Nashua outdoor dining

Patrons enjoy lunch outside The Nashua Garden last September. Cement barriers were used last summer and fall to separate traffic from outdoor dining areas in downtown Nashua. The concrete barriers are expected to return on March 15 to allow for expanded outdoor dining, according to a proposal that will soon be considered by aldermen.

Outdoor dining is coming to an end and restaurants are facing challenges on how to keep their patrons safe from the coronavirus.

“We know that the six-foot distancing rule is not a sure thing,” said Dr. Stephanie Wolf-Rosenblum, a member of the Nashua Board of Health.

During a meeting Wednesday, Wolf-Rosenblum said she worries about the enclosed plastic barriers that restaurants are implementing to allow for additional dining inside their establishments.

Creating small cubicles inside a restaurant may actually inhibit aerosols from being dispersed by ventilation systems within the buildings, explained Wolf-Rosenblum.

“We now know that COVID-19 is predominantly transmissible by aerosol. It is also transmitted by droplets, which are larger particles which can spray towards someone,” she said.

The state’s guidelines for distancing of indoor dining tables does not meet the guidelines recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Wolf-Rosenblum.

Wolf-Rosenblum also voiced concerns about entertainment inside of restaurants. Loud talking, singing and shouting can spread the virus beyond 25 feet and maybe as far as 45 feet. The use of uncovered wind instruments can also spread the virus, according to Rosenblum.

“My concern is that this does not follow the science and will lead to more and more outbreaks throughout the season,” she said.

Potential exposure

On Saturday, the Nashua Division of Public Health and Community Services announced an investigation into potential exposures related to a person with COVID-19 who worked in the bar of Texas Roadhouse, 580 Amherst St., from 3 to 10 p.m. on Oct. 22 and from 11 a.m. to close on Oct. 23.

This past weekend, city health officials urged anyone who visited the restaurant during those times to self-quarantine because of possible exposure, and to get tested.

“The health and safety of our staff and customers is our top priority. We have been following CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting our facility,” Eric Martin, Texas Roadhouse director of food safety, said in a statement. “We follow all reopening guidance for food service establishments from the state.”

Ren Beaudoin, deputy health officer for the city, said the state’s new requirement to collect contact information for people dining at New Hampshire restaurants is a positive step.

While this will not mitigate the spread of the virus, it will make it easier for public health nurses to conduct contact tracing related to potential COVID-19 cases at restaurants, he said.

There have been some complaints in Nashua of bars being crowded in the evenings and not abiding social distancing requirements, according to health officials.

“A lot of places aren’t following those rules,” said Beaudoin, adding that some of the staff at these establishments are finding it difficult to manage the situation on their own, particularly approaching individuals who may have had a few drinks.

“It seems that when we are in difficult times, in order for us to mitigate risk, and there is no such thing as zero risk, we all accept that ... So our job, as has been stated in the past as the Board of Health, is to provide guidance so that the risk can be diminished to a level that is acceptable to the people that are the consumers,” said Wolf-Rosenblum.

Attorney Steve Bolton, corporation counsel for the city, said Nashua cannot do anything that contradicts regulations from the state or governor, but there are things that could be done in Nashua that the state hasn’t implemented.

“Why can’t we be seen as a pilot, or a case variant based on our needs?” questioned Dr. Charles Cappetta, member of the Board of Health, adding Nashua is in a unique position since it sits on the border with Massachusetts and should be challenging the status quo.

Wolf-Rosenblum suggested that the Board of Health create a graphic to be displayed at Nashua restaurants highlighting the risks associated with indoor dining, including what is safe, safer and safest. She also recommended that a letter be sent to state officials respectfully asking them to provide information in a timely manner to the city’s public health division so that those details can be appropriately disseminated to the public, noting the governor’s decision on Friday to implement the restaurant sign-in and dine-in changes during the weekend.

“I don’t have confidence that changes could be affected in a time frame that would save lives,” added Rosenblum. “ … I feel like something different than what we are doing now has to be done.”

A meeting between the governor’s reopening committee and the Nashua Board of Health was also being planned to further address some of the concerns.