Just how safe is it to eat at a restaurant?

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Virtually every state in the U.S. is in at least some phase of reopening, and states that have been less stringent with their requirements are seeing spikes in COVID-19 infections. Despite this, people (and businesses) are desperate for a return to at least some version of pre-pandemic life, and for many that means trying to gauge just how safe it is to roll the dice and take advantage of newly reopened restaurants.

To help people with this challenging calculation, the city of Chicago has launched what it’s calling the COVID-19 Risk Matrix, a series of questions (with a diagram) to help you determine just how high your risk is. To make it even easier to use, the Chicago Tribune took that matrix and developed it into a handy dandy flowchart.


Unsurprisingly, most combinations of circumstances say that, no, you shouldn’t be going out and pretending that everything is back to normal. That’s particularly true if you’re over the age of 60, intend on doing something in a public indoor space, can’t avoid crowds, or are one of those perplexing people who refuses to wear a mask (or if you’re going to any location where you can’t avoid those perplexing people). And yes, the advice does feel a bit parental, which will undoubtedly raise the hackles of the least mature amongst us.

The reality is that we’re only going to be able to restart our society if people are careful, conscientious of how their behavior impacts others, and are willing to avoid situations that place themselves and others at risk. That’s particularly true for those who want to visit high-risk places like restaurants. Familiarize yourself with the guidelines (and if you’re already on the same page, great!) and consider whether you really, truly need to go out. We can say from experience that eating in a restaurant again is fun but scary, and in many situations it’s probably not worth the risk for the people involved. If you’re not sure whether you’re one of those people, grab the flowchart and think it over.