Is it safe to go to Fayetteville-area restaurants as COVID-19 omicron variant spreads?

·4 min read

It's been nearly two years since the COVID-19 pandemic hit North Carolina, and while restaurants, bars and other businesses can operate at pre-pandemic levels, the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant may mean new concerns for diners and restaurants alike.

Is it safe to eat at restaurants?

Cumberland County, like every county in North Carolina and nearly every county in the country, is classified as red, or high community transmission, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While there is no statewide mask mandate in North Carolina, several counties, including Cumberland County, require masks to be worn indoors, unless actively eating or drinking.

The staff at Luigi's Italian Chophouse and Bar get the restaurant ready for sit down customers on Friday, May 22, 2020.
The staff at Luigi's Italian Chophouse and Bar get the restaurant ready for sit down customers on Friday, May 22, 2020.

In its most recent guidance issued Jan. 5, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services recommended that North Carolina residents get vaccinated and boosted, when eligible, use social distancing in public spaces and wear a mask, ideally a surgical or procedure mask, a KN95, or an N95.

Cumberland County Health Director Dr. Jennifer Green agreed, saying that diners should be fully vaccinated and boosted (if eligible) before dining indoors and should wear a mask when not actively eating or drinking.

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Those who are sick should not dine in restaurants during their five-day isolation or quarantine period, Green said. During the additional five-day mask-wearing period following quarantine, do not go places where others are not wearing a mask, Green said.

A new study published Jan. 6 showed that people who got either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series and then a booster achieved “potent” neutralization against omicron, USA Today reported.

You can't eat wearing a mask, but are they still helpful?

Yes.

Green stressed that even though masks can't be worn while eating or drinking, they can and should be worn during other times at a restaurant, such as while waiting for a table, talking at the table while waiting for food to arrive or while ordering food and drinks at a bar.

"Masks are still an important part of our strategy to reduce transmission," she said.

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Is it safe for parents with unvaccinated children to dine at restaurants?

For parents with unvaccinated children, Green said it's important that all others in the party around the child be fully vaccinated and boosted, and that the child wear a mask if they are older than 2.

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Can restaurants require proof of vaccination?

Yes, restaurants in North Carolina are allowed to require diners to be vaccinated before entering. While a number of Triangle-area restaurants and other venues require proof of vaccination, no Cumberland County restaurants are known to have made similar requests.

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Is outdoor dining safer than indoor dining?

Blue Moon's outdoor dining space  allows dog owners to bring their pooches along for the experience.
Blue Moon's outdoor dining space allows dog owners to bring their pooches along for the experience.

Yes, dining outdoors is safer than dining indoors, Green said.

Since the pandemic began, many Fayetteville-area restaurants have added or expanded outdoor dining.

More: 8 great spots to dine outdoors around Fayetteville

What other measures can restaurants implement?

Along with encouraging employees to get fully vaccinated and boosted — and providing the time off for employees to do so — restaurants should make sure employees are correctly and consistently wearing a well-fitted mask, consider weekly testing for unvaccinated employees and post signage and make sure customers are wearing masks, Green said.

Restaurants should encourage sick employees to stay home and get tested, provide employees with information on how and where to get tested, report positive COVID-19 cases to their county's health department and work with the health department to contact trace staff to contain any spread.

Hand washing and hand sanitizer stations should be available and promoted, Green said. Restaurants should also increase ventilation in indoor settings and clean and disinfect the space in accordance with CDC guidelines.

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What's the ideal dining scenario?

For the safest possible dining experience, Green recommends dining outdoors, with tables distanced apart from other diners. All fellow diners at your table should be fully vaccinated and boosted, as well as the staff working at the restaurant.

While there is a risk associated with any indoor activity, those steps will help reduce the risk of transmission, Green said.

Jacob Pucci writes on food, restaurants and business. Contact him by email at jpucci@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @jacobpucci or on Facebook. Like talking food? Join our Fayetteville Foodies Facebook group.

This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: Is it safe to eat out at restaurants as COVID-19 omicron spreads?

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