Yale doctor warns dining with friends not safe yet in coronavirus pandemic

Two friends sit down for lunch at Pop’s Family Restaurant in Milford as rules restricting restaurant dining were eased. A Yale New Haven Health System doctor said outdoor dining is much safer than indoor dining.

NEW HAVEN — Restaurants this week began indoor table service, after nearly a month of outdoor dining, but getting together with friends may not be the wisest thing, according to Yale New Haven Health System’s chief clinical officer.

At the health system’s online press conference Thursday, Dr. Thomas Balcezak spoke about the safety of sitting across a table from others at a restaurant, if fellow diners are not living in the same household. Diners must wear masks entering a restaurant but then remove them in order to eat and drink.

“We are still asking folks not to gather in groups that are not household contacts with one another anyway, so I wouldn’t recommend it unless you can stay 6 feet apart,” Bacezak said. He added later, “I think eating outside, especially distancing more than 6 feet, is better than inside.”

Marna Borgstrom, CEO of Yale New Haven Health, said she thought Phase 2 of the state’s reopening was being handled well.

“I actually have to say that time will tell but I think that, having worked with the governor’s panel for the last three months, we have tried to be as thoughtful as possible in coming up with the kind of measures that would allow us to reopen safely and also continue to monitor our progress so that if we see a backslide of any magnitude we will understand where that is,” she said.

Borgstrom added that there is more contact tracing being done, “including getting a lot more volunteer support for community health departments to do contact tracing. The plan that we’ve talked about is that if we are seeing some spike we’re going to look at it on a regional basis. We’re going to go in and try and contain that. But I don’t think that this administration has shown itself to be at all reticent to … turn back the opening plans if they need to.”

Balcezak also said that he believes regular hospital visitors will be able to enter the health system’s hospitals as soon as next week.

“We’ve put together a group that includes patients and families as advisers that’s run by our patient experience staff to create criteria for each of our system hospitals to open,” Balcezak said. “None of them have opened up and de-restricted our visitor status yet. I anticipate though that we will be able to open and de-restrict some of our visitors in some of our institutions by early next week.”

So far, since the pandemic began, only patients who are at the end of life, women giving birth, patients in the neonatal intensive care and psychiatric units and people with disabilities need a support person have been able to have visitors.

While the numbers of cases of COVID-19 continue to drop and the number of tests to rise, health system officials cautioned about becoming complacent.

“I feel like I have to pinch myself because we’re all reading the national news about the dramatic increases in COVID-positive patients and inpatient admissions particularly in various states particularly out west and in the Southwest, and our numbers have continued to come down,” Borgstrom said.

She said that from a peak of 850 patients in the system’s five hospitals, “we are below 70 cases for the entire Yale New Haven Health System.” She said Greenwich Hospital has gone from a high of 126 cases, “and where we are is less than 10 percent than at our peak.”

In testing for the coronavirus, Borgstrom said, “We now have significant capacity. We’ve done over 73,000 tests since the pandemic began; 11,000 of those have been positive.” She said the rate appears high because only medical staff and people with symptoms have been tested.

Balcezak said that by the end of next week, more than 10,000 employees of Yale New Haven Health will have been tested, “and we are aiming for much less than 1 percent positive,” he said. He said, as of Thursday, about 4,200 staff members had been tested with a positive rate of 0.25 percent.

He said all patients are also being tested, with those who show no symptoms testing positive at a 0.7 percent rate. He said the lower rate among employees is “a testament to how well we have done in terms of reducing transmission among our employees.”

He added that vans will be deployed to New London, New Haven and Bridgeport as additional testing sites, and blood-draw stations across the state also will offer testing.

Balcezak praised Connecticut residents for adhering to the safety and health guidelines of wearing masks, keeping a safe distance from one another and regularly washing hands. “I think we’re starting to see that Connecticut is becoming a national leader in terms of how we’re being able to really snuff out this disease and we’re seeing fewer and fewer positive cases every day.”

Connecticut Media Group