CDC study says restaurants are COVID-19 hotspots 

A recent CDC study claims restaurants are a high-risk COVID-19 hotspot: 

A new study from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found restaurant dining to be the most commonly shared activity amongst adults with Covid-19. The CDC suggests eating and drinking at a restaurant is a high-risk activity during this ongoing pandemic. 

The study investigated data from 314 adults who showed symptoms of and were tested for COVID-19 at a variety of centers around the United States. Around half the cohort tested positive for the virus, while the other half tested negative thus serving as an effective control group.

All subjects participated in interviews to help researchers gather detailed information and behavioral data. Comparing the positive and negative cases, the researchers found no differences between the two groups in most behavioral patterns. Both groups practiced similar rates of mask-wearing, gyms, and hair salon visitations and both groups consistently used public transport.

However, the most striking finding was that those positive COVID-19 cases were twice as likely to have eaten in a restaurant compared to those in the negative control group.

“In this investigation, participants with and without COVID-19 reported generally similar community exposures, with the exception of going to locations with on-site eating and drinking options,” the CDC study states. “Adults with confirmed COVID-19 (case-patients) were approximately twice as likely as were control-participants to have reported dining at a restaurant in the 14 days before becoming ill.”

The study specifically does not focus on the individual routes of transmission. That means it does not claim the positive COVID-19 cases stemmed from exposure inside a restaurant. But instead, the research is designed to identify those environments where people may be at higher risk of contracting the disease.

It is hypothesized restaurants may be intrinsically higher risk environments due to the necessity of having to take masks off to eat. Enclosed environments with often boisterous conversation and no consistent facial covering are factors that all coalesce to make restaurants particularly challenging locations for COVID-19 safety measures.

“Reports of exposures in restaurants have been linked to air circulation,” the CDC report states. “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. 

The CDC’s recently updated COVID-safe recommendations for restaurants highlights four tiers of risk, from the safest operating strategy (only serving take-away, delivery, or curbside pick-up), to the most dangerous (on-site, indoor dining with no seating capacity limitation or table distancing). The least risky iteration of onsite dining recommended by the CDC is outdoors with tables spaced six feet apart. 

Further, as always, pick-up and delivery remain very low-risk options to obtain food from our favorite bars, taverns, and restaurants.