Some CSRA restaurants hot and cold about COVID-19 requirements being reduced to strongly encouraged

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AUGUSTA, Ga (WJBF) – Local businesses are playing it safe after Georgia Governor Brian Kemp lifted some pandemic restrictions. The revision to the State of Emergency now “strongly encourages” social distancing and masks.

While restaurants can now offer more tables, you may not be seeing more seating anytime soon. And despite masks restrictions loosening, businesses are saying not so fast.

“I believe that we’ll continue to wear masks, just for the foreseeable future just to be safe,” said William Harrison, Boll Weevil Café owner.

It’s been a year filled with CSRA businesses doing everything to abide by social distancing and masks requirements.

“Once you come in, you have to have on a mask, wash your hands, hand sanitation stations throughout the facility,” Melanie Taylor, owner of Unique Vision & The Stepping Stone shared with us.

Many of your favorite spots to dine-in at have kept strangers 6 feet apart. But starting May 1, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp gave businesses the yellow light to proceed with caution, eliminating table distancing requirements at restaurants and bars and the mask requirement for workers.

Wild Wing Cafe’s owner said it’s already back to normal indoors with all booths, tables and bar stools just how you remember them.

“As far as our staff goes, try to respect the wishes of the customers, all the customers that come in,” Tricie Scholer, owner of Wild Wing Café said. “If we see somebody come in with [a] mask on sit at the table then the server walks up with a mask on.”

Harrison said Boll Weevil won’t be reopening tables too soon. That’s because he’s playing it safe and he’s having trouble with staffing, calling on customers to be patient so they can serve everyone in a timely manner.

The pandemic sent his employees home and now, he’s taking applications.

Harrison added, “We’re always hiring, so if anybody’s out there. But yes, we’re doing the best with what we have right now. I don’t know that we’re ready to be super busy as of right now.”

Harrison’s wife, who runs the bakery portion of Boll Weevil, mentioned they needed at least five more people on staff, which could help reopen the side of the restaurant where you see the sweet treats.

We spoke with several other restaurants off camera too and some share getting people to work has been a challenge, making offering more seating again hard.

Scholer, who said her place has been making it just fine staff wise, especially since they had access to the PPP loan, added “A lot of people are staying home not wanting to work because they’re getting unemployment checks.”

Oliviana’s in Surrey Center shut its doors on Mondays only, until further notice, due to meeting demands on weekends.

A manager with French Market Grill also mentioned not many people have applied to work at the eatery in the past year.

At Twin Peaks, they plan to keep masks on and tables are already large enough to be considered 6 feet apart, so no changes are needed there. As for staff, the manager said they could use more cooks, but they are not too short.

And one local beauty salon pumping the breaks on getting back to normal for now despite requirements changing for hair stylists and gyms.

Melanie Taylor said she’s still not taking new clients or walk-ins and will keep all of her COVID-19 safety precautions.

“I feel like that’s what’s kept us safe and kept us open this entire time,” the owner of Unique Vision & The Stepping Stone told us. “We never had any client say they caught COVID from us. I did not catch COVID then entire duration of what’s going on. I am fully vaccinated.” Taylor added she has defogged her building weekly and disinfects her chairs between clients as an extra measure of precaution.

The Executive Order ends May 31, so close to the end of this month we will more than likely hear another announcement from the Governor.

Photojournalist: Gary Hipps

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