(CNN) – It is important to know that eating out will increase your risk of new coronavirus exposure as restaurants and bars reopen to the public.
Two of the most important public health measures to keep diseases to a minimum are almost impossible in these situations: First, it is difficult to eat or drink while wearing a face mask. Secondly, social distance becomes harder in narrow spaces, which are normally filled with back-to-back seating, and in servers that touch between busy tables all evening.
So, what should you pay attention to and how can you reduce the risk with the restaurant? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions.
How far should the tables and bar stools be?
There is nothing magical about its six feet, the number we often hear from government agencies in official guidance. I consider the minimum distance required for a safe interval.
The “six-meter” rule is based on old data on distance droplets where respiratory viruses can spread. These droplets tend to leave the air within six feet, but this is not always the case. Aerosols can spread the virus over greater distances, but there are some uncertainties about how widespread this spread is. Particles produced by sneezing or working can travel up to 30 feet.
Speaking alone has been shown to form respiratory droplets that can be contagious.
If there is a fan or current produced in a closed area such as a restaurant, the particles also go further. This was shown in an article from China: In a restaurant in the wind of an infected person, people became infected, even if the distance was more than six meters.
The closer the distance and the greater the time someone is exposed to a contagious person, the greater the risk.
If the servers are wearing masks, is that enough?
If the servers wear masks, this creates a layer of protection, but customers who eat and talk can still spread the virus.
One way to alleviate the risk of this defective condition, at least for public health, would be to have tables surrounded by protective barriers such as plexiglass or screens, or to put tables in separate rooms with doors that can be closed. Some states encourage restaurants to limit each table to a single server that distributes everything.
Union Square Hospitality Group CEO Danny Meyer said the restaurant industry is facing “a difficult way” to get rid of the pandemic. He told CNN’s Poppy Harlow that the return to safe food “will not be an emergency light switch.”
Restaurants can also scan guests before entering questions about temperature controls or symptoms and their close contact with anyone diagnosed with Covid-19. It is controversial, but restaurants in California have tried this. The state of Washington tried to ask restaurants to record visitors’ contact information in the event of an outbreak, but withdrew only to suggest it.
It is easier to scan employees. In fact, guides from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that restaurants do an employee screening before reopening. However, it is important to remember that people can be contagious six days before developing symptoms, while screening workers for possible infection can reduce the risk. Therefore, masks, eye protection, social removal and hand hygiene are critical measures to prevent infection.
Do I need disposable utensils and delete everything?
Regular washing of plates, glasses and utensils and washing of napkins and tablecloths will neutralize the virus. There is no need for disposable materials here.
The table should also be cleaned and disinfected between uses and marked as sterilized.
Menus are a bit more problematic depending on the material. Plastic menus can be disinfected. Disposable menus would be more ideal. Remember, even if someone touches a surface with an infectious virus, it should be safe unless they touch their mouth, nose, or eyes. When in doubt, wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer.
Can I get the virus from food in the kitchen?
The risk of getting infected with new coronavirus from foods is very low.
This is a respiratory virus, the primary mode of infection accessing the upper or lower respiratory tract through droplets or aerosols that enter your mouth, nose, or eyes. It needs to enter the respiratory tract to cause infection and cannot do this through the stomach or intestinal tract.
The virus is also not very stable in the environment. Studies have shown that after less than an hour on copper, the viral concentration loses half of it, three and a half hours in cardboard and under seven hours in plastic. If it was contaminated during food preparation, the cooking temperature would probably be too inactivated, even if not the entire virus.
The use of masks and the provision of good hand hygiene by food preparators should significantly reduce the risk of food contamination.
Is it safer to sit outdoors or to drive?
Vulnerable people may want to switch to dining options and focus on pickup or perhaps eating out if the conditions are right.
Sliding windows or transport are probably the safest; Temporary interaction with an individual is lower risk when everyone is wearing a mask.
In general, eating out is safer with everything equal on a windy day due to the larger air volume. Maintaining eye protection with glasses and the use of intermittent masks between bites and sips will further reduce the risk.
Thomas A. Russo is Professor and Chief of Infectious Diseases at Buffalo University School of Medicine, New York State University.