ALAMEDA COUNTY, CA — The move to the red tier in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy saw restaurants reopen for 25% of their indoor capacity.

But at least two microbiologists are saying it’s a bad idea.

Dr. John Swartzberg, who teaches at UC Berkeley, said that people in restaurants remove masks to chew food. They also drink alcohol, which makes them talk louder and expel more vapor from their mouths.

This is especially concerning for Swartzberg when considering the circulation of new coronavirus variants, such as B117 — first reported in the United Kingdom. He said it likely will be the dominant strain in the United States in about two weeks. It apparently is 50% more transmissible and from 30% to 70% deadlier than the original COVID-19 strain that first infected the world.

Other new strains are also problematic, such as variants discovered in South Africa and Brazil. Both are somewhat resistant to antibodies produced by vaccines or natural infection.

Although some cases of COVID-19 are declining in the Bay Area, they are rising in 21 states, leading to warnings there.

Dr. Robert Siegel, who teaches immunology and microbiology at Stanford University, agrees with Swartzberg.

“I personally am not ready to eat indoors, but that is an easy decision in California with such good weather and wonderful opportunities to eat outdoors,” he said.

Siegel said that although transmission of the coronavirus has dropped considerably, it is still quite high.

“The best way to protect the unvaccinated public now is to continue oft-repeated use of masks, viral distancing — my preferred term since it takes into account physical distance, time and viral concentrations,” said Siegel.

The county’s change to the orange tier this week allows restaurants to seat customers indoors at 50% capacity.

Restaurant owners, personnel and many diners would love to see such an expansion. But the two specialists continued to say that the worst possible thing a person could do right now is eat indoors at a restaurant. The outdoor air better dilutes the virus. The fact that people have been vaccinated does not solve the problem, either, they added. The vaccines only offer a resistance to the virus and its various strains, but they do not guarantee complete immunity.

It is safer for customers to sit outdoors or in a controlled-air tent where viruses would have to navigate air currents, said Swartzberg.

Swartzberg further stated that while he is sympathetic to the financial suffering of people in the community, his professional concern is the health of the individual — not the economic impact.

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