Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced on Wednesday the Natural State would enter the second phase of reopening.
Phase 2 allows for an increase in capacity of gyms, restaurants, salons and other businesses from one-third capacity to two-thirds.
This next step comes a little more than a month after Arkansas entered Phase 1. Hutchinson pointed out that "Americans are on the move" and therefore it made sense to continue to lift restrictions.
The governor, along with Arkansas Health Secretary Nate Smith, believe that reopening is not the cause of new cases and the state is ready to increase capacity and reduce restrictions. Hutchinson noted that Arkansas took a different approach from the start and therefore reopening would naturally look different from other states.
Hutchinson called the reopening of the state a "gradual process," saying that, "we learn by experience."
Several questions were raised about the gating criteria for Phase 2 since Arkansas is seeing a second peak in cases. In response, Hutchinson said the expected flow of the virus was to have a single peak without a resurgence, but the actual flow has been "more like the rolling Ozark hills versus the Colorado Rockies."
The second spike in Arkansas has leveled out according to the seven-day rolling average of new cases per day. Hutchinson hopes this is an indication of the height of the second peak.
In order to continue preventing the rapid spread of COVID-19, the governor encouraged Arkansans to continue to social distance and Smith asked people to wear a mask to further quell the spread.
Northwest Arkansas continues to be one of the highest areas of growth in the state and the Arkansas Department of Health intends to dispatch multilingual workers as contact tracers and testers in order to better reach the minority community.
Hutchinson explained the faster growth in Northwest Arkansas to the higher population density compared to the rest of the state.
Increase in testing cited
Both Smith and Hutchinson stand by the idea the increase in cases is largely due to the increase in testing. Arkansas has administered over 30,000 tests since the beginning of the month which means the state is more than 25% of the way to the goal of 120,000 for the month.
Smith requested, and received approval for a team from the Center for Disease Control to come to Northwest Arkansas to work with communities who do not speak English as their first language. The hope is that this will further help Arkansas to contain the spread of COVID-19.