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Is it safe to go out to eat?

is it safe to go out to eat coronavirus
Photo via Prayitno/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Restaurants in cities around the United States have been given the green light to reopen with limited capacities, though some states have had to pull back as coronavirus cases have dramatically risen in Texas and Arizona. Experts say whether it’s actually safe to dine in at one of these restaurants is a case-by-case basis depending on the precautions taken at each establishment. So, is it safe to go out to eat?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have provided restaurants with broad guidelines for how to reopen safely. First and foremost, the CDC says that if reopening is not consistent with state and local orders or if the restaurant is not ready to protect employees at higher risk for severe illness, then a restaurant is not prepared to reopen. 

Additionally, the CDC says restaurants must meet the following health and safety guidelines before reopening: 

  • Promote healthy hygiene practices, including hand-washing and employees wearing a mask at all times
  • Increase cleaning, sanitizing, disinfection, and ventilation 
  • Practice social distancing, by encouraging drive-through, delivery, curbside pick-up, spacing tables and stools at least six feet apart, and limiting party sizes
  • Train all employees about the latest safety protocols
  • Develop and implement procedures to check for signs and symptoms of employees daily upon arrival
  • Encourage any employee or customer who feels sick to stay home 
  • Plan for if an employee gets sick 
  • Regularly communicate and monitor developments with local authorities and employees 
  • Monitor employee absences and have flexible leave policies and practices 
  • Be ready to consult with the local health authorities if there are cases in the facility or an increase in cases in the local area

Only once a restaurant meets all of the requirements above can it be considered truly safe for customers and employees—and even then, customers should know that there will always be some risk involved when eating a public place. 

Is it safe to go out to eat?

An infectious disease expert told CNN that owners could make restaurants safer by ensuring tables stay spaced far apart, screening guests before entering, and requiring masks as much as possible. Guests can help by wearing masks when they’re talking and not eating. 

Experts told the New York Times that guests should stay home if there’s a surge in local infections or if they know they are immunocompromised. They also recommended people call ahead to find out a restaurant’s precautions before dining in—and if once you arrive, you see evidence that the establishment is not following CDC guidelines, then you should leave immediately. 

Craig W. Hedberg, a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, told the New York Times that it’s not safe to eat out in cities that see an uptick in COVID-19 infections. 

“I would certainly want to have some awareness of how much transmission seems to be going on in my community,” Hedberg said. “So if you know that there are new cases continuing to be occurring every day in your community, you have to assume there’s going to be a risk for transmission in public settings.”

In June, at least 33 states reported record daily increases in positive COVID-19 tests — so by Hedberg’s logic, it’s probably not safe to dine in at restaurants in more than half the country. 

Is it safe:

Sources: CDC, New York Times, CNN


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