Latino business leaders in Skagit County shared how they are implementing COVID-19 safety protocols as they work to keep employees and customers safe.

Thursday’s virtual meeting, which was held in Spanish, was jointly facilitated by the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce and Community Action of Skagit County. About 40 people participated.

Silvia Reed, the chamber’s business development and foundation director, said the meeting was organized in response to the disproportionately high rate of Hispanic residents who have tested positive for COVID-19.

A majority of Latino businesses are doing a good job with COVID-19 prevention, but some have reported seeing customers or employees at other businesses who are not, she said.

“Some were wondering, ‘I don’t feel safe at work because my employer is not offering a mask, so what is my responsibility?’” Reed said.

She said a representative from the state Department of Labor & Industries provided the answer at the meeting that it is the employer’s responsibility to provide face coverings and personal protective equipment for employees.

Ernesto Carcamo, with L&I, shared a video during the meeting of how face coverings can slow the travel of airflow when people talk, breathe, cough or sneeze, helping reduce the virus’ spread. He said an ill-fitting face covering, such as loose one or one that doesn’t cover the nose, is less effective.

Nereida Caro, owner of La Catrina Tacos & Tequila in Mount Vernon, shared the changes made in her restaurant to protect against spreading the virus. At the restaurant’s entrance, signs remind customers to wear face coverings, wash hands and use hand sanitizer, and alerts them to stay home if they are feeling sick or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

The restaurant switched to single-use paper menus, removed bar seating, and created social distancing circles on the ground 6 feet apart, Caro said in an interview after the meeting. Bar seating is not allowed during Phase 2, where Skagit County remains in the governor’s four-phase Safe Start plan.

Employees have their temperatures checked at the start of the day and wear face coverings for their entire shift.

Caro said the biggest challenge has been dealing with customers who don’t want to wear face coverings.

“If the customer doesn’t want to wear the mask inside the restaurant, we don’t take care of these customers because we need to take care of other customers and employees,” she said.

Another challenge has been when larger parties of six or eight people come into the restaurant and want to sit together. Under Phase 2, groups are limited to five people.

Reed said many Latino families dine out with extended family, and it may be hard for some businesses to let customers know about the rules.

“Some customers are not understanding that this is not the business doing it. It’s what they have to do to keep the doors open,” she said. “That part is going to take a little more understanding and explaining.”

Another business owner, Cristian Torres of Studio 3 Hair & Spa in Mount Vernon, shared upgrades the salon has made, including Plexiglass barriers in the reception area and between stations.

Reed said the plan is to host a follow-up meeting to answer additional questions.

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison:, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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