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Arkansas requiring bars, restaurants to close by 11 p.m.

FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2020, file photo, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks to reporters in...
FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2020, file photo, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks to reporters in Little Rock, Ark. Hutchinson isn't on the ballot in Tuesday's election but he's still a major player in it. The governor has appeared in an ad for fellow Republican Rep. French Hill, who's in an unexpectedly tight reelection fight. (AP Photo/Andrew Demillo, File)(Andrew Demillo | AP)
Published: Nov. 19, 2020 at 9:54 PM CST
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas is requiring bars, restaurants and clubs that serve alcohol to close by 11 p.m. in an effort to curb a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday.

Hutchinson announced the early closing time, which begins Friday, after weeks of resisting calls for more sweeping restrictions on businesses and crowds as virus cases continue to mount. He issued the order as the state reported its second highest single-day increase in coronavirus cases.

“This is a balanced approach that is limited and targeted as we work to reduce new COVID cases in our state,” Hutchinson said in a statement.

The Department of Health reported reported Arkansas’ probable and confirmed virus cases grew by 2,238 to 139,855. The state’s COVID-19 deaths rose by 22 to 2,297.

Thursday’s increase was the highest since the state reported 2,312 new cases on Nov. 13.

The early closing time, which is in effect through January 3, was recommended by a task force Hutchinson formed to address the rise in cases this winter. The early closing time will affect 3,200 businesses with “on-premises” alcohol permits.

Hutchinson on Tuesday rejected a White House panel’s recommendation that indoor restaurant dining capacities be scaled back from 66% to 25% in most of the state. Nearly 300 doctors on Wednesday urged the governor to impose other restrictions, including closing bars and gyms as well as limiting indoor gatherings to less than 10 people.

Hutchinson said he planned to hold a news conference Friday to discuss the rise in cases and hospital capacity. A day after hitting a new record high, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state dropped by two to 899.

But state numbers showed the number of available intensive care unit beds dropping. Sixty eight ICU beds — or 6% of the 1,124 throughout the state — were available, according to the Department of Health. There are 361 COVID-19 patients in ICUs around the state. About 26% of the state’s 9,144 hospital beds are available.

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