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Town leaders, stop meddling in COVID-19 orders

I could be wrong, but I don't believe that any of the seven municipal leaders from southeastern Connecticut who last week beseeched Gov. Ned Lamont to end his continuing ban on indoor restaurant dining has a lick of medical training, certainly not in epidemiology.

The governor doesn't, either, but he has wisely assembled a group of advisers who do, and he's listening to them.

Lamont rejected a call from elected leaders of the town of Stonington, Stonington Borough, Montville, Ledyard, East Lyme, Norwich and Waterford to allow restaurants to begin serving meals indoors, siding with the science that says to do so could spread the virus and jeopardize lives.

Do these elected leaders urging restaurant dining think the governor really wants to keep restaurant owners from returning to business as usual? Do they think it's easy to keep a big part of the state's economy shut down?

The governor most certainly understands the economic pain this causes because he will have to contend with that, too, and he knows the fallout will grow worse by the day. But he is commendably putting public health first. I don't claim any scientific knowledge about any of this, but it doesn't take a doctor to see from a study to be published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention how the virus can spread inside a restaurant.

A diagram illustrating one outbreak in a restaurant in China shows how one asymptomatic diner apparently infected nine other people, seated at three different tables, all in the same air currents from the HVAC system in a 1,500-square-foot dining room.

Restaurateur Dan Meiser of Stonington, proprietor of Oyster Club, Engine Room, Grass & Bone and Stone Acres Farm, is the board chairman of the Connecticut Restaurant Association and an outspoken advocate for immediately reopening indoor dining rooms.

He suggested in a recent virtual roundtable for the industry that eating indoors could be as safe as shopping at Home Depot.

He's no scientist, either. And his comparison belies common sense.

First of all, the soaring indoor spaces of a Home Depot are nothing like the confined dining rooms of most restaurants, which are often deliberately designed to be intimate.

Customers in Home Depot are generally on the move, passing one another as they shop and not lingering for long periods around a table, chatting, chewing and drinking.

Most important, customers at a Home Depot are required to wear a mask. You can't eat and drink with a mask on.

The statistics that most alarm me when it comes to the idea of eating inside a restaurant with strangers describe what happens when someone sneezes. A single sneeze releases about 30,000 droplets that can travel up to 200 miles per hour, right across a room. A single sneeze in someone infected can contain up to 200 million virus particles.

Imagine when the stranger at the next table stops between spoonfuls of food or sips of a cocktail and sneezes. Six feet doesn't seem at all safe to me in that instance.

Kudos to New London Mayor Michael Passero for not signing on with the gang of seven municipal leaders trying to get restaurant dining rooms open immediately. Instead, he has been working with businesses in his restaurant-filled downtown to close streets and make public spaces available for safe outdoor dining.

If you live in East Lyme, Waterford, Ledyard, Montville, Stonington or Stonington Borough, know that your elected leaders are ready to side with the people who want to sell you a cheeseburger or Bloody Mary inside instead of those who want, at all costs, to safeguard your frail grandmother from the spread of the disease.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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