Business owners who pledged to operate as safely as possible, according to the “Path Forward” guidelines, were given a sticker to put on their front door or window. COURTESY HILTON HEAD ISLAND-BLUFFTON CHAMBER

Hilton Head Island and Bluffton businesses are moving forward with reopenings, thanks to a push by the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce with its “Path Forward” initiative.

The chamber organized a task force of nine teams five weeks ago to address the reopening issue with safety and health guidelines as part of its readiness plan.

“Path Forward is a collaboration with businesses, town leaderships and residents to develop the path forward and where we go from here in trying to reopen,” said Charlie Clark, communications vice president for the chamber. “So how so we do that safely?”

Each of the task force teams – small business, retail, faith organizations, restaurants, arts and culture, hotel, home and villa, early childhood and recreation/attractions – has a chair or co-chairs under the leadership of steering committee chairman Ray Warco.

All chairs met initially with a chamber representative via Zoom video conference to discuss the initiative and its priorities. Each team compiled a specific set of health and safety recommendations that was reviewed in a second Zoom meeting attended by local healthcare professionals.

“We wanted to ensure that as businesses reopened, residents felt safe, visitors felt safe, and our business community felt safe so we could put in some guidelines that were uniform across the industries that would be helpful,” Clark said.

Each of the business sectors has its own customized list of safety and health protocols to provide a consistent, community-wide approach to reducing the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.

More than 250 businesses, large and small, have signed the pledge to honor the safety guidelines and received a chamber seal stating “We took the pledge” to display on their storefronts. The first was displayed about three weeks ago.

“We wanted it to be a visible way to let people know that this is a business that takes safety very seriously,” Clark said.

“The following Best Practice recommendations are meant to enhance public health and safety in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the first phase of a CDC three-phase reopening plan,” according to the pledge document at thepathforward.org, the Chamber’s website for the initiative.

The chamber will reconvene the task force team leaders soon to assess the impact of the pledges and its implementation and then make adjustments to the guidelines as needed.

The chamber is also reaching out to gated communities to discuss their reopening strategies.

Lowcountry resident Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.