My conversation with Douglas Maas was also reassuring. Mr. Maas, a mechanical engineer and president of engineering firm Cosentini Associates, a Tetra Tech company, has designed the airflow system, which was considered in the field as a technological marvel. Yet as an advisory member of a restaurant-safety panel called by the Aspen Institute’s Food and Society Program, he is advocating some extremely low-tech solutions to reduce the risk of indoor food.
Placing movable partitions between tables, which New York State requires, when tables cannot be moved six feet apart, can help block some airborne particles sent by a sneeze or loud talker , Said Mr. Maas. Opening a window or door will allow fresh air to pass through. Yes, in an ideal world the ventilation system of a restaurant would already do this, but the hospitality business is not an ideal world.
If the contaminated air inside cannot be brought out, Mr. Maas said, filter the air inside the house by contaminating those who contaminate it. Mr. Maas advises restaurants to have their own ventilation systems, many of which have been idle for half a year, thoroughly cleaned and then high-efficiency filters such as MERV-13 or better. If those systems are too old or weak, he recommends purchasing free-standing air purifiers using HEPA filters that can capture airborne particles carrying coronaviruses. Some simple models sell for less than $ 200.
Mr. Maas, who lives in Manhattan, said that a restaurant that follows best practices for safety and has good ventilation and widely spaced tables – separated, perhaps, by partitions – is where he comes from. Will consider eating in weeks.
“He is going to be the first person to walk out of the restaurant when I open,” he said. “I’m fine. A lot of restaurants are taking this very seriously.”
Just as Mr. Maas helped me think about indoor air, architect David Rockwell changed my thinking about indoor space and how it is used. All summer, the first encounter between the diner and the server – the one where you ask if they have a table and they say, just a minute, I’ll check – usually outside, on the sidewalk. What if it stays there in the fall and winter?