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FOX 13 Investigates: New COVID-19 'seal of approval' program for Utah businesses is based primarily on 'honor system'

Posted at 7:47 PM, Jun 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-28 00:06:18-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake Chamber is teaming up with the Utah Department of Health to issue a "seal of approval" to any business across the state that promises to take COVID-19 safety precautions seriously.

Derek Miller, the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber, said the goal of the "Stay Safe to Stay Open" program is to make customers feel more confident in their safety.

In order to obtain the seal of approval, business owners can "take the pledge" online at StayOpenUtah.com.

The program is free and will not be regulated. Without an inspection, business owners will receive official posters displaying the seal of approval with Utah Department of Health logo.

"It’s on the honor system, but if consumers have questions or complaints they have a point of contact (with the business) to talk to," Miller said. "If it ever, heaven forbid, gets more serious than that, they always have their local health department they can contact."

Tom Hudachko, the director of communications for the Utah Department of Health, said his organization's role in the program is "very minimal" despite the organization's logo being displayed prominently.

Although the program is being publicized primarily by the Salt Lake Chamber, it will be open to businesses in every county across the state.

The criteria to receive the seal of approval is based on general health guidelines that have been publicized since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

FOX 13 asked if a seal of approval could be revoked if a business is found to be not living up to their safety promises.

"We hope it doesn't come to that because, again, we're not a regulatory agency," Miller said. "We’re big believers in the private sector and that most problems are solved between a customer and an employee or business owner."

Businesses are not required to have customers wear a mask or other face covering in order to receive the seal of approval.

"That really is for the business to decide," Miller said. "These are all things that businesses have been hearing about for a long time, so there’s nothing that would surprise them and really nothing that’s new... If we follow these health guidelines, we will able to keep the economy open."

Tom Sobieski, the owner of small business iconoCLAD in downtown Salt Lake City, said he was disappointed to learn businesses that do not require customers to cover their face are still eligible to receive the seal of approval.

Face coverings in Utah are so far only mandatory in Salt Lake County and Summit County.

Although he views the program as "symbolic" due to lack of enforcement, Sobieski said he otherwise approves of the program's overall message.

"They have all these great procedures, but then they’re not requiring their customers to wear masks, so I feel like that just negates the entire process – and what was the point?" Sobieski said. "Not having masks on feels like missing the most important step... I think it could be a valuable marketing tool and hopefully it’s not taken advantage of."

Sobieski said he may still apply for the seal of approval, but he wants people to know he is holding his store to a safer standard than the minimum requirements outlined in the program.

In order to receive the seal of approval, businesses are not required to provide paid sick leave to employees exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. Instead, the Salt Lake Chamber is encouraging businesses to do so separately.

"The (Salt Lake Chamber) has taken a position on that. It’s not part of this pledge that they have to do it… but businesses ought to be," Miller said. "If you’re a business owner and you don’t care about your customers, you’re probably not going to be in business for very long!"

A list of businesses that have taken the pledge is available online here.