We Might Be A Long Way From Normal Indoor Dining. Here's Why

As the world continues moving into a second year of battling the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccinated people are starting to think about what they can do that feels "normal" again. For many, that's dining out at restaurants. But, recent reports have pointed to the fact that it may not be quite as easy or as safe as you might think — even after becoming fully vaccinated. While outdoor dining still remains a good, reportedly safe option, it's indoor dining that's a bit more complicated to assess. 

The truth of the matter is, when people eat indoors, there are more risk factors that can help spread COVID-19. For example, Vox explains that, naturally, those eating indoors will not be wearing masks for a long period of time as they eat, drink, and talk. That, combined with the fact that you're in an enclosed space — sometimes without good airflow — increases the risk of inhaling infected air particles from others in the room. According to the article, even if you are vaccinated, this can still be risky as the number of cases from COVID-19 variants increases. 

Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Arizona, told Vox, "It's not just that indoor dining checks one box, it's that it checks many of them. All of those things make it higher risk." Popescu went on to add, "You don't know the vaccination status of other people in a restaurant, and to start requiring that, I think, would be a huge issue in terms of equity." There is, however, one thing that may bring back normal indoor dining on a larger scale.

Herd immunity is needed to resume normal indoor dining

Herd immunity is the best way to safely eat indoors again, say experts. To reach COVID-19 herd immunity (when a strong percentage of a population is immune to a disease, according to WebMD), the United States must meet at least one of two benchmarks. The first would be for at least 50% — and up to 80% — of people to get vaccinated (via Cleveland Clinic). So far, roughly 95 million people have been fully vaccinated in the United States, which equates to about 28.5% of the country's population, according to CNN – and 140 million or 42.5% of the population have received at least one of the two doses. If people continue to get vaccinated at this rate, the percentage needed for herd immunity could be reached sooner rather than later. However, there are plenty of people that remain weary of the vaccine.

The other way to reach herd immunity and thereby end the pandemic would be if more than 200 million people, or 70% of the U.S. population, were to be infected with COVID-19 and recover from it (via Mayo Clinic). Obviously, this is not really a valid or preferred option by any means because it could result in hundreds of thousands of more deaths and over-extended hospitals.

Ultimately then, normal life will be possible once the vast majority of the population has been vaccinated — and the good news is, there's now even easier ways to do so like going to your local grocery store or even Costco.