Don't Eat Indoors If You Live Here—Even If You're Vaccinated, Virus Expert Warns
Eating inside in these locations can put you at risk of catching the Delta variant.
If you're fully vaccinated, your life likely returned to some version of normal in the weeks that followed your final dose. Dinning indoors, grocery shopping without a mask, and feeling comfortable enough to board a plane are just some of the perks that come with getting the COVID vaccine. However, as the Delta variant picks up steam, now accounting for 93 percent of all COVID cases, many of the things we had finally started doing again are now risky once more. Experts have been warning that eating indoors in particular can be dangerous, even for vaccinated people, if you live in certain areas.
Infectious disease epidemiologist Saskia Popescu, PhD, told The Washington Post that she thinks it's best to frame your decision to dine out as a risk assessment. The three factors Popescu said are essential when assessing your risk of contracting COVID are whether you're fully vaccinated, your personal risk, and the level of transmission in your community. Your personal risk, she says, depends on whether you're immunocompromised or share a home with an unvaccinated or vulnerable person, and the level of transmission within your community can be found by looking for your county on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) COVID Data Tracker.
Based on the current data, the large majority of counties nationwide are seeing high transmission, especially those in the Sun Belt. Similarly, COVID Act Now, which has also been tracking numbers since early in the pandemic, currently notes all states are at at least a high risk level. The website uses daily new cases per 100,000, infection rate, and test positivity to determine risk level on a five-color scale where green means low risk; yellow means medium risk; orange means high risk; red means very high risk; and dark red means severe risk. Currently, no states are at the low or medium risk levels.
According to experts that The Washington Post spoke with, the worst-case scenario for dining indoors would be if you lived in a community with a substantial or high level of COVID transmission and a low vaccination rate. "If you're in an area that you're at moderate [risk] in your county, but everywhere else is substantial or high, I'd say maybe that might be an indicator that things are potentially increasing and it might be a safer decision to move outside," Popescu explained.
However, there are ways to safely dine out even as the Delta variant continues to spread. The best-case scenario for dining indoors would be if you and your fellow diners are all vaccinated, eating in a place with good ventilation, and putting your mask on when talking to your server or getting up from your table.
"If the servers are wearing masks and if they're vaccinated, you're not going to have a lot of ping-ponging of the virus back and forth," Peter Chin-Hong, MD, professor of medicine and infectious-disease specialist, told The Washington Post. "You're basically making a cocoon of safety, but that doesn't mean there is zero risk, just like when you wear a seat belt, you can still get into an accident." He compared the COVID vaccine to an umbrella. "When it's raining, it can shelter you, but when there is a big thunderstorm, you can't always dodge all the rain."
Some restaurants are taking things a step further by banning unvaccinated people in an effort to stop the spread, and now certain areas are doing the same. On Aug. 3, New York City became the first city to require proof of vaccination for people dining indoors or going to indoor gyms and performances, a shift that will begin to be enforced on Sept. 13.
While no other cities have made a similar move, many restaurant owners have taken things into their own hands. Restaurants and bars in cities like San Francisco, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Boston, Massachusetts; Atlanta, Georgia; Boulder, Colorado; St. Louis, Missouri; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Washington, D.C. have begun to require proof of vaccination to dine indoors. As one Seattle restaurant owner told The Seattle Times: "No shirt, no shoes, no vaccine, no entry."