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  • Important update regarding guidance for restaurants

    Dear Food Service Professional,

    On Sept. 24, 2020, the Governor’s guidance for restaurants was updated and can be found here: https://www.covidguidance.nh.gov/sites/g/files/ehbemt381/files/files/inline-documents/guidance-restaurants.pdf Please read the full update for complete information.

    The revised Order continues to require table spacing be maintained so people sitting at adjacent tables remain a minimum of 6 feet apart, and servers and waiters/waitresses maintain social distance while interacting with tables (e.g. taking orders). People moving between tables (e.g. customers going to the restroom) should also have adequate space to move between tables. However, the new guidelines say the following exceptions can apply in some situations:

    Except for seating at bars, tables and back-to-back booths can be positioned closer than 6 feet between parties if protective, non-porous, rigid barriers separate the tables and booths (e.g., structural walls or Plexiglas/rigid plastic dividers) provided the following:

    •  Pliable materials (i.e., shower curtains or plastic sheeting) or porous materials (i.e., cloth dividers) shall not be used as barriers.
    • Any barrier used must be at a height that extends at least 6 feet from floor level and must be installed between tables and high traffic areas.
    • All barriers must allow for adequate airflow and air exchanges for each table. Each restaurant must consult with its HVAC contractors to ensure that any barriers that are installed do not cause issues with limiting air exchanges throughout the restaurant.
    • If your establishment is protected by a fire sprinkler system, barrier heights throughout the establishment much be at least 18” lower than the sprinkler heads.
    • Restaurant owners must consult with their local health, fire, and building officials to ensure that any barriers constructed inside their restaurants are compliant with life safety code regulations. This will be done through the application process to increase seating.
    • All barriers must be cleaned in accordance with CDC cleaning and disinfecting guidance.
    • If a booth is equipped with a barrier, no table shall be placed directly at the end of the booth unless guests can be distanced at least 6 feet from the booth, or unless there is a barrier.
    • Barriers are not allowed to reduce spacing below 6 feet between parties at bar seating.
    • Barriers may not impede customer access to egress aisles or block exits.
    • Nothing can be located in travel lanes (like tray stands)
    • An earlier email notified food service permit holders of the continued and updated ventilation and ventilation evaluation requirements, which are;
    • Evaluate building ventilation system to increase room and overall building ventilation, increase the number of air exchanges, increase outdoor air ventilation, limit internal air circulation, improve central air filtration, and routinely replace filters and perform other necessary maintenance. Many restaurants have already completed these requirements when they applied for indoor seating.
    • For increased seating with barriers, an additional requirement is that each restaurant must consult with its HVAC contractors to ensure that any barriers that are installed do not cause issues with limiting air exchanges throughout the restaurant.

    Additionally;

    • Reservations or call ahead seating is recommended and reservations should be staggered to prevent congregating in waiting areas.
    • Build in social distancing in waiting areas so customers and employees are spaced at least 6 feet apart (either through spacing of seating while waiting, or demarcation’s on the floor).
    • Customers are not allowed to stand/mingle and must be seated (no groups interacting with each other). Games and other bar functions (e.g. pool/billiards, darts, arcade games, etc.) are not allowed.

    Continue to review and follow the NH Universal Guidelines and the CDC guidance for cleaning and disinfection included in the Governor’s update. Additionally, Portsmouth has a new mask mandate that is also in effect and can be found here: https://www.cityofportsmouth.com/sites/default/files/2020-09/Ordinance%20-%20Face%20Coverings%20Chapter%203%20Article%2011%20-%20FINAL%2009-14-2020.pdf Customers must still wear a cloth face covering when entering and exiting a facility or when getting up to use the restroom.

    Please note that we have not been able to find specific information or scientific studies pertaining to the safety of increasing indoor seating with barriers. Increasing seating also increases the potential of introducing risk into your workplaces. It is still best practice to build social distancing into food service operations to maintain a safe distance of at least 6 feet between employees and customers. However, if you are considering using barriers to increase indoor seating, we highly recommend maintaining at least 3 feet of space between parties with barriers.

    Please note that the limit per table remains at no more than six (6) adults per table and no more than ten (10) individuals total. Please also consider that many people may not wish to visit a restaurant that does not offer physical distancing or has a high number of occupants.

    Should an outbreak occur related to the operation of your facility, it will immediately be closed until the investigation is completed and any related incubation periods have passed, and will reopen only under the Covid Reduced Indoor Seating numbers that were permitted prior to the implementation of barriers and increased occupancy. Also, if community transmission rates increase, all facilities may be required to return to approved Covid Reduced Indoor Seating numbers that were permitted prior to the implementation of barriers and increased occupancy.

    Live instructions for adding additional seating with barriers to your Covid Indoor Seating application will be available on the Health Department website the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 2.

    Portsmouth Health Department