Some places of worship, indoor and outdoor venues set to reopen in Arkansas, West Memphis holds off

Some places of worship, indoor and outdoor venues set to reopen in Arkansas, West Memphis holds off
West Memphis churches wait to reopen (Source: WMC)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Arkansas continues to reopen its state. Starting Monday places of worship can reopen. But over the Hernando Desoto Bridge from Memphis, some leaders are saying it’s too early.

West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon is asking churches to hold off opening. He said it’s too soon.

Crittenden County has the highest number of cases per capita in Arkansas according to McClendon. He thinks June is a better time frame.

“I’m pleased to announce today we’re issuing the guidance for places of worship effective today,” Governor Asa Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson gave his recommendation on opening indoor and outdoor venues and places of worship Monday. They’re more checkmarks in getting the state reopened.

“[Reopening places of worship] is guidance in contrast to a directive,” Hutchinson said. “Everything else we issue is a directive. But the guidance for places of worship recognizes the separation [of church and state] under the first amendment.”

Arkansas places of worship can now reopen but everyone above ten years old must wear masks and social distancing needs to be practiced. Congregants need to be six feet apart and there needs to be minimal touching. Socializing should be done outside the buildings.

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Once again West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon is wondering if this is too soon.

“My timeline is June 1,” McClendon said.

Right now he’s asking worship leaders to hold off on reopening.

“With the number of [Covid-19] cases [Crittenden County] received, 60% of them have been directly or indirectly associated with large gatherings. At this time I don’t believe this is a proper time for us to be opening,” McClendon said.

McClendon said while churches in West Memphis can follow the governor’s guidelines, he’s heard from many pastors committed to keeping the doors closed until McClendon gives them a date.

“We are going to continue to do our parking lot services,” Pastor Jeff Crockett said. “We are going to continue to do our media outreach. And we are also learning that a good old phone call goes a long way.”

In West Memphis on Thursday there will be free COVID-19 testing at Wonder Elementary School.

As for opening those indoor and outdoor venues in Arkansas, Hutchinson said outdoor venues can open as of Monday with no more than 50 spectators allowed.

Indoor venues can open May 18. These do not include casinos. Hutchinson says those guidelines will come later.

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