Earlier this fall, many restaurants across the country opened their doors for patrons to eat inside, especially as the weather has cooled in places. Now, as cases of COVID-19 surge across the country, some cities have banned indoor dining while others have allowed it with restrictions. Still other geographies have no prohibition.
The restaurant and hospitality industry has reacted strongly, filing lawsuits to challenge indoor eating bans and, in New York state, pointing to data showing restaurants and bars did not represent than 1.4% of cases, far less than private gatherings.
We asked five healthcare professionals if they were going to dine indoors at a restaurant. Four said no – and one had a surprising response.
Dr Laurie Archbald-Pannone, Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Virgina
March 12, 2020 was the last day I ate indoors at a restaurant. At the time, there was a slight trepidation – but a lot changed that week. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of “normalcy”, and for me eating indoors in a restaurant is one of those activities. I loved eating out and usually ate three times a week (sometimes more!). But understanding how COVID-19 infection is transmitted, I think being indoors without a mask – even just to eat – is not an option for me. I firmly believe that we need to support our community in these trying times, so that we continue to be picked up or delivered curbside to our favorite local restaurants at least three times a week – sometimes more! – but it will take some time before I get back inside. When I come back I definitely get a dessert.
Dr Thomas A. Russo, Division Head of Infectious Diseases, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, University at Buffalo
No. And that has been “no” from the start.
We have a little more information now, but what I said in the spring hasn’t really changed. The greatest risk of getting infected with SARS-CoV-2 is being indoors with people who are not wearing masks at all times. The problem is not just large respiratory droplets when someone is close to speaking; it is also the tiny aerosols that persist in the air.
The generally poor ventilation in many restaurants is even more risky. The main differences between eating indoors and shopping at a big box store or grocery store are as follows: 1) department stores have more ventilation and more airspace; 2) anyone can wear a mask at any time; 3) you are not fixed in space, so if you see someone who has just a bandana or their mask is falling under their nose, you can walk away; and 4) it should take less time than dinner. In a restaurant, you are stuck at this table. If a party near you is having a heated conversation, it could generate a lot of respiratory secretions.
Some interesting studies have looked at the airflow and drafts in restaurants based on where people have been infected. In one, a person was 20 feet from the source for only about 5 minutes, but the person was directly in the airflow and was infected. It’s a reminder of what we said: there is nothing magical about 6 feet. The high level of community-based illness in the United States currently increases the likelihood that another diner will be infected. If you’re tired of cooking and need a break, take out is the way to go.
Sue Mattison, Provost and Professor, College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Drake University
Yes. As an epidemiologist, my answer may seem surprising or hypocritical: I eat in local restaurants, but only because in April, like more than 17 million Americans since, I tested positive for COVID-19 and recovered. Based on the latest evidence, I believe I have immunity for now, and possibly longer. But I’m not pushing my luck.
I have my own list of four restaurants where I eat. I trust these restaurants because each has dramatically reduced the number of tables and spaced them at least 6 feet apart, and everyone inside is diligent in wearing a mask. My husband and I also order a lot of take out. It’s important to repeat, however, that the evidence shows that restaurants are a significant source of infection and that those who have not recovered from COVID-19 should refrain from eating in restaurants until the community has better control over the spread of infection.
Dr. Ryan Huerto, Family Physician, Health Services Researcher and Clinical Lecturer, University of Michigan
No. While I know there are many factors that contribute to indoor dining, such as the adverse mental health consequences of social isolation, the ability to support small businesses, and the cold weather, I strongly advise against eating indoors. inside.
The risk of contracting COVID-19 from indoor activities is much higher than from physically distant outdoor activities. The recent spike in COVID-19 infections, deaths and shortages of intensive care beds is likely linked to gatherings indoors during Thanksgiving.
As of December 22, 201,674 infections and 3,239 deaths from COVID-19 were reported. That death toll is equivalent to about 20 Boeing 737 planes crashing in a single day.
Even with an approved COVID-19 vaccine, staying home, physically distancing yourself, wearing a mask, and good hand hygiene are more important than ever. Think of them as short-term sacrifices to help protect your friends, family, neighbors, and essential workers.
Instead of dining on site, please consider exponentially safer alternatives such as order delivery or curbside pickup.
Kathleen C. Brown, Associate Professor of Practice and Director of the MPH Program, College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, University of Tennessee
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that patients who tested positive were twice as likely to have eaten out of restaurants than those who tested negative in the 14 days before their test. I regularly take take out food, but I don’t eat in restaurants.
What I cannot control presents a risk. I have very open and honest conversations with my family and friends about where we have been and who we have been with. From there, our risk is pretty clear but still not zero. The more contact I am, the greater the risk.
In a restaurant, I am unable to assess the risk posed by other customers or staff. Each person in this restaurant has a network of other people who, taken together, increase my risk of contracting COVID-19. Currently Tennessee, where I live, is the second highest state in cases per 100,000, which means the community spread is high.
In plain language, this means that there is an increased likelihood that I could come into contact with a contagious person – symptomatic or not – if I eat inside a restaurant. I will continue to collect my take out for now.
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