Arkansas to allow gyms, fitness centers to reopen next week
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas gyms and fitness centers can reopen next week, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday as he continued rolling back restrictions issued because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hutchinson said the gyms can reopen on Monday, but with new stipulations that include screening of staff and patrons and requiring 12 feet between people working out.
"If we're going to have any opportunity for any opening this is the best place we can be right now for safe activities," Hutchinson said.
The announcement comes a day after Hutchinson said restaurants could reopen their dining rooms May 11, but only at one-third their capacity. The Republican governor plans to announce Friday whether he will allow hair salons and barber shops to reopen.
Arkansas is among a handful of states where governors did not issue broad stay-at-home orders seen in most of the U.S. during the pandemic, but Hutchinson has imposed other restrictions. In recent days Hutchison rolled back eased his ban on elective surgeries and camping at state parks.
The decision won't reopen other indoor entertainment venues, such as bowling alleys, that were shut along with gyms March 20. The gym rules will prohibit entry from recent travelers to overseas, New York, New Jersey, Conneticut, New Orleans or overseas, along with anyone with compromised immune systems or chronic diseases.
It also keep pools, showers, spas and saunas closed.
Clubhaus Fitness, which operates in Little Rock and Fayetteville, was expected to open but would likely require members to sign up before working out and would shut down machines to make sure members comply with the distancing rules.
"Obviously we have to do less people in each space but we are thankful that we are getting to reopen," Co-owner and General Manager Rush Cornwall said.
At least 3,255 people in Arkansas have tested positive for the virus as of Thursday, an increase over the 3,207 reported Wednesday, health officials said. The number of infections is likely higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
The number of deaths in Arkansas from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, has risen from 59 to 61.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
Hutchinson also said the state prematurely put up its website Wednesday for businesses to apply for a $15 million grant program to help businesses comply with new restrictions. Nearly 2,400 businesses submitted requests totaling $38.8 million within an hour before the the state stopped taking applications.
Hutchinson said the site shouldn't have gone up until lawmakers approved setting aside money from the federal coronavirus relief package for the program and he hoped to have it back up next week. The rollout prompted complaints from lawmakers that businesses weren't getting a fair shot at the grant funds.
"With limited funds, we want to make sure everyone has access," said Sen. Bruce Maloch, who co-chairs the legislative panel that would review the request.