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Here’s a sentence I didn’t think I would necessarily have to type again: The number of infections is increasing in New York City, and officials are worried about a new variant of COVID-19 that could arrive in the United States very soon. (If it hasn’t already.) (It most likely is.)
These two factors combined, plus an inevitable seasonal increase in COVID – happy holidays! – can end the calm you used to feel at the thought of dining inside. Or maybe you are already avoiding eating inside for a number of reasons, and that only reinforces your existing concerns.
On the other hand: it’s now officially cold. This is normal, of course, and historically it hasn’t been a problem: when it’s cold outside, what you do is go inside, where it’s hot. The threat of COVID made it impossible to eat indoors last winter – “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes!” We chatted while sipping bouillabaisse in yurts – but this year was supposed to be different. We’re double-vaxxed and triple-vaxxed, and we’re ready for it. The outlook was… almost normal?
And of course, many people still happily dine inside. Maybe you are one of them, or you want to be one of them. Corn should are you?
Pro: The interior is hot.
Eating is supposed to be good. By May, it will be nicer indoors than outdoors.
Cons: But outside it is still hot.
Many restaurateurs have gone to great lengths to winterize their outdoor facilities. Barring extreme cold and / or precipitation, isn’t it your civic duty, in a way, to bask in all this new electric heating?
Right now in New York City, everyone in restaurants is, at least in theory, vaccinated by law. This is not a guarantee against infection, but it greatly improves the odds in your favor. And it’s encouraging to see that restaurant staff seem to take this mandate seriously, dutifully checking vaccination cards and Excelsior passes against photo ID. And this program (the so-called Key to NYC) is not going anywhere.
Omicron is – you already know – a new “worrying variant” of COVID. but what does that mean? No one really knows that yet! We don’t know how transmissible it is or how well existing vaccines work against it or how sick it can make people it infects. While there are no confirmed cases in the United States yet, experts (and common sense) will tell you that it’s only a matter of time before that changes.
Pro: There is no reason to assume the worst.
Viruses mutate. We knew it. This does not necessarily mean that this particular mutation is a crisis. At the moment, “there is no evidence that Omicron causes more severe disease than previous variants,” the New York Times reported last weekend. And as the Times‘David Leonhardt wrote yesterday:’ Assuming the worst for every disturbing new variant is not a rational, science-based response. It’s also exhausting. “In the absence of new evidence, the rational assumption is that Covid is likely to remain extremely mild among those vaccinated,” Leonhardt said.
Disadvantage: It’s peak winter time.
Even before Omicron, experts braced for an increase in cases as soon as temperatures dropped. No one is predicting the catastrophic death toll before last winter’s vaccination, but people will be more indoors once it gets colder. They will travel for the holidays. There is reason to believe that COVID is at least somewhat seasonal, like the flu, and it’s flu season. And now another variant? You could eat inside, but could you enjoy this? If you are going to be anxious, you can do it at home.
Pro: It’s about time.
We cannot live forever in a state of suspended animation. COVID exists. By getting vaccinated, we are doing what we can and – barring extenuating circumstances (or young children) – what are we waiting for at this point? There is a risk of acute infections, but the benefit to – having a normal social experience in a temperature-controlled environment – is no small feat. Wasn’t it nice to see your friends? And there are additional steps to take: As your local epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina advised in her sub-stack this weekend, “Use masks. Test if you have any symptoms. Isolate if positive. To get vaccinated. Be boosted. Finally, many restaurants are reasonably well ventilated. Go to those.
Disadvantage: But you can also still wait!
There’s a lot we don’t know about this variant, but scientists are working on it. It will take weeks for researchers to learn more about how Omicron works, and then we will be able to make more informed decisions. It’s been almost two years since it’s been almost two years. At this point, what is a few more weeks if that means peace of mind?
In keeping with the general theme of the past two years, there is no right answer. If you were comfortable eating inside before Omicron, you can continue to do so for now. If the idea of being outside in a thick coat and under a heater makes you more comfortable, this is an option. And if you’d rather stay home and minimize any risk of exposure, Grub Street highly recommends Peacock’s new season. Saved by the Bell reboot, a show which is, against almost all expectations, quite entertaining.