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With Count on Me NC, businesses, as well as the public, pledge to take measures to keep everyone healthy and safe in the wake of the pandemic.
UPDATED 5/26 North Carolina business owners knew when they reopened their doors to the public last month, health and safety would be top of mind for many of their guests. Luckily, there’s a plan in place to help folks feel more comfortable venturing out into the world again.
In May, the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (NCRLA) and state tourism office Visit NC partnered with NC DHHS and NC State University to launch Count on Me NC, a program designed to reassure guests that participating restaurants and customer-facing, hospitality-related businesses are operating at the highest levels of sanitation and safety.
“[Our research] from a few weeks ago found that the one most popular word people associated with travel right now is “unsafe,’” says Wit Tuttell, the executive director of Visit NC. “There is a perception issue there and people are afraid that traveling is unsafe. So we have to do everything we can to make them feel comfortable in order to get them traveling again.”
In fact, Tuttell says, the research showed that, when asked how they will approach getting back into traveling again, most respondents were very cautious. While 11.2 percent of respondents said they would jump right back in as if nothing had changed, 47 percent said they would approach travel carefully and 41 percent said they would hold off for a while and let others test out the waters.
“Places are going to open up and we will see how people behave,” Tuttell says. “If we can get people to behave well, we will continue to grow for the summer. But if we have too much of a good thing, we could see issues that could hurt us.”
In order to help alleviate the public’s fears, Count on Me NC participating restaurants ensure that they continue safe food handling practices, observe social distancing in table placement, offer hand washing and sanitizing stations and sanitize menus, utensils, place settings and condiments after every use if they are not single use. For all other businesses—tourist attractions, hotels and restaurants included—staff must pass a health check prior to each shift, social distancing will be observed on the job and all common areas and surfaces will be cleaned and sanitized regularly and thoroughly with specified disinfecting products.
Dr. Ben Chapman, an expert in consumer, retail and food safety culture in NC State’s School of Agricultural and Human Sciences, developed five training modules for hospitality industry employees designed to teach them the best operation protocols with regard to reopening following the coronavirus outbreak. The first modules, for restaurant owners and operators and front and back of house staff rolled out mid May, while modules on cleaning and disinfecting surfaces for all businesses, as well as guidelines unique to hospitality businesses, quickly followed.
The training courses are all online, free, voluntary and take about half an hour for employees to complete. When a business owner and their workers complete the online courses, they print out a certificate of completion to hang in their restaurant or business and receive door and window clings with the Count on Me NC logo to display. They can use the logo on their websites and social media, on items such as menus and brochures and in their marketing and advertising materials. A website, countonmenc.org, is available for consumers to learn more about the program and the measures businesses are taking to keep them safe.
“Guests can learn what the guarantee means to them, so they will know all about the training and what we anticipate and expect to be able to provide to ensure their safety when they come in our establishments,” says Lynn Minges, the president and CEO of NCRLA.
“This is is exactly what people are asking for,” Tuttell says. “They say they want to go to places that have done these type of things.”
Tuttell says that, while these enhanced cleaning and sanitizing measures, combined with social distancing and the use of PPE, including masks and gloves, will be crucial to luring folks back into businesses again, North Carolina can expect to see a slower summer for tourism, but he thinks things will pick up again towards the fall.
Part of the success of Count on Me NC will depend on how members of the public behave once businesses are open.
“It is going to be like an experiment,” Tuttell says. “We want people to come back and explore the businesses and have a good time but we don’t want a stampede to some of the favorite places in the state, with people who aren’t willing to do the proper social distancing. We want to give people that comfort level to feel like they can get back and travel in a safe way.”
The same goes for restaurants.
“We ask patrons to make the promises to each other, simply that if they are exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms, that they enjoy our food through contactless delivery and takeout options,” Minges says. “If they have underlying health conditions or are part of a high risk population, that they consider using delivery or takeout rather than coming into our facilities. And we ask our patrons to be patient and kind to our staff and other guests as we all try to adjust to this new normal.”
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