LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Thursday that positive cases of the coronavirus rose to 62 within the previous 24 hours, restaurants will be ordered to close for dine-in eating and public schools will be closed until at least mid-April.
Cases have now been reported in Bradley, Cleburne, Clark, Cleveland, Craighead, Desha, Faulkner, Garland, Independence, Jefferson, Lincoln, Poinsett, Pope, Pulaski, Saline, Searcy, Sevier, Van Buren and Washington counties.
Although the number rose to 62 from 33 the previous day, Hutchinson said that shouldn’t be a surprise: As testing for the virus expands, so will the number of positive cases recorded.
Previously, most cases had been tied to out of state travel, especially to France, India, Colorado, Springfield, Missouri, Las Vegas and New Orleans. Hutchinson said there are now definite signs of community spread, so he laid out the following restrictions.
Public schools, which were ordered closed earlier this week, will remain closed through April 17. Education will continue through alternate methods of instruction, or AMI, and the situation will be re-evaluated at that time.
State government employees will be required to telecommute with the exception of personnel required for the efficient operation of government.
Hospitals, clinics and mental health facilities will be required to screen patients and visitors for symptoms and temperature.
Restaurants will be closed to dine-in service, although carry-out, drive through and delivery orders will still be available. Restaurants with an alcohol permit will be allowed to sell sealed bottles of wine to go with the purchase of food (the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission will cover more specifics).
Finally, indoor venues such as gymnasiums will be closed to non-essential functions.
Businesses are encouraged to move to telecommuting, video conferencing and remote work where possible. They should institute screening of employees and visitors and encourage social distancing. Businesses should also plan for the future with updated continuity plans.
To the public, older individuals and those with serious health issues should stay home as much as possible and avoid unnecessary contact with visitors. People should also limit social gatherings to 10 people or less. They should utilize drive-through and delivery services at restaurants to support those businesses. They should avoid unnecessary trips where large groups of people will be present. And avoid visiting long-term care facilities for elderly people.
Outdoor activities like hiking, fishing and walking while practicing social distancing are encouraged. Churches, mosques and synagogues are asked to employ innovation when ministering to congregations and avoiding large crowds.
Hutchinson said those directives will be followed up with official orders from the state Health Department on Friday.
State Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said the breakdown of population in positive cases has been:
• Six have been children.
• Fifteen have been 65 and older
• Forty-one have been ages 19 to 64.
He said there would be further analysis of demographics as time goes on.
Department of Health records as of Thursday afternoon show there have been between one and four tests for coronavirus in Boone, Carroll and Marion counties, but all have been negative.