LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas is gradually opening up businesses and public activities, under careful monitoring by public health officials to avoid bringing on a second wave of the coronavirus.
The governor announced that church services may resume, as long as the congregation wears masks and everyone stays at least six feet from each other.
Although places of worship were excluded from the governor's executive order on March 26 that limited public gatherings, most pastors have been complying with the spirit of that order. Churches have stopped holding services in their sanctuaries and many have set up worship services online.
Some have been holding services outdoors.
The Health Department strongly recommends that churches continue to have services online. In all denominations, elderly people make up a large percentage of a typical congregation. Here are Department's guidelines:
Churches that hold services indoors must require everyone to wear masks, with the exception of children under 10. For them it is optional, and face masks for children under two are prohibited under Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
Preachers, worship leaders, and singers can remove their masks while they are singing, and while they are addressing the congregation. They should stay at least 12 feet from other people when they're not wearing masks.
Families may sit together, but keep six feet from other groups. Individuals must keep six feet from other people.
Any "meet and greet" events and serving of refreshments should be outside.
Congregants who participate in Holy Communion should only remove their masks while actually consuming the Elements.
Refrain from using items touched by a lot of people, such as hymnals, prayer books, collection plates, and communion chalices.
Refrain from having people come forward to a common area for services like a communion or blessing. Do not hold youth classes or offer child care.
Have plenty of hand sanitizer available. Post signs telling people not to enter the building if they have had a fever higher than 100.4 degrees in the past two days if they have had shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, and if they have had contact with someone in the past two weeks who has Covid-19.
In related news, the Health Department moved up by a week the date on which some non-urgent dental work can resume, from May 18 to May 11.
Also, recreational visitors from out of state can once again book hotel rooms in Arkansas, unless they are from particular "hot spots". Those are New Orleans, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and foreign countries.
The National Park Service will re-open the Buffalo National River for floating and hiking on May 15. However, Lost Valley Trail will remain closed.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will begin phasing in the opening of campsites along the Arkansas River, beginning May 20.
Barbershops and hair salons have been allowed to open for business, although with restrictions to protect the health of customers and staff.
Tattoo parlors and nail salons are also allowed to open again.