A look at COVID protocols for restaurants as cases surge and Phase 2 continues

The onus is on businesses to ensure patrons wear masks

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - North Carolina will remain in Phase 2 for at least the next few weeks, and that means restrictions on capacity at restaurants remain in place as well.

Restaurants, along with all public-facing businesses, are required to take additional steps to keep customers safe, but there has been confusion over exactly what those steps should and shouldn’t be.

WECT has received numerous emails and calls about whether restaurants should close when an employee or a recent customer tests positive for the virus, but that is not required.

“We are not requiring restaurants to close if they have a positive customer or positive employee,” explained Alicia Pickett from New Hanover County Environmental Health. “We are strictly just recommending that they beef up their disinfecting practices and just be more aware that yes, COVID is out there and is spreading rapidly. So we just want to be proactive and disinfect.”

Employees should be screened for symptoms and restaurants should immediately remove and isolate any employee who has symptoms or tests positive.

Restaurants are already supposed to be using CDC and EPA compliant disinfectants that are rated to kill COVID-19, and if a positive case occurs are instructed to increase the frequency of using them.

Pickett said that customers are concerned about restaurants and other businesses, as indicated by the 280 complaints the county has received since March 17 regarding restaurants, lodging, pools and other public-facing businesses.

Many of those complaints, she said, have been about masks. Pickett said she’s also fielded more than 160 business guidance requests.

She says there is an easy winner for the most common question: “‘Do I have to close?‘” she said. “We went through phase one, and the restaurateurs were closed and they want to be open, we want them open. But at the same time, we want the customers to feel safe, and we want the employees to feel safe.”

Now that masks are required by customers as well as employees, Pickett said she hopes the two groups can team up to help stop the spread.

“We’re all in this together and we all need to work together,” she said.

Copyright 2020 WECT. All rights reserved.