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To go orders sit ready in the empty Vine Bistro restaurant in downtown Montrose Tuesday afternoon March 17, 2020. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Restaurants across Colorado began reopening for in-person dining this week after more than two months shuttered because of the coronavirus crisis. But customers aren’t yet rushing out for meals. 


The latest from the coronavirus outbreak in Colorado:

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Gov. Jared Polis doesn’t appear to be among those clamoring for a bite to eat away from home. 

“Haven’t made any decisions on that,” he said Thursday when asked if he would feel comfortable taking his family to a restaurant to dine. “We’ll see whether the first time we go out is in June or July. I’m confident that at some point we’ll look forward to taking the family out to a restaurant with the kids.”

He added: “I think there are some Coloradans who are ready to go out and visit a restaurant and there’s others who aren’t.”

Polis allowed restaurants across Colorado to resume offering in-person dining on Wednesday but only at 50% of their indoor capacity and with strict guidelines aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. He has urged eateries to use outdoor space to expand their seating and better protect customers from the disease.

Polis said eating out is “reasonably safe.” 

Gov. Jared Polis walks toward a news conference to speak to reporters about the coronavirus crisis on Thursday, May 28, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Experts say dining out carries risk, but people can better protect themselves by taking proper precautions and choosing restaurants that are being careful.

“Like many things in life, there are variations of how much risk there will be,” said Dr. Stephen Cobb, chief medical officer for Centura Health’s operations in the Denver area. 

Cobb said people should first ask themselves: “Am I the kind of person that really needs to go out to a restaurant?”

Anyone over age 60 or who has an underlying health condition should probably continue to eat their meals at home, he said. People who have low tolerance for risk should also avoid in-person dining. 

“There is some risk by going out,” he said. “The risk is more than staying at home. The more people you are exposed to in close quarters and the longer you are exposed to them the higher your risk is.” 

Cobb recommends people choose restaurants that take reservations and thus can limit their crowds, as well as eateries that clean surfaces frequently and ensure their employees wear masks (a state requirement). He also says that people should clean their hands before and after they eat, either with soap and water or with hand sanitizer.

“I’d be much more interested in eating outside than inside,” he said, adding that he would feel safe eating at a restaurant under the right conditions. 

There’s reason to be concerned if you’re eating indoors. A study from China revealed that a woman eating in a restaurant spread the virus to a number of other people who were in the same room.

In New Mexico, restaurants are allowed to seat people only outdoors.

Craig W. Hedberg, a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, told The New York Times that diners may also want to consider how prevalent the virus is in their community. The more cases popping up, the less safe it may be to eat out.

Polis said that so far, customers aren’t visiting restaurants in droves, and he isn’t anticipating that changing anytime soon,

“They’re not really filling up,” he said. “I expect it will be sometime before our restaurants are full again.”

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....