The CDC Says This Is How Much Dining Out Increases Your COVID Risk

It's bad news for anyone who misses eating at their favorite restaurants but wants to stay safe.

Most people have been excited to venture back out into the world ever since businesses began reopening across the country after weeks or months in lockdown. But as shops, cafes, and salons opened back up, it became clear that not every venue was safe to return to—especially indoor dining at restaurants and bars. Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning that dining out may be a bigger COVID risk factor than you thought, even if you're eating outdoors.

The CDC published a report on Sept. 1o based on the results of a survey of coronavirus patients regarding the places they visited and how much they followed basic health guidelines such as wearing a mask or social distancing. The findings revealed that those who tested positive for COVID were twice as likely to have eaten out two weeks before symptom onset as those who tested negative, including at restaurants with outdoor and patio dining.

Dining inside restaurant during pandemic

Previous research has also linked dining out to a higher rate of coronavirus infections. In June, JPMorgan released a report on the link between the amount of money spent at restaurants and the new infection rate in a given area. The results showed that places where people spent more money at restaurants saw a spike in cases three weeks later.

The CDC study concludes that while safety protocols such as face coverings could greatly help reduce COVID transmission, restaurants make it practically impossible for customers to follow health guidelines. "Masks cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking, whereas shopping and numerous other indoor activities do not preclude mask use," the CDC concludes.

The study also makes note of previous reports of air conditioning and heating systems in restaurants that have led to virus transmission. The CDC warns that "direction, ventilation, and intensity of airflow might affect virus transmission, even if social distancing measures and mask use are implemented according to current guidance."

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The CDC's report comes as major cities around the U.S. are beginning to expand dining options. On Sept. 9, for example, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that restaurants in New York City would be allowed to reopen for indoor dining for the first time since March at 25 percent capacity.

The good news is, some health experts say safely returning to your favorite restaurant is possible if you're extra dilligent. "Even if I'm sitting at a table and the food hasn't arrived yet, I still wear a mask. I won't sit at a table that's next to somebody else," Todd Rice, MD, a co-author of the CDC report and an associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told NBC News. He also added that he requests to be seated outdoors.

While the CDC's guidelines say that outdoor dining is preferable to eating indoors at a restaurant, the agency notes that delivery and takeout are the least risky options. And for more on what people with COVID are experiencing for weeks, check out The 98 Longest Lasting COVID Symptoms You Need to Know About.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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