As restrictions slowly lift in different parts of the world, you're left on your own to make certain decisions about your health and safety. And as you ease back into enjoying more social interactions, one particular question that may be popping up is, "Do I need to wear a mask to a restaurant?" — assuming, that is, it's not already mandatory to do so where you live.
The statistics on COVID-19 are still shifting, and there's a lot left to learn about this infectious disease, but health professionals — including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention — have settled on a few ways to minimize your risk, and masks have been a big part of this conversation. For example, while reusable, fabric masks (as opposed to medical, N95 ones) may not necessarily prevent you from exposure, the CDC endorses their use to protect anyone you come into contact with, as they add a barrier for respiratory droplets.
Now that many cities have begun to move into new phases of re-opening, people are reevaluating how they can socialize, which may include heading back into local restaurants. That said, some experts are saying "not so fast" when it comes to dining in (or out, for that matter). There are a few precautions to consider before going back — including how and when your mask should be used. Ahead, find recommendations from two medical experts on the best practices for wearing masks at restaurants.
Wearing A Mask At A Restaurant: Check Local Legislature
For some, the answer whether or not to wear a mask anywhere — let alone to a restaurant — isn't up for discussion; it's the law. "Depending on your state, wearing a mask in public may be mandatory," says Treated's Clinical Lead Dr. Daniel Atkinson. "Check any local guidelines advice before you go out (like going to a restaurant) to ensure you’re complying."
Wearing A Mask At A Restaurant: Consider Your Current Health Status
The next thing to consider is your own health, as medical sources strongly advise against any type of public exposure if you're immunocompromised or if you've been feeling unwell/are showing any symptoms of COVID-19. Simply put, if you're not already in good health, you shouldn't even consider going to a restaurant — mask or no mask.
Wearing A Mask At A Restaurant: Sit Outside
"If you do decide to go to a restaurant, you should try to get a table outside (if this is an option) or if you have to sit inside, try and get a seat by a window," says Dr. Atkinson. "The virus isn’t as strong outside, compared to being indoors. These seats are likely to be in high demand, so keep this in mind. Don’t even think about going if you’re feeling unwell, keep yourself and others safe by staying at home." And in either case, the six-feet-apart distancing rule should be put in place, even if you and those around you are wearing masks.
Wearing A Mask At A Restaurant: Clean & Store Your Mask Properly
Remember that a fabric or reusable mask isn't beneficial if it's not properly cleaned, or if you're allowing it to be stored somewhere it can easily be contaminated (like loose in your purse, for example). Dr. Atkinson reminds mask-wearers to take theirs on and off by the handles/ties, washing your hands often, and keeping it in a safe place while you're eating. Later, when you launder it, use a high temperature for both the wash and dry cycles.
Wearing A Mask At A Restaurant: Observe The Staff
"I would recommend not eating at the restaurant if anyone is inside without a mask," shares Dr. Jim DeCarli, epidemiologist, and public health professional. "A server should also wear a face mask and a face shield. This is important because when serving at a table when people are eating they are often not wearing a mask, so they need to be more protected to not transmit to others." Additionally, those preparing your food should be wearing masks as well, as part of basic food safety.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support.