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El Paso infectious disease expert offers tips for reducing risk at restaurants, stores

EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) — City contact tracing data shows that nearly 60% of virus exposures can be traced back to restaurants and retail stores.

While the County of El Paso has issued a shutdown order for non-essential businesses, the mayor of El Paso and the Texas Attorney General have voiced their opposition to it. Several businesses have opted to stay open.

A local infectious disease expert with Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso says there are some reasons that risk can be heightened in these locations.

City data shows that the highest amount of virus exposures, 37%, is coming from retail stores. Dr. Armando Meza said stores can be risky environments due to the amount of exposures an individual might encounter. The CDC recently redefined what it means to have “close contact” with an infected individual. The agency had previously defined that contact as 15 minutes, but U.S. officials now say repeated, brief encounters can spread the virus too. While Dr. Meza said there is no way to completely eliminate the risk, he said there are ways to reduce it.

“Physical distancing is something that works,” he said. “When you are physically distant from another individual, considering that most of the droplets will not travel very far out from the site of the original source, you will be minimizing the risk of exposure by a significant number.”

City data shows restaurants account for 22.5% of virus exposures. Dr. Meza said that the core problem with restaurants is the need for customers to remove face masks. Eating indoors can exacerbate the problem due to limited airflow and ventilation. The CDC has said that particles of the virus can remain suspended in the air. 

“Go outdoors and eat outdoors and in that way, you are minimizing the amount of airborne exposure because the airflow will be different,” Dr. Meza said. “There will be more ventilation and that will also help you to avoid that. The other is to stay the least amount of time possible in the restaurant.”

Beyond stores and restaurants, the data found that 19% of virus exposures can be traced to travel to Mexico and 10% can be traced to parties and reunions.

Biz/Tech / El Paso / News / Video

Madeline Ottilie

Madeline Ottilie is a reporter on Good Morning El Paso and co-anchors ABC-7 at noon.


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