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Employers and state health workers brace for reopening of businesses in Utah

Air quality experts are calling the coronavirus pandemic a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity to study the impact of less cars on the road. So far, they say the positive influence is staggering. (PHOTO: KSL file)

SALT LAKE CITY – After a long wait, state officials are gearing up to slowly start “reopening” the economy this weekend by relaxing some restrictions on businesses across Utah.

How can the state make sure this isn’t happening too fast, triggering a big surge of COVID-19 cases?

Michael McHenry owns three restaurants across the Wasatch Front.  He owns Ginger Street in Salt Lake City, Oak Wood Fire Kitchen in Draper, and Dirty Bird Fried Chxx in Provo. His crews are gearing up to reopen in-dine spaces, but, he’s waiting for final approval from state and county leaders. Plus, he needs to know what the exact conditions are for reopening.

“Those conditions continue to evolve, daily.  They have yet to land on a fixed set of conditions, at this point,” McHenry said.

Even if some restaurants across the state are allowed to resume limited in-house dining this weekend, McHenry doesn’t expect his restaurants to bring it back for a few weeks, or even months.

In the meantime, he completely revamping the floor plans of his restaurants. He has to completely remodel the kitchen of his place in Draper to make sure the staff can stay far enough apart from each other.

McHenry said, “the real work isn’t putting six feet [of space] between your dining room tables.  It’s creating social distancing inside of your operational functions.  That’s the big, heavy lift for restauranteurs, at this point.”

There are some guidelines we know, now.

“Tables will be spaced more than six feet apart.  We encourage outdoor dining.  Wait staff will be wearing masks,” according to state epidemiologist Angela Dunn.

The state has specific rules for each industry.  For example, hotels will be asked to serve their food in a take-out style, not with buffets like many do while they serve breakfast.  Theaters will be asked to keep ten feet of space between household groups.  Barbershops and nail salons are asked to check their employees for any potential symptoms of COVID-19 before their shifts begin.

The state will recommend gyms stay closed, but if they have to open, they’re being told to limit the number of people allowed inside at any one time.  The state advises only one person to be allowed per 100 feet.

However, Dunn said some things aren’t going to change this weekend.

“Our federal partners, especially the CDC, still recommend against non-essential domestic travel,” she said.

Dunn said she took part in the plan designed to restart the state’s economy to ensure public safety.  She believes the process is slow, but a prudent one.

They’re expecting another rise in COVID-19 patients when these new guidelines kick in, but, that largely depends on our behavior.

Dunn said, “We’re hopeful that individuals still maintain social distancing, when possible.”

 

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