Would you go inside a bar in Dallas right now?

More than 10 weeks after Governor Greg Abbott shut down bars across Texas, there is good news: Public health officials say strict safety standards are working to fight the spread of the new coronavirus.

“We’ve seen a decrease in cases and we’re gradually seeing a decrease in deaths,” says Dr. Erin Carlson, Associate Clinical Professor and Director of Public Health Programs at UT-Arlington College of Nursing and Health Innovation. “We’re officially in a better place by public health standards.”

But – and with coronavirus there always seems to be a “but” – the three experts questioned for this story say it is not time to change our behavior. Although Dallas County lowered its COVID-19 threat level on September 2, county guidelines don’t recommend that Dallasites go to bars now. Our three experts agree.

“COVID has not changed. We’ve changed, “says Carlson. We’ve started wearing masks, we’ve limited our exposure to crowded public places, and we’ve become more careful about hand washing and disinfecting surfaces. “If we go back to our pre-COVID ways, without masks and touch … we will see massive spread. We must remain vigilant and consistent. “

Stoneleigh P’s owner Tom Garrison is pictured here on June 26, 2020 as bars across Texas closed. His bar has since reopened and has a food and drink certificate from TABC.(Lynda M. Gonzalez / employee photographer)

This is unwanted news for the thousands of bar owners whose doors remain locked. Bar owners across the state have filed lawsuits, hosted protests, and even deliberately broken the rules, believing bars in Gov. Abbott’s June 26 mandate, which forced its closure, were unfairly targeted. By September 8, just over 650 bars had reopened after receiving a special “Food and Beverage Certificate” from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC).

“It’s great that we’re seeing fewer cases, but we have to be very careful,” says Dr. Rodrigo Hasbun, Professor of Infectious Diseases at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston. Hasbun has been treating patients with COVID-19 since March.

“We cannot give up our vigilance,” says Dr. David Brehm, physician and owner of the Brehm Medical Center in Dallas.

“We don’t know how that will work out in the end. And I expect schools to be back, maybe some sporting events [resuming], it will spread. “

Why are doctors concerned about the spread of COVID-19 indoors?

Carlson uses an analogy to show why indoor spaces are more worrying than outdoor spaces. Let’s say you have a baby pool that represents an interior space. They also have a bucket of purple dye that represents the COVID-19 virus.

“You throw that bucket of purple dye in the baby pool and you’ll see the water change,” says Carlson. “But if you throw that bucket of purple dye in the ocean, we don’t notice.”

According to this logic, all indoor spaces should be avoided during the COVID-19 crisis, not just bars.

Doctors look at a lung CT image in a hospital in Xiaogan, China.

Do doctors think bars are safer than restaurants?

It depends on whether. The three doctors agreed that bars have more risk factors than restaurants – although some of these unsafe scenarios could also occur in restaurants.

“There are two problems with alcohol and COVID,” says Carlson. “The first problem is that it naturally reduces our inhibitions and makes us more likely to engage in behaviors that spread the virus. The second problem is that our immune system is affected after just one drink. “

According to a study unrelated to COVID-19, drinking can “affect the body’s ability to defend itself against infection.” Carlson says if someone in a bar is infected with COVID-19, people drinking nearby may be less equipped to fight an infection because their immune systems are weakened from alcohol.

Bars naturally encourage people to be close to each other too, says Carlson. The same problem applies to concerts or sporting events – wherever “a lot of people are together, disrespecting the social distance of 6 feet or wearing masks,” says Hasbun.

Then there is screaming and singing, two things that are common in bars and that can cause “greater virus spread,” says Carlson, which means there is a greater volume of mist in the air during these activities. It is believed that viral fog can stay in the air for 3 hours.

Bars aren’t the only place where this is a problem: the CDC studied a choir practice in Washington that saw 53 of the 61 attendees at the event had COVID-19. The CDC believed that singing contributed to the transmission of COVID-19 and that “superemitters” or people who “release more aerosol particles than their counterparts when they speak” were likely to escalate the spread. According to Brehm, some studies show that breathing vapors can travel up to 20 feet when people speak or sing loudly.

While any indoor area could be a hotbed for the spread of COVID-19, customers who go to bars want to be wary of excessive alcohol consumption, people screaming or singing, and customers who do not distance themselves socially, doctors say.

“I hate to say it because there are so many bar owners out there who are financially devastated right now,” says Carlson. “If we can open bars and people are socially distant and we wear masks as much as possible … then bars can open. But think of the nature of a bar: That’s why we don’t go to a bar. “

Armando Ramirez, owner of Deep Sushi, checks security logs with staff before dinner at Deep Ellum restaurant.  Ramirez said he's had his employees tested at least twice since being shut down for two months because of COVID-19.  So far, she has not had a positive test for the coronavirus.

Are bar terraces okay?

Sitting outside on a deck outside is better than sitting in a bar, doctors say. Back to the purple-dye-in-the-pool analogy: you’re much less likely to catch COVID-19 outside – “unless you’re in a crowded place,” says Brehm.

Training on the Katy Trail, he says that while the Katy Trail Ice House’s terrace is large – it can accommodate up to 500 people, even with COVID-19 restrictions – customers seem far enough apart.

The key is to stay at least 6 feet away from people you don’t know.

“It only takes one person to infect one person, and that person infects two people and so on,” says Brehm.

Should we wear masks outside at a bar?

All three experts agree that outside masks are not required as long as you socially distance yourself from people outside your household. However, this is not possible in some outdoor areas.

Servers should always wear masks, says Carlson.

Should we wear masks in a bar?

On the last weekend of August 2020, Bottled Blonde guests are waiting to enter the venue.  Some wore masks, some didn't.On the last weekend of August 2020, Bottled Blonde guests are waiting to enter the venue. Some wore masks, some didn’t.(Jason Janik / Special Contributor)

Every doctor has used the same word to describe the meaning of masks: they are “essential”.

But how do you drink and eat with a mask on? They don’t, and that’s one of the reasons restaurants and bars remain a risk.

Hasbun said even health workers made the mistake of hanging out together at lunchtime and letting their guards down: “They take off their masks and get infected,” he says. “We saw this in a hospital.”

All three doctors suggested that Texans should wear masks in a bar when they are not eating or drinking. But all three also warned against going to a bar at all.

Should we be concerned about the virus spreading on glassware or plastic cups?

Could be. The virus can live on surfaces, although it is believed that it is also spread via respiratory droplets.

“If you touch something that is contaminated, you can become infected,” says Hasbun. Doctors are less concerned about people contracting the virus from glassware or food packaging, but the risk is not zero.

Who should you go with when you go to a bar?

The same rules apply as for months, says Hasbun: go to one place with the people in your household and you have the lowest risk of spreading or exposing yourself to a virus. “The problem is, when you start mixing with people who don’t live together, you don’t know where that other person has been or who they’ve been exposed to,” he says.

It’s a bummer, but it’s true: “WebEx [or Zoom, Skype or FaceTime] is still a better place to meet, ”he says.

What should you do if you need to go to the bathroom at a bar?

You’ve heard it all before: wear a mask. Try to stay away from other people. Wash your hands before going to the bathroom. Wash them off afterwards. Try not to touch the door handles. And don’t stay in: “Don’t stand over the sink and put your lipstick on in the bar bathroom,” says Carlson.

It can’t last forever. When is it safe to spend time in a bar?

Whether you choose restaurants, bars, cinemas or the like depends on how comfortable you are to catch or spread COVID-19. People with compromised immune systems or the elderly are particularly discouraged from mingling with people outside their home.

Brehm says he should listen to your first instinct: “When my gut instincts tell me to go out, I turn around and go out.”

Hasbun says he will be careful for at least a few more months.

“I think we will only be comfortable if there is a vaccine available that is used by the majority of people and the transmission of cases drops significantly. Then and only then would I be comfortable [in a bar]. ”

For more food news, follow Sarah Blaskovich on Twitter @sblaskovich.

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