California Governor’s office: When you go out to eat, wear a mask ‘in between bites’

Yes this is real, as you’ll see in a moment. But first, let me describe the current situation in California, at least where I live in southern California, with regard to restaurants.

Restaurants here are open for take out and in some cases for seating. The seating can either be inside at a reduced capacity or outside under a tent. My family still picks up to-go food from our favorite restaurants but in the last three months we’ve only gone out to dinner twice I think. In both cases the restaurants had converted a portion of their parking lot into table seating with the tables spaced out to create social distance from other diners.

Both times we went out the protocol was the same. Everyone arriving had to be wearing masks. Once you were seated there were no physical menus handed out because those would be touched and would then run the risk of spreading something to a server or potentially to another guest. In one case, the restaurant I went to used a QR-code on the table which would automatically bring up the menu on your phone. After ordering, most people took off their masks and waited for their food. People going out were generally with the same group of people they were with all the time, usually their own family. And obviously you can’t eat with a mask on anyway.

But over the weekend Governor Newsom’s office put out a message which surprised and confused a lot of people. It said that if you go out to dinner you should “keep your mask on in between bites.”

If you look at the actual meme it seems to say something different. It reads, “minimize the number of times you take your mask off.” And the three cartoon panels seem to show someone ordering with their mask on, eating with it off, and then putting it back on after they finish (notice her plate is empty in the last frame). That’s pretty close to how restaurants are actually doing things in California, as described above. So where did wearing a mask in between bites come from? Did the person writing the text for this tweet just get confused? It certainly confused many people who read it:

“I’m very confused by this tweet. The image suggests you should only take your mask off once when you begin a meal but the text suggests you should put it back on between bites,” journalist Matthew Fuhrman wrote, referring to the graphic shared in the tweet.

“Should we wash our hands after touching our mask each time we remove it between bites? What if I’m eating chips and salsa and I go for a double dip? Is that technically two bites since it’s the same chip?” another person asked…

CBS News has reached out to the governor’s office for more information on the guidance in the tweet.

In California’s published guidance for dining in restaurants, wearing a mask in between bites is not mentioned.

Here’s what California’s published guidance says about face coverings [emphasis added]:

Establishments must take reasonable measures, including posting signage at all entrances and in strategic and highly-visible locations and in reservation confirmations, to remind the public that they must use face coverings while not eating and drinking and practice physical distancing and that they should frequently wash their hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, use hand sanitizer, and not touch their face…

Guests and visitors should be screened for temperature and/or symptoms upon arrival, asked to use hand sanitizer, and to wear a face covering when not eating or drinking. Employers have the right to cancel reservations for individuals/parties with symptomatic guests.

The idea of putting on and off a mask between bites makes no sense. In my case, one of the restaurants we ate at was a rib place. We were eating with our hands, not a fork. Touching your mask during this kind of meal would have resulted in a mess.

Also, as one person pointed out this novel advice would be contrary to guidance from the WHO which recommends touching your mask as little as possible with your hands.

The bottom line appears to be that the Governor’s office made a mistake but isn’t willing to admit it and thus hasn’t deleted the tweet. I think this response to the tweet sort of summed up what was likely taking place inside the Governor’s office after this tip went out:

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