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Dining At Restaurants During COVID-19 May Increase Your Risk, CDC Finds

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Could eating out be hazardous to your health? A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found dining at restaurants during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic may not be as safe as diners hope. In studying more than 300 symptomatic COVID-19 patients from 11 different health facilities, the CDC found adults positive for COVID-19 were roughly twice as likely to have eaten at a restaurant in the two weeks prior to their diagnosis than those who did not contract the virus.

"Close contact with persons with known COVID-19 or going to locations that offer on-site eating and drinking options were associated with COVID-19 positivity," the study read. "Adults with positive SARS-CoV-2 test results were approximately twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant than were those with negative SARS-CoV-2 test results."

As COVID-19 cases first began to surge across the United States in March, state and local governments shut down local economies, issuing stay-at-home orders and shelter-in-place mandates that shuttered restaurants, bars, salons, and many other businesses. By late April, however, many states were already beginning to reopen following pushback from those who doubted and questioned the severity of the novel coronavirus. As states have reopened, so too have restaurants.

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Of course, dining out in the age of coronavirus looks a little different than it used to. As CNN has previously reported, restaurants across the country have instituted a number of different safety precautions such as reducing seating capacity, outdoor dining, closing buffets and salad bars, temperature checks, and mask requirements for staff in an effort to make dining out safe.

Yet, according to the CDC, eating out at restaurants remains a risky activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. "Exposures and activities that make it difficult to wear masks and maintain social distancing, including going to locations that offer on-site eating and drinking, may be a risk factor for COVID-19," Dr. Kiva Fisher, the lead author of the CDC's study, told ABC News.

Despite the study's results, the CDC has not recommended restaurants shutter their dinning rooms. Rather, the federal agency urged restaurants to take steps to reduce the possibility guests could be exposed to COVID-19 while not wearing as mask (such as when eating or drinking) by encouraging staff to stay home when sick, increasing required hand washing, mandating employees wear masks, and offering delivery and takeaway options.

In speaking with ABC, Fisher also urged restaurant patrons to take precautions of their own. "It's also important for customers to take prevention steps when dining out, such as wearing a mask when not eating or drinking, staying at least 6 feet apart from others, and washing hands frequently," Fisher told the news outlet.

But perhaps the best way to reduce the risk of contracting and/or transmitting COVID-19 while dining out is to opt for contactless delivery or take away instead.

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. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.