COVINGTON, Ky. — Outdoor “igloos” and tents have gained popularity among Tri-State restaurants, bars and breweries seeking creative ways to keep diners warm and socially distant during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jake Rouse, co-founder and CEO of Braxton Brewing in Covington, said his team saw examples of the igloos being used in large metropolitan areas like New York City and Chicago.
After researching the concept, he installed several of the plastic, enclosed structures on the brewery's rooftop.
“We thought about it and looked into it,” he said. “It made a ton of sense, they are unique enough, they retain heat in a really big way and they are warm and cozy. So, we thought it would be a really great opportunity to give it a shot.”
The structures offer an option for restaurant and bar owners navigating pandemic restrictions while looking to provide safety and warmth for customers. But are the plastic igloos safe when it comes to the transmission of the virus?
“We all know that when you go to a restaurant to eat, you can’t wear a mask and people are going to be talking while they are eating,” said Dr. Carl Fichtenbaum, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Cincinnati and UC Health.
“Sometimes there will be laughing or coughing. So the risk of transmission, I think, is greater in those settings where people are not wearing masks.”
The View at Shires Gardens in downtown Cincinnati, which featured the plastic igloos on its rooftop last winter, also installed them for this season.
Both Braxton Brewing and The View at Shires Gardens sanitize the structures and have an airing-out period between each reservation. And both also encourage guests to dine only with close friends and household members -- even when inside the igloo bubble.
“We also have windows that come inside the igloos. You can pop them open to allow some air flow,” said Lisa Colina with The View at Shires Garden.
Colina said she has seen an increase in the restaurant’s reservations this year for its rooftop igloos and greenhouse.
“Last year we had about 50 and 75 requests," said Colina. “This year we are approaching 1,000.”
However, Dr. Fichtenbaum said he has not found any risk-free options for dining out.
“A virus like this is transmitted person to person. You can breathe it in and you don’t have to be as close as we thought people have to be,” he said. “So, if you are in a room that is 20 by 30 and there is not a whole lot of air circulation going on, then virus circulating around that room may be enough to get you infected.”
Deciding whether or not to take that risk falls on the individual, Fichtenbaum added.
“If you have health concerns like high blood pressure, diabetes or you are overweight, or you have other conditions, that might place you at risk for a worst case of COVID-19,” he said. “You may be over 60 years of age -- then you may want to be careful about going out to eat even in an igloo, especially when the virus is spreading.”
Braxton customer Leigh Osterhus saw that the igloos were available by reservation on the brewery's Instagram page.
“Once we saw that the igloos were going to be here, we thought, ‘We have to reserve one of those right away,” said Osterhus. “Then to have the little blankets, the fairy lights, the igloos -- it’s a really cute vibe.”
Osterhus said she feels comfortable dining in an igloo because she does so only with a tight-knit friend circle.
“We have all for work been getting tested every week, so we know that we are safe and doing well and just making sure that you are around responsible people who are also taking it very seriously,” she said.