S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster unveiled a new collaboration Tuesday between the S.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association, the Department of Health and Environmental Control, and the state Parks, Recreation and Tourism department to provide a special Palmetto Priority Seal for restaurants proven to adhere to safety guidelines.
"I would advise people don't go in if you don't see that seal," McMaster said.
The collaboration would provide a Palmetto Priority Seal for restaurants to display, who have taken an available 13-minute online training, completed a virtual DHEC inspection, and passed the tests proving their staff is taking precautions such as wearing masks, sanitizing tables and menus, using appropriate social distancing, and more.
If the restaurant has that seal, McMaster said, that means they are participating and in full compliance.
He also said if the restaurant has that seal and patrons notice safety guidelines are not being followed, they can report the establishment to the SCRLA.
"That's where the public comes in...you see these requirements are not being met, you can go on the internet and you can bring that fact to the authority of the Restaurant and Lodging Association," McMaster said.
The website where restaurants can sign up is www.palmettopriority.com and after July 1 they can go there and do their virtual food safety check and complete their application.
The restaurant has three chances to fix their mistake if they are founded to have a legitimate shortcoming in their safety performance, and on the fourth strike, McMaster said their Palmetto Priority Seal would be taken away.
John Durst, with the SCRLA, noted the "incredible strength of our restaurants".
"We have developed guidelines which provide a roadmap to strategically maximize and hasten our recovery as an industry," Durst said. "Working together, we will be a model of resilience across our country."
SCDHEC's acting director Marshall Taylor said that the program is a great step the state is taking.
"[Restaurant] owners can show their dedication for protecting their employees and patrons from COVID-19...by choosing to dine at a restaurant that has opted to participate, customers can rest assured that the restaurant has met the requirements ...", Taylor said.
McMaster said that beyond losing their seal, restaurants who continue to ignore safety guidelines could face punishment from DHEC.
"DHEC has the authority under a different set of rules to take action if someone is endangering public health," McMaster said.
Durst and McMaster did address the scenario of someone possibly maliciously reporting a business unnecessarily.
"Those sorts of things will be confirmed by SCRLA in their investigation [of the complaints]," he said. "Maliciously spreading misinformation would be subject to the laws of libel and slander."
McMaster also said having the seal did not mean a restaurant would have surprise DHEC inspections.
"No, no. Every time a customer walks in, that's an inspection," he said.
The City of Greenville recently made masks mandatory in certain places, but McMaster said he thought that such a mandate would be difficult to enforce, and that there was a question of constitutional limits.
He did say that the state "will make those decisions as they become necessary", and noted that the recent spike in positive COVID-19 cases "was partly expected" because the state has increased testing.
"Am I concerned that people are not social distancing and wearing masks like they should? Yes, I'm concerned about that, and that's why we keep saying people please follow the advice," McMaster said.
Durst, Taylor, and McMaster said the collaboration between their entities would help the issue of rising positive COVID-19 cases without the further constitutional questions of mandating masks.
"This is a better vehicle to accomplish the same goal. It has no cost, it ties up no police resources, it is a very positive thing and we believe it will work very well," McMaster said.
Restaurants interested in obtaining the seal can visit www.palmettopriority.com