Aim is to help businesses, customers
Shoppers can have increased confidence about their health and safety when they patronize local businesses that take a new “Because We Care” pledge to be COVID-safe.
The pledge is also expected to be a boon for businesses by using a commitment to healthy practices to attract customers and recruit employees.
The new program will identify the businesses with an eye-catching “COVID-Safe/Because We Care” logo (in English and Spanish) and listings on social media and the county’s COVID-information website. The campaign was developed by Okanogan County Public Health with input from the Okanogan County Coalition for Health Improvement (CHI) and the Economic Alliance.
Public Health has been getting calls from community members concerned about businesses that weren’t following state guidelines — and who didn’t feel safe patronizing them, Okanogan County Community Health Director Lauri Jones said. Although Public Health doesn’t have enforcement authority, the department wants to encourage and identify businesses that do the right thing, she said.
“We like positive social campaigns rather than enforcement,” Jones said. “People take more kindly to non-mandatory things. We want to recognize businesses that are doing their best during a difficult time.”
Against a backdrop of fear and polarization over measures to control the spread of COVID, the Because We Care campaign takes a cooperative approach. After a list of tangible steps — requiring masks, maintaining a safe distance between customers and staff, and regular cleaning protocols — the last commitment in the pledge is more qualitative. Businesses who sign on commit to “Treat everyone with kindness, respect, and care. We’re in this together.”
The approach has been used in other areas. “The Association of Washington Business led the way by having businesses certify they’re COVID-friendly and are following guidelines to get people to come in the door,” Economic Alliance Executive Director Roni Holder-Diefenbach said.
The association has been promoting these safety campaigns to stimulate local economies so they can re-open more fully, Holder-Diefenbach said. The association’s Stay Safe Washington campaign makes the impact on businesses clear with its tagline “Your mask today… Saves our jobs tomorrow.”
Not about enforcement
The county’s pledge is voluntary and isn’t turning businesses into police, Holder-Diefenbach said. The county hopes it will be an economic benefit to those who sign, with customers seeking out the COVID-safe decal when they’re looking for a restaurant or store, she said.
By signing the pledge, businesses agree to display signs requiring masks and to instruct their staff in wearing masks properly. The pledge includes a commitment to keeping employees and customers at a safe distance and to regular cleaning and disinfection of surfaces.
The campaign recognizes that people may have health issues that mean they can’t wear a mask and respects customers’ privacy, Holder-Diefenbach said.
The pledge also helps keep workers safe. It includes guidelines for when an employee should stay home from work because of COVID symptoms or exposure. And it helps address a key hurdle for workers who don’t typically get sick pay by educating businesses about the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provides tax credits to employers so that workers aren’t forced to choose between their income and their health — or the health of co-workers or customers.
The provisions also cover workers who have been quarantined or who are caring for a child whose school or child care provider is closed for COVID reasons.
For more information or to sign the pledge, visit https://www.okanogancountycovid19.org.
Tips for conflict avoidance
The “COVID-Safe/Because We Care” campaign offers tips for approaching issues like mask-wearing that are sometimes contentious.
The campaign offers a basic rationale: “Talking about wearing masks can sometimes be tricky, and even uncomfortable. As part of the pledge to provide COVID-19 safe spaces, businesses need to ensure the indoor environment is safe for everyone. This means everyone needs to be masked up.”
It recommends that businesses train an employee who can raise the mask issue in a respectful and non-confrontational way. One suggestion: “Welcome! We are so glad you are visiting our business. We are doing our best to comply with the statewide mask order. Would you mind wearing a mask while you are inside? We have some here if you don’t have one.”
There are also suggestions for talking with customers who resist wearing a mask that avoids treading into politics. The campaign reminds employees to listen to the customer without assuming they know how that customer will respond.
An employee can take this approach, the campaign says: “I respect that it is important to you to be skeptical, and I agree that the recommendations change often. But since the evidence definitely shows that even some young, healthy people can get seriously ill, could I ask you to wear a mask while you’re inside our business?”
If customers don’t want to wear a mask, the business can suggest alternatives such as curbside pick-up.