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CDC updates guidance to say outdoor dining without masks is safe for immunized people

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The CDC announced April 27, 2021, that those who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus can safely dine outdoors without masks.

Outdoor dining has become a mainstay of the restaurant industry — which has been hit hard by the pandemic and forced eateries to reimagine themselves with more takeout and delivery options.

The CDC guidelines are not laws or requirements — but rather evidence backed suggestions on how the public and organizations can navigate the pandemic. Many states or cities have their own guidance or laws, which can be stricter or less restrictive than what the CDC says.

Businesses can also enact their own policies that are more restrictive than any local laws, regulations or guidelines that are in place or, in the case of guidelines, ignore them altogether.

Some restaurant owners have outlined specific rules such as requiring masks to be worn when walking around the establishment such as from the host stand to table or table to restroom, for example.

Some also require guests to remain masked unless they are actively eating or drinking (so, in these cases, guests might be asked to wear masks when waiting for food, even outdoors).

Both indoor and outdoor dining has been ramping up in many parts of the U.S. over the past few months, though indoor dining remains largely at reduced capacities to increase social distancing. Masks are typically recommended or required for both guests and employees unless “actively eating or drinking.”

Many restaurants have invested in expanding or adding outdoor dining options ranging from open air patios to temporary “pods” or tents to more elaborate semipermanent structures with walls, plastic or glass windows and varying degrees of ventilation (many regions lack any suggestions, let alone regulations, defining what makes outdoor dining setups safer or not).

During the winter months, heating was often included in colder parts of the country, but this may start to become less of a concern as the weather improves.

The new guidelines from the CDC indicate that those who have received all doses of the vaccine and waited at least two weeks can do a variety of outdoor activities safely without a mask — the main exception being crowded outdoor events such as performances, sporting events or parades, according to a graphic the CDC released.

The CDC also notes that fully vaccinated people from different households can also dine outdoors safely without masks, opening up the possibility for eating out to become a social event once again.

The guidelines don’t get into the specifics on if diners should wear masks while walking to their table or waiting for their food, though the rest of the guidelines issued April 27 suggest as long as people aren’t in crowded situations while doing so, they may be able to go largely maskless at outdoor restaurants.

Masks are still recommended for indoor dining — except when eating — and those with underlying health conditions such as compromised immune systems are advised to still wear a mask whenever possible.

Individual businesses, for the most part, can also still require stricter standards than the CDC guidelines and refuse service to those who refuse to follow them.