As San Diegans prepare to dine in at restaurants and visit retail shops again, county health officials are reminding the locals that face masks are still required when out in public.
San Diego’s face covering rule went into effect three weeks ago and still stands as the latest phase of the county’s reopening plan moves forward to allow dining in at eateries and in-person shopping at retailers.
Face masks and physical distancing is required when entering these types of businesses, county public health officer Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., said.
“It’s important for people to remember they must wear a face covering when in public and close to other people,” Wooten explained. “The county is enormously grateful for the public’s effort to date.”
County health officials say the reason for the face masks is simple: when you wear one, you protect those around you and when others wear one, they protect you.
But how does one wear a mask while dining in at a restaurant, while still trying to eat?
In the county's "COVID-19 Safe Onsite Dining Plan for Restaurants," health officials note that face coverings must be worn by customers "when not seated at their table."
So, if you're walking through the dining room or going to the bathroom, a face mask is required. When you're eating your food, you can take it off.
Face masks, social distancing, and handwashing helps lessen the risk of getting COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, facial coverings can “disrupt the trajectory of a cough, sneeze or breath,” aiding in the prevention of the spread of the novel coronavirus. Here’s more on that.
California’s guidelines for reopening restaurants also state that one of the key prevention practices of this phase is requiring the use of face masks by both customers and employees.
The state’s guidelines also outline the proper use of face coverings at restaurants for employees, which include:
- Employees should wash or sanitize hands before and after using or adjusting face coverings
- Avoid touching the eyes, nose, and mouth
- Face coverings should be washed after each shift
Those guidelines note: “Face coverings can help protect people near the wearer, but do not replace the need for physical distancing or frequent handwashing.”
The CDC offers tips on making your own face masks here, even if you don’t sew:
And here are some tips on how to properly wear a face covering, and common mistakes to avoid. A mask should cover both the nose and mask.
In San Diego, face masks must also be worn by customers and employees of essential businesses like grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, public transit, banks, and rideshare.
If you're a restaurateur or restaurant employee, the county has compiled resources here on what's expected at dine-in eateries in this phase of San Diego's reopening.
The truth is, our restaurants will look and feel much different these days than before the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the county’s guidelines, temperature screenings must be done for each restaurant employee, every day, before the start of the shift. All tables in the dining room must be spaced 6 feet apart.
Restaurants will also have to post signs around the property reminding patrons to maintain social distance, wash their hands or use sanitizer upon entering the restaurant, and to stay home if they’re sick. If tables in dining rooms are not movable, restaurants will need to install a barrier or partition to separate tables. Those tables will also need to be spaced at least 6 feet apart from all food prep areas, including beverage and server stations.
Restaurants will also have to increase sanitation and disinfection. Self-service buffets and salad bars are not allowed, the county said.
The health guidelines also recommend restaurants encourage reservations and maybe even have patrons wait in their cars until their table is ready. Eateries, when possible, should also expand their outdoor seating and offer a payment system that doesn’t require person-to-person contact.
The county’s guidelines also say tape or markings should be placed on the floor of a restaurant – at least 6 feet apart – in “any area where members of the public may form a line.” In those lines, face masks must be worn by all.
In terms of seating, patrons at a single table must all be from the same household unit. The people sitting at that table don’t have to be 6 feet apart from one another. And, when the host is taking a party to their table, the entire party must be there at once, so the host takes the group to the table all together through the dining room, only one time.
And this form will need to be filled out by restaurants and will need to be publicly posted.
Bleu Bohème, a French restaurant on Adams Avenue in Kensington, was among the San Diego restaurants that planned to reopen for dine-in at 5 p.m. Thursday.
New signs were posted all over the restaurant -- both inside and outside -- alerting patrons of the coronavirus pandemic-era changes.
Bleu Bohème plans to serve its full menu for dine-in guests, plus takeout and delivery. To follow health guidelines, the owner is limiting occupancy and practicing social distancing between all patrons and staff. The restaurant is also encouraging reservations for limited seating.
"This is like opening up a restaurant from scratch. You’ve got a completely different dining room; our reservation system also got to be completely morphed," said owner and executive chef Ken Irvine.
Irvine said reservations are highly recommended and once seated, guests can take off their face coverings to enjoy their meals.
"We’re going to keep it to one host to seat you and that’s a one time deal, and then one server taking care of you your whole experience throughout the night," Irvine explained.
For San Diego retailers reopening during this second phase, the rules on face masks also apply.
According to California’s guidelines for retailers, both customers and employees must wear face coverings.
“Face coverings are strongly recommended when employees are in the vicinity of others,” the document states. “Workers should have face coverings available and wear them in retail facilities, offices, parking lots or garages, or in company-owned vehicles. Face coverings must not be shared.”
Judging by the state’s guidelines, retailers will also look much different with these coronavirus-era modifications in place.
'We Cannot Claim Victory Yet'
San Diego County leaders held a news briefing Thursday afternoon in which they addressed the new rules for newly reopened dine-in restaurants and stores.
Supervisor Greg Cox said 16,000 businesses had gotten guidance from county public health officials last week on the forms they must fill out and post on their doors. Those who had completed the forms and prepared their restaurants and shops with proper safety measures were given the green light to reopen Thursday morning.
But Cox warned that this reopening must be slow and safe.
“We cannot claim victory yet,” Cox said. “The virus is still out there; (there’s) a risk of resurgence of the virus that could put us back to square one.”
Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said the focus is now on successfully implementing phase 2 businesses in San Diego County and other small businesses that remain shuttered due to the pandemic will need to wait.
Fletcher detailed the county’s restaurant operating protocol, including how all restaurant employees will need to have daily temperature screenings and how any employees with symptoms must stay home.
Fletcher also gave similar guidance for reopened retailers offering in-store shopping: temperature screenings for employees; face masks for customers and employees; and limiting the number of customers inside a store to main proper 6-feet social distance.