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LITTLE ROCK -- Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday temporarily eased some restrictions for seeking unemployment benefits as the rest of the state's casinos temporarily closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Hutchinson's order on unemployment insurance for the next 30 days waived a one-week waiting period and made applicants immediately eligible to receive the benefits. It also eliminated any requirements to apply for the benefits in person.

"This will be a relief to anyone who is laid off that they can get more quick cash assistance to make sure their families are cared for," Hutchinson said at a news conference with health officials.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

Hutchinson said he directed the state's three casinos to close for the next two weeks because of concerns about the coronavirus, which causes the disease called COVID-19.

Two casinos, one at a West Memphis dog track and another in Pine Bluff, said they were closing ahead of Hutchinson's announcement. A Hot Springs horse track said Sunday that it was closing its casino.

"This gives us an opportunity to evaluate where we are," Hutchinson said.

Despite several other cities and states doing so, Arkansas hasn't ordered bars and restaurants to close. Little Rock, the state's largest city, on Wednesday will begin enforcing a curfew from 12 a.m. to 5 a.m.

Fayetteville, where the University of Arkansas is located, announced new rules for bars and restaurants that will prevent them from filling more than half their capacity. They will also be required to space tables and barstools at least six feet apart.

The Arkansas Supreme Court late Tuesday afternoon suspended most in-person court proceedings around the state through April 3, with several exceptions such as orders of protection, jury trials already underway and emergency child custody orders.

Hutchinson said the number of cases in Arkansas remained at 22, but that he expected the figure to rise as more testing is completed.

Arkansas on Sunday ordered the closure of the state's public schools over the next two weeks.

State Desk on 03/18/2020

Print Headline: Arkansas eases unemployment benefit hurdles over coronavirus

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