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Temporary dining tents are popping up across the Bi-state, but how safe are they?

As temperatures drop, restaurants are using tents to keep customers safe and warm. We talked with a doctor about what it takes to keep them during the pandemic

ST. LOUIS — This winter, restaurants in St. Louis face two challenges: keeping customers safe and warm.

As the temperatures drop across the Bi-state, tents have popped up outside restaurants in Missouri and Illinois. These temporary structures help restaurants serve hungry customers outdoors in a warmer setting rather than on an open air outdoor patio or inside, where dining is banned in St. Louis County and Illinois.

But how safe are these dining environments?

Health officials say it comes down to ventilation. At least two of the tent’s four walls should be open to provide airflow.

“Airflow is needed to disperse potential virus carrying droplets,” said Sara Dayley of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health. “If those walls are down, you’re going to trap everything inside.”

Adequate ventilation is one — but not the only — indicator of safety.

“You have social distancing between tables 6 feet or more, people wearing masks when they’re not eating or drinking,” explained Dayley. “We can’t stress enough to be 100% safe in what you’re doing, wear a mask, drive-thru, carry-out, wash your hands – all things we’ve been doing since early in the pandemic.”

In order to properly sanitize each tent between parties, some restaurants have imposed time limits on dining experiences.

While dining in a tent is generally safer than indoor dining, health officials recommend carry-out or drive-thru dinners instead.

Coverage on COVID-19 and dining: