Is it safe to eat inside a restaurant with the delta variant spreading so rapidly?

is indoor dining safe with the delta variant of covid-19 spreading
Photo via Infrogmation of New Orleans/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • This story is regularly updated for relevance. Last updated: Aug. 3, 2021

Questions about the safety of various indoor activities are coming up as a result of the COVID-19 delta variant’s spread across the globe. That includes whether indoor dining is still safe despite the delta variant.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in its July 27 update, said even vaccinated people should wear masks inside in areas of the country where there’s a high transmission of COVID.

With concerns about the efficacy of existing COVID-19 vaccines against the delta variant, which was recently called “the 2020 version of COVID-19 on steroids” by a former Joe Biden administration official, some of the riskier public activities one can do, including indoor dining, are coming under a new round of scrutiny from some health experts.

Leana Wen, a health policy professor and Washington Post columnist, has presented the idea of a “coronavirus budget” for people seeking to mitigate their exposure risk.

As a Post article clarified, “You spend parts of that budget when you participate in activities around other people. Wearing a mask or taking other precautions during an activity can lower your expense. And you can vastly increase your budget through vaccination.”

In March 2021, before the delta variant was being widely discussed, Wen noted that even if you have a relatively high budget, “you still have to think about how to spend it, and if your priority is seeing grandchildren and going to church, then maybe you’re not going to restaurants all that often.”

People who have weaker immune responses or health conditions that put them at greater risk for a COVID-19-related illness, regardless of vaccination status, would have a lower coronavirus budget than healthy people who get vaccinated.

But concerns about the delta variant led Los Angeles County public health authorities to urge all people, including those who are fully vaccinated, to resume mask-wearing inside restaurants, stores, and other public indoor spaces just two weeks after statewide mask mandates were officially lifted.

In early August, New York City planned to require people to prove they’ve been vaccinated if they want to dine indoors or go to the gym.

The New York Times characterized that move as “relatively conservative” compared to other stage and local agencies within the U.S. Though the World Health Organization has advised all people to begin wearing masks indoors again, the CDC has not changed its recommendation that people who are fully vaccination can go without them.

By the summer of 2021, most of the new infections in the U.S. were delta variant-related. A recent study shedding light on vaccine efficacy against the delta variant showed 88% effectiveness for someone fully vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, close to 93% efficacy against the alpha variant, and 95% efficacy against the original version of COVID-19. However, just a single dose of that vaccine only provided 33% efficacy.

Meanwhile, the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines also have shown solid success against the delta variant.

If you’ve been vaccinated, there’s not really a great answer for whether indoor dining at a restaurant is safe with the delta variant spreading so quickly. If you’re not vaccinated, the answer seems simple: It’s not advisable to do so at the moment.

Read more on the delta variant: 

Sources: CDC, Washington Post, New York Times, Bon Appetit

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