Local restaurants are keeping coronavirus prevention standards “exceptionally high,” according to King County head of food safety Dr. Eyob Mazengia. The department has carried out more than 7,800 spot-checks since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis and found safety compliance up to 96%, he notes. “Restaurants want to protect patrons and workers,” Mazengia said. The problems they’ve seen, he says, are largely on the part of customers — “congregating or getting too close,” exhibiting “failure to maintain social distancing.” Masks are extremely important as well, he stresses: “Definitely wear masks while you are out and about.
“The responsible thing to do,” Mazengia continued, “is to be very familiar with the different options available for preventing the risk of transmission of COVID-19.”
Here’s his three-pronged approach to staying safe(r) if you choose to dine out now — and doing your part to keep others from risk.
BEFORE YOU DECIDE TO GO TO A RESTAURANT
- Mazengia says those with underlying health conditions or who are otherwise at high risk might want to just say no. Consider takeout: “If you’re high risk, you can still get food from your favorite establishment and eat it somewhere else,” he said.
- “If you are sick,” Mazengia said, “you need to stay home. You need to self-quarantine.”
- Then, would-be diners-out should check the restaurant’s food safety rating online.
- Mazengia then “encourages customers to maybe place a call and ask a few questions,” including: What is the restaurant doing to comply with physical distancing? What about ensuring sick employees don’t come to work? Are staff members trained in COVID-19 prevention practices? Are they wearing masks?
- Consider choosing a restaurant with outdoor dining (and, you know, a nice day). “Proper ventilation minimizes risk,” Mazengia said.
- Choose a slow time with fewer diners — if a restaurant’s open midafternoon, for instance, that’s likely to be less crowded, and thus less risky, than at lunch or dinnertime proper.
BEFORE YOUR RESTAURANT TRIP
- Per what’s allowed under modified Phase 1, limit the size of your party to five or less, Mazengia said.
- Make sure no one in your party is sick.
- Make sure everyone in your party will be wearing masks.
- Practice good hygiene, including taking hand sanitizer with you (and using it).
UPON ARRIVAL AT THE RESTAURANT
- Always wear a mask unless at the table.
- Check for signs of safety compliance: staff wearing masks, proper physical distancing, available hand sanitizer, signs posted about how to proceed rather than people congregating.
- If it’s crowded, visit at a different time.
- Again, if possible, dine outdoors, where better ventilation means lower risk. Avoid sitting near heavy foot traffic, e.g., hallways or right outside the kitchen. Bar seating is not currently allowed.
- Minimize the duration of your stay. “Owners have limited chairs,” Mazengia said, “and you also are being protective of yourself and loved ones.”
- Utilize prepayment or remote payment options if available.
- Be ready to bail out. “If it gets crowded at any time, I would recommend that you leave. If customers are coughing, leave,” Mazengia said. If any lack of safety compliance is belatedly observed, he said, “I would shorten my visit as well.”
- If you observe practices encouraging the transmission of COVID-19, Mazengia urges you to report it — call 206-263-9566 or go to kingcounty.gov/depts/health/covid-19/contact.aspx