Barber shops and beauty salons will be able to open today, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced at his Friday COVID-19 briefing. The reopening comes with restrictions detailed in health department guidelines, but means the businesses will be open “in time for Mother’s Day,” the governor said.

The briefing included work with minority communities impacted by the pandemic, and new details about the state’s grant program designed to aid businesses with the reopening process. There was also an announcement precipitating reopening of dental practice.

Hutchinson was joined by Secretary, Arkansas Department of Health Dr. Nate Smith, Arkansas Department of Health Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities Chair Michelle Smith and Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Michael Preston.

Arkansas has to date 3,321 COVID-19 infections, up 66 from Thursday. This number includes five infections recorded from inmates at the Federal Correctional Facility in Forrest City. No new hospitalizations since Thursday leaves that number unchanged at 95, and three additional deaths brings that figure to 64. Twenty three are currently on a ventilator, that number also unchanged since Thursday.

One of Thursday’s deaths was a nursing home resident. Of the 64 deaths, 23 are “nursing home related,” Dr. Smith said. Overall, nursing homes have 229 COVID-19 infections, up seven from Thursday. Nursing home staff shows 142, up seven since Thursday.

Contact investigations currently encompass 40 nursing homes in the state.

Recoveries to date show 1,973, for an increase in 678 since Thursday. Dr. Smith explained this was due to his department recalculating recoveries based on people who had been released from the hospital but the Department of Health had not been able to contact to confirm recovery.

Thursday the state recorded 1,786 tests for the virus. Hutchinson said this reflected the continued success after last weekend’s surge.

The surge, announced April 23, called for an opening up of access to testing for anyone who had COVID-19 symptoms to run April 24 and 25.

Thursday’s number of test shows “The surge not only worked for those day [but] we’ve had a continued good response on those tests,” Hutchinson said.

Not all the cases from the federal correction facility have been entered into the Department of Health’s database yet, Dr. Smith said. His department was supporting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in testing in that facility “as needed,” Smith said. That facility currently has 135 inmates infected, up 34 from Thursday.

At the time of the news conference, the state had 1,284 active COVID-19 infections.

The seven-day rolling average shows a decline in new hospitalizations, with fewer than 100 showing “down and steady,” the governor said.

Barber shops, hair salon, cosmetology, massage therapy, body art and medical spa services will be able to reopen May 6, the governor announced. The delay between the May 1 announcement and the May 6 opening date was to give businesses time to prepare in order to meet the restrictions called for in Department of Health guidelines, he said.

Guidelines are:

10 or fewer people in the facility

For larger facilities, no more than 30 percent of stations in operation

No walk-in appointments

Clients should wait outside in their cars until ready

Time set between appointments for cleaning

Six-foot distance between clients during appointments, in the waiting area

Client names and contact information will be recorded

Vulnerable populations should consider staying home

Not listed on the slide, but an integral requirement, will be the need to screen clients, the governor said.

Clients and staff both will be required to wear face masks, with clients able to remove their masks in order to receive a particular service. At Friday’s annoucement, the reopening did not include “wide-open” barber or cosmetology schools, the governor said.

At Saturday’s briefing, however, Dr. Smith announced schools would be able to open, provided Department of Health guidelines were followed.

Guidelines are available in more detail at the Department of Health website and are the Phase I guidelines for reopening, the governor said. Phase II will have a loosening of restrictions, but guidelines remain in place.

Phase II guidelines will be:

Increased number of people inside

Six-foot distance maintained

Screenings continue

Face coverings should be maintained

Consider allowing walk-ins

Finally in Phase III, normal operations “while maintaining good infection control” will be in place, it was announced.

Michelle Smith was introduced as someone who had been working closely with barber shops and salons and had recently developed a webinar on the Department of Health website to help businesses understand the guidelines for opening. The webinar will be 6-7:30 p.m. May 6 on the Department of Health website.

Michelle spoke to the disproportionate impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the state’s minority population, stating that the circumstance “did not happen overnight.”

She cited poverty as an example of “socially determinant health” impacts, such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and diminished access to health care. One of the methods to help overcome this was partnerships with historically black colleges and universities, she said.

Michelle announced the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, which has supported health and wellness “in undeserved populations” since 2003, has launched a COVID relief initiative which will provide $1,000 grants to organizations “addressing hardships due to COVID-19.”

She said the department would work with the Hall of Fame to identify areas best served by this program.

Additional partnerships have been previously made with barber shops and beauty salons to provide what Michelle called “cut and counsel,” where barbers and beauticians could provide health advice and blood pressure checks for clients.

Hutchinson spoke to the Arkansas Ready for Business grant program. The program was announced Wednesday, and website prematurely opened leading to a surge of businesses applying for grant funding to aid in meeting public health requirements, such as testing.

The program, funded at $15 million when it was announced, pending approval by the federal CARES Act steering committee and legislative approval, has $85 million added to it, at the request of the steering committee, Hutchinson said.

Legislative approval is still pending, the governor said.

A question regarding the unemployment status of workers who were uncomfortable going back to work at a reopened business led to a clarification by Preston.

If someone was called back to work, and continued to apply for unemployment benefits, the claim would be considered a fraud, Preston said.

Preston acknowledged that if a business chose to not reopen, its employees would still be eligible for unemployment.

The Department of Commerce website which would allow freelance and gig workers to apply for unemployment benefits was being tested this week, Preston said, and should be online “in a matter of days.” Once online freelance workers would be able to apply for benefits back-dated to the day they were no longer able to work, he said, even if they had started back to work since that time.

Dr. Smith announced his office had appointed a COVID-19 dental advisory group, which will have its first meeting the week of May 4.

The group will provide input on directives prior to the May 18 reopening of dental practices, which are expected to open with restrictions, he said.

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