Gov. Asa Hutchinson said there were no new COVID-19 deaths in Arkansas as of Friday afternoon.

He said Arkansas was ready for business and reminded everyone to practice social distancing and wear masks in public as retail stores open across the state on Monday.

“After Monday, all retail stores in Arkansas are open for business except for bars,” he said, noting an announcement regarding bars will be made at Monday’s conference. “While we take the virus very seriously, we recognize the need to work and make a living. We want to continue to the next phase and continue to lift restrictions on businesses and activities in Arkansas but we have to be smart about it.”

Hutchinson announced a website to help Arkansans find their nearest testing facility, ar.gov/covid will be expanding.

He said the website “will be a useful tool” to help reach “our very ambitious goal of 60,000 tests in the month of May.”

As of Friday’s briefing, there were 4,463 cases of COVID-19 in the state, which is an increase of 97 from Thursday.

Of the 97 new cases, 79 were people in the community and 18 were inmates at correctional facilities.

The number of Arkansans hospitalized because of the virus dropped from 69 to 65.

“This is a trend we like to see,” Hutchinson said.

The governor and Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health Dr. Nate Smith fielded questions regarding why so few tests were done early on.

Smith explained that at the start of the pandemic, testing capability was limited and had to be prioritized.

With the expansion of testing capability, through the partnership of UAMS, ADH and commercial labs, the state had the tools to do more testing, the governor said.

While the governor plans to discuss guidelines and dates for bars to reopen on Monday, he said doesn’t anticipate having any news conferences over the weekend.

Jeanette Anderton can be reached at janderton@thecabin.net.

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