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Infectious disease specialist cautions Edmontonians against visiting enclosed patio tents

Click to play video: 'Enclosed patios raise concerns among medical experts' Enclosed patios raise concerns among medical experts
With patio dining still allowed in Alberta, some restaurants have erected outdoor tents to shelter patrons from the elements. While certain outdoor covers are approved, one infectious disease specialist said those that are improperly enclosed many bring heightened risk of COVID-19 infection. Chris Chacon reports. – Apr 22, 2021

With restaurants, pubs and bars limited on where they can serve due to Alberta’s COVID-19 health restrictions, the number of patios popping up around Edmonton has grown. But the push for more space has come with some concerns.

Read more: Alberta restaurants close to in-person dining as COVID-19 restrictions take effect

“Not all patios are created equal,” said Dr. Stephanie Smith, a University of Alberta Hospital infectious disease specialist.

“Some seem to have more space, more distance and are more out in the open, as opposed to having some enclosed walls.”

With the weather changing by the day, some restaurants have set up tents in their patio space.

While it may shield from rain or snow, there are growing concerns that if improperly enclosed, the set up won’t prevent COVID-19 transmission.

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“I would not want to go eat in a tent,” Smith said. “I think that is pretty similar to going and eating inside a restaurant.

“There might be a little more air flow depending, I guess, on the materials of the tent that’s used.

“You’re increasing your risk probably in the order of 50 per cent compared to being outside on a true open-air patio,” Smith said.

Read more: Edmontonians cautiously soak up the sun at hot spots amid spike in COVID-19 variants

In a statement to Global News, Alberta Health Services said Environmental Public Health has received some complaints about enclosed patios and follows up with restaurants. EPH works with restaurants to ensure patio setups meet the guidelines.

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Whyte Avenue bar Blowers and Grafton is in the midst of setting up its patio, but decided not to include a tent.

“We didn’t want to take away from the patio being a patio,” Blowers and Grafton general manager Nathan Brass said.

Read more: COVID-19 has changed. Should our outdoor behaviour shift too?

Brass said the risks of COVID-19 also played a big factor in pivoting away from tents; a choice not all restaurants are making.

“I’m kind of surprised but I think everyone’s just trying to do what they can to survive,” Brass said.

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The Alberta government allows patios with roofs, but the outdoor setup cannot have more than one enclosed wall. If there is no roof, more than one wall can be closed off.

Regardless of the arrangement, Smith said she cautions against this false sense of security.

“Now is probably not the time to take risks,” she said. “As we get more people vaccinated, we will start to see the curve dropping, but we’re not there yet.”

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