The science behind the outdoor dining ban must be shared – Marin Independent Journal


The Mill Valley City Council’s call for Governor Gavin Newsom and Marin County public health officials to reopen alfresco dining comes as no surprise.

The advice reflects concerns and questions raised by local restaurants about reinstating tighter restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

These questions are based on the lack of scientific evidence that outdoor dining poses a threat to spread the deadly virus.

Managers need to provide more clarity on the risk they see, explaining why outdoor dining is apparently less safe than, say, walking into a restaurant for a take-out order.

The board, in the letters, expressed concern about the financial hardship state and county ordinances have placed on employees and owners of local restaurants.

“Our local restaurant workers face enormous financial hardship, face layoffs, reduced hours and struggle to support their families,” the letters say.

For many restaurants and their employees, the past few months have been a costly roller coaster. Restaurants have invested thousands of dollars allowing them to provide alfresco dining under strict public health constraints, only to then ban them again in the past month as the spread of the deadly virus increased.

Many restaurants will not be able to financially support the last orders. They – and the jobs they provide – can’t survive on takeout alone.

The restaurant industry is an important part of Marin’s economy.

Mill Valley city councilor Urban Carmel stressed that council did not want to endanger restaurant workers or diners. But the public deserves to see proof that there is such a great risk that outdoor dining will be banned.

Such evidence would also help increase compliance.

“We did some research… there was no valid evidence,” Carmel said. “In fact, there was evidence to the contrary – that it was safer than, say, the retail business, which is open.”

From a safety point of view, what are the risk differences associated with eating al fresco and shopping inside a store?

Is there any evidence that outdoor dining is linked to an increase in COVID-19 cases?

In the past 10 months of restrictions, few questions have been raised publicly by local authorities.

The Mill Valley question highlights the lack of public dialogue and decision-making around these long-standing restrictions.

Given the movement of people between jurisdictions, it made sense that these measures were based on regions rather than city by city.

And given the crisis, there is little time or good reason for such orders to be the result of lengthy public debate.

But the public deserves to know the medical basis on which these prescriptions are based.

What are the increased risks of outdoor dining for customers and workers?

Mill Valley’s letter may not bring back al fresco dining, but it deserves a public response from local and state public health officials who are providing scientific backing for their orders.


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