Photo: David Shankbone, GNU Free Documentation Licence

Now that America is done with the pandemic, apart from all the people getting sick, dying, or not dying and just suffering permanent heart damage and lung damage and neurological symptoms, Donald Trump is back to ridiculing masks, holding large rallies, and demanding that everything reopen because creating more vectors for COVID-19 is how you prevent panic. Coronavirus infections have been hitting a lot of areas that reopened universities, because reopening plans assumed that if you simply tell young people to stay socially distant, they certainly won't go crowding into bars. And New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this week that restaurants can reopen for indoor dining at the end of the month, as long as they limit occupancy to 25 percent of capacity and collect diners' contact information in case they need to do contact tracing.

So that's your context for a new study from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which finds that dining in restaurants may be a significant risk factor for transmission of the coronavirus. The study found that adults who have tested positive for COVID-19 were about twice as likely to have eaten at a restaurant in the two weeks prior to diagnosis as people who tested negative. Going to bars and coffee shops also appears to be a risk factor; "but only when the analysis was restricted to participants without close contact with persons with known COVID-19 before illness onset," according to the study.

Get ready for Donald Trump to threaten to withhold federal funding from school districts that don't immediately open restaurants with tables close together. Or at least cocktail lounges.


The study looked at 314 adults reporting flu-like symptoms at 11 healthcare facilities in 10 different states. 154 tested positive for the Rona; 160 tested negative, cheered, then had a coughing fit because they were sick with something else. The researchers gave all the subjects a questionnaire on their recent activities and looked for significant differences in the answers.

The biggest risk factor, not surprisingly, was whether patients had close contact with an infected person (defined as more than 15 minutes, within six feet of the person). 42 percent of those with COVID-19 reported such contact, usually with family members, while just 14 percent of the uninfected folks did.

As for masks, 71 percent of those who were infected said they always wore masks in public, while 74 percent of those who weren't infected said they did. The researchers found little difference between the positive group and the negative group as far as whether they had gone shopping, attended gatherings of fewer than 10 people, been in an office setting, gone to a hair salon or gym, or attended church.

But the restaurant question, that's where there was a significant difference. Also, of those who'd gone to restaurants, bars, or coffee shops, people who'd tested positive were "less likely to report observing almost all patrons at the restaurant adhering to recommendations such as wearing a mask or social distancing." Also too, the report notes,

Direction, ventilation, and intensity of airflow might affect virus transmission, even if social distancing measures and mask use are implemented according to current guidance. Masks cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking, whereas shopping and numerous other indoor activities do not preclude mask use.

The study did note some limitations that should be addressed in future research, like the possibility that the results could have been affected by different public health orders in the 10 states where the surveys were done. The authors point out that the survey question "assessing dining at a restaurant did not distinguish between indoor and outdoor options," which sounds like a good focus for a follow-up study. And just the fact that the participants knew whether they had tested positive or negative might have "influenced their responses to questions about community exposures and close contacts." And it's also possible that those who said they went to restaurants may have also just been out in the community more and encountering other risk factors that the survey didn't ask about.

The study didn't make any specific policy recommendations, since that wasn't its purpose, but it did suggest that since masking and socially distancing are difficult to maintain in eateries, then "Implementing safe practices to reduce exposures to SARS-CoV-2 during on-site eating and drinking should be considered" for public safety.

Here's a crazy idea: Since restaurants and bars are important parts of communities, but they're also places where the virus seems more likely to spread, maybe instead of telling them to reopen and hope for the best, Congress could allocate money to help them and their employees to stay shut down (or takeout only) until it's safe to reopen. That might ultimately be way less expensive than the cost of treating people who get infected or letting all those businesses disappear, and jobs along with them.

Yeah, we have some crazy socialist ideas.

[ CDC report / CNN / NBC News / Photo: David Shankbone, GNU Free Documentation Licence]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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