restrictions. As a part of the directive from the State Health Department, lifeguard training can begin today.

Hutchinson also announced that the Arkansas General Assembly and the Legislative Council have approved a package of $147 million that will be available for grants to small businesses who are attempting to reopen after being closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The money is part of the Arkansas Ready for Business initiative.

In the past 24 hours, 82 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Arkansas, bringing the state’s total to 3,747. State Health Officer and Secretary of the State Department of Health Dr. Nate Smith said 12 of the new cases are from Cummins Prison where a total of 896 inmates and 60 staff members have tested positive.

He said there are currently 691 active cases of COVID-19, with 131 of those from correctional facilities, 89 from nursing homes and 471 from the community. A total of 2,968 people are listed as recovered.

The Governor said he has challenged the Department of Health to conduct tests on 60,000 people which is equal to two percent of the state’s population in a one-month period and the department has come up with several ideas to make that happen.

Smith was asked about that two percent number and said the number came from the C.D.C. (Centers for Disease Control). “It’s not so much the numbers as how we are testing,” he said.

The Governor was also asked about the possibility of college sports this fall and said he was not ready to make an announcement at this time but was glad to see that colleges and universities across the state have announced their plans to hold classes on campuses.

He said the state was going to take it “a step at a time” and indicated that an announcement will be made in late May or in June.