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Restaurant health inspections continue through COVID-19 pandemic

In May, North Carolina health officials issued guidelines for restaurants to reopen. But health inspectors don't enforce those rules. So who does?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the restaurant industry, and although many restaurants are back open for business, you might be wondering if health inspections are still taking place. 

The answer to that question is yes. So if you have plans go out for dinner, be it for dine-in service or curbside pickup, you can rest easy knowing health inspectors are keeping a close eye on restaurants' operations during the pandemic. Things like hand washing, personal hygiene and the overall sanitation of a business were looked at before the pandemic by health inspectors and violations have always been reflected in their reports.

In May, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released guidelines for restaurants, which are still in effect. The requirements include no more than 10 people being allowed at a table, unless they are a family from the same household, and restaurant workers can't use shared tables among multiple parties unless the seats can be arranged to maintain social distancing.

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Establishments must require patrons to wait outside with markings to ensure people stay six feet apart, with floor markings and instructions. Hand sanitizer (that must be at least 60% alcohol) is required to be provided at the entrance when available. Inside, managers must provide education to employees on how to properly wear, remove, wash or dispose of face coverings. Restaurants must install physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions at cash registers or other food pickup areas where maintaining six feet of separation is difficult. 

Establishments serving for dine-in are encouraged to reduce condiments and other items on the table for use between customers. They should provide condiments by request only or provide disposable condiment packets.

Health inspectors will provide education on these guidelines but all enforcement must come from local police. 

Inside, restaurants must have all employees wear a face covering when they are or may be within six feet of another person, unless the worker states that an exception applies. It is required that they have all customers wear a face covering when not at their table, unless the customer states that an exception applies.

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