As we move toward reopening restaurants in a “safer-at-home” Phase 2 of Gov. Roy Cooper’s plan to reopen North Carolina, businesses will need to stay up-to-date on guidelines presented in the executive orders. The restaurant industry has been eagerly awaiting an outline of steps and procedures to ensure public safety when opening for dine-in service now that the stay-at-home order is lifted.
Limited seating capacity and extensive, required sanitary practices remain key aspects of the plan across all industries as we move forward through the phases. The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association published an early release of the guidelines for reopening restaurants in North Carolina as we transition to Phase 2 on Friday.
The NCDHHS laid out an Interim Guidance for Restaurants that lists required and recommended practices for social distancing and minimizing exposure, cloth face coverings, cleaning and hygiene, monitoring for symptoms, protecting vulnerable populations, combating misinformation, and water and ventilation systems.
Though the state is laying out recommendations for businesses, each individual restaurant and business in North Carolina can make any of the state recommendations required inside of their establishment for reopening.
The interim guidance does not differentiate between restaurants and what the NC Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission consider to be ‘private clubs,’ but Governor Cooper says that Phase 2 does not allow the opening of bars, nightclubs, playgrounds or gyms. Swimming pools, salons and tattoo shops are allowed to open at 50% capacity in Phase 2.
North Carolina has seen 20,122 confirmed cases and 699 deaths as of May 20 due to COVID-19. The number of positive tests have increased day-over-day due to an increase in the amount of daily testing.
Social Distancing and Minimizing Exposure
To limit the spread of COVID-19 during Phase 2, restaurants are required to:
- Ensure social distancing by setting up tables and seating to allow 6 feet of separation for indoor and outdoor dining (this includes counter and bar tops)
- Operate at 50% of maximum capacity or 12 people per 1,000 square feet if no fire code number is available.
- Post reduced “Emergency Maximum Capacity” in a noticeable place. The sign is available in English and Spanish.
- Post signage reminding people of social distancing.
- Place 6-foot spacing marks in high-traffic areas like near a cash register or where people wait to be seated.
Cleaning and Hygiene
To remain compliant with the orders for reopening restaurants in Phase 2, the businesses will be required to:
- Perform ongoing and routine environmental cleaning and disinfection of high-touch areas with a disinfectant approved by the EPA for SARS-CoV-2.
- Increase disinfecting during peak volume times and of all shared objects like payment terminals, tables, countertops, door knobs, condiment holders, etc.
- Promote frequent use of hand washing and hand sanitizer for wait/food service staff when reporting to work and frequently throughout their shift.
Monitoring for Symptoms
While also encouraging employees to self-monitor their symptoms, restaurants will be required to:
- Conduct daily symptom screening of employees when they arrive at work and must immediately send symptomatic workers home to isolate themselves.
- Post signage at the main entrance requesting that people who have been symptomatic with a fever or cough do not enter.
- Immediately separate employees who arrive with symptoms from the rest of the staff and send them home.
Recommended Practices for Reopening
The guidelines recommend that all employees and customers wear a cloth face covering and encourage businesses to provide face coverings for employees and customers, though it is not required. The rest of the state’s recommendations list common-sense practices that should be adhered to.
Some notable recommendations for social distancing include installing physical barriers like sneeze guards at cash registers or other areas where maintaining a 6-foot space is difficult, reducing condiments and items on the table for sharing, discontinuing the use of pre-rolled utensils and preset tables, creating an ordering area for wait staff to make less contact with customers, and staggering seating times.
NCDHHS recommends having a plan in place for immediately removing employees from work if symptoms develop. An employee who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 should be excluded from work until they have been 72 hours without a fever since recovery, according to guidelines.
To protect vulnerable populations, the guidelines recommend designating a specific time for at-risk people to access the establishment separate from the general public. Management should encourage employees to speak up if they self-identify as high-risk and should have procedures in place to accommodate with positions that minimize face-to-face contact.
Help keep your staff current on the trends of COVID-19 in your community through videos, messaging boards and webinars. Owners and managers alike should stay current on all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for food handling and service. The food and beverage industry workers are the frontline in avoiding a second wave – a toe in the water to test the temperature. Don’t be stupid, don’t be a martyr, look out for yourself and those around you and be safe.