It’s officially patio season in Canada, but for much of the country, the novel coronavirus has changed what that means.
Restaurants have slowly started to reopen in British Columbia, while certain public health units in Ontario will be allowed to reopen patios only on Friday. Meanwhile, cities like Moncton, N.B. and Kelowna, B.C. have moved to close some streets to allow for the expansion of outdoor patios and sidewalk terraces.
While the details about how to keep patio patrons safe are foggy, there is some good news: the risk of the virus spreading on an outdoor patio is relatively low.
“One of the safest ways to (socialize) is by getting outside where the risk of transmission is quite low,” Kate Mulligan, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, previously told Global News.
Mulligan said if you properly maintain physical distance from others outside — meaning you keep at least six feet away — you are at a relatively low risk of contracting the virus.
Dasantila Golemi-Kotra, a professor of molecular, cellular and chemical biology of microbial infections at York University, agrees.
“The risk of transmission of the virus (on a patio) is low, provided that everybody maintains social distancing … and you prevent lingering,” Golemi-Kotra said.
She recommends that people don’t spend longer than two hours on a patio. The more time you spend in one place, the higher your risk of being exposed to COVID-19.
Combine those safeguards with good hand hygiene and avoid touching your face and Golemi-Kotra says going to a patio should be “relatively safe.”
When it comes to face masks, Golemi-Kotra says wearing one doesn’t make a ton of sense if you’re going to a restaurant patio to eat or drink.
Not only will a mask get in the way of your mouth, but you could expose yourself to more contaminants if you don’t take it off or put it back on properly.
“It’s impractical … (and) if you take it off to put it on the table, but the table isn’t clean, you (can) run into contamination,” Golemi-Kotra said.
However, she recommends wearing a mask before and after you’re seated at the table, especially if you’re waiting in line somewhere you can’t practise physical distancing.
When you want to remove your mask, do so carefully and avoid touching your face. Consider wrapping the mask in a paper towel or putting it into a plastic bag for the duration of your meal to keep it away from other contaminants.
“Obviously, everybody (who) is working in the restaurant should be wearing a face mask,” Golemi-Kotra said. That includes managers, cooks, waiters and busboys — anybody who could potentially get respiratory droplets on your food or near you in other ways.
Typically, items like utensils and condiments are shared en masse by anyone and everyone in a restaurant or on a patio. Golemi-Kotra doesn’t recommend this moving forward.
“My suggestion would be to avoid sharing anything on the table,” Golemi-Kotra said.
Bathrooms will be one of the most challenging parts about reopening restaurants and other public spaces because they’re small, often enclosed spaces with poor ventilation — which could encourage the spread of COVID-19 droplets.
Golemi-Kotra doesn’t recommend patrons use the washroom unless the restaurant has stringent and enforced rules about sanitation after each use.
It’s important to note that the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus while sitting on an outdoor patio depends on where you live. In communities with higher levels of community transmission, the risk is higher.
“It’s much easier to mitigate virus (spread) where community transmission is low,” Golemi-Kotra said. “If you’re in a hot spot where the community transmission is very high (like Toronto or the GTA), the chances of meeting someone who has the virus is much higher.”
This explains why Ontario Premier Doug Ford, with help from health officials, decided to only allow patios in certain public health units to reopen on Friday.
Public health units and regions allowed to enter Phase 2 include Ottawa Public Health, Peterborough Public Health and Simcoe-Muskoka Public Health. A full list can be found here
The City of Toronto and most of the surrounding Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area are not yet deemed safe enough to reopen further for Friday. There are reports those areas may be allowed to begin the process once the province-wide emergency orders are lifted on June 19.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.
In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.
— With files from Global News’ Laura Hensley and Jessica Patton