I’m a math and science person. So forgive me (or appreciate me) for this, but there are two math items I want to share about our streateries.
Two weeks ago, I emailed the city council with my comments on the streateries. (I’ll say now, I oppose them.) Council President Susan Paine’s response included this statement: “The damned virus makes it unsafe to be indoors, unmasked for food and drink.” I wondered, is it really unsafe to be indoors, unmasked? The state and the CDC have allowed this, for months. But, I thought, to be fair, maybe the facts disagree.
According to the Snohomish County Health Department’s monthly COVID statistics, in all of Snohomish County in October there were two restaurant-related outbreaks of COVID. The average number of COVID cases from an outbreak is 4.8 people, so rounding up, that’s 10 people who caught COVID in a restaurant outbreak. That’s across the entire county, including areas where mask compliance is far lower than in downtown Edmonds. With a population of 840,000, that incidence of restaurant-related COVID is what in scientific terms would be considered below trace level — well down in the “noise.”
(Editor’s note: See comments below from Dawn Parker, a Snohomish Health District employee, explaining how this calculation is incorrect.)
The second math item relates to the city’s clearly stated support for diminishing our impact on greenhouse gasses. I’ve been wondering for a while, as I walk past the streateries with propane heaters flaming, just how much impact those have in terms of carbon dioxide. I did some research, using information from Ferrell Gas Company, Argonne National Laboratory, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and a bit of basic chemistry. I’ll spare you the full analysis but here is the answer, in a nutshell.
Each large heater produces approximately 2.7 kilograms of CO2 per hour. Each smaller heater, on the table top, produces approximately 0.7 kg of CO2 per hour. An idling car produces between 1.7 and 4.3 kg of CO2 each hour. So each big heater is comparable to a car, and every four smaller heaters also equate to a car in terms of CO2 production.
There are currently 36 large and four small propane heaters downtown. (I just got home from counting.) I’m not including heaters in outdoor seating areas off the street. Now think of that — accepting those carbon emissions is like saying “I’m OK with 37 cars sitting in the heart of Edmonds idling for several hours every night.” Those cars would fill almost all of the parking spaces from the fountain north to the museum, east to the crosswalk, south to the alley, and west to 4th Avenue. Every night, from about 4-8 p.m. all winter.
Not all of the heaters were burning when I was out. But many were, some with no patrons in sight, and most every streatery was illuminated with electric lights, empty or not. There are also some streateries with no heat, or electrical heat (which is still considered as a carbon-source by the city’s assessment, but far less so than propane.)
So is it “unsafe to be indoors, unmasked for food and drink”? If you consider a 1 in 84,000 chance too high to be safe, then yes. If you have health concerns, your chances may be far worse, and that’s understandable. But are you going to go sit outside in Edmonds in the winter, if your health is precarious?
And do you believe Edmonds should be mitigating its climate impacts? Then think of those 37 cars, every night, idling around the fountain and ask yourself whether you can support that and be consistent with your own beliefs.