For almost 3 years now, I’ve been in the demographic for “high risk” for Covid and now, it appears, for the flu and RSV. I don’t have an underlying condition; I’m just over the age of 65. I know plenty of people in my high-risk age category who have simply chosen to ‘get on with life.’ They don’t want to avoid large public indoor settings and have gone to the theater, the opera and movies. However, in those places, they can continue to wear a mask. Where mask-wearing in an indoor public setting is difficult is, obviously, in restaurants. I’m not sure if anyone has invented the mask that permits the wearer to keep it on and still eat. Even a nasogastric tube requires access through your nose.
It was one thing to be able to meet people for meals outdoors when the weather here in New York City was warm. Today, December 13, 2022, the temperature is averaging the mid-to-high 30’s. The forecast has wind chills getting it down, at times, to the 20’s. Dining outdoors at restaurants, even with well-positioned heat lamps, requires fortitude.
So the existential dilemma is whether to throw caution to the wind and eat indoors. Obviously, that decision comes with hoping for the best.
I’m eating with my family indoors in a restaurant this evening. I’ll keep you posted.
It appears there are many ways people are navigating the Covid world now. I’m not talking about the under 65 crowd, many of whom appear to be socializing and returning to work, largely unmasked. I’m focused more on the 65-and-older demographic, where I belong. Based on many conversations with friends and family, there is still a decent percentage of us who are fearful enough of long Covid that we’re trying to minimize our Covid risks.
Under the heading of ‘reducing risky behavior’ would be eating outside at restaurants.
In New York City, in which I and this blog are based, there appear to be some interesting ways restaurants have created outdoor eating space. Many have the traditional outdoor cafes, where you sit at tables situated on the restaurant’s adjacent sidewalk in the open air.
A number of others have taken those outdoor cafes and put panels around them. Some of the panels are left open at one or 2 ends. That same configuration of mostly-closed-but-a-few-open-panels has been applied to sheds, usually located in the street adjacent to the restaurant.
And then there are the cafes and sheds that are completely closed with panels to form, in effect, another room of the restaurant. I would argue that the ventilation in those closed spaces could be worse than in the restaurant itself, which might have a central HVAC system to help move around the air (and Covid germ particles). Many of the outdoor restaurant sheds I’ve seen in Manhattan, where I live, have no HVAC. So when you close them all up, your air quality might not be so good.
So, folks, if you’re interested in safely eating outdoors, choose wisely.
Have you noticed how difficult it is to have a normal conversation in many NYC restaurants these days? It seems that many restauranteurs are placing tables closer together, presumably, to maximize income. Many also favor hard surfaces on walls, ceilings and floors so sound doesn’t get as readily absorbed. Some even play background music. I’ve heard that higher ambient noise levels are markers of hipness and trendiness. The consequence of all this is that people have to talk even louder to hear each other across the table and have a normal conversation at the estimated 60 decibels. Just by way of reference, decibel levels above 85 are considered harmful and warrant earmuffs, or earplugs, to protect your hearing.
Of course, there are very posh Manhattan restaurants that favor quieter surroundings, with tables spaced further apart and softer surfaces to absorb sound. But they come with much higher price tags for a lunch or dinner. It seems we pay much more for quiet.
My friends have favored frequenting popular Manhattan restaurants at off-hours to try to avoid both crowds and high noise levels, with lunches planned for 2:00 pm or dinners at 5:00 pm. Of course, with that schedule, you really couldn’t work up much of an appetite if you did both in one day.
I have even known people who sat across from each other at a NYC restaurant and communicated in text messages, because verbal communication was extremely difficult.
If you’re really curious about restaurant decibel levels, you can buy a low-cost meter on Amazon for less that $20. However, it’s not entirely clear what you’d do with the high reading at any favorite restaurant, except avoid going or seeing what their Early Bird Special looks like. We could also look into bringing back the old-fashioned ear horn.
I recently spent a long weekend in Philadelphia, which hasn’t implemented letter grades on restaurants to show whether they meet the city’s sanitary code. I have to say, I felt uncomfortable and vulnerable to food poisoning going into some places that looked like that might have had some undesirable kitchen visitors. I gave them the benefit of the doubt but tried to order the most basic food I could. Not quite bread and water but no oysters or sushi, that’s for sure.
I’ve come to rely on the presumed cleanliness of those restaurants in the New York City that receive an “A” grade. I also try to avoid neighborhood restaurants that have a “Grade Pending”, especially if they’ve earned an “A” in the past. I’m not positive about this but I assume that means they’ve fallen from grace after an inspection. New York City life is unpredictable enough without having to wrestle with Salmonella or some other problem caused by eating in an icky restaurant. I’ll take the “A” grades all the time.