If restaurants are COVID super spreaders, the owners ask where is the evidence?


Scott Wenner, who runs 20 restaurants in Chicago, is accused of sacrificing an epidemic.

Like other operators, he sees a real possibility that a growing number of COVID-19 cases may force the city’s bars and restaurants to close completely. He would also like to see evidence that his businesses, including Root Handmade Pizza and West Town Bakery, are contributing to the problem.

“Based on poor statistics, you think people are making decisions without really knowing,” said Weiner, co-owner of Fifty / 50 Restaurant Group.

Government data are in confusion over the safety of restaurants and bars as cases of coronovirus are increasing. On Friday, a defensive Gov. J.B. Pritzker said that “bars and restaurants are super spreader locations,” a term that creates a crisis in the industry as they say there is no conclusive evidence. Pritzker has closed indoor restaurants in DuPage, Cane and Will counties as well as other parts of the state.

This week, the governor’s office provided a chart showing that 2,300 confirmed coronavirus patients visited a restaurant or bar in the past two weeks in August and September. While those establishments visited the largest category of people infected during that two-month period, the number does not definitively say that those people had contracted the virus at a specific bar or restaurant. State officials say one of the problems with compiling the data is how difficult it is to get the infections back to an exact location, some even claimed by local health departments.

Although the state said its data is reflected from 69 of 97 counties in Illinois, Chicago and Cook County have not publicly provided detailed data on the risk associated with bars and restaurants here.

Part of the problem – or the solution?

“I don’t want to see the restaurant industry labeled as super spreaders because that’s not true,” said Adam Guenter, managing partner of TAO Chicago in River North. Like Wener, he wants to see proof. “As far as data is concerned, I would love to read it.”

The TAO, which has not seen an outbreak, requires masks, takes customers’ temperature and cleans, said Guenter, who expects more than 400 customers on Saturday.

“Our goal is part of the solution – not part of the problem,” he said.

The city has temporarily closed more than 50 businesses, mostly bars and restaurants, for COVID guideline violations.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday defended her decision late last month to ban bars. But with more rush-hour cases in the city on Wednesday, it enforced strict rules, reduced restaurant hours, mandated a cutoff near 10 a.m. and a 9 a.m. sale of alcohol. Bars are prohibited from indoor seating.

When asked about the numbers showing the risk, Lightfoot’s Public Health Commissioner, Dr. Alison Arvadi said the city does not have them, but the bar provided many evidence of a pair of people who are being investigated as outbreaks.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot imposed new restrictions on the restaurant this week. The owners fear another shutdown is coming.
Tyler LaRiviere / Sun-Times

Expert: most exposure from your friends

Experts say restaurants and bars are not inherently dangerous places. Rather, being face-to-face without a mask for a long time increases the chances of spreading the conversation between friends.

The medical director of the 55th Street Clinic at Howard Browne Health, Dr. John Schneider said, “What is happening is meeting other people that they haven’t seen in a while.” “This is not a random family that goes out for dinner Sunday. But you see many young people who are getting together and socializing. “

He said that working in tight kitchens is far more risky than customers. Wearing masks and social disturbances can make establishments safer but it depends on the customers.

“The risks in bars and restaurants are really going with you,” Schneider said, adding that people in those settings are more likely to catch the virus from contacts they know.

Outside of Chicago, Cook County is tracking restaurants, Drs. Said Rachel Rubin, senior medical officer of the Cook County Department of Public Health. “Everything is on the table,” he said, referring to further restrictions.

But Cook County does not have data on cases related to restaurants.

DuPage County health officials provide some of the most granular figures available on food and COVID infections but only as a subset of total cases, which are more than 21,000 in the county. From March 1 to October 20, DuPage County recorded five virus outbreaks for 22 cases of infection at the dine-in restaurant. In those cases less than 1 percent of the 3,135 infections associated with the outbreak occur, defined as two or more infections at one location.

A spokesman for the health department said that in Lake County, 5 percent of the cases in the past month were attributed to the restaurant’s staff, while more than three quarters were attributed to long-term care facilities.

Asked if restaurants and bars are safe, the department responded: “If people observe proper social disturbances, cover the face, often wash their hands and touch their face in any setting Saves, they significantly reduce the likelihood of transmission. ”

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.

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