When is it safe to start eating out again?

Georgia restaurants are reopening, working to meet a long list of safety requirements. But is it okay to start eating out again?

Emory Rollins School of Public Health epidemiologist Maria Sundaram, Ph.D.,  a postdoctoral fellow who studies respiratory viruses, recommends asking yourself two questions before you head back to your favorite restaurant.

First, Sundaram says, are you or anyone in your home at risk of complications of this new coronavirus, if you do get infected?

Secondly, she says, how much viral transmission is going on in your area?

"For me, personally, the case count is too high for me feel comfortable dining in a restaurant right now,” Sundaram says.  “It's too high a risk of exposure."

She recommends waiting, at least for the next few weeks.

"Let's say we're at some point in the future where the case count is much lower, and we're beginning to get things under control here in Georgia,” Sundaram says.

“Then, I would think about, is the environment conducive to be being safe?"

This novel coronavirus is usually spread through close contact, when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or even talks, sending respiratory droplets into the air or onto surfaces.

"The highest risk is going to be places that are very close quarters and places that don't have good ventilation,” she says.  “So, for example, you can imagine a crowded bar would be a very high-risk environment for you and I."

The lowest risk, she says, would involve lots of space between diners, plenty of air movement, and people wearing masks. 

So, before you go, check out your favorite restaurant's social media or website, or call them, to find out what steps they're taking to keep diners safe.

If you decide to dine out, she says, look at the layout of the restaurant.

"How well-ventilated is the area you're going to be in,” Sundaram says.  “Outdoors best. I would also think about, what other precautions are people taking.  Are people wearing masks?  Are people using hand sanitizer?  Are people trying to social distance?"

Before you go into a restaurant, look around.

·       Are the tables spread out?

·       Is it well-ventilated?

·       Is it crowded?

·       Is the wait staff wearing masks?

·       Can you eat outdoors?

Outside tables, separated by about 6 feet, might be your best option, Sudaram says.

"I would feel comfortable if there was a lot of space between me and everyone else,” she says.

If you do decide to eat out, she says, now is not the time to linger over a meal. Other people will be waiting for a table, so be aware of that. Be patient with the staff, as they adjust to this “new normal.”