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.

INTERACTIVE: Here's the reopening status of every Bay Area county
App users: For a better experience, click here to view the story in a new window

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.

RELATED: 'Nail in the coffin': Regional stay-at-home order puts South Bay businesses on edge

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.

If you have a question or comment about the coronavirus pandemic, submit yours via the form below or here.

Get the latest news, information and videos about the novel coronavirus pandemic here

Copyright © 2021 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.