Restaurants in New Jersey were set to reopen for indoor dining on Thursday, but on Monday Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said that it won’t happen. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio followed suit announcing on Wednesday that the city, which was set to offer indoor dining next week, also won’t.
“We have seen spikes in other states driven in part by the return of patrons to indoor dining establishments where they are seated and without face coverings for significant periods of time,” Murphy said during a briefing held Monday.
“We cannot go ahead at this point in time with indoor dining in New York City,” de Blasio said on Wednesday. “Even a week ago honestly I was hopeful that we could. But the news we’ve gotten around the country gets worse and worse all the time.”
“ ‘There’s nothing magical about six feet. That’s about that average distance respiratory droplets can travel, so being further apart from people is always better.’ ”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he is going to make a final decision regarding indoor dining on Wednesday. “We know that indoor dining has been problematic,” he said during a briefing held Monday. “Outdoor dining has worked very well all across the state, New York City included.”
That said, “there have been no major outbreaks related to indoor dining,” a New York Department of Health spokesman told MarketWatch.
“We’re not going backwards, we’re going forwards,” Cuomo said Monday. “[A] lot of these other states have actually had to go backwards. They started to reopen and they had to stop.”
So what makes indoor dining riskier?
For starters, it can be much harder to space tables further apart when you’re inside. Even though six feet is the widely publicized distance people should maintain from one another to avoid potentially coming in contact with respiratory droplets that can transmit coronavirus, there’s scientific evidence that these droplets have the ability to travel well beyond six feet.
“There’s nothing magical about six feet,” said Ryan Malosh, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “That’s about that average distance respiratory droplets can travel, so being further apart from people is always better.”
On top of that, air filtration is generally better outdoors than indoors because particles have more room to be dispersed, Malosh said. “Outdoors, a light breeze can disperse particles with no constraint on the distance they can then travel.”
Diners don’t tend to wear masks outdoors. If people wear masks indoors, however, that can significantly lower the chances of dispersing virus-containing particles, said Thomas Russo, chief of the division of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo.
“ ‘It’s already going to be dicey going into the school year and getting elementary students to wear masks is going to be hard, but it’s an important activity that’s much different than going into restaurant indoors.’ ”
In fact, over 140 clients who visited a hair salon based in Springfield-Greene County, Mo. where two stylists tested positive for coronavirus did not contract the virus themselves. The county’s Director of Health, Clay Goddard, cited the “value of masking” as the reason 140 clients and six other employees at the salon did not contract coronavirus.
Meanwhile, more than 100 cases of coronavirus were traced back to one bar in East Lansing, Mich. which reopened on June 8. Malosh used this as an example of the increased risk of dining indoors.
(Harper’s did not immediately respond to MarketWatch’s request for a comment.)
Even though malls and movie theaters in some states’ reopening plans are allowed to reopen after restaurants can reopen for indoor dining, Russo said indoor dining poses greater risks.
“Whenever there’s a scenario where everyone can wear masks at all times the risk is lower,” Russo said. “When eating you physically can’t wear a mask but you can minimize that risk by popping it back on between bites.”
States like New York and Jersey which have been hit particularly hard by the virus, are also planning to reopen schools in the fall and “want to start off the school year with the best possible conditions,” Russo told MarketWatch.
“It’s already going to be dicey going into the school year and getting elementary students to wear masks is going to be hard, but it’s an important activity that’s much different than going into a restaurant indoors.”