The new year is starting on a much brighter note this week for all those who operate or work at restaurant dining rooms, gyms and fitness centers, theaters, concert venues, museums, movie theaters, arcades, casinos, bowling alleys, skating rinks and private clubs.

All of these businesses were shut down in Pennsylvania on Dec. 11 as cases of COVID-19 began to spike prior to the holidays but are now permitted to reopen — most at 50 percent of normal occupancy — as we continue to work our way through the pandemic.

These kinds of businesses — many which are owned by or employ our family members, friends and neighbors — have taken the hardest economic punch inflicted by COVID. They have been ordered to shut down for several weeks on two occasions since last March while many other sectors of our economy have operated fairly normally with safety protocols in place.

One of the best ways we can help them now is by simply being cautious, thoughtful and courteous customers. We can do that by strictly adhering to all COVID-19 safety protocols when we visit, including wearing facial masks, maintaining social distancing and making full use of hand sanitizing stations that will likely be available inside the establishments.

For example, it would not hurt any of us who dine at a restaurant to wear our facial masks any time we are not actually eating or drinking, especially during the moments we are seated and speaking with our servers or other restaurant personnel, and any time we get up and walk away from the table.

Those who do not feel comfortable dining in can inquire about pickup and takeout options that have been developed and refined by most local restaurants over the past nine months. This is still a great way to support our local economy.

Those who visit gyms and fitness centers can extend courtesy to all by taking extra measures to wipe down any equipment they use and maintaining full, if not extra, social distancing from others.

COVID-19 vaccines are beginning to be administered, but health officials note that it will be several months until we begin to emerge from this pandemic. As we begin a new year, it’s great to once again visit some of our favorite businesses and the people who work there, but abundant caution, care and adherence to health and safety guidelines will be essential in the weeks ahead.

NOTES: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.

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