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CDC cautions against eating at restaurants during pandemic

By Nancy Clanton, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga

The desire to get back to normal is strong with a lot a people, which might be why so many flock to beaches, churches and restaurants during this coronavirus pandemic.

In a new report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta says the latter can cause problems.

According to the CDC, its report of “symptomatic outpatients from 11 U.S. health care facilities found that close contact with persons with known COVID-19 or going to locations that offer on-site eating and drinking options were associated with COVID-19 positivity. Adults with positive SARS-CoV-2 test results were approximately twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant than were those with negative SARS-CoV-2 test results.”

The study included data on 314 adults who were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms; 154 tested positive and 160 tested negative. The tests were administered at 11 health care facilities across California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah and Washington.

There were no significant differences between those who tested positive versus negative when it came to shopping, attending a religious gathering and going to the office, gym or a salon.

However, people who tested positive were more likely to have reported dining in a restaurant in the two weeks before getting sick.

“Masks cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking, whereas shopping and numerous other indoor activities do not preclude mask use,” the researchers wrote. “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.”

The Association of Food and Drug Officials pointed out weaknesses in the CDC’s study.

The research presented should be considered in light of some inherent weaknesses in the research, including:

Research was structured as a generic study looking at common community exposures of those testing positive and not testing positive for COVID-19.

Study was built looking for common places of exposure and does not gather much of the desired information about those individuals with restaurants and bar exposure including things such as: did those with or without COVID-19 eat or drink indoor or outdoors, did they go to coffee shops or bars which were a single category in the study.

The 10states where health care centers of the study subjects w had greatly varying restrictions on restaurants during the potential period of potential exposure.

Overall COVID-19 control measures varied greatly in these communities during the study.

The study does not clarify if those with restaurant and bar exposures were in the community more frequently, which may be a potential contributing factor.

In addition, AFDO recommended “sound public health limitations in bars, taverns, and restaurants include limiting alcohol service to accompanying food orders, not allowing hours of operation to extend into the late nights, and limiting occupancy levels and table arrangements to those levels which allow for social distancing. Further, as always, pick-up and delivery remain very low-risk options to obtain food from our favorite bars, taverns, and restaurants.”

The Georgia Restaurant Association responded to the CDC report by issuing a statement on how “Georgia’s restaurant industry proudly serves millions of guests every day and follow food safety and sanitation guidelines as set by the CDC, FDA, Georgia Department of Public Health and Governor Brian Kemp’s executive orders.

“We are aware of the latest CDC report in regards to in-person dining. We are also aware that the study came from a sample size of 314 participants in 11 different healthcare facilities across the United States. In addition, the study states that ‘adults in the study were from one of 11 participating health care facilities and might not be representative of the United States population.’

“For the past six months, Georgia’s restaurants have struggled to keep their doors open and will remain deeply committed to serving their communities while providing a safe environment for their employees and guests.

“We will continue to support all restaurants in their choice to allow in-person dining or not.”

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