Covid NJ: Are plastic ‘Igloos’ Safe For Outdoor Dining?

Source: NorthJersey.com

It seems like such a “cool” idea for alfresco dining.

Clear plastic domes that protect diners from wind, rain and, if heated, the cold, are popping up all across the nation. In North Jersey, you can find these giant-sized “igloo” bubbles — they regularly seat from four to six, perhaps eight people — at Blossom Restaurant in Palisades Park, Fig and Lily Garden in Morristown, Biergarten in Asbury Park and, until last week, El Tango Argentine Restaurant in Moonachie.

But the Bergen Board of Health told the owners of El Tango to take down the three igloos they had installed on the side of their near six-year-old Moonachie restaurant.

“It sucks,” said Ariel Espejo, who owns the restaurant with his parents and brother David. “We spent $2,000 and have had them for two weeks only.” Plus the igloos drew people to the restaurant. “Everyone was waiting just to sit in those bubbles,” David said.

Gov. Murphy’s executive order dictates that to serve food and beverage outdoors an establishment must either have “no roof or cover or have a fixed roof or temporary or seasonal awning or cover, with at least two open sides that would comprise over 50 percent of the total wall space if the space were fully enclosed.” And thus, the department maintains, igloos are not in compliance.

Some health experts disagree. “I think igloos are okay,” said a staff member at the Board of Health in Palisades Park, “if they are open and allow airflow.” Which is why the health department had advised Blossom to open up their igloos to allow for “50 percent” air passage. “So far we haven’t gotten any complaint,” she said. “We are going to try to give restaurants that are hurting a break.”

In tents you dine with numerous strangers. While they may be seated six feet from you and wear face coverings when not seated, you still stand at some risk of being exposed to the virus by a random stranger in the tent with you “The least risky is having a nice picnic lunch with people in your bubble and no one else around to the most risky of being in a crowded, packed indoor space without masks,” says Henry F. Raymond, associate professor in the Department of Biostatistics-Epidemiology at Rutgers University.

Plus some tents may not be as open as they should be. “Tents with the sides zipped tight become as risky as being indoors,” Raymond said.

Mickey Chopra, chef/owner of two restaurants — Vinnie’s Pizzeria & Restaurant in Bloomfield and i2i Indian Italian Fusion in Boonton — reports that igloos are so popular now they’re difficult to get. He’s been waiting for the three that he has ordered for some time but he said he’s considering cancelling his order.

The Aspejo brothers know this. But they say without the igloos they may have to close shop.

“We are doing everything we can to keep everyone safe,” David said. “We are a small business, a hard-working family. I don’t know what’s going to happen. We may have to shut down our business.”

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