Central Arkansas restaurants packed after Gov. Hutchinson relaxes COVID restrictions

Local News

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.— Governor Hutchinson made a slew of big COVID-19 announcements, including allowing restaurants to operate at 100% capacity.

The announcement also included an extension of the Public Health Emergency that was set to expire on February 28, 2021.

The state’s mask mandate will remain in place through March 31, though there is a plan that would allow the mandate to be lifted, if positive tests remain under certain levels.

The Governor also said many state directives tied to businesses during the pandemic are moving to a guideline status.

This means fines and other penalties no longer apply.

Hutchinson says he hopes behavior does not change, because businesses are still incentivized to maintain protocols.

“They’re not gonna be subject to penalties but they still have the incentive to do what is right because consumers can make good judgements as to where they want to go and where it is safe and secondly it does give them a better opportunity for liability protection,” said Governor Asa Hutchinson.

As for public health directives, the Governor said those will now become guidelines effective immediately.

This means restaurants, bars, salons, and gyms, can begin operating at full capacity again.

“It’s great. We are back open the way we should be. I think it’s good for everybody,” said Fernando Alvarez, General Manager at La Hacienda in Little Rock.

La Hacienda is one of many restaurants across the state now back at 100 percent after Gov. Hutchinson relaxed the previous restriction calling for 2/3 capacity.

“Being able to be back at full capacity means we will be back to normal so that’s good for us, all my employees, and everyone here,” said Alvarez.

Chain restaurants across town also followed suit.

The manager at Texas Roadhouse in Benton says every seat was filled on Friday night, and the wait to get in was over 1.5 hours long.

However, some restaurants say just because they can operate at full capacity, doesn’t mean they will.

“I don’t really think it feels safe to go back to 100 percent right away,” said Selia Day, General Manager at Red Door.

Day says their restaurant will continue to run at 50 percent capacity until cases and the death toll dramatically drop.

“Our customer’s and staff’s welfare is in our best interest. So, we’ve been super careful,” said Day.

These guidelines coming nearly a year after the pandemic began, Governor Hutchinson says despite the conversion from directive to guidelines, now is not the time to let your guard down.

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