Eating out amid COVID-19 pandemic: Here's what US experts are advising
An infectious disease expert in the US says that restaurants, tables should be surrounded by protective barriers such as plexiglass or screens, or should be kept in separate rooms with doors that can be closed.
As more and more countries are slowly and gradually easing coronavirus lockdowns, people would want to eat out at restaurants. But is it safe? What should one keep in mind while eating out, and how can one and the restaurant reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread?
Here's what Thomas A. Russo -- professor and chief of Infectious Disease at the Department of Medicine of University at Buffalo, the State University of New York -- has to say. He made the comments while writing for The Conversation.
Talking about how far apart should tables and bar stools be, Russo said that six feet -- the number often mentioned in formal guidance from government agencies -- is the "minimum distance required for safe spacing".
He says that the "six-foot" rule is based on old data about the distance droplets can spread respiratory viruses. These droplets tend to settle out of the air within six feet, but that isn't always the case. Aerosols can spread the virus over larger distances, though there remains some uncertainty about how common this spread is. Particles generated by sneezes or someone running can travel up to 30 feet.
Talking alone has been shown to generate respiratory droplets that could be infectious. If there is a fan or current generated in a closed space such as a restaurant, particles will also travel farther.
The closer the distance and the greater the time someone is exposed to a person who is infectious, the greater the risk.
He says that in restaurants, tables should be surrounded by protective barriers such as plexiglass or screens, or should be kept in separate rooms with doors that can be closed.
Russo also recommends that restaurants should also screen guests before they enter, either with temperature checks or questions about symptoms and their close contacts with anyone recently diagnosed with COVID-19.
On risk of virus being transmitted from utensils and menus, the expert says that daily washing of plates, glasses and utensils, and laundering of napkins and tablecloths, will inactivate the virus. So, one need not ask for disposables. He says that tables in restaurants should be cleaned and disinfected between uses and marked as sanitized.
On menus, Russo says plastic ones could be disinfected, and in the present situation, disposable menus would be more ideal. He says that even if someone touches a surface that has infectious virus, as long as they don't touch their mouth, nose or eyes they should be safe. So, when in doubt, one must wash their hands or use hand sanitizer.
The use of masks and maintaining good hand hygiene by food preparers should significantly reduce the risk of food contamination. He says that servers should also wear masks.
Russo says that vulnerable people can avoid dine-in options and instead opt for outdoor seating if the conditions are appropriate.
Jeffrey Farber, a professor of food microbiology in Canada, told CTV News: “In indoor spaces, there is much more opportunity (for transmission) … having that closed space where the virus can easily transmit between people.
“Outside, let’s say if someone coughs, you’d have very good air flow, so the possibility for transmission from one person to the next would be minimal,” he said. Farber said dining outside is safe so long as it’s done properly.
Calling outside dining as "safer", Russo says that maintaining eye protection via glasses and intermittent mask use between bites and sips would further decrease the risk.