An Unclear Mandate

In Buzz, July/August 2020 by Jane PorterLeave a Comment

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In the best case scenario, North Carolina would have been poised and prepared to enter phase three of reopening its economy just before the last weekend in June. But that best case scenario did not materialize. The state’s three key metrics—new cases of COVID-19, hospitalizations and the percentage of positive tests—kept rising and concerns about hospitals becoming overwhelmed with COVID patients emerged afresh.

Many local businesses, likely seeing the writing on the wall, began to take matters into their own hands, weighing what they considered their abilities to reopen safely with their customers’ desire to return to their businesses with guidance (or a lack thereof) from official channels. “The government mandates were not super clear,” says Brad Grossman, the vice president of marketing and development for Goodnight’s Comedy Club in Raleigh, which reopened June 26, the day targeted to kick off phase 3. “One of the biggest problems is comedy clubs are not categorized as anything and it is pretty tough to get guidance on that from anyone.

From a responsibility standpoint, we waited until now for when we felt like our team and customers were comfortable going out in a limited capacity.” Goodnight’s capped its capacity at 100 people, places its tables six feet apart and has kept its bar areas closed. Grossman says the club is operating like a restaurant to try to maintain compliance with the governor’s mandate. Other businesses, some of them explicitly ordered to stay closed such as gyms and bars, have found creative ways to get around the law.

Some gym owners point to a medical loophole in a June letter from the state’s attorney general, Josh Stein, stating that gyms could open as long as users had a medical reason for working out. Gyms can’t ask their customers about their health due to HIPAA laws but are using the medical exception directive to welcome them back at a limited capacity. And some bars have started selling beer and wine by the bottle, snack foods and household products—alongside cocktails that guests can enjoy on the premises—in an effort to be considered a retailer rather than strictly a bar under the law.

These are moves that, as long as the state remains shut in any capacity, more and more businesses seemed poised to make in order to survive. “Given the current guidance, we felt comfortable,” says Goodnight’s Grossman. “We want customers to feel comfortable and safely enjoy coming out to comedy again. People definitely need to laugh right now and if we can do that, at the very least by breaking even, that is a responsibility of ours.”

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