Businesses manage expectations, safety while reopening amid coronavirus

Businesses in several states reopened their doors Monday, hopeful to bring back customers while managing expectations and safety during the coronavirus pandemic.

Monday marked another key date for states that are beginning to partly lift some social distancing restrictions in a test of how to safely reignite the economy during the pandemic, which has caused almost 1.2 million known cases in the U.S., with nearly 70,000 deaths.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide stay-at-home order remained in effect, although two counties north of Sacramento went against the order by allowing “lower risk” businesses to reopen Monday. Restaurants, gyms, salons, tattoo parlors and other businesses in Yuba and Sutter counties could open their doors with social distancing and face covering rules in place, said Dr. Phuong Luu, the public health officer for the counties.

At Lambert House Cafe in Yuba City, Kelly Davis, a longtime cook, said customers were already outside at 6:30 a.m., a half-hour before the diner opened. “They said, ‘Oh Kelly, we missed your pancakes,'” she said. “It was wonderful to see them, and they still want a hug, but we’re not doing that.”

Davis said the restaurant has stepped up its cleaning procedures and cut its seating capacity of 42 in half. Staff members are also asking customers to wear face coverings indoors if they have them. A few people left the restaurant over the request, she said, but most complied, and the cafe was packed until it closed at 2 p.m.

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Tim McKenna, who helps his wife run Linda’s Soda and Bar in Yuba City, said most customers Monday were regulars. The restaurant, which cut customer capacity in half, is disinfecting doors, tables and bathrooms far more routinely, but he said that staff members didn’t wear masks and that he wasn’t about to ask his customers to.

“I’m not the social police,” he said. “If that creates a problem, I’ll deal with it. But we’re dealing with adults who come out to eat food. If they don’t want to wear masks, I’m sure not going to require them to.”

California’s shelter in place order, which has been in effect since March 19, had allowed restaurants to only offer takeout and delivery services.

Newsom said Monday that the state would allow some manufacturing and retail businesses to reopen Friday with curbside pickup. But he said restaurants weren’t included in the guidelines, which are set to be released Thursday.

Asked what consequences counties like Yuba and Sutter will face, Newsom told reporters that they could quickly come into compliance. “We tend to focus on the exceptions, not the overwhelming majority,” he said. “The overwhelming majority are doing the right things.”

Florida’s statewide stay-at-home order expired Thursday, with a partial reopening going into effect Monday in every county except Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Broward.

Restaurants and retail stores were allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity if local governments allowed it.

Joe Nuzzo, who owns Suncoast Surf Shop on Treasure Island, told NBC affiliate WFLA of Tampa that the pandemic has been difficult for him and his employees. He said that while he was excited for beaches and business to reopen, he was concerned about people behaving safely.

“The only concern I have is everybody is going to be too lackadaisical,” Nuzzo said. “It’s serious. One of my best friends died from that, so I’m not ready to see — I’m not willing to make money so people can die.”

Nuzzo told WFLA that he plans to let only two customers in the store at a time and to take other safety measures.

“We’re going to leave the door open,” he said. “People won’t have to touch anything as they walk in the store. We’ve got somebody that’s going to greet them, and they’re going to spray themselves with sanitizer.”

In Pinellas County, beaches reopened Monday morning with spacing restrictions, groups limited to no more than 10 people and uniformed deputies present to monitor visitors.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Monday afternoon that 300 law enforcement officers began patrolling the beaches countywide Monday.

“The whole purpose is to make sure this is done in an orderly way, that people can come to the beach, they have a great time and support the businesses that are out here but at the same time follow the rules,” he said at a news conference at Clearwater Beach.

Gualtieri said that live helicopter video showed that people were complying so far with social distancing rules and that if beaches were filled to capacity, they were closed and people were told to move.

“People are complying. People are doing the right thing,” he said.

Gualtieri said the crowd struck a “much different tone” from that struck by people who were at the beaches over the weekend.

“I was out all day Saturday and all day Sunday, and people were not cooperative,” he said. “We saw some of the closed parking lots where people were ripping down the rope lines. They were pushing over the barrels. They were not cooperative with the deputies.

“They were pushing back on us. They wanted to go to their beaches, and they were hell-bent they were going to go to their beaches,” he said.

In South Dakota, a pork processing plant took its first steps toward reopening Monday after having been shuttered for over two weeks because of a coronavirus outbreak that infected more than 800 employees, according to The Associated Press.

As two departments opened at the Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, employees filed through a tent where they were screened for fever and other signs of COVID-19, the disease associated with the coronavirus. Some said they felt the measures Smithfield has taken will protect them from another outbreak, while others weren’t confident that infections could be halted in a crowded plant, according to the AP.

Lydia Toby, who works in the ground seasoned pork department, told the AP that she was “kind of worried” as she entered the plant before 6 a.m. for her first shift in over two weeks. The company met employees in her department Friday and said it had installed dividers on the production line and would require everyone to wear masks, the AP reported.

“I think it’s going to be OK,” she said.

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Meanwhile, in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta, the Lenox Square shopping mall opened Monday for the first time since mid-March, according to NBC affiliate WXIA. Georgia was among the first states to begin lifting restrictions at the end of April.

On Monday, customers were lined up outside while social distancing and were handed masks if they didn’t already have them, the station reported. While shoppers returned to the mall, about 75 percent of the stores remained closed Monday morning, according to WXIA.

With some shoppers crowding in the few stores that chose to open, not everyone was practicing social distancing while browsing, the station reported.

Among the stores that were closed were Bath and Body Works, Under Armour and Victoria’s Secret, the station reported.

Across the state, other malls began opening over the weekend, but some stores also remained closed.

“It ended up just being kind of surreal where you just go and no one’s there,” shopper John Rampsott told WSB-TV of Atlanta from the Outlet Shoppes in Woodstock, north of Atlanta.

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