State offers guidance for restaurants as Phase 2 announcement expected

Gov. Roy Cooper expected to announce that Phase 2 of state's reopening plan begins Friday.
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January through Mother’s Day is typically busy season at Londa’s Place restaurant in northwest Charlotte. Anthony Crowder, who co-owns the eatery with his wife, Yolanda, says they were literally hitting their peak when the coronavirus pandemic hit. 

“Especially on Sundays. Sunday is our big day,” Crowder added about the decline in sales for the almost three-year-old soul food restaurant.

It’s been two months since the state suspended dine-in options for restaurants and bars to curb the spread of Covid-19, allowing for takeout and delivery orders only. For the Crowders, loyal customers and success in securing a Paycheck Protection Program loan have sustained them.

Another lifesaver may be on the horizon.

The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association said it expects Gov. Roy Cooper to announce Wednesday that the state will move into Phase 2 of its reopening plan beginning Friday — when Phase 1 is set to expire.

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Under the second phase, restaurants, bars, fitness centers and personal care services can return to business with limited capacity.

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Yolanda Crowder, co-owner of Londa’s Place restaurant, increased safety protocols to combat the Covid-19 outbreak, including requiring employees to wear face masks, enforcing social distancing, and minimizing the number of people in the lobby area. Photo: QCity Metro

The NCRLA posted on its website an “Interim Guidance for Restaurants” document dated May 22 from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The document outlines requirements such as:

  • No more than 50% of maximum occupancy as stated in fire capacity;
  • Tables and seating arranged at least six feet between parties for indoor and outdoor seating;
  • Daily symptom screenings of employees;
  • Signage reminding people about social distancing;
  • Markings showing six feet of spacing in lines at high-traffic areas for customers.

Although not mandated, NCDHHS strongly recommends that all employees and customers wear cloth or disposable face coverings.

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Londa’s Place incorporated floor decals to mark the recommended six-feet distance for customers. Photo: QCity Metro

Londa’s Place has many of the safety requirements and recommendations in place, but say they won’t be quick to allow dine-in customers.

“Even after restaurants are allowed to go back to dining in, we think we’re going to continue with takeout only,” Crowder said. “We will probably do that until we’re comfortable and our staff is comfortable. One of the things that we’re also listening to is our staff and what they’ve experienced.”

Other industries also opening with caution

The May 8 entry of Phase 1 eliminated the distinction between essential and nonessential businesses, granting many retailers the option to reopen. 

The North Carolina Dental Board of Examiners, which serves as the state licensing agency for dentists and hygienists, recently met to continue offering guidance on how to reopen dental offices for routine care. The board said infection-control protocols that were adequate before the pandemic may no longer be sufficient.

“Although individual dentists may use their professional judgment as to what procedures to perform and when to perform them, failure to follow heightened infection control, sterilization, and patient safety recommendations may be viewed as a failure to meet the standard of care necessary for offering treatment during the Covid-19 pandemic,” board officials said in a statement on its website.

Justin Harlow has seen a mix of new appointments and cancellations since his dental offices returned to normal operations on May 11. Under the initial stay-at-home order, Harlow Dental was scheduling patient emergencies — mostly root canals and extractions — on Mondays at his Steele Creek office as well as Tuesdays and Thursdays at his uptown location.

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Dentist Justin Harlow dressed in personal protective equipment in his office. Photo courtesy of Justin Harlow

Any patient’s anxieties about relaxed restrictions have been met by Harlow’s explanation of heightened safety protocols. For instance, no more than four people are allowed in the waiting area and adult patients must attend their visits solo unless accompanying a minor. New processes also include the ability to check-in via phone or text message without entering the office.

“We understand that many patients may still feel uncomfortable coming in during this time, as we are supportive of their decision to delay treatment,” Harlow said. “Our only hope is that preventative, cheaper issues that go ignored don’t turn into larger, more expensive problems.”

As of May 19, Mecklenburg County has confirmed 2,646 cases of Covid-19. There have been 68 coronavirus-related deaths.

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