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CDC Puts Dallas, Collin, and Tarrant County COVID Risk Levels at Red. What Does It Mean for Restaurants?

The news comes as variants BA.4 and BA.5 spread and hospitalizations increase

A bartender pours a glass of whiskey while wearing a mask in a restaurant.
Pour a drink and consider masking up, DFW.
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Courtney E. Smith is the editor of Eater Dallas. She's a journalist of 20 years who was born and raised in Texas, with bylines in Pitchfork, Wired, Esquire, Yahoo!, Salon, Refinery29, and more. When she's not writing about food, she co-hosts the podcast Songs My Ex Ruined.

On Thursday, July 14, the CDC announced it was setting the COVID-19 risk levels for Dallas, Collin, and Tarrant counties back to red, while Denton County remains at yellow. The organization’s determination is based on total new COVID cases and hospitalizations per 100,000 people, as well as the percent of in-patient beds occupied by COVID patients.

So what does this mean for eating in restaurants? First and foremost, the red risk level comes with an advisory that everyone should be wearing a mask in public again.

While Tarrant County was already in the highest risk alert and recommended its citizens return to masking last week, Dallas County only raised its risk level from green to yellow recently. County health officials have not recommended mirroring the CDC yet. Yellow level only recommends masking for those who are immunocompromised.

“Transmission is definitely increasing a lot, hospital numbers are going up, and people should be more cautious,” Dr. Philip Huang, the county’s top public health official told the Dallas Morning News. “I wouldn’t say it’s an inconsistent message. I think they’ve got a different scoring system.”

Yeah, clearly they do — Dallas County’s trigger system is based on additional metrics and hasn’t even promoted a notch up to orange, let alone red, from the county health system. But that could change when they meet again next week, on Tuesday. “This doesn’t mean that the public shouldn’t pay heed to the recommendations of the CDC,” county judge Clay Jenkins said in a statement to the DMN.

BA.5 is a sister variant of omicron and is considered the most contagious variant yet, because it is more adept at avoiding immune protections of both prior infection and vaccination; as a result, many people are getting reinfected with COVID, Reuters reports. However, the infections seem less severe than earlier variants and hospitalizations are not quite as high. The Dallas Morning News reports that Dallas County had some 725 hospitalizations as of Wednesday, July 13, which is down significantly from the peak of 4,000 reached during the omicron wave in January 2021.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that new variants are creating an ongoing pandemic thanks to vaccine inequality globally and the push to move past COVID.

Does this mean restaurants are likely to close down again? In Tarrant County, no. Despite public health officials raising the risk level to red, county officials have made no move to reinstate any mandates or closings. In Dallas County, it’s too soon to say. Collin County officials have not issued at statement or guidance in light of the CDC findings.

It would be tough to close anything down again in the face of this wave of COVID. In this heat wave, sitting outside on a well-ventilated patio to eat doesn’t sound like a great time. Many restaurants still offer COVID-safe pickup and delivery protocols, for those who are concerned about increasing infection rates. Just order from the restaurant directly whenever possible, because third party apps, including DoorDash and Uber Eats, take a percentage of the order fee. It would probably be wise to make reservations in advance and ask restaurants about social distancing if you feel that you need it. Finally, remain cognizant that frontline workers, including restaurant and delivery staff, do not have a choice about interacting with the public. They are offering a service, and politely respecting the boundaries any establishment creates around masking, social distancing, or availability of seating is the appropriate reaction.

In risk level red, the CDC recommends masking indoors for everyone, staying up to date with vaccines and boosters, getting tested at the first sign of any COVID symptoms, and increasing indoor ventilation with fans and open windows.