Posted on April 29, 2020
By Tia Lyons
El Dorado Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer is issuing another reminder for El Dorado residents to continue practicing social distancing and other public health guidelines to help flatten the curve on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
For nearly two months, the city has enacted measures to help slow the spread of the virus in El Dorado and Union County by restricting public access to municipal buildings and offices, spreading out at a minimum of 6 feet when conducting public meetings and checking the body temperatures of the people who enter City Hall to attend those meetings.
City officials have asked local residents to take similar precautions and follow health guidelines, including remaining at least 6 feet apart and avoiding gathering in groups of 10 or more in confined indoor and outdoor spaces.
The state directives do not apply to unenclosed outdoor spaces, such as parks, trails, athletic fields and courts, parking lots, golf courses and driving ranges where social distancing of at least 6 feet can be easily achieved.
Neither do the directives apply to businesses, manufacturers, construction companies, places of worship, the Arkansas General Assembly, municipal or county governing bodies or the judiciary.
However, state officials advised residents to limit person-to-person contact and maintain appropriate social distancing of at least 6 feet in such spaces to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Therein lies the rub for some local residents, Smith-Creer said, noting that she recently received a call from a woman who expressed concern that people were not social distancing while visiting a roadside produce vendor.
“She felt like people weren’t as aware of social distancing as they should be and they need to be educated on the importance of social distancing,” the mayor said. “She said that when he (the vendor) gets there, the parking lot is already full and people don’t know if they’re asymptomatic and they don’t know if he’s asymptomatic.”
Smith-Creer said city officials have been trying to spread the word about preventative measures that can help contain COVID-19, adding that some residents have heeded the advisories and some have not.
The mayor said large gatherings have been reported in city parks and residential neighborhoods.
One such gathering was streamed live online last week in Mattocks Park, prompting Smith-Creer to take to her own live stream when she heard about the gathering and urge those in attendance to adhere to public health guidelines regarding social distancing.
“That was outside in the park but it still looks bad because it appears that people aren’t taking this public health crisis seriously and they’re saying they’re not sick (during the live streams),” Smith-Creer said.
Social distancing, or the seeming lack thereof, was not the only issue that was reported in the park that day.
“We heard there were people riding four-wheelers and rutting up the grass and that’s been an issues at other parks,” the mayor said.
On April 10, El Dorado police reported that numerous people were gathered in Mattocks Park.
Officers had been called to the park in reference to a disturbance that was later determined to be a fistfight and they said multiple people fled the area when officers arrived on the scene.
No arrests were made.
Officers responded April 17 to a report of shots fired in the area of Woodland Street and Miles Avenue.
Police said a large crowd was on the scene when they arrived but it was unclear if the crowd had gathered prior to or after the shooting.
Several people in the crowd said they had not witnessed a shooting in the area, officers said.
Police recovered multiple .40-caliber shell casings from the scene.
No injuries were reported and police said it did not appear as if bullets had struck any property in the area.
Though state directives do not apply to open-air spaces, Smith-Creer and Hickman called on residents to continue to exercise caution as it pertains to social distancing.
Violation of the directives for confined spaces, indoor or outdoor, is enforceable by law and can constitute a misdemeanor offense that is punishable by a sentence of up to one month in jail and a fine of $100 – $500.
Hickan said the police department has approached the matter by appealing to public’s cooperation in following the directives and responding to such issues as they arise on a caseby-case basis.
He said the EPD has not issued citations for any such violations.
“Officers on duty still have that discretion. We have explored the legal backdrop and done some discussions about it and, hopefully, it won’t become necessary,” Hickman said. “We still have a moderate amount of (COVID-19 cases) in Union County and for the most part, I think people are still using pretty good judgment.”
While some law enforcement agencies across the country have made arrests for violations of COVID-19 directives in their respective jurisdictions, Hickman said many others are adopting a similar “let’s-work-with-the-public” approach as the EPD.
“And long term, I think that’s the best way to do it,” the police chief said.
In March, Hickman said the EPD had received reports of people not social distancing in Walmart Supercenter and other stores.
He explained then that the department was prioritizing its calls for service in order to retain enough available manpower for other calls, including break-ins, burglaries, violent incidents and other felony offenses.
“The El Dorado Police Department does not have enough people on the entire police force to respond to calls about shoppers not practicing social distancing at Walmart,” Hickman said then.
Smith-Creer said she recently received such a call.
“I had another woman tell me that she was in the store and she saw parents in the store holding hands with their children,” Smith-Creer said, reiterating that people should remain mindful of distancing in stores.
“I don’t know how far it’s going to go. With (Gov. Asa Hutchinson) saying some restrictions will be taken off, I still think it’s important for people to practice social distancing because we don’t know who’s sick,” she said.
On Tuesday, Hutchinson and Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, announced that restrictions will be lifted on state parks for RV camping May 1.
The accommodation will be open only to Arkansas residents.
Other recreational spots, including Arkansas Welcome Centers, cabins and lodges, are expected to resume business by May 15.
Today, Hutchinson is slated to announce if restaurants will be permitted to reopen their dining rooms.
Similar announcements about hair salons, barbershops and gyms are expected to follow later this week.