Towns loosen restrictions so Arizona restaurants can expand seating to comply with social distancing

Fact Finders: How COVID-19 can spread in restaurants

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Right now some towns in Arizona like Marana, Oro Valley and Sahuarita are creating flexibility for restaurants so they can expand seating areas to allow for social distancing.

Mayors have adopted proclamations that create temporary modifications to building and zoning requirements so businesses can easily and freely expand seating areas to create outdoor spaces for diners so they can adhere to CDC and social distancing guidelines.

As it turns out, there is a lot to consider when re-opening a dining room, including air flow.

A recent study out of China showed how one customer with COVID-19 spread the disease to others at his table and two other nearby tables. though no one at the table behind him became sick.

CBS News’ Omar Villafranca spoke with Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, a professor at the University of Oregon. He and five other researchers from the University of Oregon and University of California, Davis authored a paper focused on minimizing the viral transmission in buildings.

“When a virus is caught up in an air stream, it has the potential to move further than six feet,” Van Den Wymelenberg told Villafranca. "We created a conceptual visualization of how the aerosols may be spreading in that room. With a fan that is simply recirculating the air, whether it was an air conditioner or just a fan moving air, the visualization is really trying to articulate how the particles get caught up in the air and move around the space.

The team created a second animation for the same room, but with an open window.

“So in this conceptual visualization, what we were seeing is that with increased outside air exchange, through the open window, particles deposit more quickly and then can also be exhausted from the airstream more quickly,” Van Den Wymelenburg said.

The bottom line is that this research shows the fresher the air, the fewer the infections.

“I think we are all going to be considering our air systems in buildings much more seriously moving forward, which I think is really important. It’s an opportunity to support human health indoors, and I think restaurants will be included in that scenario,” Van Den Wymelenberg said.

The professor said outdoor dining is showing to be safer than any indoor plan.

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