By Kelly Callahan-Poe, President, Williams Whittle

As our kids completed the last day of “virtual” school and after nearly 90 days in lockdown, we loaded up the car for a grand driving adventure from Maryland to Colorado to visit relatives and work from home in a cooler climate for a couple of weeks. Our drive took us from Maryland to Pennsylvania to Ohio to Indiana, down to Kentucky, back up to Missouri, through Kansas, and finally to Colorado.

Our trip was broken into 4- to 8-hour drives each day, stopping only at a Tesla supercharger for 20 minutes, and to hotels to recharge nightly. We were impressed to see that the majority of people in all the states we traveled through (minus one) appeared to be observing social distancing rules and believed in the science of wearing masks.

What we didn’t expect is how well local businesses have adapted to the new normal.


Many hotels have moved to automatic doors that can only be opened with your room key via a touch pad. From there, with contactless check-in, you can check in online via your mobile phone and receive a digital key, enabling you to go straight to your room. Many elevators required two people max or a single family. Most pools and exercise rooms remained closed.

At Hilton Hotels as you access your digital key, you may notice a CleanStay Room Seal — a tamper-evident security sticker on the hotel door that breaks in half when you open the door. The stickers help hotel guests know that the room has been sanitized and disinfected and that no one has entered since it was cleaned. These stickers can also be used on rental cars, airplane trays and seat belts, theme park rides and more.

The hotels we visited abandoned the breakfast buffet. Most offered “grab and go” bags in the breakfast room. One had two masked employees serving up plates behind a line marked by social distancing.


The old “no shirt, no shoes, no service” signs have been updated to “masks required to enter.” We also saw no more than 50% occupancy, with every other table blocked off from customers and instead filled with graduation photos and memorabilia for local high schools, or with large jugs of hand sanitizer. At the table, menus were optional, replaced by a plastic-coated mat featuring a QR code that linked to an online menu or a single use menu. The bill can be paid the same way at the end of the meal, so no credit card changed hands. Many bathrooms allowed only one guest at a time.

All restaurants also offer to-go items through more limited menus, with the option of ordering online and picking up curbside at a specific time to avoid lines.


Retail stores started opening up with social distancing in effect, some with lines waiting to enter to limit crowding inside. Along with the mask requirement, many required hand sanitizer prior to entry. Clothing and other retail operations such as mattress stores offered private shopping, virtual appointments and grab-and-go pickups.

A hardware store provided outdoor lockers for easy pickups. Best Buy had salespeople outside the store taking orders for those on foot or by car. They then ran inside to retrieve the item, scanned it right there and completed the purchase without the customer having to set foot inside.


While most museums remained closed, several were open with similar distancing precautions and timed entries. Pre-purchased tickets were only allowed online and proof of purchase is shown in line upon entry. For interactive touchscreen exhibits, one museum provided a free stylus to each visitor to use instead of your finger.


Outdoor media is alive and well in the Midwest. A Goodwill billboard featured the headline “We’re Back” with hands clapping. Restaurant billboards added a “Now Open” snipe across the top.

Local hospitals along our route all featured notes of gratitude to healthcare heroes. We saw many billboards promoting telehealth for local hospitals. Reid Health in Richmond, Indiana, featured consecutive billboards reading “Separate care areas. Social distancing.” “Face masks for everyone.” “Frequent cleaning. Sanitizing stations.” “Staggered appointments.”

These new adaptations for COVID-19 will not end this year. Most businesses will use technology and innovation as a business accelerator to increase efficiencies, maintain customer and employee safety and a healthy environment, which will benefit all of us.

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Williams Whittle is a Capitol Communicator sponsor.



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