COVID-19: What does social distancing mean for restaurants and take-out providers?
Updated: Mar 26, 2020
(Updated March 16 at 9:27 am) Governors and elected officials are taking social distancing seriously when it comes to restaurants and bars. After I posted this yesterday, Washington state, New York City and Los Angeles restaurants and bars have been closed down. Take out and delivery will be allowed. The Centers for Disease Control recommended gatherings larger than 50 be cancelled. While writing this story yesterday, Illinois and Ohio closed bars and restaurants to stem coronavirus: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/03/15/coronavirus-latest-news/
(To see live updates in real time on a timeline and keep track, I'm searching "ABC News Live updates coronavirus".) Other outlets are doing similar things.
I'll still serve up the copy I wrote and researched over the last few days. However, I advise my restaurant friends and clients to make plans in case this safeguard is implemented here in NC or SC soon.
As a PR pro and food writer for 18 years before that, I am sharing some of the best reporting I've seen on this topic below.
Please share other sources you'd like to see shared. If your hospitality or tourism business is making smart adjustments, I'd love to hear about it and share with others. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We'll take it from the top:
How does coronavirus spread?
There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus.
The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person:
Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
Enter social distancing...
The guidelines for community mitigation or slowing virus transmission include social distancing. This practice involves putting six feet of space between people who may have the virus and others who may not know they have it--and everyone else in a group, crowd, restaurant, bar, concert, park, etc.
Taking social distancing--and other suggestions from the CDC--seriously can slow the rate of infection down. If we slow the rate of infection, we lower the numbers of individuals needing treatment in our hospitals, already fairly full of people with flu and other illnesses. You may have heard this referred to as "flattening the curve."
If you've heard the scary stories from Italy and other countries battling the virus ahead of us, you know that doctors are making decisions about who gets the best medical attention because there isn't enough staff or space to go around. Hospitals would like to prevent this happening in the United States. And Charlotte, and Rock Hill, SC, etc.
This TheAtlantic.com story on social distancing is worth your time: https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/03/coronavirus-what-does-social-distancing-mean/607927/
What is Fauci recommending?
Dr. Anthony Fauci is the medical and public health professional I'm listening to most closely. Currently the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, he led the charge against AIDs and seems to have no trouble speaking "research to power" (my phrase). During his rounds on Sunday morning talk shows on March 15, he said, "Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing,”
The Sunday Wall Street Journal story continues: "He said he wouldn’t eat at crowded restaurants or fly on planes unless it is necessary, advice that he said applies especially to older Americans and those with health conditions. He said parents should think twice about sending their children out to crowded playgrounds. And young people, even though they appear to be less vulnerable, could be endangering the lives of their grandparents or elderly relatives by not heeding public health warnings, he said.
'I don’t think it’s a good idea to congregate anybody anywhere,' Dr. Fauci said on CBS’s 'Face the Nation.' "
A CNN story today says Fauci does not rule out the "temporary national lockdown of the country's restaurants and bars in order to curb the spread of coronavirus, saying he'd like to see a 'dramatic' reduction in activity in order to fight the disease."
My takeaway: He's giving us a heads up; we should listen and prepare. This may help put this kind of devastating news into perspective: Ohio's Gov. Mike DeWine tweeted "Every day we delay, more people will die."
So, will someone please tell me what's safe when it comes to food?
Harvard Medical School offers this:
Can I catch the coronavirus by eating food handled or prepared by others?
We are still learning about the transmission of the new coronavirus. It's not clear if it can be spread by an infected person through food they have handled or prepared, but if so it would more likely be the exception than the rule.
That said, the new coronavirus is a respiratory virus known to spread by upper respiratory secretions, including airborne droplets after coughing or sneezing. The virus that causes COVID-19 has also been detected in the stool of certain people. So we currently cannot rule out the possibility of the infection being transmitted through food by an infected person who has not thoroughly washed their hands. In the case of hot food, the virus would likely be killed by cooking. This may not be the case with uncooked foods like salads or sandwiches.
TheAtlantic.com offered this stellar article on "how to get food safely" and included expert thoughts on the pros and cons of take-out and delivery. It makes a point about those living alone who may not be able to cook or may have a handicap, etc. A Raleigh professor of religious and ethical studies at Meredith College weighs in, too: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/03/coronavirus-how-get-food-safely/608008/
Take out, drive-through and curbside delivery may be the lifeline for our restaurants and breweries.
If restaurants and bars close by mandatory action, we may need to further strengthen the volunteer safety net serving our senior citizens and others.
Whatever the case, stay at least six-feet apart in public spaces and don't go into a crowded restaurant. If you are the crowded restaurant or bar owner, please consider taking steps to encourage safety. Many restaurants are changing the configurations of their service space and working to minimize contact with servers and guests. I'm compiling a list of these activities, and I'd love for you to share the ones you are seeing or implementing. Limiting contact with each other is essential to slowing the spread.
***See our list of resources for travel, tourism and hospitality businesses dealing with the coronavirus (COVID-19) here.***
--by Susan Dosier, President, DK Communications Group
Susan Dosier worked as a food writer and journalist at Southern Living. Her 18-year career as a writer includes time as a cookbook author, recipe developer and culinary event planner. PR clients (since 2006) have included Visit North Carolina, The Asbury and The Dunhill Hotel, and EUE/Screen Gems Studios. Currently, she represents tourism entities in all three regions of North Carolina and 12 counties across South Carolina.