Business

NC Chamber pushing for faster reopening of restaurants, salons, gyms during pandemic

Posted May 5, 2020 1:00 p.m. EDT
Updated May 5, 2020 6:39 p.m. EDT

— The state's top business lobbying group called Tuesday for an immediate reopening of most North Carolina businesses during the coronavirus pandemic as long as they can adhere to safety guidelines.

"We must respond now," the North Carolina Chamber said in a statement. "Time is of the essence if we hope to act on these lessons and relaunch North Carolina at the same pace as competing states."

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday afternoon that most businesses will be able to reopen at 5 p.m. Friday if they aren't among those who've already been allowed to.

However, Cooper said, it's too soon to reopen businesses where social distancing is difficult, including restaurant dining rooms, salons, barbershops and gyms.

Cooper's plan to advance to phase one of his three-phase plan to restart business and social actitivities on Friday will keep salons, fitness centers and other personal care businesses closed till at least May 22, and restaurants and bars will still be restricted to the drive-thru, takeout or delivery service they have been conducting since late March.

The Chamber's plan would reopen restaurants, hair salons and other businesses more quickly, saying they could open immediately as long as they practice social distancing and workers wear masks and gloves. Bars would be allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity during phase two.

Chamber CEO Gary Salamido told WRAL News he believes those businesses could safely start serving customers again now.

"I think people are ready to take care of each other and ready to get back to work," Salamido said, adding that safety "is their top priority."

The Chamber proposal also would not limit capacity at restaurants, calling only for "social distancing" and protective equipment.

"We believe that restaurants know how to safely do that," Salamido. "That would be their decision and their option."

Small-business owners said they're ready to reopen safely.

Nick Parrous, who owns Luigi's restaurant in Fayetteville, said he's ready to welcome customers back to dining at the restaurant, even with social distancing and safeguards.

"Even if we have these crazy protocols in place, the only way we're going to get past point A is to go through that point A," Parrous said. "We've got to get to the next level."

Marva Moore, who owns Michae's Hair Salon on Yadkin Road in Fayetteville, said her seven hairdressers are anxious to get back to work.

"They're mothers. They're the sole providers for their families," Moore said. "This is how they feed their family."

"These business owners want to be trusted, especially the small-business owners," Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who has questioned some of Cooper's actions during the pandemic, said Tuesday. "We feel like, somehow, we can trust the big folks to be essential and do the things they need to do when they may have thousands of people in their store, but somehow we can’t trust the small-business owner who may have one or two at any given time in their stores."

The governor said moving from one phase to the next in his plan would depend on data showing the virus on a downward trend in the state. Two to three weeks of such trends would be needed to go into phase two, when restaurants, bars, gyms, salons and other businesses could reopen as long as the number of people inside were limited and other safety protocols were followed.

Churches also would be allowed to hold services with social distancing guidelines under the Chamber plan, while Cooper's announcement Tuesday would allow services of more than 10 people only outdoors for the next two weeks.

The Chamber is using guidelines set by the White House Coronavirus Task Force to dictate when to move from one phase to the next. The group said it would work with the North Carolina Healthcare Association to keep watch on any potential spike in coronavirus hospitalizations as businesses reopen and public activity picks up "so that appropriate measures can be taken to understand and responsibly address specific situations or areas."

Both the governor and the Chamber call for employers to continue letting workers work from home when possible and to adhere to strict guidelines to disinfect surfaces and areas routinely to limit the spread of the virus.

"All North Carolinians have a role to play to help keep one another safe. We are all ready and willing to reopen our economy responsibly and safely. This unprecedented situation calls for both science-based and common-sense measures, flexibility and a willingness to adapt," the Chamber said in a statement.

The group also called for protection from lawsuits and from "over-reaching and speculative workers’ compensation claims" for businesses that reopen during the pandemic.

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