While everyone struggles to break free from the hold of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are two rules that have been gospel to Dr. Gregory Buller: Outside is safer than inside, and masks are better than no face coverings.
So the state’s plans to reopen indoor dining on June 17, while expected, are a bit worrisome to Buller, chairman of medicine and associate chief medical officer at Bridgeport Hospital.
“It’s tough when you can’t wear masks,” he said. “If two people wear masks and stand 6 feet apart, the chance that they will pass (COVID-19 to each other) is very small. So what happens if people are inside eating and don’t have masks on? I think the risk is still low, but it’s lower if they’re outside.”
The guidelines for the second phase of reopening, announced by Gov. Ned Lamont last week, include recommendations and requirements for reopening indoor dining. Outdoor dining returned during the first phase of reopening in May, and many eateries have continued takeout and delivery throughout the pandemic shutdown.
The state’s guidelines for reopening indoor dining include staggering employee shifts to limit contact, spacing tables apart to accommodate social distancing, eliminating buffets and self-service dining and, when possible, having separate entrances and exits to and from the restaurant, to minimize cross traffic.
The last one is a particularly good idea if restaurants are able to do it, said Michael Urban, director occupational therapy at the University of New Haven.
“That’s something I’ve always been a proponent of early on to avoid people bottle necking,” he said.
Like Buller, Urban said he has some concerns about the health risks of indoor dining, because enclosed spaces can promote the spread of germs.
“If the restaurants aren’t properly ventilated and the tables aren’t 6 feet apart, that’s where you run the risk of infection,” Urban said.
He said he expects the reopening of indoor dining — and other indoor establishments, such as gyms — could lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases, so he cautions businesses owners to follow protocols. Urban said, in his experience, restaurants have been conscientious in adhering to the state’s guidelines.
“A lot of restaurants I’ve visited already for takeout have been phenomenal in their response — wearing masks and using disposable (plates and silverware),” he said.
One concern Urban has about restaurants moving forward is that, because the employees are generally part-time, they often don’t have full health benefits or sick time. So, he said, even though guidelines state workers who are sick must stay home, people who are not feeling well might still feel compelled to come to work because they fear losing money.
“That is where we’re going to have to start changing some of our behaviors,” he said.