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COVID-19 is scary, and we would never downplay the absolute importance of following the safety recommendations of the CDC, WHO, and health professionals across the country. But after months of isolation, it’s understandable when you want to reappear and socialize a bit. (Just no COVID parties. Please.)
Of course, it would be safer if we were all in strict quarantine indefinitely, but we are social animals and after some point it is not good for our emotional and mental health to be alone.
Enter restaurants. The push and pull of wanting to support your favorite places without endangering the staff (or yourself) can be overwhelming for AF. What Can a Hungry, Health Conscious Person Do?
To help, we asked inclusive physician Shadi Vadhat, MD, about the do̵
1. Call ahead
Call and ask what steps they have taken to improve the security of COVID-19 before you even head to your favorite place. You should ensure that they are following CDC guidelines for safely screening employees and leaving sick employees at home for the appropriate amount of time. When ordering, calling ahead of time can help minimize waiting times.
Most importantly, wash your hands all day long when you are out and about, especially after using the toilet, after coughing or sneezing, and before eating. Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
2. Keep it out
Although some cities and states have allowed indoor eating to resume, Vadhat does not recommend it. The hard truth: You are at a much higher risk of infection indoors than outdoors.
The risk of COVID-19 transmission outdoors is much lower as the air circulation is much better. If we sit in rooms with stale air, we put ourselves in unnecessary danger. Although ~ winter is coming ~ it is much better to dine outdoors for now.
3. Stick to restaurants with touchless menus
Are you sure you want to deal with a menu that has a dozen other guests and waiters everywhere having their paws? Many places opt for menus that you can access with a QR code on your smartphone instead, and most restaurants these days keep their full menus online.
It’s far better to touch your device than to manage a menu (although keeping your smartphone sparkling clean is also important).
4. BYO hand sanitizer
Any restaurant you go to right now is almost certainly being properly filled with hand soap and hand sanitizer. However, some restaurant owners may not be aware that certain hand sanitizers are banned that contain toxic ingredients like methanol or 1-propanol, which are harmful if absorbed into the skin or life threatening if ingested.
The FDA has found these toxins in nearly 175 brands of hand sanitizer, and the list continues to grow. The solution? Carry your own hand so you know it is at least 60 percent alcohol and from a brand that is free of contamination. (See the Environmental Working Group’s list of high quality hand sanitizers.)
5. Wear a mask when chatting with your server
Even if the signs posted in the restaurant say you can take off your masks when you’re seated, it’s a good idea to put them back on when you’re talking to your server or someone you’re not quarantined with. Just because a sign says it’s okay doesn’t mean you should take off your mask if you are within 6 feet of someone.
6. Keep your distance
Let’s reconsider the 6 foot rule. While many restaurants have been licensed to operate when there is outdoor seating, they may not provide adequate distance between tables and customers. A minimum of 6 feet between customers or tables is important to reduce transmission.
Keep this in mind when you are in line to order or wait for the bathroom. The risk of transmission increases with people who have been in close contact over a long period of time. So keep your distance and keep moving to minimize exposure.
7. Sharing is important, but not during COVID-19
Salt and pepper shakers, iPads, pens, ketchup bottles – anything you touch in a restaurant can be a source of unwanted germs. Studies on the survivability of the virus on various surfaces have shown that virus particles can survive on plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours.
Avoid using reusable items that may not be cleaned or cleaned between customers. This means you can bring your own salt shaker or you can just quickly wipe it down with a disinfectant wipe. Minimize currency exchange and opt for contactless payment options whenever possible. And maybe you won’t share food unless you are sure both parties are COVID-19 free.
8. Wash your hands before and after eating
Do you remember when your parents told you to wash before dinner? This rule has never been more important. Hand washing is important to protect yourself from the transmission of COVID-19.
Good old soap and water are still one of the best ways to break open the lipid membranes (protective shells) of bacteria and viruses. The chemicals in the soap break up the virus’s protective fat layer, making it less likely that the virus will survive. So when you wash your hands, you are literally attacking and washing away germs.
This is where it gets tricky: Entering a poorly ventilated room like a restaurant bathroom to wash your hands may not be in your best interests. But when the restaurant is reasonably empty there is no queue and you can hop on and off. It is better to wash up than to rely on hand sanitizer. (And make sure you are using the correct hand washing technique.)