Last week, a worker at one of my favorite bakeries in Los Angeles tested positive for Covid-19.

Bub and Grandma’s, which provides wonderfully crackly sourdough to restaurants, coffee shops and grocery stores all over the city, posted the news on Instagram: Staff members believed they had taken every precaution, but somehow the virus had still found its way into their kitchen.

The bakery wisely shut down. Two days later, the staff had reported a total of six positive cases. The business posted a stark reminder to its followers: “It is not over.”

You could easily be lulled into feeling that it is. It’s been a month since local officials announced that Los Angeles County dining rooms could safely reopen. But with each passing day, the cost of gathering again in workplaces and public spaces across the United States becomes clear: a spike in infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

In the meantime, government officials send out chaotic, mixed messages that are almost impossible to decipher. Though dining rooms in the Los Angeles area are still open, Mayor Eric Garcetti encouraged people to stay home as recently as last week. So, which is it? Go out, or stay home?

For months, people have been left to figure it out for themselves. Faced with a constant stream of contradictory advice, it’s no wonder that so many people are reaching so many different conclusions.

I’d love to be sitting in a bustling dining room, feeling completely safe and at ease, surrounded by friends with drinks in their hands. But I haven’t been out for a meal since March, and I don’t plan to go anytime soon.

For now, I’m devoted to cooking for myself, or picking up takeout — whether it’s barbacoa or banh cuon — and bringing it all home. There’s enough tension as it is, standing in line, masked up, six feet away from other customers, just to get my order. And it’s far more stressful for restaurant workers.

On Sunday, Hugo’s Tacos announced that it was closing both of its Los Angeles locations. Too many customers, refusing to wear masks, had threatened and harassed employees, throwing things at them, getting close to their faces, yelling.

“A mask isn’t symbolic of anything, other than our desire to keep our staff healthy,” the restaurant’s statement read. But wearing a mask has been widely positioned as a political move rather than a basic health precaution, making every shift more dangerous for workers, who continue to put themselves at risk to make us dinner.

Credit…Erin Trieb for The New York Times

And a quick look at cities and states that reopened their public spaces earlier suggests that it’s not safe to go without a mask, or to be around those who aren’t wearing them.

As Tennessee reaches a total of 40,000 cases since the pandemic began, Gov. Bill Lee has extended the state of emergency until the end of August. After a surge in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order to close the state’s bars, and to reduce indoor seating capacity at restaurants by half.

Just after Florida reported 8,942 new cases in one day — almost double its previous record — Gov. Ron DeSantis shut down all bars in the state. On Sunday, Gov. Gavin Newsom followed suit, shutting down bars in several counties in California, including Los Angeles.

On Monday, the governors of New York and New Jersey looked to the reports coming out of other states and reconsidered their own imminent plans to reopen dining rooms.

The guidance has been unclear, messy and fragmented, with different states adhering to different sets of rules on their own timelines. In the resulting chaos, restaurant owners have been left to make major, life-changing resolutions that could affect public health. They’ve also been pushed to make decisions — about cutting jobs, or staffing up — that can become irrelevant within a day, or a week, as policies change.

Some restaurants are sticking with delivery and takeout, unsure how to reopen safely. Others that pivoted to becoming grocery stores are staying that course. The Momofuku Group put out its own health and safety handbook, and made the document public so other restaurants could reference it. It includes a detailed deep-cleaning log for both the kitchen and dining room, and another with recommendations on sanitizers and dishwashing chemicals.

In Los Angeles County, the health department’s protocol for reopening is strict, but just over a week ago, health inspectors who visited about 2,000 restaurants found that only half were actually in compliance.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 30, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

The city has since broken its own daily record, reporting more than 2,903 new cases of Covid-19 on Monday alone. The spread of the disease may be complex, but it’s impossible to ignore these numbers.

Restaurateurs, despite being pushed into the role, are not our public-health officials. Understandably, many want customers to fill up their dining rooms, to eat and drink well, and to spend money again. But after collecting data from 30 million credit and debit card holders, JPMorgan Chase found a close correlation between the level of spending in restaurants and new cases of Covid-19: Restaurants can easily turn into hot spots.

Restaurant owners can’t, and shouldn’t, be in charge of weighing and managing the risks to both their customers and workers. How deep is their knowledge of the virus and its spread? What are their priorities? And why should they be put in an impossible position, stuck between the economic imperative to reopen and the fact that reopening may harm their workers and customers?

I’ve been dreaming for months about a streamlined reopening of dining rooms, about going back out to eat in a post-pandemic world. I’ve been tracking new kitchens, revisiting old ones, staying up late studying menus and looking forward to getting back to work as a critic in a newly rebuilt restaurant industry.

This seems completely absurd to me now. More than 20 million Americans are out of work because of the pandemic, and more than 125,000 have died.

As other countries have quickly and efficiently flattened their curves, the United States hasn’t controlled the spread of the virus. Instead, many officials have minimized its severity, planned poorly during lockdowns and failed to take decisive steps that could have made a safe national reopening possible.

So for now, going back to restaurants as I knew them is just that: a dream.