Is it necessary to ban outdoor dining in California's regional stay-at-home order? Doctor explains COVID-19 risk

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- For California counties under the state's new regional stay-at-home order, outdoor dining is now banned. But some are asking why? Is it really a risk factor for contracting COVID-19?

Over the weekend, outdoor restaurant-goers enjoyed their final meals curbside.

Many were not wearing a mask even while they weren't actively eating or drinking.

"It's essentially impossible to eat or drink while keeping a mask on," said Dr. George Rutherford, Professor of Epidemiology at UC San Francisco.

Dr. Rutherford says right now when California health officials are trying to put an emergency brake on everything to get a handle on the novel coronavirus, he believes it's appropriate to include banning outdoor dining for those counties in the purple tier.

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ABC7 News asked Dr. Rutherford if outdoor dining is inherently dangerous as it relates to transmission.

"If you're sitting outdoors by yourself eating no, if you're sitting outdoors with people in your household no, if you're sitting in a restaurant mixing people from four households together at the same table yes, it's all about degrees," said Dr. Rutherford.

He says most of us aren't great about discerning higher risk from lower risk situations.

"It's when people start to congregate so you say let's meet our friends, well why don't they bring their friends too so all of a sudden you have a party of six or eight people. That's when you're going to get into trouble," he explained.

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Might California have been able to reduce it's COVID-19 case numbers without banning outdoor dining? Maybe says Dr. Rutherford.

"Could it be done more finely? Could it be done a little more selectively? Yeah but there's no guarantee it's going to work," said Dr. Rutherford.

Without that guarantee, for now at least the decision has been made.

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