Is It Safe to Go to a Restaurant During COVID-19? Experts Break Down the Risks

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When the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) began to sweep the globe, activities that we once took for granted were suddenly no longer an option. Nonessential businesses closed their doors, and others like restaurants moved to delivery or takeout only, in an effort to encourage social distancing and prevent the highly contagious illness from spreading. Over the past few months, many restaurants have reopened with restrictions and guidelines in place – but is it really safe to dine out at a time when many states are seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases?

If you’re craving your favorite dish or want to support local businesses in your area, the safest option is takeout. Leann Poston, MD, MBA, of Invigor Medical, lives in the Midwest, where restaurants are currently open for both indoor and outdoor dining. “COVID cases are on the rise again, and there are reports coming out that COVID is not only droplet spread, but is also aerosolized and remains in the air for up to 30 minutes,” Dr. Poston told POPSUGAR. For this reason, she typically chooses to pick up carry-out food from local restaurants. However, she’s also open to the second safest option: eating at a restaurant where there’s outdoor seating and the tables are widely spaced, ideally at a time when it’s not crowded.

Amber Noon, MD, an infectious disease physician at Centura Health in Colorado, also recommends picking a spot with outdoor seating, but she added that the key to dining out safely is understanding your personal risks. For example, if you’re in a high-risk category or live with someone who is – such as people over 65 or those with a serious underlying medical condition – Dr. Noon advises against going to restaurants at all. “But for those who are healthy, it can be accomplished safely with a few extra steps,” she told POPSUGAR.

Related: Why You Should Stay Away From Bars During COVID-19, According to Experts

What Steps Should You Take If You’re Considering Dining Out?

Even if you’re not at greater risk of COVID-19, there’s always a chance of infection when you’re gathered with a large group of people. So, if you do decide to go to a restaurant, precautions should be taken. Both doctors recommend calling the restaurant in advance to get information about the measures they’re taking. This includes asking if employees are required to wear face coverings, if they’re regularly disinfecting high-touch surfaces, how far apart tables are spaced, and whether or not employees are practicing social distancing.

Outdoors is ideal because it poses fewer risks. However, if you do dine inside, be vigilant about social distancing and try to find a restaurant where there’s ample air flow from open windows. Dr. Noon recommends choosing restaurants that take reservations because that likely means they’re taking social distancing seriously. “These establishments should avoid offering salad bars, buffets, and drink-filling stations that require people to use common utensils or dispensers,” she added.

Dr. Poston stressed the importance of wearing your mask at all times except, of course, when you’ll need to take it off to eat. As soon as you leave the restaurant and return to your car, remove the mask using its ear loops, fold it so the outside halves are touching, and put it in a bag. “When you get home, wash it,” Dr. Poston said.

POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, CDC, and local public health departments.

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