Dr. Fauci Just Said This Is the Only Safe Way to Eat at a Restaurant

The top infectious disease expert says you should only dine indoors if this one rule is being followed.

For many of us, one of the most difficult adjustments throughout the pandemic has been the loss of beloved local restaurants, diners, and cafés to temporary closures in the name of public health and safety. And while health experts agree that outdoor dining is much less risky than eating inside at a restaurant, some cities such as New York have recently announced they will slowly begin to reopen indoor dining as cold winter weather has made patios and sidewalk seating too frigid to bear. But according to Anthony Fauci, MD, White House chief COVID adviser, there's only one way to stay safe while dining indoors. Read on to see what staying safe while eating inside looks like, and for more places you need to avoid, check out This Is Where You're Most Likely to Catch COVID Now, New Study Says.

Social distancing is key to safe indoor dining.

young woman with bob sitting at table in restaurant being served coffee by woman in mask

While appearing on CNN on Feb. 2 with Don Lemon, Fauci addressed the issue of the imminent return of indoor dining in some areas. He explained that the only safe way to approach the practice is through social distancing of diners and making sure that tables are placed far enough apart from each other. "If you do indoor dining, you do it in a spaced way where you don't have people sitting right next to each other," he said. And for more ways you can protect yourself in public, find out why Dr. Fauci Says You Should Be Wearing This Kind of Mask Now.

Fauci recognized the hardships restaurants are facing.

Four young women sitting in restaurant, wearing face mask on chin.

Fauci, who has long been a vocal critic of the practice of eating indoors due to the potential dangers it presents, also took a moment to defend the hard calls he's had to make over the past year. He clarified that he was aware of the hardships such restrictions created for the restaurant industry, but that safety had to take priority.

"You know, people think sometimes that public health officials are oblivious to the economic considerations—not at all, I mean, we are very empathetic towards that," he confessed. "But we still have to maintain the public health measures if we're going to get our arms around this outbreak." And for more on getting coronavirus safety measures right, check out If Your Mask Doesn't Have These 4 Things, Get a New One, Doctor Says.

Getting back to "normal" will require hitting vaccination goals.

A young woman sitting in a car and wearing a face mask receives the COVID-19 vaccine from a healthcare worker wearing gloves.

At another point in the interview, Fauci predicted that the end phases of the pandemic would likely begin before the end of the year, saying that society could "get back to normal" and people could resume some daily activities, like eating out safely, within the coming months. "I think if we do it right—if we really efficiently and effectively get people vaccinated—we can do that by the end of the summer [or] the beginning of the fall," he told Lemon.

But Fauci also emphasized that there were still plenty of major hurdles in the way before "normal" could become a reality again. "It's going to be a cohort effect, and what I mean by [that] is you that can't look at yourself in a vacuum," he explained. "Normal is a societal thing, so what we mean if we want our society to get back to normal, you have to get 70 to 85 percent of the population vaccinated. If you can get people protected and get an umbrella of what we call 'herd immunity,' the level of infection is going to go very, very low down in the community, and at that point, the entire community can get back to normal." And for more vaccine news, find out why If You're Over 65, You Shouldn't Get This New Vaccine, Experts Warn.

The CDC has also highlighted the inherent risk of indoor dining.

Dining inside restaurant during pandemic

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's decision to reopen indoor dining has reignited a debate over the topic. In New York City, the seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 people has increased from 40.2 on Dec. 11 when the decision was made to close dining rooms to 66.1 as of Jan. 29, The New York Times reports. According to a study released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in September, those who reported eating out at a restaurant in the previous two weeks were more than twice as likely to test positive for COVID than those who had not—even if basic safety precautions were in place.

"Direction, ventilation, and intensity of airflow might affect virus transmission, even if social distancing measures and mask use are implemented according to current guidance," the agency said in their report. "Masks cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking, whereas shopping and numerous other indoor activities do not preclude mask use."And for more on who's most likely to get you sick, check out This Is Who Is Most Likely to Give You COVID Now, New Study Says.

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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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