There’s no silver bullet solution for ensuring you don’t get coronavirus, but there’s a lot you can do to minimize your risk. And according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) it’s not just about what you do, but also what you don’t do while COVID is still at large. A recent study shared by the health authority revealed that one activity is associated with roughly 40 percent of positive cases: dining in a restaurant. The CDC is now urging people to stay away from such settings, and encouraging enhanced safety measures for those who still decide to patronize them.
For the study, researchers rounded up a randomized group of COVID-positive patients and collected extensive data on their backgrounds. This included their demographic characteristics, chronic underlying medical conditions, symptoms, known exposure to any COVID-positive patients, potential workplace exposures, and community activities within 14 days of their first symptoms. The participants were then asked about their mask wearing habits and any possible community exposure activities, including social gatherings, shopping, dining in restaurants, and more. Patients identified each habit on a five-point Likert scale ranging from “never” to “more than once per day” or “always.”
After reviewing the data, two habits stood out as most directly associated with COVID transmission: having close contact with someone who later tested positive (51 percent of these individuals were family members), and having spent time in restaurants over the previous two weeks. As the study explains, “Adults with positive SARS-CoV-2 test results were approximately twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant than were those with negative SARS-CoV-2 test results.” This included restaurants with indoor, patio, and outdoor seating.
The researchers suspect that this increased COVID risk is explained by the fact that eating in a restaurant and wearing a mask don’t exactly go hand in hand. Even individuals that otherwise practice vigilant safety precautions let down their guard when the waiter brings their meal. That’s why the CDC endorses policies that protect customers, employees, and communities—even where mask wearing is a challenge. Utilizing outdoor seating, wearing a mask until food arrives, and sitting at tables at least six feet away from others could make all the difference.
So, to avoid COVID, skip the restaurant for now. Opt for ordering takeout, or plan socially distant picnics for the time being. You’re better safe than sorry, even if you do miss your favorite haunt. And for more on the risks of restaurants, check out The Air In Restaurants May Be 3 Times Dirtier Than This Place.