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Arkansas lawmakers meet at arena over coronavirus concerns

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – A basketball arena was transformed into Arkansas’ House chamber due to coronavirus concerns as lawmakers met Thursday to address a budget shortfall the state faces because of the outbreak.

The House and Senate were expected to move quickly on a plan to allow Gov. Asa Hutchinson to tap into the state’s surplus because of the $353 million shortfall. Legislative leaders say they hope to wrap up the session shortly after 12 a.m. Saturday.

Arkansas has had at least 335 cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus, and two deaths. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

The 100-member House moved to the Jack Stephens Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, with members sitting in the stands of the 5,600-seat arena. Members, staff and press were screened before they could enter the arena, and handed small bottles of hand sanitizer.

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