SU indoor air expert still learns of COVID risk in restaurants
More central New Yorkers may be looking to return to their favorite bar or restaurant this holiday weekend, now that COVID-19 vaccination rates are rising and capacity restrictions have eased. But an indoor air expert always advises caution, especially for the unvaccinated.
Physics professor Eric Schiff is Acting Director of the New York State Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems at SU. He would still prefer capacity restrictions.
“My own recommendation would be a 50 percent reduction in capacity. So the risk is a bit higher in restaurants than I’m comfortable with if you’re not vaccinated. If you are vaccinated the personal risk is much, much better, so I wouldn’t sweat too much. “
Schiff says understanding how the virus spreads is critical to knowing the risk. He compares it to the old days of smoking and non-smoking sections in restaurants.
“The non-smoking section was a joke. You can smell the smoke there as well as anywhere else. In fact, the spread of the virus is very similar to the spread of cigarette smoke. I researched and checked. What you could see in the smoky room still applies to the invisible virus. It’s all over the place. “
This is where indoor air quality comes in. Schiff wrote a research brief in which he tried to establish quantitative criteria for determining when restaurants should have capacity reductions from the community’s level of spread, taking ventilation into account. Some restaurants have spent thousands of dollars to improve ventilation and filtration, but the state has given them no benefit. He says the difference between the average and the best systems is a factor of 10, the same as getting the vaccine. Schiff would like to see a more standardized consideration of ventilation systems.
“So you could adapt quickly to a new disease and allow restaurants and bars to reopen faster or close more slowly, and also fairly determine capacity limits. “
Annual county inspections could include testing a system’s ability to handle airborne viruses, from COVID to influenza, as well as a certificate on the door indicating safe ventilation levels, he said. .