Restaurants in Arkansas will be allowed to open for dine-in service on Monday, May 11 as long as they operate under a list of several conditions.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the decision during his daily COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday. He said the state will take a phased approach to opening restaurants, and that restrictions would be gradually removed in each of the three planned phases.
Phase 1 will limit restaurants to one-third of dining capacity.
“I recognize that 33% (occupancy) is not enough for some restaurants to even cover overhead on,” said Hutchinson. “But that’s where we need to start.”
Hutchinson said Phase 2 will eventually allow 67% occupancy, and Phase 3 will allow full occupancy. He said no dates are currently set for any future phases, and that those decisions would be made based on data.
“Success brings success,” said Hutchinson. “If we’re successful in making sure we follow the guidelines and we protect safety, then we’ll be able to move toward more normal operation.”
During Phase 1, tables must be distanced and patrons must be spaced apart while inside the establishment. Hutchinson said reservations and pre-orders will be encouraged, but not mandated since those systems don’t work for every type of restaurant.
Face masks, gloves and frequent hand washing will be required for all restaurant staff, and they must also participate in daily screenings to ensure no employees are showing possible symptoms of COVID-19. All tables and menus must be cleaned and disinfected after each use.
Patrons will also have to wear face masks from the time they enter a restaurant until after their orders are placed. No single groups of more than 10 people will be served, and self-service is not allowed.
Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said face coverings in restaurants can be made of cloth, and don’t need to be the more advanced types that are used inside hospitals.
Also, senior hours will be encouraged, but not required.
Bar areas can not be used for seating, and entertainment inside restaurants will not be allowed in the first phase.
Arkansas Ready for Business Grants
Hutchinson said he knows restaurants have already struggled and that adhering to the conditions will be difficult, so the state has launched a $15 million grant program to assist businesses through the reopening phases.
All industry sectors are eligible for grants of $1,000 per each full-time employee up to $100,000 for each business. Employee head counts can be backdated to March 1 to account for any employees that have been laid off since the pandemic began.
Applications will be accepted at www.ArkansasEDC.com/COVID19.
The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Arkansas reached 3,192 on Wednesday, which is an increase of 81 since Tuesday. There were seven additional deaths, bringing the toll to 59.