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As State Restaurants Open to 75 Percent Capacity, CDC Offers Caution

October 01, 2020

As COVID-19 infection rates begin to climb again and summer’s lingering carefree feelings evaporate, healthcare experts and the government renewed calls for a focus on safe behaviors.

This includes dining out, especially after a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report revealed that people who tested positive for the potentially fatal virus were twice as likely to have dined in a restaurant within the previous two weeks. This underscored the assertion of infectious disease specialists that being in close quarters, such as inside a restaurant or bar, increases the chance of exposure to the virus. That becomes especially relevant as Connecticut begins Phase 3 reopening of the state’s economy Oct. 8, which includes restaurants allowed 75 percent capacity — up from 50 percent — for indoor dining.

The CDC research was drawn from outpatient data provided by 11 healthcare facilities across the United States.

“Going to locations that offer onsite eating and drinking options were associated with COVID-19 positivity,” the report states. “Adults with positive COVID-19 test results were approximately twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant than were those with negative COVID-19 test results.”

A CDC team examined people over 18 years old who were tested for COVID-19 in the participating facilities during the month of July. The researchers asked participants to quantify their degree of adherence to such recommendations as wearing a face mask or physical distancing, and to describe their activity in the 14 days before the onset of their symptoms. There were also asked if they were in contact with someone known to have COVID-19 during that period.

About half of all the study participants reported shopping and visiting others inside a home on more than one day during the 14 days leading up to the onset of symptoms. There were no significant differences between those who tested positive and those testing negative when it came to most community exposures such going into an office setting, attending religious services, going to a gym or using public transportation. Those who tested positive, however, were significantly more likely to have eaten in a restaurant in the previous 14 days.

The problem was more linked to eating inside a restaurant, not al fresco. The CDC team noted that this could be due to several factors, including:

  • Poor air circulation.
  • Direction, ventilation and intensity of air flow.

“(These) might affect virus transmission, even if social distancing measures and mask use are implemented according to current guidance,” the report states. “Masks cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking, whereas shopping and numerous other indoor activities do not preclude mask use.”

Indoor gatherings are always a risk factor for sharing airborne diseases, according to Dr. Virginia Bieluch, an infectious disease specialist at The Hospital of Central Connecticut.

The CDC researchers recommended people eat outside in restaurants whenever possible or consider takeout.

“As communities reopen, efforts to reduce possible exposures at locations that offer on-site eating and drinking options should be considered to protect customer, employees and communities,” they said.