Cautiously optimistic describes our reaction to Gov. Henry McMaster's executive order lifting occupancy restrictions on restaurants, which had been ordered to be at 50%.
While we fully understand the desire to return to business as usual as much as possible in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we do not think the state is ready to take a Floridian approach to the pandemic.
But our cautious optimism is based on the premise that restaurant owners and employees, as well as customers, will heed the governor's advice. Of course, we fully realize that the governor has heaped plenty of confidence in residents' willingness to exercise common sense and, essentially, do all the right things, from wearing face masks to social distancing, from using hand sanitizer to frequent hand washing.
Perhaps the governor also recognized that while the Palmetto State is known for its polite and genteel ways, not everyone was in compliance with wishes, necessitating the mandate that restaurant patrons and workers wear face masks. Thus, in lifting the 50% occupancy, the governor kept that aspect of his former order in place.
Not one to mandate everything, the governor did encourage the following guidelines still be used:
• Restaurants should space indoor and outdoor tables 6 feet apart, to the extent possible.
• Restaurants should limit seating each table to no more than eight customers and patrons, exclusive of family units or members of the same household.
• Restaurants should adopt and enforce a process to ensure that customers and patrons are able to maintain a minimum of 6 feet of separation from other parties while waiting to be seated.
• Restaurants should minimize, modify or discontinue services that allow customers and patrons to fill or refill their own beverage cups.
We suspect these wishes will be ignored by a good many restaurant operators. After all, there's been significant revenue loss and filling up the dining rooms will provide financial relief. But it also might cost the restaurants in the long run if another spike in positive cases occurs.
There is no reason to believe we are completely out of the woods. Football teams are but one good example to reflect that we are not done with the virus by any means. So why should we be so confident that reopening restaurants to full-capacity dining — in enclosed spaces where the same people are gathered for about an hour and breathing the same air — will somehow be different? Once seated, the masks come off the patrons.
Look, we have agonized too over the dining and other restrictions, but everyone needs to do their level best to ensure the numbers decline, not spike. We implore restaurant owners and managers to maintain some distance between tables, keep outdoor dining available as long as possible, even as cooler days and nights approach.
Patrons and restaurant operators need to exercise the common sense the governor has asked of us all.
This editorial is from the Index-Journal of Greenwood via The Associated Press.