GREENSBORO, N.C. — Cold weather and outside dining mix about as well as oil and vinegar, though the pandemic is fueling the appetite for all-season 'al fresco.'
So-called dining 'bubble pods' are popping up on restaurant patios and sidewalks this winter. They seem nice, in theory -- eat outside during the pandemic while shielding from the winter elements. But, is it true they are safe?
Dining pods can be a COVID-safe dining option in winter, but they must meet three criteria -- cleanliness, ventilation and party precautions.
"You really need to be dining in a bubble with people in your own bubble," emphasized Wake Forest Baptist Health infectious diseases physician Chris Ohl, MD.
He explained the 'bubble' means people from your own household or people with whom you've entered an agreement of shared exposure risk.
"The restaurant or the dining establishment needs to really make sure these things are cleaned out well -- all the horizontal and vertical surfaces inside the pod between different customers -- and to make sure they are ventilated, so the air inside of them is changed out," he said.
What if the pod has a heater? Ohl explained warm air rises and can keep the virus airborne longer, so a heated space must have ventilation with six air exchanges to reduce the risk of transmission in the pod. As long as the pod gets a thorough cleaning after each group, the next group should be able to enter safely right away.
The CDC and Mayo Clinic affirm when you are outside, fresh air is constantly moving, which helps disperse the COVID-19 droplets that can make you sick.
Eating in a bubble pod can be a safe outdoor dining option to support local businesses during this pandemic winter. Just make sure it's clean, ventilated and contains only people in your household 'bubble.'