MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Restaurants, like so many businesses, have been forced to change the way they do things in order to keep customers safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A new campaign in Muskegon County called “Mask Up Muskegon” recognizes how well certain businesses are doing and rewards outstanding examples with a certificate — which officials say gives customers extra peace of mind.
As the name suggests the campaign is about more than handing out certificates to businesses doing a good job of adapting to the changes of operating under a pandemic, but also teaching Muskegon County residents how to be safe for the long haul.
The campaign, a collaboration between the Muskegon County Health Department and Health West, is passing out free handmade masks and instruction cards to help make sure everyone in the county has the means to mask up, knows exactly how to care for the masks, how to wear them and even where to wear them.
Cece Riley, HealthWest communications and training supervisor, says the group effort came naturally and is extremely important.
“(HealthWest and health department) have worked together in the past. In fact, we’re all technically employees of the county. So, it’s a natural fit but also one that knows how to directly relate with the Muskegon County community because we are members as well,” Riley said. “Through that partnership, it really birthed into Mask Up Muskegon, and that really stemmed from the executive orders mandating masks. As information came from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), we really understood that masks were one of the best ways that we could protect ourselves from a Muskegon centric view.”
Riley says the need for additional resources was identified early. Based on Muskegon’s population, she says more outreach was needed to bring the community along to further prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We’ve been able to redistribute those masks out to those who most need them in the community to make sure everybody in Muskegon County has access to free reusable masks, if they need them,” Riley said. “That was really important to us that it spoke to the local community and that it was easily understood.”
You can get a mask and instructions to go along with it at all county libraries, the county jail and at Health West’s office along East Apple Avenue.
The following libraries are participating in the campaign:
- Dalton Branch Library
- Egelston Twp. Branch Library
- Fruitport Branch Library
- Hackley Public Library
- Holton Branch Library
- Montague Branch Library
- Muskegon Heights Branch Library
- Muskegon Twp. Library
- North Muskegon Branch Library
- Norton Shores Branch Library
- Ravenna Branch Library
- White Lake Community Library
“We have put a lot of effort into this and we’re in this for the long haul,” Riley said. “This is going to ebb and flow as it’s been ebbing and flowing for a while. The information is going to continue to change as we learn more about the virus and as trends change within the community. So, staying ahead of it as much as we can, we believe, is crucial.”
Each mask comes with an instruction card which tells users how to use them, how to clean them and even where to use them — which created another campaign.
“From the Mask Up Muskegon campaign we also birthed a business recognition campaign,” Riley said. “We want to talk about where you should go and who is doing it right and hope that businesses could learn from one another in the process too.”
This campaign takes account of what customers say, verifies their claims with the help of the county health department and rewards businesses who go above and beyond the CDC recommendations with a certificate.
“The health department works a lot with restaurants and so we have very good relationships there to help people continue their safe practices and make sure they’re doing the best job they can for their customers,” Community Engagement Coordinator of Public Health Muskegon County Jamie Hekker said. “We do a lot of outreach to any kind of business that wants to find a way to do the best things to provide the safest environment and the best customer service that they can during a very challenging time.”
They’ve already passed out certificates to 60 businesses in the county ranging from grocery stores like Montague Foods, breweries like Pigeon Hill and Fetch and restaurants like The Station Grill and Fatty Lumpkins.
“Every time I have placed an order at their outdoor take out windows their staff are masked, social distancing, attempting to encourage credit card pay so no money is transferred,” customer Helen Dobb wrote of Fatty Lumpkins. “After the order is placed, staff ask the patron to wait in their car and the food is delivered to the masked patron.”
“That’s just one of the recognitions that we received for Fatty Lumpkins. We instantly received several for their business when we started this,” Riley said.
It’s reassurance to Brett Gilbert, who owns the small deli that the precautionary measures he has taken are being noticed and paying off.
“It makes us feel, you know, honored certainly and appreciative that the efforts that we are taking are being noticed and that we’re doing the right thing,” Gilbert said. “I mean, cause like everyone else, we don’t really know exactly what to do but we’re trying our best.”
Fatty Lumpkins closed for over two months, longer than they were required to by the state. Gilbert has members of his family who suffer from preexisting conditions. He wanted to make sure it was safe to reopen.
“We have at risk family members both in our own personal family at home as well as staff’s family. So, we just kind of felt like we were in a good position to err on the side of caution and give it some time and kind of wait and see how it played out,” Gilbert said. “Things are good for us now and we’re thankful for that.”
They now proudly display their certificate from the county on their sliding window customers use to order lunch, those same customers who were so hungry for the deli to reopen.
“People tell us. We’re glad you’re back and that kind of thing. So, all that’s just a motivator to kind of keep listening to health experts and our local health department and state and just kind of take direction from them,” Gilbert said. “Cause we’re food, we’re not public health. People have definitely supported us a little extra I think just to kind of show love to local businesses like ours.”
The Mask Up Muskegon campaign will continue passing out certificates to safe businesses and hopes the public will continue sending more recommendations their way. To do this, visit Mask up Muskegon’s website.
Muskegon County Public Health will team up with the Michigan National Guard Friday and Saturday to provide free COVID-19 testing to Muskegon County residents.
Testing will take place at two locations: Walk-up testing at the HealthWest offices located at 376 E. Apple Avenue from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and drive-up services Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the public health offices located at 209 E. Apple Ave.
The tests will be given for free to county residents. You asked to bring an ID or material with an address printed on it, like a bill.
Officials ask you to register and fill out a consent form online beforehand to help speed up the process. No appointments are required.