How to Lower Your Coronavirus Risk While Eating Out: Restaurant Advice From an Infectious Disease Expert
By Thomas A. Russo
As restaurants and bars reopen to the public, it's important to realize that eating out will increase your risk of exposure to the new coronavirus.
Two of the most important public health measures for keeping illnesses to a minimum are nearly impossible in these situations: First, it's hard to eat or drink while wearing a face mask. Second, social distancing is difficult in tight spaces normally filled with back-to-back seating and servers who weave among the busy tables all evening long.
So, what should you look out for, and how can you and the restaurant reduce the risk? Here are answers to a few common questions.
How Far Apart Should Tables and Bar Stools Be?
There is nothing magical about 6 feet, the number we often hear in formal guidance from government agencies. I would consider that the minimum distance required for safe spacing.
The "6-foot" rule is based on old data about the distance droplets can spread respiratory viruses. These droplets tend to settle out of the air within 6 feet, but that isn't always the case. Aerosols can spread the virus over larger distances, though there remains some uncertainty about how common this spread is. Particles generated by sneezes or someone running can travel up to 30 feet.
Talking alone has been shown to generate respiratory droplets that could be infectious.
If there is a fan or current generated in a closed space such as a restaurant, particles will also travel farther. This was shown in a paper from China: People in a restaurant downwind of an infected person became infected even though the distance was greater than 6 feet.
The closer the distance and the greater the time someone is exposed to a person who is infectious, the greater the risk.
If the Servers Wear Masks, Is That Enough?
If servers wear masks, that will afford a layer of protection, but customers eating and talking could still spread the virus.
One way to mitigate that risk in this imperfect situation, at least from a public health point of view, would be to have tables surrounded by protective barriers, such as plexiglass or screens, or put tables in separate rooms with doors that can be closed. Some states are encouraging restaurants to limit each table to only one server who delivers everything.
Restaurants could also screen guests before they enter, either with temperature checks or questions about symptoms and their close contacts with anyone recently diagnosed with COVID-19. It's controversial, but restaurants in California have tried it. Washington state tried to require restaurants to record visitors' contact information in case an outbreak is discovered, but it pulled back to only recommend doing so.
It's easier to screen employees. In fact, guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend restaurants have employee screening in place before they reopen. But while screening employees for possible infection could decrease risk, it's important to remember that people can be infectious six days before they develop symptoms. That is why masks, eye protection, social distancing and hand hygiene are critical measures for preventing infection.
Should I Ask for Disposable Utensils and Wipe Everything Down?
Regular dishwashing of plates, glasses and utensils, and laundering of napkins and tablecloths, will inactivate the virus. No need for disposables here.
The table should also be cleaned and disinfected between uses and marked as sanitized.
Menus are a bit more problematic, depending on the material. Plastic menus could be disinfected. Disposable menus would be more ideal. Remember, even if someone touches a surface that has infectious virus, as long as they don't touch their mouth, nose or eyes they should be safe. So, when in doubt, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.
Can I Get the Virus From Food From the Kitchen?
The risk of becoming infected with the new coronavirus from food is very low.
This is a respiratory virus whose primary mode of infection is accessing the upper or lower respiratory tract through droplets or aerosols entering your mouth, nose or eyes. It needs to enter the respiratory tract to cause infection, and it cannot do this by way of the stomach or intestinal tract.
The virus also is not very stable in the environment. Studies have shown it loses half its viral concentration after less than an hour on copper, three and a half hours on cardboard and just under seven hours on plastic. If food were to be contaminated during preparation, cooking temperature would likely inactivate much if not all of the virus.
The use of masks and maintaining good hand hygiene by food preparers should significantly reduce the risk of food contamination.
Is Outdoor Seating or a Drive-Through Any Safer?
Vulnerable people may want to pass on dine-in options and focus on pickup or perhaps outside dining if the conditions are appropriate.
Drive-up windows or carry-out are probably the safest; transient interaction with one individual when everyone is wearing masks is a lower-risk situation.
Overall, outside dining is safer than indoor dining with everything else being equal on a nonwindy day due to the larger air volume. Maintaining eye protection via glasses and intermittent mask use between bites and sips would further decrease the risk.
Thomas A. Russo is a professor and chief of infectious disease with the Department of Medicine, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York.
Disclosure statement: Thomas A. Russo does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond his academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.
If you have a question you'd like an expert to answer, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
What was the climate and sea level like at times in Earth’s history when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was at 400ppm?<p>The last time global carbon dioxide levels were consistently at or above 400 parts per million (ppm) was around <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature14145" target="_blank">four million years ago</a> during a geological period known as the <a href="http://www.geologypage.com/2014/05/pliocene-epoch.html" target="_blank">Pliocene Era</a> (between 5.3 million and 2.6 million years ago). The world was about 3℃ warmer and sea levels were higher than today.</p><p>We know how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere contained in the past by studying ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. As compacted snow gradually changes to ice, it traps air in bubbles that contain <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/annals-of-glaciology/article/enclosure-of-air-during-metamorphosis-of-dry-firn-to-ice/09D9C60A8DA412D16645E6E6ABC1892F" target="_blank">samples of the atmosphere at the time</a>. We can sample ice cores to reconstruct past concentrations of carbon dioxide, but this record only takes us back about a million years.</p><p>Beyond a million years, we don't have any direct measurements of the composition of ancient atmospheres, but we can use several methods to estimate past levels of carbon dioxide. One method uses the relationship between plant pores, known as stomata, that regulate gas exchange in and out of the plant. The density of these stomata is <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/095968369200200109" target="_blank">related to atmospheric carbon dioxide</a>, and fossil plants are a good indicator of concentrations in the past.</p><p>Another technique is to examine sediment cores from the ocean floor. The sediments build up year after year as the bodies and shells of dead plankton and other organisms rain down on the seafloor. We can use isotopes (chemically identical atoms that differ only in atomic weight) of boron taken from the shells of the dead plankton to reconstruct changes in the acidity of seawater. From this we can work out the level of carbon dioxide in the ocean.</p><p>The data from four-million-year-old sediments suggest that <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2010PA002055" target="_blank">carbon dioxide was at 400ppm back then</a>.</p>
Sea Levels and Changes in Antarctica<p>During colder periods in Earth's history, ice caps and glaciers grow and sea levels drop. In the recent geological past, during the most recent ice age about 20,000 years ago, sea levels were at least <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/292/5517/679.abstract" target="_blank">120 meters lower</a> than they are today.</p><p><span></span>Sea-level changes are calculated from changes in isotopes of oxygen in the shells of marine organisms. For the Pliocene Era, <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2004PA001071" target="_blank">research</a> shows the sea-level change between cooler and warmer periods was around 30-40 meters and sea level was higher than today. Also during the Pliocene, we know the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature07867" target="_blank">significantly smaller</a> and global average temperatures were about 3℃ warmer than today. Summer temperatures in high northern latitudes were up to 14℃ warmer.</p><p>This may seem like a lot but modern observations show strong <a href="https://journals.ametsoc.org/jcli/article/23/14/3888/32547" target="_blank">polar amplification</a> of warming: a 1℃ increase at the equator may raise temperatures at the poles by 6-7℃. It is one of the reasons why Arctic sea ice is disappearing.</p>
Impacts in New Zealand and Australia<p>In the Australian region, there was no Great Barrier Reef, but there may have been <a href="https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/BF02537376.pdf" target="_blank">smaller reefs along the northeast coast of Australia</a>. For New Zealand, the partial melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is probably the most critical point.</p><p>One of the key features of New Zealand's current climate is that Antarctica is cut off from global circulation during the winter because of the big <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3402/tellusa.v54i5.12161" target="_blank">temperature contrast</a> between Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. When it comes back into circulation in springtime, New Zealand gets strong storms. Stormier winters and significantly warmer summers were likely in the mid-Pliocene because of a weaker polar vortex and a warmer Antarctica.</p><p>It will take more than a few years or decades of carbon dioxide concentrations at 400ppm to trigger a significant shrinking of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. But recent studies show that <a href="http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/521027/" target="_blank">West Antarctica is already melting</a>.</p><p>Sea-level rise from a partial melting of West Antarctica could easily exceed a meter or more by 2100. In fact, if the whole of the West Antarctic melted it could <a href="http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.695.7239&rep=rep1&type=pdf" target="_blank">raise sea levels by about 3.5 meters</a>. Even smaller increases raise the risk of <a href="https://www.pce.parliament.nz/publications/preparing-new-zealand-for-rising-seas-certainty-and-uncertainty" target="_blank">flooding in low-lying cities</a> including Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.</p>
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