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Unsure which businesses are following reopening guidelines? Local officials want to help

David Floyd • May 8, 2020 at 7:00 AM

Are you unsure which businesses are taking recommended precautions against novel coronavirus (COVID-19)? Local officials hope to make that easier for you to determine.

As the state reopens its economy after stay-at-home orders expired, government and economic leaders have announced two ways for customers to identify whether businesses are following the guidelines outlined in the Tennessee Pledge, a list of sector-specific safety recommendations that the state is asking businesses to follow.

“We’ve successfully flattened the curve to the point that our governor, and more importantly our local health officials, feel as though we can begin the process of reopening our businesses,” said Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy during a press conference Thursday at The Mall at Johnson City. “However, saying we’re open for business and seeing shoppers return to the stores and restaurants are two entirely different things.”

Compliant businesses can now pick up signage at the mall or online that denotes that the establishment is following the appropriate Tennessee Pledge guidelines, which are listed at tnpledge.com.

Among a litany of other recommendations, the state suggests that businesses temperature-screen employees, implement cleaning and disinfection processes and limit self-service options.

Additionally, an interactive map has been posted on the Region Ahead website, RegionAhead.com, that shows which businesses in the region have committed to follow the states’ recommendations.

To appear on that map, businesses can sign up using a form accessible on the map’s landing page, which asks if they’ve read the Tennessee Pledge and agree to adhere to its guidelines. They can also download a copy of the sign through the same source.

Johnson City Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Cantler said it’s the intention of local officials that businesses complete the form for the map before downloading the sign, but it’s not mandatory.

Self-regulating

Grandy said Gov. Bill Lee has indicated there will be no “big stick” enforcement of the Tennessee Pledge guidelines, which will be reflected in how this local initiative treats the pledge.

“They’re going to be self-regulating,” Grandy said of businesses. “We feel like when a customer goes in and sees one of these signs and realizes that the facility is not making any attempt to be compliant, then word will get out pretty fast.”

Grandy said the intent is to have businesses follow all the guidelines, but he added that practicality and the type of business will dictate that.

“The goal is to restart our economy, to give businesses an opportunity to get back out there making money and doing the things that they do for our citizens in a safe way so that we don’t go back to square one,” Grandy said.

Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership CEO Mitch Miller added that Johnson City does have a health compliance officer that’s been following up with local businesses when employees or others express concern about their COVID-19 safety practices.

Grandy said Emergency Management Agency Director Rusty Sells has been performing a similar role outside city limits. He added that restaurant inspectors are also working with food establishments to ensure they’re reopening safely.

Consumer confidence

Cantler said the Chamber of Commerce is excited to see businesses reopen.

“One thing we’ve learned though is we need to raise consumer confidence,” he said, “and for the customer’s confidence to be raised, there’s certain factors that we’ve realized need to take place in each of these institutions.”

Those factors involves ensuring safety measures exist for customers, procedures are in place so that employees are following best practices and some type of acknowledgment is present that indicates businesses have complied with the governor’s guidelines.

“By using these options, it’ll help raise the consumer confidence, and we understand that when a consumer sees a sign like this at a business they’re more likely to go into that business,” he said.

Miller said leaders also hope to implement a similar initiative in Virginia when the state decides to reopen its economy.

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