The pros and cons of indoor dining have been discussed ad nauseam. While restaurants need the support of people to survive the pandemic, gathering customers indoors is a risk, especially now that COVID-19 cases are high and there are new virus variants in the U.S. Still, states that had paused indoor dining are now beginning to lift these restrictions, reopening restaurants while limiting indoor capacity and asking workers to improve on their sanitation and social distancing measures.

Eating indoors in a pandemic can be done, at least in theory. “If you do indoor dining, you do it in a spaced way where you don’t have people sitting right next to each other,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN. He said that good airflow is key and that restaurants must find ways of avoiding people breathing the same air. This isn’t an easy thing to do when there’s no funding and no structural change.

decoding the subtle cues of restaurants
Photo by Kevin Curtis via Unsplash

While restaurants can limit the amount of people that are indoors, sanitize regularly and often, and improve air ventilation by introducing filters and opening windows, there’s no way of completely eliminating risk. When people are gathered in an indoor space the virus can travel further than six feet. It can accumulate easily since people are sitting in one place, talking, drinking alcohol, eating and not wearing face masks. If there’s poor ventilation and limited space, like the majority of restaurants in New York City, then this problem is made even worse. A study from Korea, published in November, showed a case of virus spread between two tables that were sitting 15 feet apart.

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Due to winter, restaurants have designed outdoor dining spaces, which shelter people from the cold (kind of), but pose an almost equal risk due to the constraint of air flow. The only safe way of eating in a restaurant right now would be to truly sit outdoors or to eat indoors somewhere that’s practically empty.

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While a lot of states are reopening in hopes of nudging along the economy, your safest bet is to eat outdoors and wear the proper winter gear, or to order takeout and go home. If you really love your partner, do them a favor and make sure you don’t catch COVID this Valentine’s Day!

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