A tip of the cap to the dozens of Valley restaurant owners who have made it a priority to follow new state regulations put in place to allow more customers into local eateries amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Last month, Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine signed an order creating a self-certification process for restaurants. The Open & Certified Pennsylvania program creates a layer of accountability for owners thanks to a series of guidelines put into place, built off recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, that permit restaurants to operate at 50 percent occupancy and follow protocols.

As expected, social distancing, masking, and other mitigation measures must be in place to protect workers and customers. Gaining the certification means restaurants can expand operations from previously 25 percent of capacity, to 50 percent. While this may not help smaller restaurants, the weather gets colder and outside dining options that have gained popularity are reduced, adding seats inside will be key.

“The self-certification ensures that restaurants can expand indoor operations and commit to all appropriate orders so that employees and customers alike can be confident they are properly protected,” Gov. Tom Wolf said when announcing the order.

Rich Schrader, general manager of Mifflinburg’s Rusty Rail Brewing Co., said he completed the process the day it first opened. He said it was easy, requiring some reading and a few clicks on a website to finish the certification.

“I want people to feel comfortable to come here. I wanted to be listed on that directory and have people look and verify that Rusty Rail is doing the right thing,” Schrader said.

Pennsylvania residents can view the updated list of certified restaurants online at www.pa.gov/covid/open-and-certified-pennsylvania/.

In this instance, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has given some power to owners to expand their operations by following protocols built around CDC guidance. Certainly the owners would prefer to be up and running at full capacity, but that seems an impossible task given the current climate of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania. But owners understand what they need to do to best operate in this climate; this gives them opportunity.

The commonwealth has seen more than 1,000 new cases over each of the past nine days. That is the longest stretch of days with more than 1,000 cases since the first two weeks in April. The number of hospitalizations across the state has also increased in recent weeks, so the novel coronavirus isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

It is good to know Valley eateries are being proactive, following guidelines to keep customers and their workers safe. The certification process is another step forward into a new normal we all must continue to adjust to.

NOTE: 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 Managing Editor Bill Bowman.

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