Tested positive for COVID? Have you eaten in a restaurant recently?

Diners at a sidewalk cafe where clear partitions separate each table
Sidewalk dining in Brooklyn
Photo: Noam Galai (Getty Images)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been trying to, well, figure out how to control and prevent the coronavirus since it first arrived here in February. A recent study asked 314 adults in 10 states—all of whom had symptoms, but only half of whom tested positive—about their habits and routines: their mask-wearing practices, their interactions in the community. Those who tested positive were twice as likely to have reported eating in a restaurant within the two weeks before symptoms appeared.


That includes eating on a patio or any other outdoor seating, by the way, and following recommendations for mask-wearing and social distancing.

The researchers wrote: “Reports of exposures in restaurants have been linked to air circulation. Direction, ventilation, and intensity of airflow might affect virus transmission, even if social distancing measures and mask use are implemented according to current guidance. Masks cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking, whereas shopping and numerous other indoor activities do not preclude mask use.”

The study didn’t distinguish between indoor and outdoor restaurant dining; the CDC says in further studies, it will look into that more, and survey a wider group of patients. The report also didn’t mention how many of those who tested positive worked at the restaurants.

Meanwhile, the CDC is sticking to its guiding principles for restaurants and bars. The lowest risk remains getting takeout or delivery.

Associate editor of The Takeout. Chicagoan. Owned by dog.


Lurch of the SoCal

I’ve been avoiding restaurant dining (and a host of other potentially risky activities) because from day one I haven’t been able to believe that a three foot plastic partition is going to be more than a minor benefit when it comes to COVID.

Great friend of mine compares it to a fart. If someone on the other side of that partion farts, is that plastic going to mystically whisk the offending odor away from you? Or are you going to be smelling it if you’re remotely downwind?

Someone discharging viral contamination is doing a similar thing. They sit, they breathe and exhale COVID. We indisputably know now that COVID can travel much further than the initial estimates, so as that person sits in their viral cloud all they’re doing is pushing more and more into the area. You can’t convince me that a plastic ‘wall’ so short that I can reach over and smack the person sitting on the other side is going to do ANYTHING to stop the cloud of exhaled viral particles.