Here’s everything the CDC needs you to know about indoor restaurant dining

As winter approaches, New York City, New Jersey, and California are preparing to re-open indoor establishments with limited capacity.

It’s hard to argue that the administration is anything less than enthusiastic about our prospects in light of these developments, but a new risk assessment from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lends credence to the opposition:

“Community and close contact exposures continue to drive the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. CDC and other public health authorities recommend community mitigation strategies to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19,” the authors wrote. “Characterization of community exposures can be difficult to assess when the widespread transmission is occurring, especially from asymptomatic persons within inherently interconnected communities. Potential exposures, such as close contact with a person with confirmed COVID-19, have primarily been assessed among COVID-19 cases, without a non-COVID-19 comparison group.”

The new report was premised by an investigation that included adults aged 18 years and older who received the first test for SARS-CoV-2 at an outpatient testing center between July 1st and July 29th, 2020.

The analysis found that those who tested positive for the virus were twice as likely to have visited a hospitality establishment (both indoor and outdoor) in the past two weeks. Eating and drinking activities and those done without masks increased this likelihood considerably.

“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. 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. In addition to dining at a restaurant, case-patients were more likely to report going to a bar/coffee shop, but only when the analysis was restricted to participants without close contact with persons with known COVID-19 before illness onset,” the study continued. “Reports of exposures in restaurants have been linked to air circulation (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 CDC adds that precautions should be considered to protect customers, employees, and communities.

It should be noted that, like many of the more recent updates published by the CDC, the finds have been met with censure from various systems–most notably the National Restaurant Association.

“In effect, the lack of a direct correlation should be evidence that, when restaurants demonstrate effective mitigation efforts, the risk is low when dining outside or inside,” the NRA said in a press statement.

Although there are reasons for restaurant employees and employers to be biased against the latest guidelines, valid criticism does exist with respect to the study’s limitations.

For a start, the authors made no distinctions between drinking locations. Meaning a coffee shop, a juice bar, and a bar that sells alcoholic beverages all contributed to the same risk analysis. Anecdotally, people tend to conduct themselves much more safely without the influence of alcohol.

Similarly, there was no meaningful way to determine the degree to which each establishment involved in the report adhered to relevant precautions. It is safe to assume that some establishments are more cautious than others.

Whichever side of the debate you fall on, it seems a mistake to limit the data to binary terms: either we shut down everything and save lives, or we reopen everything and save the economy.

Both opposing views elevate the need to privilege safety in every encounter going forward.

Many of the same academicians who supplied data sets to the latest CDC guideline report have indexed ways to safely dine, socialize, and commute.

Many of the restaurants who called the latest guidelines “irresponsible” have done the same.

Even with a vaccine, it’ll be up to the public to set the tone for post-pandemic culture.

“What’s getting to me is I’m watching people and they’re really looking for the information that they want to hear. I have to be safe I am high-risk. If you think a COVID-19 vaccine will eliminate all risks you’re fooling yourself, barely half of the country gets a flu vaccine, 60% maybe. Unless it’s 100% there is no guarantee. It’s gonna take at least a year for the mentality to circulate. I have to be safe I am high-risk,” renowned celebrity event designer, Edward Perotti told Ladders.

“I tell myself repeatedly that I can’t control other people. It’s not my job to shame them or get upset at them. I am responsible for myself. If the situation feels remotely unsafe be self-aware enough to take yourself out.”

Having said, and while conceding that health should always be a priority, America relies on members of the hospitality industry to bolster our economy. Ideally, health systems and lawmakers can meet in the middle to appease each other’s conditions.