Diners are hungry for a chance to take a seat outside at their favorite restaurants as more eateries reopen amid the pandemic. But even with social distancing and other newly implemented safety precautions, some experts urge customers to consider the pros and cons.
“Good Morning America” asked seven different infectious disease experts a simple question: Would you dine out? Their answers, while varied, provide insightful considerations for Americans who are eager to get out of the house and enjoy a restaurant meal.
Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious disease at South Shore Health in Massachusetts, told ABC News that “dining out in one form or another is a luxury right now.”
As restrictions begin to ease to allow for expanded outdoor dining, the seven doctors and scientists shared what they would do, even as 41 states have reported recent increases in positive coronavirus cases.
Would you dine outside in an area that’s a COVID-19 hot spot?
All seven experts said they would not.
Dr. Anne Rimoin, an epidemiology professor at UCLA, told ABC News that people in areas with higher rates of infection should proceed with caution in public settings, especially at restaurants.
“In a hot spot state, everybody needs to be doing what they can to reduce the spread of the virus,” Dr. Rimoin said. “That means social distancing, masks, all of the things that are really hard to do when you’re out, when you’re eating out.”
Would you dine out in an area with low rates of transmission?
For this scenario, five experts said yes and only two of the experts said no.
Dr. Natalie Dean, assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida, explained that there are still risks by being in close proximity with staff.
“You’re still interacting with the waitress or waiter, and then you’re also still nearby whoever you are dining with,” she said.
Would you eat outside with caveats?
“I think we have to consider individual risk,” Dr. Ellerin said. “If you are at high risk for severe disease — then you really cannot afford to acquire this infection.”
The other experts also explained that when it comes to outdoor dining, there are key signals to make an educated decision about dining outside safely.
What to look for at restaurants with outdoor dining?
Experts said look for plenty of social distancing, enforced with six feet of space between guests.
The waitstaff should also wear masks and ask customers to wear their masks.
Dr. Ellerin also said it’s imperative to consider who is at your own table.
“Ideally, you would like those people to be in your bubble,” he said.
The National Restaurant Association said in a statement that it shares “the nation’s concern over the rising COVID-19 cases.”
“Restaurants are now taking additional steps to meet social distancing guidelines, [including] the use of face coverings as required by local, state or federal officials, as well as enhanced cleaning and sanitizing protocols and the emphasis on personal hygiene,” the association said.
All of the experts agreed that if diners want to eat from restaurants during the pandemic, the best way to do so is by ordering takeaway.
“I think all epidemiologists are a big fan of to-go food right now,” Dr. Dean said.
The bottom line is that the decision to dine at restaurants is a balancing act, according to the experts, who suggest diners weigh the risks and consider the current situation based on their location.
Additionally, if people don’t feel comfortable with outdoor dining but want to support local restaurants, takeout and delivery are great alternatives.