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Expert weighs in on safety of outdoor dining

Many are eating al fresco as COVID-19 pandemic wages on
Published: Aug. 21, 2020 at 10:47 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The COVID-19 pandemic has driven many people to look to the outdoors when it comes to meal time. But is eating al fresco a safer option than eating inside?

“Any activity you can choose to do outside than inside, there’s an additional safety factor,” said Dr. Joshua Santarpia, an associate professor of pathology and microbiology at UNMC.

Dr. Santarpia says eating outdoors offers additional airflow that can reduce the spread of the virus, plus other outdoor factors like sunshine and humidity that can impact viral stability.

But that’s not to say there aren’t some risks associated with outdoor dining. For example, most people will not be wearing masks, and without them, Dr. Santarpia says people aren’t fully protected.

“You don’t have that potential helpful factor involved in mitigating anything,” said Dr. Santarpia.

When you go to a restaurant, you’re also putting yourself in the presence of people you don’t know.

“If you’re around only your family you have an understanding of what your family is doing, or your close friends, of how they’re behaving and treating their own personal risk in this environment,” he said. “When you’re around a bunch of people you don’t know, you don’t know what that is. You don’t know if someone is more at risk for having the disease then someone you interact with.”

Greg and Kathy Krauth were eating outside in the Old Market Friday evening. The couple say they feel perfectly safe eating outdoors and plan to continue it in the near future.

“I think the outdoors is what’s really important – apparently the sun and fresh air is very anti-viral,” said Greg Krauth.

Shae Neilsen and Dalton Staller were also dining on a restaurant patio Friday, but only because it was their anniversary and only because they could eat outside.

“We’ve been pretty scared but they let us have outdoor reservations and that’s really the only way we’ll go out to eat,” said Nielsen.

The two say they feel safer outside.

“It’s supposed to be more safe because it’s open air, and less risk of transmission,” said Staller.

“It’s just nice to be able to breathe fresh air without someone next to you all the time,” added Nielsen.

If you do plan to eat outdoors, Dr. Santarpia suggests following the guidelines health officials have been talking about for months: wear a mask, social distance, and keep groups small.

“Not just assuming that ‘it’s outdoor dining, I can throw all this advice to the wind and go do what I want because it’s outside,’ and that’s just not true.”

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