To the Editor:

I would like to take a moment to thank the business owners of Jackson County who are making earnest efforts to find balance between maintaining public safety and being able to adequately serve their community. It is heartwarming to see so many business owners taking our health to heart and trying to protect us as we begin to venture back out into the community and re-establish life outside of the confines of our homes.

Despite the temptation to run out and experience “normal,” I was hesitant to jump back in, but like many of my friends, staying home for most of the past few months has been challenging. Last Tuesday we decided to visit one of our favorite restaurants. While we had been using their carry-out service all along, we made a conscious choice to “dine in.”

I was impressed by how the owners had taken such thorough precautions. Every other table was taped off, to maintain a good distance between parties. Every staff member was wearing a mask, despite the hectic pace of their work. Disposable menus were used to avoid spreading germs. Customers waiting for seating or carry-out had to wait outside with proper social distancing until it was their turn to enter. We were happy to wait.

Because of our positive experience, we ventured out to another favorite Sylva eatery the next day. The experience was quite the opposite. The restaurant was operating as if it was a normal day in 2019. None of the employees were wearing masks, and they were using their standard plastic menus, reused from the same bin they are always stored in. They are no longer controlling where people are seated – just sit where you please – no spacing between tables. Some lingering “leavings” made me wonder if the table we sat at had been wiped down at all, much less sanitized before we sat down.

By the time we left, nearly every table was full. With the obvious lack of social distancing or any other evident precautions, other than a hand sanitizer station in the vestibule, we agreed that it’s in our best interest to dine elsewhere. Or maybe return to “safe-at-home” a while longer.

Despite popular perceptions, this pandemic is not over. Nothing has changed since March except the guidelines, which sadly seem to be randomly optional.

My point: Be selective about where you do business. Call ahead to find out what safety precautions they are taking. It protects you, and it lets them know that your well-being matters. If they don’t care enough to respect your safety, go someplace that does. The best deterrent for apathy is positive reinforcement.

So many of our local businesses are going through great effort and expense to reconfigure their spaces to accommodate us. Show your appreciation by rewarding them with your shopping and dining dollars. They are the good examples that light the path for others to follow. A little effort on our part can avoid another lockdown.

Mark Stein,