Arkansas church to follow rules on large services amid virus

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – An Arkansas church that officials had accused of disregarding restrictions on large group gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic has agreed to comply with the rules, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Saturday.

Officials had threatened to issue a directive ordering Awaken Church in Jonesboro to comply with the rules. While Arkansas has restricted gatherings of 10 or more people, churches have been exempted as long as they “limit person-to-person contact and maintain appropriate social distancing of at least six (6) feet to prevent the spread of this virus.”

Arkansas officials have been discouraging large church gatherings since an outbreak at one church in Greers Ferry last month that infected more than three dozen members and resulted in at least three deaths.

State health officials said Saturday that the number of people with coronavirus had risen to at least 743, an increase of 100 from the day before. The number of deaths increased by two to 14.

Hutchinson said officials believed the pastor of Awaken Church, Chad Gonzales, intended to continue holding large services. But Hutchinson said the church has been persuaded to comply with the state’s restrictions.

“We’ve really not had to issue a specific directive to them because after the conversations with the Department of Health, they’ve agreed to comply with the public health directives and we’re grateful for that,“ Hutchinson said at a news conference Saturday.

Gonzales had told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette earlier that he would comply with any order issued by the state.

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, and death.

Hutchinson said he has directed the state’s travel industry to not provide lodging to out of state recreational travellers.

“We believe that it will have some significant effect out there in reducing the travel that we’ve already discouraged,“ Hutchinson said.


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