Lunch in the Time of COVID
COVID suggestions keep evolving. I did a little analysis in July, mostly focused on the question as to how we should have lunch at work… inside, outside, distanced, etc… Here’s what I came up with:
There’s no perfect answer but here’s what my research is digging up. My own input at the end.
CDC on “universal masking” in schools – If community COVID levels are “high”, there should be “universal masking”. Levels are high in Marin and most of California.
CDC on colleges and masking – Wear a mask when you’re indoors. When outdoors, you don’t need a mask unless you’re in “close contact” with people. “Close contact” is defined as within 6 feet of another person for greater than 15 minutes if you’re unmasked, or 3 feet if you’re masked
CDC on building ventilation To paraphrase a long page: more ventilation, more outside air is always good. Use fans to get rid of dead air spots but don’t blow air from one person onto another. HEPA filters are good in small spaces. Improving HVAC filters is good but not at the top of the list
A google search for “study covid restaurant” turns up lots of articles saying that dining is a risky activity. A notable issue: a case where a strongly blowing air conditioner infected people 21 feet away from one another with just 5 minutes of mask-off time.
Here’s a study with an important reminder, that all of the efforts help but none perfectly:
“COVID-19 incidence was 37% lower in schools that required teachers and staff members to use masks and 39% lower in schools that improved ventilation. Ventilation strategies associated with lower school incidence included dilution methods alone (35% lower incidence) or in combination with filtration methods (48% lower incidence).”
Here’s the guidance for UCSF hospital on dining and COVID. It’s a quick read. Paraphrased, I believe it reads, “Yeah, you could eat indoors but outdoors is a lot better”
What do -I- think? Dining outdoors generally automatically provides far greater ventilation than almost any indoor venue. I do not feel comfortable dining in a shared space with potentially stagnant air.
For our space, I’d like to figure out the airflow and consider maybe adding fans to remove any stagnant air spots.
Of course, the CDC has also completely changed the definition of what’s a “high” level. Old rule was “high” was anything over 100 cases per 100,000 population in the past seven days. New rule is that “high” requires both over 200 cases per 100,000 in the past seven days and high levels of either new hospitalizations or percent of inpatient beds occupied by COVID patients. So we’ve at least doubled the number of cases needed–and even those aren’t enough if people aren’t being hospitalized. And that’s true even though 200 cases now is equivalent to many more than 200 cases then, because cases are now being substantially underreported due to home testing.
This frustrates me no end. I am vaccinated and multiply boosted, and would have access to Paxlovid if I got COVID, so I’m not really worried about hospitalization or death. But I do worry about long COVID. And as far as I can make out, the CDC has just thrown up its hands and decided that it shouldn’t be issuing the sort of guidance that takes into account the fact that cases that don’t lead to hospitalization can still lead to long COVID–as well as to an increased risk of everything from brain damage to kidney damage down the road.
So I don’t go to restaurants, unless they have outdoor seating, regardless of how good the ventilation is. (One issue with the fan idea is that it might have just the same effect as the air conditioning system you mention, actually pushing the virus from one person to another.)
But of course, if you have to go to work (as opposed to working from home), the issue becomes what to do when it gets too cold to eat outside. That may not be a big issue where you are, but in the DC area, it’s a big consideration.
Free, I’m with you, it’s frustrating!