- Coronavirus restaurant spread should be a huge concern as US states begin to reopen.
- Studies have shown that spending time indoors with others is a significant risk factor for COVID-19 transmission, and that includes eating at restaurants.
- Before you go out, you should rewatch a black light video experiment from Japan that shows how easy it is for a pathogen to spread in a restaurant setting.
You’ve been dying to go out and eat food away from your dining room table for months, and you might soon be able to dine inside a restaurant now that every state is opening back up. But you shouldn’t lower your guard, as the risk of transmission remains very real, especially if your community has been registering an increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the past few weeks. A study from China showed that members of three families who spent less than two hours together inside an AC-ventilated restaurant in late January were each infected with the novel coronavirus. It all started with a single infected person who was asymptomatic at the time.
Since then, we’ve seen more research that shows the virus can spread via invisible droplets that are ejected while we’re speaking. A single person infected 52 of the 61 choir members who attended the same practice in mid-March, with the group spending less than three hours together. Separately, a series of scary video experiments have shown how easy it is for a pathogen to spread via surfaces, including a black light test conducted in a restaurant.
If you’re considering eating out, you absolutely have to revisit this experiment from mid-May. Japan’s public broadcasting organization NHK partnered with infectious disease experts to study the ways a virus can travel between objects and people inside a closed setting like a restaurant. They used invisible paint underneath a black light, applying it to the hands of one of 10 participants to simulate the result of sneezing or coughing into one’s hand.
The participants then spent 30 minutes serving themselves food from a buffet. Then the black light was turned on. Much to the dismay of participants, traces of the invisible paint were found everywhere, including plates and utensils, as well as the hands and faces of other people in the room. Here’s that video again:
Others used black light and special paint in different settings, including hospitals and kindergarten, to show how easy it is for an invisible substance to transition from surfaces to hands and ultimately the face. The CDC did update its COVID-19 transmission guidelines to explain that surface spread is unlikely, but the risk still exists. You should still treat surfaces and objects shared by others as potential contaminants, especially in a restaurant.
For months now, we’ve heard how important it is to wash our hands often, sneeze and cough into our elbows, avoid touching other people, avoid crowds, remain socially distant from others, and use face masks.
If you feel confident about dining out once your favorite restaurant reopens, you should keep respecting all of these rules. You won’t be able to wear a face mask and eat at the same time, but social distancing measures could reduce the risk of transmission. Just make sure your favorite place has found a way to reduce contact between people. You might also want to sit outside if the restaurant offers it. And you should absolutely avoid touching your face, even after you’ve sanitized or washed your hands.
All of that can be very stressful. Getting COVID-19 because you went out to dinner earlier than you were supposed to will not be a great story to tell either. You could still wait a few weeks before actually visiting a restaurant. Instead of going out, you can continue to order takeout and support your local restaurants in these tough times.
Finally, remember to tip well no matter how you buy food from restaurants. The people who serve or deliver your favorite meals are also risking their lives.