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The Virus Spread Where Restaurants Reopened or Mask Mandates Were Absent

That includes “everything from having staff stay home when they show signs of Covid or have tested positive or been in contact with someone who has Covid, and requiring masks among employees as well as customers who are not actively eating or drinking,” Dr. Guy said.

Other steps include adequate ventilation, options to eat outdoors, spacing customers six feet apart, encouraging frequent hand washing, and sanitizing of surfaces that are touched a lot, such as cash registers or pay terminals, door handles and tables.

Even if restaurants limit capacity, however, aerosolized virus may accumulate if ventilation is inadequate, Dr. Allen said.

“It doesn’t really matter if it’s a restaurant, spin class, a gym, a choir practice — if you’re indoors with no masks, low or no ventilation, we know that’s higher risk,” he said. “Respiratory aerosols build up indoors. It’s that simple. This is a real problem for restaurants.”

Linsey Marr, an expert on aerosol transmission at Virginia Tech, said Americans could not be expected to follow all the latest science, and so many simply rely on what is open or closed as an indicator of what is safe.

But indoor dining is particularly risky, she added. People typically sit in a restaurant for an hour or more and don’t wear masks while eating, leaving them vulnerable to airborne virus.

“Limiting capacity will help reduce the risk of transmission, but indoor dining is still a high-risk activity until more people are vaccinated,” she said.

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