Is dining outside really safe during coronavirus pandemic? Experts weigh in

WPVI logo
Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Is dining outside really safe during COVID-19 pandemic? Experts weigh in
More Americans are dining outside in the age of coronavirus, but with 41 states seeing increases in cases, experts weigh in on whether or not going to a restaurant is safe.

As quarantine fatigue sets in, more Americans are dining outside in the age of coronavirus.

Every state in the country now allows people to eat at restaurants outside, but 41 states are seeing increases in cases.

That's why "Good Morning America" asked seven infectious disease experts: Is dining outside really safe?

Dining in a COVID-19 hotspot

When asked, "Would you dine out outside in an area that's a COVID-19 hot spot?" all seven experts answered "no."

"In a hotspot state, everybody needs to be doing what they can to reduce the spread of the virus ... that means social distancing, masks, all of the things that are really hard to do when you're eating out," said Dr. Anne Rimoin, an epidemiology professor at UCLA.

Dining at restaurants -- both indoor and outdoor -- can pose a moderate to high risk of COVID-19 spread, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency warns that the more an individual interacts with others, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk.

Many experts agreed that opting for takeout is the safer bet.

"I think all epidemiologists are a big fan of to-go food right now," said Dr. Natalie Dean, assistant professor biostatistics at the University of Florida.

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spoke on "Good Morning America" about mask-wearing and reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dining in areas with low COVID-19 transmission

When asked, "Would you dine out in an area with low rates of transmissions," two of the seven experts said "no."

"You're still interacting with the waitress or waiter, and then you're also still nearby whoever you are dining with," Dean said.

The remaining five, however, said they would eat outside with some caveats.

"I think we have to consider individual risk," said Dr. Todd Ellerin, the director of infectious diseases at South Shore Health. "If you are at high risk for severe disease ... then you really cannot afford to acquire this infection."

They said customers looking to dine at outdoor restaurants safely should make sure businesses encourage social distancing -- at least six feet between guests -- and have all staff members wearing face coverings.

The experts also recommended that guests who are not eating wear a mask.

Ellerin said one of the most important safety precautions is considering who is at the table.

"Ideally, you would like those people to be in your bubble," he said.