No matter when a vaccine arrives for the novel coronavirus, we’re not done dealing with pandemics anytime soon. Scientists say COVID-19 is just the beginning, as things like climate change and habitat loss will likely continue to make highly communicable diseases more common. If you think we’re all about to get back to “normal” life as it looked prior to 2020, you’re probably being overly optimistic.
The good news is that there are lots of things we can do to adjust (while simultaneously doing everything we can to limit the impacts of climate change). Designers and engineers are coming up with all kinds of interesting ideas to reduce disease transmission in public places, and thankfully, most of them stop short of putting us all in our own fully enclosed bubbles.
Recognizing that indoor dining is a primary vector of coronavirus spread, the Plex’Eat by Christophe Gernigon essentially places each diner inside their own hanging hygienic shield. These suspended plexiglass hoods surround you on three sides while you’re seated at the table, reducing the risk of airborne infection. They’re big enough to accommodate most people, along with the plates and glasses in front of them.
“I imagined, during my nocturnal creative wanderings of these months of confinement, a new way of welcoming customers of bars and restaurants in search of outings,” says Gernigon. “Though we would have preferred not to arrive at this point, it is better to consider aesthetic, design, and elegant alternatives that guarantee the rules of social distancing.”
He makes a good point, especially about the “guarantee” of compliance. Many diners simply aren’t concerned with the risks and are unwilling to follow the rules on their own. Design that makes participation compulsory solves that problem.
Of course, the single-occupancy Plex’Eat design also presents a few practical problems right off the bat. First of all, dining is often an intimate experience involving close conversation. It’s kind of hard to hear your companion through two layers of plexiglass, and restaurants are already loud enough without people shouting to get around this issue.
But Gernigon has a solution for this, too, proposing that some shields can be large enough to enclose two people together, or entire families. That way, you’re protected from diners you don’t know, but can maintain close contact with people from your own household.
The design isn’t just applicable to dining. Gernigon suggests that it could be used to protect both employees and customers in all kinds of environments, like reception desks, nail salons, casinos, bars, airports, and health care facilities. And, as far as products that limit contagion go, it’s reasonably attractive.
The Plex’Eat has already been installed in a Paris restaurant as a demonstration, and French manufacturer Sitour has begun producing single- and couple-sized models. We might as well get used to seeing a lot more plexiglass in public spaces in the near future. Some people might feel safer, while others might feel like the shields create a claustrophobic, antisocial effect. How would you react to your favorite restaurants and bars installing these things?