COVID-19: US officials say take precautions if dining out

Better to eat outdoors and check what precautions the restaurant is taking to avoid contracting the virus.

United States officials in California, Florida, New York and New Jersey have instituted or reinstated indoor dining bans because of growing coronavirus cases. COVID-19 is increasing across more than half of US states, even as they try to reopen. 

One of the most pressing questions has been: How risky is dining out during the COVID-19 pandemic?

There is some risk, but health officials said there are precautions that can be taken to minimise the chances of exposure to the virus.

Ordering takeout or delivery is still the safest option for getting restaurant food, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

When eating at a restaurant, it is best to opt for outdoor seating where tables are at least six feet apart, the agency said. Dining inside a restaurant that has not reduced its capacity or safely distanced tables poses the most risk, it said.

The coronavirus spreads through droplets that are emitted when people talk, laugh, sing, cough or sneeze. Indoor spaces are riskier than outdoor spaces because it might be harder to keep people apart and there is less ventilation, the CDC said.

Diners should assess what other safety steps the restaurant is taking.

For example, servers should be wearing masks, and the restaurant should have a process to ensure people are not congregating too closely while waiting for a table, said Dr Susan Casey Bleasdale, an infectious disease expert at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Digital or disposable menus and throwaway utensils are also preferable, according to the CDC. The agency said touchless payment options, like those available on mobile devices, are optimal. Otherwise, restaurants should have procedures for avoiding hand-to-hand contact with cash and credit cards.

If gathering at a restaurant with a group, Bleasdale suggested only dining with known colleagues, and checking if they have been feeling sick or experiencing any symptoms.

People more vulnerable to severe illness from the virus, such as the elderly, might want to avoid eating out at restaurants altogether.

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