Home Uncategorized Pete Wells and Tejal Rao on Dining Indoors – The New York Times

Pete Wells and Tejal Rao on Dining Indoors – The New York Times

Pete Wells and Tejal Rao on Dining Indoors – The New York Times

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Our New York and Los Angeles critics discuss Covid precautions, testing and dining-room anxiety.
Pete Wells and
As the Omicron variant surges across the United States, Covid cases are at an all-time high. But unlike in the spring of 2020, restaurants largely remain open (with a growing number of exceptions). Our restaurant critics, Pete Wells and Tejal Rao, are based in New York and Los Angeles, respectively. In both cities, restaurant workers are required to be fully vaccinated, as are diners eating indoors. The two critics conversed about their comfort levels with dining indoors, and the differences — or similarities — they are seeing in their cities.
PETE WELLS So neither one of us is eating in restaurants this week, I hear.
TEJAL RAO I’m trying to remember my last meal inside a dining room, presenting my vaccination card. I definitely remember the last reservation that I canceled, just before Christmas. I was really looking forward to it, but the place didn’t have outdoor dining, and I was about to visit my parents. And on Instagram, so many of the restaurants I follow were reporting infections. I thought: Well, this is it. I haven’t been inside a restaurant since my story earlier this month about Los Angeles sushi; I’m sticking to takeout or outdoor dining.
WELLS Well, I went out for dinner two Sundays ago. I was with a group of highly Covid-conscious people, so the deal was we had to eat outdoors and we all had to test right before the meal. We ate in one of those yurts, so we probably weren’t going to pick up any germs from strangers at the next table. But on the other hand if any one of us had been sick, we would all walk out of there with a good stiff dose of the virus. Two days later, my sons came home from school with rapid tests and right away, one of them tests positive! It brought a halt to my dining out. I’m not sure how long I’ll be at home, but I believe I need to wait five days after he’s symptom free.
RAO I’m looking at case numbers right now, and people who are predicting the peak in Los Angeles, and it’s really hard to say.
WELLS In Brooklyn, I can walk 10 minutes in any direction and come to a free testing site. I might have to wait in line — OK, I definitely will have to wait in line — but I can get a rapid test and a P.C.R. test. Is that available to you in L. A.?
RAO Yes, there are a few spots around me, including a drive-through testing site at a Walgreens, some libraries and some community clinics. But they’re not walkable. If you don’t have a car, in most parts of the city, you’d have to take a bus or train, or a combination of those, which of course isn’t ideal if you think you might be positive.
WELLS It’s interesting that we’ve all started worrying about tests during this Omicron wave, because the experts I have been listening to about the pandemic were talking about testing just a few months into the pandemic. The idea was that testing had to be part of the mix along with masks, distancing, etc. But the tests really haven’t come into the picture in a big way until the past month, and suddenly a lot of us are trying to get tested when in truth we should have had this in our bag of anti-Covid tricks a long time ago. And restaurant people have been testing, but they have huge problems just getting a supply of tests and paying for them.
RAO It’s so frustrating. If I were a restaurant worker, I’d want to test daily, and for my whole team to test daily, and it seems like that safety level shouldn’t be too much to ask for, but right now it seems impossible.
WELLS Yeah, I agree, and it’s particularly frustrating because it’s been almost two years since the virus arrived on our shores. I have two kids, both in high school, and both were sent home with rapid tests this week. Which is great, but it would have been greater if it had been going on for months already. The failure to provide tests, huge quantities of tests, and the failure to stress the importance of testing until very recently, are just maddening. Because unlike March 2020, we’ve had a lot of time to prepare.
RAO It’s embarrassing, actually. Sidebar, but because the symptoms of this variant have been reported as milder (which doesn’t mean mild, necessarily) I think a lot of people who were careful during the previous wave are feeling less careful now, but I’m terrified of losing my sense of smell again, among other things.
WELLS No, we don’t want you to get sick again! How is your nose, by the way?
RAO Oh, you know. Sensitive! Frightened! Exhausted! No, it’s fine. Thank you. I got my smell back completely, but unfortunately it’s a symptom you can experience again and again if you get sick, and there’s no guarantee it’ll come back again just because it came back once before.
WELLS Nobody has any idea what’s going to happen, right?
RAO I definitely don’t. I will say, I don’t feel as hopeless as I did before, as worried, because I’ve seen how restaurant people find new ways of doing things, or build new businesses in the margins, and I wish they didn’t have to, but they do.
WELLS I keep saying that restaurant people are like theater people — no matter what, the show goes on. As soon as I am fairly certain I’m not walking around with virus particles bursting out of my cranium, I’ll start doing review meals again.
RAO It’s so impressive to me that you’ve been on a regular review schedule for a lot of the pandemic. I wanted to talk to you, in part, because I feel like I have no idea what’s happening or what I should be doing! Everything changes day to day, and even my own risk assessment will change from day to day.
WELLS Yeah, government guidance for restaurant critics has been scarce!
WELLS A lot of restaurant workers aren’t even sure what they’re supposed to be doing: How long are they supposed to isolate after an exposure, or after a positive test, etc.? I think a lot of us were feeling very confident that with the vaccines it was kind of game over, and now that we’re in the middle of yet another surge with its own patterns, it’s really hard to know what to do.
Although if I had an unlimited supply of tests, I would probably just test daily.
RAO I was talking to a chef on the phone the other day, and she told me that she isn’t going to restaurants at all right now. But when I’m driving around, or picking up takeout, a lot of the patios and the dining rooms seem full.
Omicron in retreat. Though the U.S. is still facing overwhelmed hospitals and more than 2,500 deaths a day, new cases are falling rapidly across the country. But experts warned that spotty immunity and the threat of new variants mean the virus is not likely to ever completely disappear.
Covid shots. More than 10 billion vaccine doses have been administered globally according to the University of Oxford, though distribution is uneven. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that third vaccine shots reduced the hospitalization risk for immunocompromised people.
Around the world. China has instituted a wide range of high-tech controls on society as part of a mostly successful effort to stop Covid, but the sharpened surveillance may last beyond the pandemic. In England, officials are extending the country’s vaccine rollout to vulnerable children ages 5 to 11.
Staying safe. Worried about spreading Covid? Keep yourself and others safe by following some basic guidance on when to test, which mask to pick and how to use at-home virus tests. Here is what to do if you test positive for the coronavirus, and if you lose your vaccination card.
WELLS Are all the restaurants on reduced schedules there? Nobody here is staying open past 10 p.m., except Keith McNally. So they’re not turning tables the way they were before. Which is just to say that it looks busier than it really is.
RAO Yeah, that’s a good point. A lot of places are on shorter schedules here, too, with fewer staff working right now.
WELLS One thing I’ve noticed is that the crowds are almost all young people now. Older diners, as a rule, don’t seem as comfortable coming back. Although I have friends who are proud exceptions to that rule.
You know, you said a minute ago that your risk assessment changes every day, and that’s something that I’ve found so interesting in general. We all have different risk tolerances, and we all have different ideas of what’s risky, and you see this playing out all around us. You certainly see it in schools, where some parents want their kids home and others want them in the classroom and most are completely unsure what the best path is. But I even see it when I’m trying to round up a few people for a meal in a restaurant. Anybody who spends a lot of time around an older parent is usually pretty cautious, and during this current wave, they’re even more cautious. And we have these strange jobs where, in the before times, we used to sit at close range talking, sometimes loudly, with a different set of people every night. And to do that now, the way we used to do it, would be sort of irresponsible.
RAO Sharing food from one plate! Passing a fork down the table!
WELLS One of my last meals before the first shutdown was at a hot-pot place in Flushing. Although if the pot is really, really hot, you’re probably killing off any germs at the table. (Not in the air, though!)
RAO My plan for now is to keep ordering takeout, and to stay away from indoor dining until the Omicron wave starts to really flatten out here, which should be in the next few weeks. At that point, I’ll reconsider.
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