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Is a restaurant’s outdoor dining tent COVID-safe?

Eurasia's outdoor tent
Posted at 8:16 PM, Nov 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-06 22:18:32-05

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Many local restaurants are turning to innovative ways to extend outdoor dining as the region heads into the winter months.

David Edelen owns the upscale restaurant Eurasia on Laskin Road in Virginia Beach. He said the outdoor tent he put up in his parking lot for customers has been a lifeline.

“We have people who don’t want to come inside, period, but they love sitting outside in the tent,” Edelen said.

Kevin Lewis of Virginia Beach said he feels more comfortable dining outdoors in a tent rather than indoors.

“I would feel safe, I guess,” he said. “I’d probably feel more comfortable in there, I guess, just because it’s probably got more fresh air versus being filtered through a filter.”

Medical experts said fresh airflow in an outdoor setup decreases the risk of COVID-19.

Local restaurants like Eurasia and Bay Local next door have kept fresh air flowing through their tents by keeping walls partially open, but once the colder weather moves in and the walls of the tent come down cutting off the breeze, some owners are turning to machines help move the air.

“That’s our heater; that’s our duct work,” Edelen said. “It draws in fresh air and puts in fresh air.”

When it comes to COVID-19 transmission, however, how safe are enclosed tents?

“It’s no more safe than indoor dining,” said Dr. Ryan Light, a medical expert who practices family medicine.

Light said ventilation is key to preventing the spread.

“Once you enclose a tent in any way, it’s similar to a restaurant,” he said. “The ventilation that you use in a tent, a lot of times is less than what the ventilation inside a restaurant would be because the HVAC system has filters on it, so we would recommend tents are no more safe than indoor dining if it’s completely enclosed.”

While there are some risks involved with enclosed tents, medical experts said it’s similar to being on an airplane.

“With aircrafts, we came out with research that showed they were safe because the ventilation systems in the aircraft turn over the air throughout the whole aircraft within six minutes, and we think that flying is safe now,” Light said. “If we could turn the air over in an outdoor tent or whether we could turn the air over in an indoor dining facility, it’s going to be as safe as traveling on an aircraft. If we look at the data, I would say it’s safe if we have adequate ventilation.”

For now, Edelen will keep the fresh air flowing through his tent and outdoor patio.

“We prefer to seat people in our normal open-air patio first, but certainly on super cold nights, people actually prefer to be in the tent,” he said. “People love it.”

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