During Monday’s press briefing, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that churches and large gatherings will be able to resume immediately with necessary social distancing precautions.


As of Monday, Arkansas has 81 deaths, 91 in the hospital, 16 patients on ventilators with 1,362 active cases.


As part of phase one for reopening Arkansas, Hutchinson made several announcements for large gatherings that include convention centers, churches, fair grounds and similar venues. If this step sees 14 days of no resurgence of cases of COVID-19, Arkansas can proceed to phase two.


Starting Monday, churches and large venues will be able to hold gatherings while keeping 6 feet between family groups and 12 feet between performers and the audience. The number in the audience is limited to 50 because that would be manageable for contact tracing, according to Health Secretary Nate Smith.


While places of business must follow directives the governor pronounces, Hutchinson cited separation of church and state and said that the places of worship fell under guidance rather than directive.


Hutchinson encouraged churches to continue using online platforms if possible or if their building does not allow for proper social distancing.


If churches decide to gather, anyone in the congregation over 10 years old would need to wear a mask. Those leading music or preaching would not have to wear masks, but there would need to be 12 feet away from those gathered.


Hand sanitizing stations are strongly encouraged as well as moving meet-and-greet times outside the building in order to comply with social distancing practices.


The guidance continues to say that churches should not resume children or youth classes at this time.


Hutchinson said that these are welcome reopenings, but reminded Arkansans to proceed with caution so that the virus remains under control.


Similar restrictions were placed upon large venues adding that every other row should be left empty.


Large venues do not currently include casinos, which are expected to be able to reopen around May 18.


Indoor venues such as movie theaters, bowling alleys and other auditoriums are also set to reopen on May 18 with similar restrictions.


The Ready for Business program received additional funding so that there is now $55 million available for small businesses. Each business can apply for up to $100,000 of grant money in order to follow new guidelines.