Winter meal guide
From where to go to how to dine out in the cold, we show you how to navigate Charlotte’s food scene this winter.
It has been 21 long months since the coronavirus pandemic hit the Charlotte area, and increasing cases of COVID-19 and the omicron variant are cause for concern.
As key North Carolina metrics – hospitalizations and positive tests – continue to rise, North Carolina is once again classified as red or high community transmission by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To reduce the risk, health officials are urging people to get vaccinated and receive a booster when they are eligible.
But people still want to go out to local restaurants for a good meal or to meet up while on vacation. And with the weather getting colder, alfresco dining won’t be a great option. So, is it safe to dine out?
Here’s what you need to know before you go.
Is it safe to eat at a restaurant?
Indoor dining is fully open in North Carolina with no capacity restrictions or social distancing requirements.
However, the CDC recommends face coverings for employees and customers. The CDC also recommends doing a self-test before joining indoor gatherings with other people who are not in your household.
Throughout the pandemic, eating indoors has been viewed as a high-risk activity by the CDC.
What security measures are in place?
The city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County require face masks in public places, regardless of immunization status, unless people are actively eating or drinking.
County officials last month revised the rule so that the positivity rate was below 5% for seven consecutive days to be lifted instead of the previous four-week requirement. Mecklenburg’s positivity rate remained around 8% throughout December.
In areas with high COVID-19 transmission where there is no mask warrant, the industry advocacy group North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Industry said restaurants might want to “strongly recommend or demand” that guests and staff wear face coverings.
Do I need a vaccination card?
While some restaurants and businesses in Mecklenburg County require staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19, it is not clear whether any restaurants have the same policy for customers.
Several Charlotte bars and entertainment venues require proof of vaccination. So if you are dining out and then going to a show, make sure you have your vaccination card handy.
When making reservations at local restaurants on OpenTable, a restaurant may post vaccine requirements or indoor mask mandates on their profile page.
The online booking app has also partnered with secure identity company Clear to show proof of vaccination. Messages can also be sent to the restaurant after making a reservation for the latest requirements.
What about outdoor meals?
In addition to terraces, some restaurants have installed igloos.
CharlotteFive has written about the best terrace restaurants in different parts of town, as well as details on igloo dining at Merchant & Trade available to book through March 30.
But in areas with high COVID-19 cases, the CDC recommends wearing a mask in crowded outdoor settings and for activities with close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated.
Mecklenburg County and all of the surrounding counties of Gaston, Lincoln, Catawba, Iredell, Rowan, Cabarrus and Union, and York and Lancaster in South Carolina, are listed as high transmission areas by the CDC.
Should I be concerned about COVID and the omicron variant?
The first case of the omicron variant in North Carolina was detected on December 10 in Mecklenburg County.
UNC student Charlotte who had tested positive was isolated and recovered.
The delta variant is still the most common variant in the county, state, and country. The first cases of omicron were identified on Dec. 15 in South Carolina, all in the Lowcountry, by the Medical University of South Carolina.
COVID-19 statistics and updates are posted almost daily on charlotteobserver.com and the North Carolina Health Department website. However, the case numbers do not distinguish between omicron, delta, or the original COVID-19 strain.
The Omicron is believed to spread more easily than the original virus. Dr Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president, said the booster injections are enough to stop the spread of the new variant.
As of December 16, there had been at least 19,099 COVID-19-related deaths in North Carolina since March 2020, according to state health officials. About 73% of adults in North Carolina have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine and about 69% have been fully immunized.
Worried about having the virus?
If you’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the past five days or is exhibiting symptoms, free COVID-19 testing sites are available throughout Mecklenburg County. Visit mecknc.gov.
Can’t make it to a local test site or afford a home kit? Mecklenburg County Public Health, in partnership with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, this month began offering COVID-19 home test kits.
Kits are available via curbside pickup at designated library branches and public health locations. No ID or insurance is required. No appointment is necessary.
Remember, health officials say the best way to protect yourself and others from the virus is to get vaccinated, wear a mask, distance yourself socially, and wash your hands frequently.