PORT COQUITLAM (NEWS 1130) — An agri-foods expert is offering tips on dining out during the pandemic after Earls in Port Coquitlam became the latest restaurant to temporarily close due to COVID-19.
The Shaughnessy Street business had to be sanitized after three staff members tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Out of caution, if closed on Monday, when B.C. recorded 102 cases of COVID-19 over a three-day period. At least 25 of them were linked to an exposure event in Kelowna on the Canada Day long weekend.
An alert was issued that included anyone who visited the Cactus Club on Water Street.
Also Monday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry warned B.C. could see an explosive increase in cases if residents aren’t more careful about the size of their social circles and who is in them.
That raised questions about the safety of sitting in a restaurant, which reopened as part of the third phase of the provincial government’s economic restart plan.
But Sylvain Charlebois, with the Agri-food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax, says if you notice restaurant staff aren’t following the proper safety protocols or wearing personal protective equipment, then leave.
“I think most people would feel [more] comfortable eating on a patio than indoors because what we’re seeing so far are packed patios or patios that are being requested. Indoor dining is much less popular across the country because there is speculation the virus can spread indoors much more efficiently than outdoors.”
So, we’ve had several instances of either #COVID19 infected customers or staff at BC restaurants. Some eateries have had to be shut down temporarily. We want to know: how comfortable are you going into a restaurant? Please call me in the @NEWS1130 newsroom at 604.877.4400.
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You may see your server wearing PPE and Charlebois says that may not necessarily be the case for the cooks in the kitchen.
“What we’ve seen so far are restauranteurs being extremely careful, even though sometimes temperatures can reach beyond 30 degrees. It’s very hot in a kitchen or serving patrons. We have seen several restaurant operators sticking to the rules, making sure their employees wear the proper PPE.”
‘Can’t be transmitted through food’
To be clear, COVID-19 can’t be transmitted through food.
“There’s always a risk, of course, when it comes to food safety. But the risk is very, very limited. Concerns are often about human to human transmission, either in front or back of the house. There’s a huge debate going on right now with droplets and the size of droplets that can carry the virus. Results are inclusive, but people just don’t want to take a chance. The probability of contracting COVID-19 while sitting on a patio outside is very small.”
He adds if you’re being served by someone not wearing PPE but is blocked by Plexiglass, then it’s fine.
“If the person actually serving you is not wearing a mask or gloves, and [there’s no] Plexiglass, then I would turn around.”
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Anecdotally, Charlebois says he’s been to a few restaurants and he’s noticed most of the dining spaces are empty and he’s not sure how long things will look like that.
“It boils down to one magical question: when are we going to get a vaccine? The virus is still around and, of course, if you want to go out and treat yourself you want to do it in a safe manner and restaurant operators will want you to feel safe as well. So, I don’t think it’s going to change anytime soon, or at least, before the holidays.”
He doesn’t people to be scared about going out to grab a bite to eat, but encourages you to take the extra safety precautions so you’re safe.
‘Resurgence in cases driven by youth’
With an uptick in cases in B.C. of late, the province’s top doctor saying people are no longer abiding by the rules and there are increasing number of private house parties, clubbing, and expanding bubbles when dining out with friends.
These newer outbreaks are sparking questions about whether bars and restaurants should remain open.
Canada’s Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo says the recent resurgence in cases nationally is largely being driven by younger people who are not taking the proper precautions.
“There was, I think, quite a cluster of cases associated with Kelowna, in terms of bars and restaurants and indoors parties, etc. As with other parts of the country we’re keeping a close eye on it.”
Njoo adds young people often have a sense of invincibility, which he believes could be contributing to the new outbreaks. However, he feels decisions about whether bars or restaurants should be allowed to continue staying open must be left to local authorities.