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Safety Tips For Eating At a Restaurant In Times Of COVID-19

In the photo: Bassist Thomas Helton and singer Raquel Cepeda during a performance at a restaurant in Houston

Photo Credit: Helton Mendes

Dear friends,

Covid-19 cases keep rising in the US, and Texas, as many other states, are re-imposing emergency measures to help contain the virus spread when only recently we thought that we had the outbreak under a certain amount of control.

The surge in Covid-19 cases since the reopening shows that just because we are allowed to go out, it doesn't mean that the problem has suddenly disappeared. Young people are being infected and hospitalized in great amounts now due to an over-relaxation on measures of personal protection.

The message is: we can't relax. If we are going out, we must understand that with freedom comes responsibility!

Three weeks ago I started accepting requests to perform publicly, but that didn't come without a lot of consideration about safety measures to protect myself and my audience. I have dived deep into the latest science of Coronavirus to understand the mechanisms of damage to the body, the pathways of contagion, the physiological susceptibilities that lead to a bad outcome, and how to fortify your immune system to have a better outcome in case of becoming infected. Also, I have researched the best protective equipment to use during my performances; and as I sing, I have watched the environment carefully to study the human interactions to understand where mistakes in protection may lay.

At this time, the best decision is really to stay home, and to understand that you cannot control what others do, only what you personally do. But if you decide to go out, you must do it with the greatest sense of responsibility to protect yourself and others. For that reason, I would like to share with you some ideas on how to keep safety when visiting a restaurant (or bar) during these times of pandemia.

1. Evaluate thoroughly if it's worth the risk. Don't go out if you are a person with any kind of underlying condition, a weak immune system, or poor nutritional status.

2. This goes without saying, but don't go out if you feel the slightest hint of sore throat, fatigue, fever, cough, or general malaise, or if you think you have been in contact with someone with the virus. Not worth infecting your family or friends!

3. If you choose to go out, try to do it with the smallest group of people possible to reduce your exposure. In these particular times, "Petit Committees" rock. This is not a time for large gatherings, especially if the members of the group are not part of your own household. If possible, try to go out only with members of your own household. Do you live alone? Don't be afraid to enjoy your own company!

4. Don't go to a restaurant if you suspect that the mandatory social distancing is not going to be honored. If you arrive and see a picture of crowding that you don't like and you can't fix it, excuse yourself politely and go home or propose a change in plans. But DO NOT STAY. Your health is more important! Learn how to say no, kindly, cleverly.

5. Avoid places where loud music is being played. If people have to scream to communicate you must get out immediately, even if people are wearing masks. The Coronavirus is transmitted by exposure to breathing in saliva droplets produced by a Covid-positive person in unprotected proximity, or by loud speaking, singing, or screaming. If you see that happens to be the case, run for the hills.

6. Use your face mask from the moment that you exit your car, and until you get served your food; then put your face covering back as soon as you are done eating. People passing by your table may make mistakes around you by not using their mask properly, or you may bump into someone that you know at the venue, and sometimes in the excitement of the moment you are left unprotected if you are not disciplined about wearing your mask at all times.

7. If you need to use the restroom during dining, put your face mask on. In the enclosed environment of a restroom, there may be aerosols with the infection in the air from previous bathroom users, and you want to protect against those.

8. Wash or disinfect your hands right before eating and don't touch anything again but your food. If you use the restroom to wash your hands, use a napkin to open the bathroom door when exiting, or to move your chair when sitting back down at the table.

9. Don't share food or utensils with anyone that does not live in your household.

10. While it is unlikely to get an infection through food, my gut feeling is: choose warm dishes over cold dishes, as pathogens tend to be unstable with heat.

11. Disinfect your hands right before entering your car again. You may have touched a door while exiting and may want to touch inadvertently your face on the way back home. Make sure your hands are ready.

These are just my own common sense notes-to-self, after singing the past two weeks at Tourao and Turner's and studying the environment and the risks. I am sure there is more. But I hope this is a good start and they help you make good decisions!

As for the things that are in my control to protect myself and others during my performance, my safety measures are to keep the music at a pleasant level so that no one needs to scream to hear each other, staying more than 6 feet away from each table, and singing with a face shield to protect everyone from my own saliva droplets. Also, I don't visit friends' tables until they are done eating to make sure that we can speak only when we are all ready to wear our face coverings. Just little things to ensure that attendees can enjoy great dining, great music, and each other's company while minimizing the risks, at least from me to them!

But be always vigilant and make good decisions, because remember: we cannot control what others do, only what we personally do. Freedom is great, but it comes with a lot of responsibility!

I hope this helps! Please share it so that others are aware too!

Stay healthy! Lots of love,

Raquel Cepeda

Raquel Cepeda, Houston Jazz Singer

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