Now that most public health orders have been lifted, restaurants and bars in Utah can choose what kind of COVID-19 safety measures — if any — they want to continue.
Many business owners have kept rules about face coverings and social distancing in place — while others seem to have gone back to pre-COVID times, not requiring any of the safety measures.
Still others have landed somewhere in the middle, said Melva Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association, telling customers “your masks are welcomed — but not required.” That gives customers on both sides of the hot-button issue a chance to do what makes them feel comfortable.
There’s a crowd-sourced website, called TheMaskMap.com, where people can find out what the policies are before they go.
“Restaurants know their customers,” she said, “and are doing everything they can to accommodate the needs of their patrons.”
At Cheers to You, in downtown Salt Lake City, the tables and bar stools are back to their normal distance, customers can walk around with a drink and socialize, and face coverings are a thing of the past for customers and employees.
“We’re 100 percent back to normal,” said owner Bob Brown, “and it feels good.”
Although, there’s still a hint of anger in his voice. “I’m still very upset that the government made us go through that at all,” he said. “It was unwarranted and the worst thing to happen to my bar.”
Several blocks south, The Bayou on State Street reopened on Wednesday, after being closed to dine-in service since March 2020. The bar survived the past 12 months by doing takeout meals and beer to go.
For the reopening, masks and social distancing are no longer required, said owner Mark Alston, but customers do have to show that they have been fully vaccinated.
Alston doesn’t know of another establishment taking a similar approach.
After announcing that vaccination requirement last week on the bar’s website, Alston received dozens of negative comments on social media and fielded several angry phone calls — many from people he suspected were not regular customers.
But after the initial wave of anger subsided, he said, those who do frequent the bar have been supportive.
“I can look forward to safely eating in your bar,” one customer wrote on Facebook. “Thank you so much for supporting people who would love to eat delicious food without fear.”
“That is great that you care for your staff and customers enough to risk being this strict,” wrote another. “I will support your business and enjoy the food and spirits without the worry of COVID.”
Alston said he made the decision after reading the guidelines set down by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which say that people who are fully vaccinated can get together without masks and social distancing.
“Fully vaccinated people,” Alston said, “should only be hanging out with fully vaccinated people.”
In general, people are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Last week, Utah reached its “endgame” thresholds set by the Legislature for case rates, intensive care unit occupancy and vaccinations. That meant all public health orders related to the pandemic were lifted, but businesses can decide whether or not to continue their own mask requirements.
Gov. Spencer Cox, who signed the endgame bill into law, still extended a mask requirement for state facilities like liquor stores, driver license offices and on Capitol Hill. That order will remain in effect until at least May 31.
Salt Lake County also has a face-covering requirement with the same expiration date.
Mayor Erin Mendenhall issued a similar executive order for Salt Lake City on Monday, requiring all employees and visitors to wear masks inside its facilities.
“Our city’s transmission and vaccination data, coupled with the advice of the CDC to continue wearing masks indoors, tells me that we need to keep doing what has worked,” she said, “wearing masks.”
After being closed to indoor dining for more than a year, Publik Coffee Roasters will open its three Salt Lake City cafes on June 1.
“We are going to adhere to some of the health department guidelines from earlier in the pandemic,” owner Missy Greis said, such as wearing a mask when ordering at the counter or when not seated at a table.
Greis said she’s looking forward to reopening Publik, Publik Kitchen and Publik Avenues — even if it’s with some modifications.
“We believe keeping some mask protocols allows us to reopen more safely, and if that means we start with some restrictions, that’s OK with us,” she said, “We’re going to take it slowly, week to week, and base future adjustments on both our staff’s comfort level and the vibe and feedback our customers bring to us.”