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Six Feet Apart? That May Not Be Nearly Enough In A Restaurant, Study Suggests

An illustration of a human mouth opening while it releases contaminated aerosol particles.
Elena Abrazhevich
Adobe Stock

Indoor dining is allowed across the Mountain West. But new research shows that even with current social distancing guidelines, the coronavirus can spread easily inside restaurants.


The study, published in the Journal of Korean Medical Medicine, found that it’s possible for an infected person to spread the virus to someone more than 20 feet away in just five minutes. That can happen if there’s direct airflow – from a fan or air conditioner, for example – between the two people.

Dr. Linsey Marr, who studies the transmissions of viruses in the air at Virginia Tech, says the research shows dining indoors can be extremely risky.

“People go to restaurants to socialize, and when we talk, we release 10 times more aerosol into the air than when we’re just breathing,” Marr said.

Across the region, some states have restaurant capacity caps, but Marr says that doesn’t necessarily help.

“The capacity limit would not have prevented this from happening,” she said.

What would have prevented it? Ordering takeout.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Stephanie Serrano (she/her/ella) is an award-winning multimedia bilingual journalist based in Reno, Nevada. Her reporting is powered by character-driven stories and is rooted in sound-rich audio. Her storytelling works to share the experiences of unserved communities in regards to education, race, affordable housing and sports.
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