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How do the new mask guidelines affect dining out? Experts explain

There's still some risk associated with indoor dining if you're fully vaccinated, but outdoor dining is safe, even with people from different households.
Lockdown easing, al-fresco dining, London
Even as COVID-19 cases decline in most of the United States, dining outdoors is still the safest option.Matthew Chattle / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

As the coronavirus vaccine rollout continues and more people are able to get their shots, restrictions are loosening, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have also been updating their guidance as the percentage of vaccinated people increases.

In new guidelines, the agency said that it's safe for fully vaccinated people to participate in some activities, including outdoor dining, without taking precautions like masking or only gathering with people from your household.

Experts explained how the new guidelines from the CDC should impact your dining habits.

How will dining outdoors change?

The new guidelines from the CDC say that fully vaccinated people can safely dine outdoors, even with people from outside their household, so long as those people are also vaccinated. The new guidance also notes that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear a mask outdoors unless people are in a large group.

Dr. Summer McGee, dean of the School of Health Sciences at the University of New Haven, said that even as COVID-19 cases decline in most of the United States, dining outdoors is still the safest option. People should also continue to take precautions like distancing when possible, and wear masks if they are in close contact with unvaccinated people for a long period of time.

"Anytime you're interacting with someone and you're not sure about their status, the safest thing to do is put that mask back on," said McGee. "I think that the risk is relatively low of having an exposure, especially from brief encounters, particularly outdoors, so it really comes down to people's comfort level."

People should also continue to comply with state and local restrictions, as well as any rules the restaurant may have: Some establishments require that customers wear masks whenever an employee approaches their table, even if they are outside. Be sure to put on your mask if you do need to go inside the restaurant for any reason.

"There is still risk of transmission for individuals that are unvaccinated," said Dr. Krystal Pollitt, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health. "The use of masks around others is important."

Will indoor dining change?

The CDC says that for fully vaccinated people, dining indoors is still risky, and it's safest if you wear a mask whenever you're not eating or drinking food. For unvaccinated people, the CDC considers indoor dining to be one of the "least safe" activities, along with things like indoor, high-intensity workout classes and singing in a group choir.

"If somebody does have to be indoors, keep the mask on (as much as possible) and only pull the mask down when eating and drinking," said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, director of ICAP at Columbia University and a professor of epidemiology and medicine at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, in March. "Pay attention to distancing between people, and ventilation as well. It behooves everybody to suppress transmission of this virus."

Pollitt recommends that for now, people try to avoid indoor dining, especially if unvaccinated.

"People are getting vaccinated, but we're by no means at a level of herd immunity," she said.