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Medical experts: Restaurant tents must have proper ventilation to be safe

Dr. Jason Smith with UofL Health said the two most important things when it comes to the outdoor tent seating arrangements are cleaning and ventilation.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As restaurants look for ways to stay afloat during another round of restrictions, some are setting up tents for outdoor seating. But health experts are advising restaurants to make sure they're set up correctly to minimize the chances of spreading the coronavirus.

According to the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness Medical Director Dr. Sarah Moyer, tents cannot be completely enclosed.

"That is indoor dining. That is not allowed," she said. "So two sides have to be open in order for it to be outdoor dining."

UofL Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jason Smith said the two most important things when it comes to the outdoor tent seating arrangements are cleaning and ventilation. According to Smith, restaurant staff should clean the outdoor area with the same products and protocol as they would inside.

When it comes to ventilation, Smith agreed with Moyer that restaurants need to make sure there are enough openings to allow airflow through the tent.

"If they're not and they're just basically enclosing an outdoor area and making it into an indoor area for lack of a better term, that's really no different from eating inside a restaurant from that standpoint," he said. "You still run the same risk you've been running previously."

Fork & Barrel on Frankfort Avenue is just one of several restaurants that have set up a tent outdoors. Executive chef and owner Geoff Heyde said his restaurant had set up the tent earlier in the year when the first restrictions on indoor seating were implemented. He has six tables with four chairs each inside with more than the required six feet of space in between them.

"People are really excited about it," he said. They say, 'Wow, it doesn't really look like you're in a parking lot.'"

Heyde said the outdoor seating setup is crucial, especially now with Gov. Andy Beshear restricting restaurants from allowing indoor dining in an attempt to curtail the spread of the coronavirus, with cases continuing to rise in Kentucky. Under normal circumstances, Heyde can seat up to 100 people inside Fork & Barrel. Now he has 24 seats under his tent.

"It's been crucial," he said. "This past Saturday, we did three turns on tables out here and not having indoor dining, it really helps."

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