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Some Winter Outdoor Dining Venues Invite COVID-19 Risk

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Monday, January 18, 2021   

SEATTLE, Wash. -- With a cold and rainy winter settling in, many Washingtonians are counterintuitively feeling the urge to dine out.

But COVID-19 cases continue to surge, and some outdoor solutions restaurants have created to battle the elements pose risks.

Marissa Baker, an assistant professor at the University of Washington's School of Public Health who specializes in industrial hygiene, said the point of dining outside is that air flow breaks up pockets of dangerous aerosols that might linger from other diners.

"When you're outside and there are structures that are put up that might be impeding the flow of air, you're really not being able to take advantage of that ventilation," Baker explained. "And so in a lot of ways, you're still having a lot of the risks that you would have inside."

Bubble-like structures restrict air flow and can expose restaurant workers to the virus. Designs with only two or three walls are preferable.

But Baker noted even limited, safer structures still create the potential for spreading the virus.

"We definitely want to keep supporting our restaurants and the workers in our restaurants," Baker maintained. "The safest way to do it not only for yourself but also for those workers is through takeout, curbside pickup, buying gift cards."

She added eating out is also risky because people likely are meeting up with friends or even family members they don't live with.

Baker asserted many restaurants are doing the best they can while facing a tough economic situation.

"It's a challenging question of being able to keep the workers and patrons safe but also the restaurant being able to stay open and keep their workers employed," Baker concluded.


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